By now you know the story of Running To Stand Still, drugs, the seven towers of Ballymun, blah blah blah. It’s all very interesting in its own way, but ultimately what’s more interesting is the song itself. Running To Stand Still is great in every aspect, the song, the theme, the music, the lyrics, this really is one of the best U2 songs. It is great on The Joshua Tree, and yet as always it is even better live, in whichever live version you are listening to.
The music of Running To Stand Still grabs you first, beginning with a high whiny guitar, then stepping into a relatively high piano, along with a soft drumming accompaniment. Coming out of Bullet The Blue Sky, which the song often if not always does, not only on the album but also when played live. This pairing, the sharp screech of Bullet, the anger and the intensity, pushes into the deep and quiet Running, but in some ways doesn’t lose any of that intensity, just projects it in a different direction and for a different reason. I’m not going to pretend to know anything about the drugs side of things that the song is about, or the feeling of hopelessness and abandonment you get from the song. I guess it might just engender a feeling of empathy though.
Running To Stand Still is one of those songs that bring me into a contemplative mood, by raising and lowering the tempo and the sound as it goes. The line that gets to me every time, probably the most famous line from the song, is “Cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice,” the dichotomy throughout is really interesting. In some ways it is saying to repress yourself, to hold those emotions in, not let your feelings go. In other ways it is saying what I said just before, the idea of the hopelessness of a situation that you can say anything but not be heard, and turn to drugs to try and feel any kind of emotion, real or not.
“Under black belly of cloud in the rain,” that’s the other line I love, and I think I love it from the Rattle And Hum version of the song, Bono just seems to be pouring out the emotion at that point in the song, showing his depth of feeling in the song. It really is one of the more powerful moments in the song, and one of the more powerful songs in the movie.
Then it finishes with the harmonica, and in many of the live versions it ends with the hallelujahs repeated, something for the crowd to get into. I have sometimes thought that those would be a good way to end a show, the crowd walking out singing hallelujah over and over, although in other ways it is a bit of a downer for people to be thinking about, so maybe not such a good idea. Of course 40 isn’t such a boost at the end either, and it would be a similar sound to end with.
My rating for Running To Stand Still: 8 / 10