U2 and the protest song have a long history together. Actually that history has tended to fade recently, I think. U2’s more recent protests have been couched in much more generic language, unlike say Springsteen with his most recent protest album, which hammers you over the head explicitly.
Maggie’s Farm is a song that I somehow know part of the lyrics to, and I have heard the U2 version somewhere. Somehow and somewhere? I have no recollection of seeing it or where I saw it? It was not released anywhere (a live version is on a charity CD, but I never owned it) and they only ever played it live in 1986 and 1987. So where do I know it from? And honestly the only part of the lyrics I remember is “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm no more.” Checking on YouTube I see a few versions, and I’m remembering the brown jacket that Bono wears in one or two of them, with the little tassels on the arms. I’m guessing I saw it or part of it at some point in time, and remember just the repeated line from it. It was probably shown on tv in some highlights thing at some point, probably somewhere around the Zoo TV tour. Seems reasonable. Anyway the song itself, I dislike the way they play it, it's a little too screechy I think. Edge kind of goes off a bit, I'm trying to think of another song to compare it to and I can't.
Whenever I’ve heard this song I’ve always thought of it as being about Margaret Thatcher, but it turns out to be much older than that. Written by Bob Dylan in the 1960s, it was revived when Thatcher came to power as a protest against her policies which pushed the ideals of the rich over the wishes of the poor. In the decades since Thatcher and Reagan took office, their policies have demonized poor people and caused much misery, while causing a pendulum shift in the movement of money to a rich and powerful elite. U2 have sung against this idea many times (Jesus Christ for example).
This is one of those songs that U2 latch onto for a time, that has meaning to that specific point in time or to the event they’re in. They’ve done quite a few covers in their day, although they’ve also called themselves the worst cover band in the world. Story goes that they started out playing covers (as every band does) but weren’t good at them so started singing their own songs, and the rest is history. But since then they’ve done covers of a lot of songs, some famous, some I’ve never heard of. Chances of getting a recording of U2 playing many of them is minimal. Looking through the list of songs they’ve played at U2gigs.com, I see things like All Along The Watchtower, which is obvious, but also Dancing Queen, that somehow they played 32 times on Zoo TV! Wow, I would never have expected that. I probably ought to go through the list and pick some of the more popular songs, if I can write about Maggie’s Farm (17 times played) I should be able to write about People Get Ready (91 times, appears to be the most times U2 have covered a song) or Help (71 times), right?
My rating for Maggie’s Farm: 3 / 10