Treasure (Whatever Happened To Pete The Chop)

I love that the title of the song was Pete The Chop, named after a friend of a friend, and when they left the song off the album, the record company said “Whatever Happened To Pete The Chop,” giving the song a subtitle. It wasn’t released until many years later, on the War anniversary version, but it was around for many years in U2 fandom, as bootlegs from live versions, and in myth and legend. Pete The Chop is one of those early songs that I heard of but never heard, that sat in my U2 wish list for many years until finally I heard it.

Edge says that this song is “Stylistically quite different to anything else on ‘Boy’” which I really have to disagree with. I think it sounds a lot like the rest of Boy, musically and lyrically. There are parts where I think of other songs on Boy, but also on other albums. Quite a lot of it reminds me of songs like Electric Co., at least the music does, but also Out Of Control. Then there’s the line “sing it, sing my, sing my song,” which comes back to Gloria, a song that was released a year later on October. So this could very well be one of those songs that reverberate through the ages, bouncing around here and there and giving echoes of itself.

But really, the song is quite similar to many of the others on Boy, and despite the record label liking it and wanting to keep it, I think it was a reasonable decision to drop the song. As I’ve said before this year, several times when reviewing some of the b sides or songs left off, they’ve not made the cut because they sound too much like something else. That’s what I think happened here. You don’t want every song on the album to sound the same, but it all depends on the theme you’re going for. I think that Songs Of Innocence had the best theme of any U2 album yet, going back to that innocence and making the sound just like the old days. But even then, they’re good enough to get the theme floating through rather than making everything sound the same. The theme on Boy, not so obvious, and the sound not too much the same either.

I write this before watching the HBO show tonight. I expect I will talk about that tomorrow, although it may even take a few more days for it all to sink in. I have read several items about the show, some spoilers here and there, and I fully expect to be crying my eyes out as I watch certain points. If you have seen stuff from yesterday’s show (Paris 3), or if you remember the show after 9/11 which I have talked about a few times here and there, then you might be able to guess what I am talking about. Enjoy the show, and come back to see what I have to say about it.

My rating for Treasure (Whatever Happened To Pete The Chop): 3 / 10

Touch

Touch is one of those songs that I’ve talked about many times before, as being an early U2 song, having a distinctive sound and having the obvious amateur sound of the band back then. Not that it’s a bad song, just that it’s the early stuff so it is raw, inexperienced music, and with all that entails. I wouldn’t listen to it on a regular basis, it’s okay but nothing special.

The most distinctive thing on this song is the drums, as we’ve talked before about them in the early days, Larry was quite loud and demonstrative at the time. There was a lot of banging and bashing of the drums, they are loud throughout the song, and at times they really do take over the song, it feels like I’m hearing nothing but drums at a few points. It’s okay, I guess, for him to play like that, but I would note that as he matured as a drummer and they matured as a band, the drums took less of a role in the front and more of a role in the back, working as background rhythm rather than foreground lead. On the other hand, for the rhythm section, Adam is very quiet and not very noticeable in the early days, and on this song, but later he gets more and that works better. Almost as though they are trying to balance out the different parts, and finally work it together correctly.

Edge is also loud and up front on Touch, and the sound there isn’t as good as it might be. It is quite simplistic really, there is no sound of the echo that he will become famous for. Somewhat tinny, is what it sounds like to my ear, each note quite clear in itself, ringing out before the next note is played. This is probably what I sound like when I play, note after note after note, nothing quite working together because I don’t yet have the skill to play it well. Not that I’m saying that’s what Edge sounds like here, I mean let’s be honest, Edge’s worst efforts back in the day are better than my best efforts ever. That will never change, although one day maybe I can play some of his music and not sound completely terrible.

And so to the singer. There are words in this song that I have no idea what they are without looking at the lyrics. I don’t know why that is, again it may be the rawness. Bono may be that kid out of Ireland, with an accent, and maybe he hasn’t yet learned to be clear with his lyrics (not that he necessarily always has). A part of it is that the music is overpowering, I think they changed that later on so that Bono’s voice would get a little boost and be heard better. The other thing that I hear is that the lyrics are terrible, early Bono style, a whole bunch of stuttering t-t-touching you which is annoying. The thing though is that in the verses you do see sparks of something happening, they just don’t seem to be fully formed just yet.

My rating for Touch: 2 / 10

Shadows And Tall Trees

It’s funny that Shadows And Tall Trees should come out of the random number generator, having just done the Another Time, Another Place album that the fan club got. Funny because Shadows And Tall Trees isn’t on that album, one of the very few songs from Boy that wasn’t on it. So I guess I haven’t listened to it in a little while, not even live. And so it ends up being a bit of a cypher for me.

I have talked a few times about trigger words, and this one has two in the title. Shadows and trees. Yes, almost any time I hear either of those words, the title of this song pops into my head, which is somewhat sad since it means I really only know that line from the song, because it gets repeated so many times in my mind. That does lead to some frustration with the rest of the song, since I usually don’t remember it that much, and thus the one line ends up in an infinite loop. Of course, that’s better than many other songs that get in my head, because too many of them are sung by my ten year old (this week it’s a song about state capitals).

So I have listened to the song half a dozen times today, and I realize that this is a song where the lyrics don’t strike any kind of chord in me. By that I mean that even after these half dozen times, I still don’t follow many of the words, can’t sing along with the song, it just seems to fade away after I listen. Maybe that’s the problem I was alluding to earlier, calling it a cypher, it’s the very rare song that goes in one ear and out the other. So I have to go out to the internet to find the lyrics and read them and see what it is about. And I read through them and I have no idea. Really. Walking in the rain, a tragicomedy, someone’s gravestone, it just doesn’t make any sense. And it brings the sin of repetition, the title done over and over which is why I remember just that part of it.

I will give credit to the music, it’s early U2 meaning it is somewhat simple but well-done, clear guitar, clear bass and most noticeable on this song is the drums, very obvious throughout, in fact as I listened I often found myself tapping the drumline over and over on my knee. Enjoyable, like I said clear, plain, simple, good.

By the way today is the 250th day of the year and thus this is my 250th review. Just thought I’d point that out, we are well over the hump and rolling downhill right now. Racing toward the end of the year, both me and the band. Anticipation is jumping, what with the tour going on right now and the hope and dream of some announcements for next year.

Also by the way, I write this a few days early, as I am heading to the beach for Labor Day and I’m not sure what kind of internet I’ll have there. In fact, as I write I am listening to Turin 1, it is great to be back into show mode.

My rating for Shadows And Tall Trees: 4 / 10

Another Time, Another Place, Live at the Marquee

This time it’s the fan club live album, Live at the Marquee Club London 1980, not the song. I received it yesterday, apparently they shipped them out in order of renewal of membership. Have to say that’s one way of doing it, not my preference. The U2.com site membership is a little screwy in that it is meant to be by the year, not by the date of membership. That gets a little messed up when you try and keep track of things, for example my membership was expiring in I think March or April, so I didn’t renew until then. They really ought to switch it to a January-December kind of thing, not basing it on the date you signed up. It’s difficult I know, because if you sign up in December what do they do, give you this year or next year? And they can’t really make it rolling, because if you go June to June do you get both years’ membership gifts? On the other hand, a society I belong to did switch from annual membership to date-to-date membership, and it works just fine. But then again they have member gifts monthly (free electronic books) so if you go June-to-June you still end up with twelve. Ahhh, but what do I know?

Way back in the day I rated the namesake song a four. I think I’m going to give the album a better rating, simply because it’s live, even though it’s really old. It’s essentially a live version of Boy, almost all of the songs on the album are on here, and vice versa. Boy I rated around average,  there are times when I feel it hasn’t aged well and times when I feel it has.

The biggest problem with this recording is that much of it is very derivative of Under A Blood Red Sky, or maybe that is derivative of this. In the early days they didn’t have so many songs of course, and this means that for the first few years they had a lot of songs in common from tour to tour. A lot of this album shows up on Under A Blood Red Sky, and it’s difficult to tell which is better, both in quality of the recording and quality of the performance. I think I have to give the nod to Red Rocks, just because of experience and performance practice. But then you get to something like Electric Co., and have to say wow, that was a great version (although I kept waiting for him to start singing Send In The Clowns).

Something I’ll give this is that it’s an outstanding recording, I don’t know where it came from (did they do it themselves?) but it sounds about as good as some of the ones that fans recorded on the current tour. Has some of the crowd stuff but not too much. Actually I think that Bono is not quite as loud as usual. I’ve mentioned before that I read they used to turn his microphone up a little to make him clearer, I’m not sure they were doing that at this point. Or maybe he was just slurring a little more than usual. Either way there are moments when he’s talking and not feeling very distinct.

Nice packaging for the album, with the vinyl included along with sleeves for them. I must admit that the last time I listened to vinyl was a very long time ago, heck it might even have been the original Boy way back when. 

My rating for Another Time, Another Place (live album): 10 / 10

Another Day

Another Day was U2’s second single, a few months after they released Out Of Control on the Three EP. Oddly enough Out Of Control made it to the Boy album, but Another Day didn’t, nor did the next song they released, 11 O’Clock Tick Tock. I don’t pretend to know how the music business works, but I wouldn’t have thought a young band would have so many songs that they could afford to skip some of the early ones. Although I guess it gives us extra early music, so good in the end.

I can once again write about U2’s early style, relatively simple music, Edge hadn’t yet discovered what he could do, and Bono’s voice and lyrics were pretty simple too. Just two days ago I covered Saturday Night, another really early song, and there are a number of similarities between the two. The band working together, but not really. Some ooo-whooaaas from Bono to fill in the time where he doesn’t have any words to say. And there’s something there, in terms of the sound, it feels like I know it from somewhere else.

Some fairly weak lyrics too. There aren’t too many of them, although it’s a fairly short song, but like I said he still has to fill in with a few wails here and there. It seems like he is trying to say something, but at this point he doesn’t yet have the chops to be able to write what he is thinking. It might be that in another few years he would have been able to write something meaningful, but not yet. There’s an interesting twist in the sound, and delivery of the lyrics, when he sings the “night turns to day and children come out to play” line, but little else of it grabs you and makes you want to keep listening.

It’s an interesting exercise going back to this early stuff. We have just gone through an amazing experience, on the Innocence + Experience tour, where they, as Bono said, went back to the early days. I’ve talked about what a good job they did with that, making us think back to those times and the music they were playing, but in reality they weren’t. Maybe I should say they weren’t playing this song, or similar songs to it (like Saturday Night). The sound from Songs Of Innocence is the sound of U2’s innocence, but with a bit of the experience thrown in there, which makes it sound much better than this.

I wonder what Edge would come up with for the innocence part if you were to give him a guitar and take away all his electronics? Make him play only with what he was playing with back then. I bet he would come up with something really good, but I also bet that sound would end up being just a little bit more like this song than the stuff on Songs Of Innocence. Truly innocent stuff. Extra virgin, you might say.

My rating for Another Day: 2 / 10

Saturday Night

It’s Saturday night, and I’m listening to Saturday Night. Yeah, so this is one time where I am overruling the random number generator and picking a song.

Saturday Night was only released on the deluxe version of Boy, it wasn’t released before that anywhere else. It was a leftover track that didn’t go anywhere at the time, at least until they worked on October and reworked the song into Fire. Now, I haven’t reviewed Fire yet this year, so I may be giving away some spoilers here, but I do have to say that between the two songs, I find myself preferring the one they didn’t release over the one that they did. Fire might be suffering from that old U2 problem of too much editing, too much twisting and turning until you have watered down the original sound that you liked.

The music in Saturday Night is pretty clear, there are strong and distinct drums, bass and guitar. It’s very much what you would expect for an early U2 song, clear and distinct parts that are not necessarily meshing together perfectly, and more importantly working in a very basic way, not yet adding in all the extras to each of the parts that they do within a few years (although not by the time they do October, which perhaps is why I like Saturday Night a little better than Fire).

Bono sounds very Boy as well, of course. He has that distinctive voice from the time, inexperience you might say but it’s also something else, a rawness to it. Youth, probably. I think I would agree with myself over the last several months if I were to say that Bono’s voice on Boy is probably the most identifiable of all the albums. I mean, you can’t confuse the different songs, but if you were to somehow remove the music, and twist around the words enough so that you didn’t know what songs he was singing, you’d still be able to say this voice is from Boy, that voice is from October, that next one is from All That You Can’t Leave Behind and so on. Kind of like doing the Coke vs Pepsi thing, hiding the voices in unmarked cups and getting people to decide. There’d be many that you could tell, some you couldn’t. I think (getting back to the original point) that you’d be most accurate on Boy than on any other album.

It’s an interesting song lyrically too. You get the early, raw Bono, not necessarily a great wordsmith at this point but clearly showing interesting tendencies. Bringing up bits and pieces and making them work well together. The cadence of the first couple of verses, which is a line, then a line, then a third and longer line which rhymes with the second. Interesting. ABB I guess you would say, but that doesn’t show the complexity that the first two lines are short and the third is long.

The feeling I get from the song is the idea of two people meeting on a street corner on a Saturday night, but not really meeting. Like they are meant to be together forever, but instead they are two ships passing in the night. He is going one way, her the other, and they happen to be beside each other for just a moment before going their separate ways. I guess if you believe in the theory of multiple universes being created based on every decision, there is one that they are together in. Otherwise, it’s just quite sad.

My rating for Saturday Night: 4 / 10

Out Of Control

Out Of Control is one of those songs that floated around the periphery for me, for many years. It was an okay song, pretty decent, had good beat and lyrics, but just wasn’t a grabber. It probably wasn’t until seeing it live (and I can pinpoint the date, November 25, 2001, here in Dallas) that it took off in my estimation. I think that’s the way so many songs have come through for me, hearing them and liking them, and having them climb once heard live.

Out Of Control has good music, it plays neatly together, especially in the live versions recently where they seem to have taken the innocent version of the song and made it much more experienced. I’m not saying it was bad in the old day, just fairly basic, as I’ve noted before. They were a learning band on their first few albums, took them a while to learn their instruments and what they could do, and how to do it together. This is no surprise to anyone. But over the years they’ve gotten so much better at it that you hear those old songs played through experienced hands and they sound so much better. This is essentially the theme of Innocence + Experience.

The lyrics are amazingly good for a what, 20 year old Bono at the time? Maybe only 19. But there is some real depth in them, it’s got the story of Iris in it, it’s got a lyric like “one day I’ll die, the choice will not be mine, will it be too late, you can’t fight fate.” That is absolute poetry right there, that is one of the best lyrics Bono has ever written, and like I said it’s coming from when he was just a kid. The line is one of those lines that pops into my head based on so many triggers, just say the word fate around me and I’ll be at the very least thinking it if not singing it.

Listen to the version from 360, the one on U22, right after you listen to the album version. You’ll hear what I’m talking about, there is so much more to it. The guitar is stronger, has more confidence, the bass is much more obvious, the drums are, well, still the drums. It is this more modern version that I prefer, and the one I have tried playing on my guitar. I can’t say I’m good at it, but not terrible, at least for the easy parts. But that’s the way I like to play, play all the easy parts and let Edge do the difficult stuff. I’d be Bono in the band, at least with regard to the guitar playing.

Bono has recently taken to introducing the song with “this is our first single,” and you just know that’s the way he introduced it way back in the day, the same way he was introducing the band on stage during the song this year is the same way he did it way back when. I love that, it really does bring out the Innocence.

I was very happy when they played Out Of Control in Chicago, it was definitely on my shortlist of songs I really wanted to hear. You know, I’ve thought about this a couple of times, but I really do need to put together a full live version of the tour, every song. I have one show downloaded that I play, it happens to be Boston 2 (because I loved the version of Bad that night), but I ought to get all the songs and put them in my preferred order (which may or may not be the band’s preferred order).

My rating for Out Of Control: 9 / 10

Boy-Girl

Boy-Girl was first released on a mini-disc called Three, along with Stories For Boys and Out Of Control. It was the band’s first release, so you could say it was the start of big things. Looking back now though, of the three songs on the EP, Boy-Girl was definitely the least of them, being played the fewest times live over the years and the only one to not make it onto Boy.

I have to admit that this is not a song I like that much (although you can tell that by the rating). I have whined about some of the early stuff that U2 have done, and also been pleased with some of it. They definitely were in that early stage where some of what you do is terrible and some of it is a hidden gem. This one falls into the former category more than the latter. It is very unpolished, very generic, it’s not even something that you would hold up right now on the Innocence + Experience tour as being that Innocence part. There just isn’t that much there to like about it, and I will excuse that all day because they were just teenagers when they wrote and recorded, and barely starting on the path. Like I said, their first release. On the other hand, that same release included Out Of Control, which was way ahead of its time and is still great today.

So what is the song about? You would assume that given the title it is one of those mid-teen angst kind of songs, and it does give you some feeling of that at times. A little about exploration between a boy and a girl, I guess, although definitely not explicit in any way. But then you get to a line like “You and I we live on the big ship,” and I’m like, what the heck does that even mean? There’s no context around it, it just pops up and I’m thinking “what big ship is he talking about?” And going back to the music itself, very generic, as it was in those days lots of guitar, lots of everything in fact, the standard “we are learning to play and we’re going to play the crap out of these instruments we have.”

Odd thing on the live version of the song (off the Boy Deluxe album) is the sounds that Bono is making in some places. It really sounds like either he is drunk and slurring the lyrics, or he isn’t quite sure of the lyrics and is just making sounds that sound similar to the words, so he is remembering the basic tone of the song and pushing out something to make it sound like he is singing. Now, I think it is possibly more likely that he is drunk (I think I may have read that somewhere he was drunk during this show), but the second option is still there, and in fact both are possible as well.

My rating for Boy-Girl: 3 / 10

I Will Follow

I have mentioned a few times that I have tried to play some U2 songs on my guitar, which I am very much a rookie at. I only picked it up a couple of years ago, and I don’t play it nearly as much as I should, and I am not very musically talented. The whole thing about practicing every day, well, let’s just say I don’t know if that will work because I never seem to have time to do it. It’s a struggle, and frankly playing the guitar is something that isn’t a priority for me right now. That’s going to be a really sad thing for me to have said if I’m the guy pulled up on stage to play with the band, right? But that’s not going to happen.

All that to say that I Will Follow is the song I chose to begin playing in detail, trying to step through each part and pick it up as much as I could. The song is kind of fast, compared to many, but the advantage that offsets the speed is that it is one of the early U2 songs, off Boy, and so it is not as complicated as the songs would become later. In general I Will Follow is single notes repeated a lot, or short bursts of multiple notes really close together, much simpler just hitting those than trying to hit three fingers on one hand and four strings on the other. Anyway, I discovered u2guitartutorials.com and have messed around with all their tutorials, but I Will Follow probably more than most. My wife will tell you, she hears that song and will say something like “here’s the song you play.” She especially likes the two high notes at the end of the long string of eight middle notes (trying not to be too technical here).

So to say I know I Will Follow quite well is an understatement. I’ve listened to it for all these years, and I’ve heard it note by note while trying to learn it. It is a really good song, it has the speed to get you going, it has the volume and twists and changes to make it interesting, and it has lyrics that grab you and don’t let go. The lyrics are about Bono’s reaction to his mother’s death (if you walk away I will follow), although I have seen more recent stuff where he has said he did not know he was writing about that, and it must have come out of his subconscious. Not sure about that, it seems so to the point that it’s hard to fathom that it’s not exactly what the theme was.

Another point of interest for the song is the new song, Iris, which is deliberate and specific about his mother, although in that case the song seems to be much less direct, more poetic as he has done later in his career. In fact that is a theme I have mentioned a few times this year, that in the early days he was more blunt and later he wrote more in allusions to his topics. These two songs together seem to show that pretty clearly, the specific (whether or not intentional) I Will Follow and the nuanced Iris (Hold Me Close). Interesting, that is something that just came to me about those two songs.

My rating for I Will Follow: 8 / 10

A Day Without Me

“Started a landslide in my ego” is a line that pops into my head regularly, either when I hear certain trigger words (like landslide) or I hear the title of A Day Without Me. I enjoy thinking that line, and I enjoy this song. And yes I recognize that I get the quote wrong.

From Boy, so it is very early U2 and therefore simple musically and lyrically, but that isn’t a bad thing. This is one of the better songs on the album really, in terms of the music, because it shows each part of the band working both separately and together. There are parts within the song where one of them comes out in front, it is mostly Edge of course, but there are distinct parts for both Larry and Adam as well. But then they all seem to flow back in together and are working well. It is definitely a harbinger of things to come for the band, which we see as they create album after album, that they clearly grow as a band as they mature.

The lyrics are relatively simple, repetitive a little, and of course they had no idea how to end the song, so they end up with a whole bunch of bah bah bah at the end, which is a bit of a waste. I can’t tell them how they should have done it better, but perhaps nothing lyrically would have been a better choice. One of the things that is noticeable about the song is that the lyrics are much less than they appear to be when you listen. I suspect this is a trick of the song’s length, which at 3:13 is a little short but not too much, but whenever I look at the lyrics for A Day Without Me I ask myself “is that all?”, because they seem to be singing a lot more than is actually printed. I don’t know why this is.

It is interesting to see Bono said that this song is about suicide, because that’s not at all what I ever got out of it. Looking at the lyrics now I can see some kinds of allusions in that direction (“if I were sleeping what’s at stake”), but overall no, to me it’s just a general song with random thoughts. I kind of think of it as a little peppy and upbeat, rather than anything the opposite. I mean, yeah, the whole title could be a little suggestive that way too, but there’s plenty of ways to spend a day without me without having it involve suicide. It’s kind of like the “i can’t stand to be apart from you” sort of sappy love, so if I were to be thinking along any lines it would be that, that we’re so in love that I don’t want to spend a day away from you and you don’t want to spend a day away from me. More fool me, I guess.

So, first time I had to write two of these in one day, after being sick yesterday. I hope this one’s okay, might be a little light on the thoughts.

My rating for A Day Without Me: 4 / 10

The Electric Co.

Fast and loud and a whole lot of fun, The Electric Co. is one of those early songs where the band didn’t have their talents to play it, but stuck with it and turned it into one of those songs that have stuck around. It’s been played on so many tours, was a standard in the early days, brought back for Vertigo and now is appearing on the Innocence + Experience tour again. And if you haven’t seen it there, go check out the @U2 YouTube page, because it and so many other songs are there and so good.

When I say that they didn’t have their talents to play it, what I mean is something I’ve said a few times this year, that they were very rough and ready for their first album, as they naturally would be. They were playing simple songs, they were sometimes playing fast, or loud, or simple, because that’s what they could do. They weren’t layering on the sound, they weren’t doing different things with pedals or tape or electronics or whatever. They were just playing and recording, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. When it worked it went really well, and The Electric Co. was one of those songs that worked despite the band’s early limitations. And as time has gone on they have added to it, played it up and in different ways, keeping the base of the song but 

One of the things I have always wondered is why the song seems to fade when it’s nearly at the end, and then come back up just to finish off. I think it only does it in the album version, so I don’t know what the point was, if anything. For all I know it was just a recording error when they taped it, or when it was put onto the album.

You might be forgiven for thinking that it had something to do with The Electric Company, a children’s show produced by PBS, but of course it is not. I do sometimes conflate the two though, at least in my recall, in that sometimes when I hear the term “electric company” I will think of the children’s show and sometimes I will think of the song.

Linked with The Cry in live versions, and in my memory of the song. For the longest time the two songs played together, and as I said in my review of The Cry, I used to think that The Cry was actually part of The Electric Co. Not, but they work so well as a pairing that they may as well be. Probably the best version of the pairing is on Under A Blood Red Sky, although for some reason The Cry does not get a credit there. There’s also a live version on the October deluxe album, not sure why since the song wasn’t on October, other than that they collected several early live songs on there.

My rating for The Electric Co.: 6 / 10

The Ocean

If my math is correct, there are only about ten U2 album songs that are under three minutes, and most of them are on the early albums. Of these, I only found two that are under two minutes, and both of those were on Boy: Into The Heart, which is 1:58 on the US version, although it’s over three minutes on the UK version, so maybe it doesn’t count. The other one is The Ocean, at 1:35 I think it is therefore by far the shortest U2 song released on an album. Now, why is that? Because it was the early days, and they didn’t write them as long as they do now? Or because they needed some filler for their first album? Or maybe they just weren’t that inspired by the song.

This is another one of those songs with a trigger in it, in this case it’s the name Dorian Gray, which of course makes me think the line “A picture in grey, Dorian Gray.” Although there aren’t too many other lyrics in the song to cause a trigger, you don’t get too many words when you’re only a minute and a half long. There is one interesting line in there though, “I thought the world could go far, if they listened to what I said,” which is extraordinarily prescient for a young Bono to be writing. He has come back to that theme several times over the years, so I guess you could call this one of those genesis moments. He’s also come at it from the other direction, talking about his megalomania, so maybe that’s the transition, from thinking you can change the world to changing it to being somewhat full of yourself.

The song has a lot of guitar, pinging away at the top, and a bunch of drums popping in the background, but somehow I always think of it as a bass song. There’s an attempt to make sounds in the background that sound like the ocean, but it’s surprisingly annoying even despite the theme of the song. Would be a good song to play in an aquarium. The bass provides a depth to the song that otherwise wouldn’t be there, at times when I hear this song I’m trying to block out pretty much everything else and just hear the bass. It’s interesting enough, or maybe the rest of the song is boring enough, that it attracts my attention as a standout on the song.

Overall then, the rating below reflects the quality of the song, or lack thereof. I don’t think I have found a worse album song than The Ocean, it is one of those songs that I skip over almost every time it comes on. It is a definite contender for worst U2 song ever, certainly for those songs that actually made it onto an album. There are many non-album songs that are worse, and as I’ve said before there are many many non-U2 songs that I would rate lower than this.

My rating for The Ocean: 1 / 10

Another Time, Another Place

First albums are difficult for anyone, it takes a lot of work just to get to make one. Then you make it, put it out to the public, and hope that it’s good enough to get to make another one. And sometimes, even though it isn’t very good, and has some songs that kind of suck, you do get those opportunities to keep going, and you end up becoming the biggest band in the world.

And that’s the case with Another Time, Another Place, which is kind of a dull song, nothing interesting either lyrically or musically. I can’t tell you what the song is about, it doesn’t seem to have much of a theme or much of anything. Or at least I don’t get it. It also suffers from the repetition thing, which I think is more than half the song.

Early sound, a little odd to me now, both the guitar and the drums sound a little off. Let alone Bono’s voice, which just sounds weird now. It was the early days, I don’t think his voice had even broken by then. One of the comments he made in the Rolling Stones Files book was that he was learning how to sing, in an interview in 1985 or so. Sorry, I’m not going to check the exact quote, or the date. But it did amuse me, that a guy who had been the lead singer for a rock band for several years still needed to learn how to sing. It does make me think, because there’s some kind of thought process that these guys just pop up fully made and ready to go, whereas the truth is that they need to learn. Bono needs to learn to sing, Edge needs to learn to play, and so on. Even though they have a certain level of natural talent, which gets them through the beginning, they still need practice time. It’s like that saying about needing 10,000 hours of practice to become a world class talent at something, which if you think about it is so long that you do have to be really good at something to be able to get that amount of time. But if you also think about it, let’s say you get to play guitar for six hours a day, then in that case you’re talking 1,600 days, or five years until you know what you’re doing. Or enough time to get past Boy and October and into War, if you count the years before Boy as well. Okay, ramble over.

There’s a section near the end of the song where Bono speaks some gibberish, it’s something that is debated online about what he says. Rumors both German and Gaelic, but most people seem to think that’s it’s just a bunch of nonsense. Bongolese is the term used for when Bono randomly spouts sounds that mimic words but aren’t. It does sounds somewhat guttural to me, suggesting German, but I doubt it. I’d be more convinced of that if it was around the Achtung Baby era, but it’s about ten years too early for that. It does amuse me the amount of effort that people put into trying to understand Bono though, since it is most likely just sound. I don’t know why someone hasn’t asked him what it is, these thirty years later. Or maybe they have and he doesn’t know.

My rating for Another Time, Another Place: 4 / 10

Twilight

Another song that rings a bell, my trigger word being the title and I always think “Twilight, lost my way, twilight, can’t find my way.” Just a short burst, but it’s there.

I have to admit to disliking this song because of some of the content. “The old man tried to walk me home,” and “In the shadows, boy meets man,” they just give off a vibe of a pedophile. Now I may be reading too much into it, but I don’t know. The whole song is essentially about being a teenager, trying to grow up and learn different things about life and sexuality. Is it an incident that may have happened to Bono? Don’t know [Okay, just went and read the Stories book entry on Twilight (technically the Into The Heart version), and he says he was approached once by a guy, but didn’t base the song on it, at least not knowingly].

Enjoyable music, since it’s Boy it’s the early days where they’re still learning to play and sing. So it is somewhat basic, simple stuff that I could probably learn to play. That’s kind of a marker for me, whether I - a very amateur guitarist - think I could play Edge’s part of the song. I’m not sure if that means that I give it a bonus - because wow, I could play that - or if it loses points - because huh, I could play that. Hmm, maybe I give myself a little too much credit there. What I don’t hear is the bass, it is very understated on this song, while the drums really stand out. I think there’s an issue with the acoustics overall, don’t remember where they recorded it but it sounds off, like they were in a bucket or something, making it sound somewhat tinny, or reflecting the higher noises back again. I don’t know.

There’s a demo version on the extended Boy that sounds somewhat different. Bono sounds, frankly, weird. Like his voice hasn’t broken yet. He does several words oddly, including right at the start he sings “I look into your eyes,” and the “your” he kind of jumps his voice on so that it sounds bizarre, kind of like he hiccuped while singing it (that word changed to “his” by the time they did the album version). Edge does backing vocals (I think it’s Edge) and he sounds odd too. And I dislike the much repeated “twilight” by Bono in the middle, glad they got rid of that. Once again I have to say that the difference between the demo version and the album, although only a year or two apart in time, seem to be light years apart in terms of improvement in all phases of the band.

Changing topics, I enjoyed the U2 chat on twitter tonight, hosted by @U2, which is my favorite U2 site. It did bring a few interesting points to me, mostly around my ten year old son’s first U2 concerts, coming up in Chicago in June. I’m going to four of them, taking him and my wife to the third and fourth shows. So I do need to get some prep in for that, like getting a setlist ready for him to listen to and have an idea of what they will play. Not that he doesn’t already know many U2 songs, I’m always proud when we’re in a restaurant and he says “hey dad, they’re playing U2.” Means I raised him right.

My rating for Twilight: 4 / 10

11 O'Clock Tick Tock

11 O’Clock Tick Tock was released as a single before Boy, and never appeared on an album. Despite that it was one of the most popular U2 songs in the early days, and still survives to this day in versions that are well-received. For myself the primary version I remember and sing from is the Under A Blood-Red Sky version. The title is one of those things that stick with me too, every time someone says “11 O’Clock” I always think “Tick Tock.”

One of the fun things of doing the research for these songs is finding out things I didn’t know or had forgotten, and going down certain trails with it. In the case of 11 O’Clock Tick Tock I found out it was originally called Silver Lining and had different lyrics. This leads to an interesting series of stories and videos, a kind of peek into U2 history. Essentially the song is the same music as 11 O’Clock Tick Tock, but with different lyrics. “I hear the children crying” was “Take me silver lining,” so you can see how different. It is, as I’ve said on a few songs before, interesting to see how the lyrics evolve during production into a full song. In this case they appear to have thrown out all the lyrics and started again. I don’t know why but there is something about the Silver Lining lyrics that in some ways sound better than the ones that were released.

The original song is a little echoey for my liking. Sounds like they’re in a really large room, and the noise is bouncing off all the walls. The only thing that sounds decent is the bass. There’s also the la-la-la-lo, or however it goes, which is a little irritating, like they’re trying to fill in some empty space. They for some reason re-did the song for The Unforgettable Fire and put it on the b side of the Pride single, and it sounds quite a bit better, more bassy if that’s possible. And of course the Red Rocks version, which I have always liked, somehow sounds so much better. Maybe it’s just a few more years of playing together helped them, maybe because it’s live.

I do love the lyric “We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong,” that seems to be something that a lot of people - myself included - could learn from. Much of the world would do better if they stopped desiring a specific outcome of their policies, but instead asked what they should actually be doing to help others. An example this week is the idea of restricting the ability of people on welfare to spend the money they get on certain things, because they want to reduce the amount spent on welfare. It’s not “let’s help people get off welfare,” it’s “let’s cut money from welfare and people will somehow magically get off welfare.” Trying to get to the result - reducing cost - by going the wrong way about it - cut money rather than cut need. Questions they had wrong indeed.

Lyrical confusions: the lyric is “A painted face” which I always thought was “Oh pizza face” and I had no idea why he would write that. Another one is “Say so, say so” repeated at the end, which I thought was “Sad song, sad song.” Mild mis-hearings.

My rating for 11 O’Clock Tick Tock: 6 / 10

The Cry

The Cry is difficult to review, because a) it’s not an official song, but sort of a snippet, b) it’s only used as part of Electric Co., so may not even exist in it’s own right, and c) is only about 30 seconds long. But I’ll do it anyway, even though it’s kind of cheating to call it a song. 

The Cry does occasionally get credit by itself, which makes it a little different to other things that U2 sing as part of songs. One of the best examples of that would be the Shine Like Stars coda to With Or Without You, which is occasionally sung but mostly considered just like an additional verse, not a separate song that gets a credit. Cry gets credit most notably in Under A Blood Red Sky, which establishes its credibility.

The issue is of course that it’s really short. When they play it live, from the opening note to the start of Electric Co. is usually between 30 and 40 seconds, although it could go longer depending on how soon Bono will jump in with his lines. Obviously not a radio song or a releasable song, and hardly even reviewable. It is so intricately linked with Electric Co. that for the longest time I thought it was part of the song, although I never seemed to make the connection between the album version and the live version to realize that it was an extra part in front. Even if I had I think I might have assumed they just added something there.

Another issue is that the lyrics are so variable. Reportedly there are as many as 30 different variations of the lyrics. There are usually four lines, each of which repeats the words being used three times (“somebody cry, somebody cry, somebody cry”) with four syllables in each phrase, with an ending line that is not repeated and contains eight syllables. That pattern makes it easy to switch the words when you want to. Also makes it a little rap-like, where you can take a set of words and twist them any way you want and still not be wrong. There have been many instances where people have reported that Bono forgot the words, or sang them in the wrong order, in a song. I’ve mentioned I like those kinds of twists, makes it seem more interesting when you listen live. In this case he can make up anything he wants on the spot, and it can never be “wrong” as the fans might think.

I think the standard lyrics (or at least most used lyrics) are along the lines of this (note, only one of each row written, make sure to repeat three times): “Somebody cry, Somebody try (something quick), Don’t you look back, Somebody cry, Well I can’t see why or what for.” Helps if you know the music to be able to read that correctly. Here’s a different version: “I used to cry, When I was a boy, Can’t shut me up, Now I know why, ‘Cause I can’t stop try get back there”. You see he does use five syllables at one point, but it doesn’t alter the pattern at all. You also see how easy it is to vary them. I don’t know if there is a site anywhere that has listed all the variations, but I’d be interested in seeing it.

Can’t give it very high marks for the simple reason that it’s not long enough or distinct enough, but included as part of Electric Co. it is really good.

My rating for The Cry: 4 / 10

Into The Heart

The random number generator somehow pulls out An Cat Dubh and Into The Heart within the first forty days of the year. I guess it is random, odds are just as good that would happen as them being many months apart.

So obviously I already wrote about An Cat Dubh, the sister song to Into The Heart, and in that review I even wondered if I should make that a single review or split it in two. Since I need all the reviews I can get if I am going to make it to 365, Into The Heart gets its own. I don’t know how much there is to say about it though. I gave it one point more than An Cat Dubh, but I’m not entirely sure why, they’re essentially the same song. I said that An Cat Dubh is kind of drifty, and I think the same applies to Into The Heart.

Now this song is from their debut album, and you wouldn’t expect every song on a debut to be great. Just the other day I reviewed Boy and talked about how it had a couple of good songs, many average and a few below. Into The Heart falls into the below section, but still not the worst song on the album. If I were to take it or leave it though, this would be a leave it kind of song. I can imagine the band coming up with several different things for the album, and trying to fill some space end up with something like this. I can imagine them just liking this song the way it is, too. That’s the great thing about a band like U2, you don’t have to like every single song to be able to find plenty that you do like. I could easily name a top 50 that I love, and that playlist would last for hours, let alone taking all the songs that I rate above average. With 250 songs in their resume, half of them must be below average, right? Probably more since their better songs end up on albums and lesser songs get put aside to become b sides or retreads many years later. And again, just because it’s a below average U2 song doesn’t mean it’s not above average compared to the rest of the musical world.

If I had an idea of what this song is about, I’d have to say innocence. There are few words in this song, and they’re very much repeated. The main phrase is essentially “I can’t go back to being a child,” or rather I can go back but only for short periods. This is a common cry of parents, I think (odd since Bono wasn’t a parent at the time), in that you get to play with your kids and enjoy watching them play, but eventually you have to be the grownup again. That is a difficult transition at times - I’ve given my son too many toys that I think I enjoy more than he does - so maybe I’ll try thinking of this song every so often and remember that I have to be the adult at times, whether I want to or not.

My rating for Into The Heart: 4 / 10

Boy

U2’s first album sounds like a first album: some good, some bad, but a lot of promise. They definitely sound raw at times, you can hear a difference between Boy and even just a few years later, that they grew up a lot and quickly. This is exactly how most first albums sound, the people who get to make a second album make a good enough record to get to a second.

There are two ways to look at Boy, as it was when it was released in 1980, and as it sounds now. Both ways are entirely valid, you should put it into the context of the time it came out, but also how well it has aged. For the sound from 1980, it sounds pretty good. You can say now that it stood out quite a lot compared to other bands, because U2 took off as they did. Does that mean this album defines a new beginning for music, getting away from the 70s style? In a way yes, but then when they tell you that they came out of the punk style, I can’t necessarily agree. I think it is a little more public-facing than punk, more commercial radio acceptable, which is probably something that U2 would be unhappy to hear.

As for the modern day, it has largely aged well. My overall ratings will give it a couple of really strong songs, one or two poor, but mostly average compared to the rest of their library. I think that’s a good thing, you wouldn’t want them to have peaked with the first release. On the other hand, you might want them to get better every time, but I don’t think that’s possible. Like I mentioned previously, listening to it now I hear the unpolished sound that they had then, and the voice of Bono is very unpracticed at times. There are a couple of songs where the drums dominate, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, and here and there the music doesn’t sound right. I’ve also already talked about An Cat Dubh and the trouble it had with the segue into Into The Heart.

To answer the question you will have without going through the entire year, the couple of songs that have lasted the test of time are Out Of Control and I Will Follow. Most of the rest show some kind of promise, although often sounding incomplete like they needed a little more baking or a little more experience. The weakest song on the album is The Ocean, which is just terrible. Most of the songs do have a beat or a feeling that can grab you, and do make me think of them every so often (every time I heard the word “electric” my mind plays the line “if you don’t know, Electric Co.”).

I don’t listen to Boy very often. It’s in my playlist, but I find myself skipping over many of the songs on a regular basis. It’s a good album, fun here and there, but I do get a mildly bland feeling from it every so often. The mood it puts me in is usually… meh. Now, I do have the live version of Out Of Control from U22 on my phone, and I have been known to play that one song over and over again. It was really good when it was released and it’s really good now. I have also played I Will Follow on the guitar regularly, it’s an easy song to get into and play, at least compared to many of their others. I can’t say I play it well, but I can say I enjoy trying it.

I want to point out that my ratings for albums will differ slightly from the rest of the ratings. I decided to make the album the average of all the songs on it, so it will not be a whole number. And as I go through the songs, I have been changing some of the original ratings I made, adding a point here or there as I think about them more. The album rating is based on the original rating though - for the simple reason that I may not be doing the last of an album’s songs until the end of the year, when I rated the album a long time before, and I don’t want to go back and update those numbers. Oh, and I’m going to do the albums in order, rather than randomly.

My rating for Boy: 5.2 / 10

Stories For Boys

Stories For Boys is an interesting song. Not necessarily a good song, but interesting. Why do I say that? It’s an image of U2’s early music, it hasn’t really developed fully at this point (and it won’t for several years, through at least War and possibly into The Unforgettable Fire), but you do see sparks of the band that will come. I guess it is this kind of thing that music producers look for when they sign bands, the ability of the band to show they can grow into something big. If that’s the case then they were successful here.

It’s funny listening to the song now, because you can clearly hear young Bono singing. He’s what, about 18 or 19 when he recorded this, and at times when I’m listening I’m wondering if his voice is going to break in the middle of the song. On the other hand, what stands out for me in the music is the bass. There’s good drumming, good lead guitar, but the bass sounds really good, professional even. If I were the record producer listening to this, I’d be hearing that bass and thinking this guy is way too good for the rest of this band (I’m not a music critic though, so sorry Adam, take it with a pinch of salt).

The other thing of interest is the lyrics. Firstly, I’m not sure exactly what they are. I am sure that what is on the official U2 site is not what’s being sung on the record, and what’s on a few of the popular U2 sites is different from the official site, and different from each other. This is odd, because normally you get some kind of consensus on the lyrics after 30-some years. But I listen carefully to this song, and read the lyrics, and the words they’re listing are not the words I’m hearing. A few differences here and there, I agree with one source in one case and not in another. Slightly frustrating, but hey, at least it’s no Elvis Presley and America.

The second thing on the lyrics is how good they are, or are not as the case may be. One of the things I always liked about Bono is that he writes complex lyrics. There are certain bands (cough-Beatles-cough) where you’re going to hear the same words over and over again. I’m not just talking about the chorus, but the whole thing. I’d be interested to do a word frequency count of some bands to see how often they repeat things in their songs. I’d bet that U2 would be in the more complex side of things. But not this song, it’s extraordinarily repetitive for a U2 song. I mean, just take the title. Stories For Boys is repeated fourteen times in the song. And the rest of it isn’t much better, these are very simple lyrics. Of course, given Bono’s age at the time you don’t blame him for that, although he was already doing more complex stuff. But a lyric like “There’s a comic strip that makes me laugh”? Really? Still, better than I could do.

My rating for Stories For Boys: 5 / 10

An Cat Dubh

It is difficult to do a review of “The Black Cat” for several reasons. First, it’s an odd little song. Second, it always seems to pair with Into The Heart. And third, it’s just not very good.

Okay, so why is it odd? Apart from the name, arguably it is never-ending. On Boy, An Cat Dubh rolls into Into The Heart without a stop or pause, and without a break even in the music. A little googling shows that even the record company didn’t know where it ended, because they put different time stamps on different versions of the album, and then again when released on CD it breaks in different places. So, is this one long song, or two medium length songs, or one fairly long and one fairly short? Depends on which version you’re looking at, I guess.

As to the pairing with Into The Heart, I struggled to decide whether to do a single page for both of them, or a page each. And if I did a page each, what would the Into The Heart page say? Maybe it’ll be just a link back to this page. I guess I’ll have to figure that out when the time comes. But reading about these two songs it seems that they were both played together almost all the time whenever they were played live, which suggests that U2 thinks of them either as one song, or as two halves. I don’t know the answer to that. What might answer that would be hearing Into The Heart played by itself without the lead-in from An Cat Dubh. Can it play by itself? Or does it get a lead-in from some other song. If it played by itself we might be able to tell where it begins.

Finally, about it not being very good. It is interesting musically, kind of ethereal I guess you’d say, maybe a little hippy or mystical, not sure what word to use. Drifting, maybe. I think it’s one of those ones where for their debut album they just let things go and see where they get to. Kind of like the ten minutes of music that a band like Phish would just play, not necessarily knowing where they are at any point in time, but knowing that sooner or later they’ll get to the place they’re going.

Personally I don’t much like that kind of music, a whole bunch of random playing of instruments and not much else. There are lyrics to this song, but they don’t really matter, do they? Bono says it’s about sex, then says it’s about a dead bird and a cat playing with it. Either he’s way over my head, or he’s into some odd fetishes. Either way, it’s not something I think about much, because this is one of those songs that I generally will skip over unless I’m really into the mood. And possibly the best thing about An Cat Dubh/Into The Heart is that once you skip over them, you get to Out Of Control.

My rating for An Cat Dubh: 3 / 10