Outside It's America

Outside It’s America was a documentary following U2 on The Joshua Tree tour, a behind the scenes look at what’s going on when a band is touring. This is the kind of thing I like, the thing I’ve talked about a number of times this year as being interesting to me, seeing what’s really going on when the cameras are off (although of course the cameras are on here, so they do a little mugging here and there). But again, that inside look, so you can watch and dream about being in the band, hanging around backstage, or with the band, doing this and that.

The documentary contains videos for Streets and Spanish Eyes among others, and of course a lot of shots of the band playing different things, whether live, in rehearsal, or even in a bar somewhere (we get to see them playing I Walk The Line in a bar, I kept thinking of the Blues Brothers, where they are playing the local songs so that the locals don’t get mad and start throwing bottles at them). 

There are other bits, like the photo shoot for the Time magazine cover, which has part of it on stage in front of a crowd, part of it backstage in a set of some kind (and the amount of people and production that goes on just for that is crazy), and then part of it outside on top of buildings here and there, which is fairly repetitive and odd, as Bono says boring. Those I guess are the parts of the job that really feel like work, rather than like the fun that being in a band should be. Other parts, which are the fun parts, are the parts we imagine when we think about being in a band, you never think of the grind to get to the shows. Flying in planes, which they make look like a lot of fun, although I guess it could end up being monotonous when you end up doing it every day for a year or more on a large tour. 

Seeing them in rehearsal isn’t completely uncommon, there are regular shots of that happening, and even occasional bits from fans outside listening to the rehearsals. What’s interesting is again the amount of work to get there, when they are trying to solve a problem like the feedback that happens when a certain piece of equipment is turned on, or Bono complaining about the gigantic drum sound he is getting just in front of his head (I don’t know why that would be a problem when you’re in a band).

One of the more interesting parts is when they’re in one of the bars, and we see Bono at the jukebox in the background, he is listening to whatever song it is that is playing, and you can almost see the wheels turning in his head as he is trying to get that sound, that lyric, that feeling, whatever, and keep it there, stored perhaps for another day when he is going to write a song like Heartland or something similar, talking about the time he spent in a bar in the middle of nowhere, or perhaps about the people who live in the middle of nowhere and yet they don’t leave. Who knows what inspiration that moment will bring him some day in the future.

Interesting note: today I passed 200,000 words for this blog this year. That’s like two novels of writing right here. All yours for free. And as they say, if you don’t like it, double your money back.

In God's Country

I often envy Bono and the boys for the lives they have had. They have gone out and done everything and seen everything, and I have sat at home and watched them do it. Could I have done what they did? No, I don’t think so, I didn’t have someone to drag or push me out the door and do what they did. I suppose if things had worked out a little differently, if someone had posted a sign on a noticeboard at my school, I could have done something like them. On the other hand, when I was in school I was a nerd, a science geek, and not into playing any kind of music. So that path might have been closed off for me anyway. But I guess I could have taken some other route to fame and fortune.

The point of all this? That even if I can’t stand on a stage in front of thousands of people, I can go to the places they’ve been and see what they’ve seen. One of those places happens to be one of my favorite places to go, God’s Country, although the definition may differ a little here and there. I see it as the wide open spaces, sitting on top of hills or mountains and looking out across nature, sitting under a vast and open sky just breathing it all in. I have done that many times in my life - I was a grad student in plant biology, specializing in mountain plants - and I think there are few places in the world I would rather be than sitting on top of a mountain by myself, with the feeling of being alone, of being somewhere that no-one had ever been before. That is my impression of being In God’s Country is.

I really like In God’s Country. This is one of those songs that has all the parts working just right. It comes at the right time in their career, just as they are peaking and really beginning to show their chops as performers. It starts with guitars running fast together, then the drums and the bass kick in and the whole is much better than the parts. About the only thing I could criticize the song for is that it plays so fast it’s impossible for me to play it, and it’s one of those songs I’d love to be able to play. That’s not much of a criticism, is it? I guess the other complaint I’d have is that it is so short, at 2:57 there are only a handful of songs that have been shorter. Too little of a good thing, in this case.

The whole of the song reminds me of a movie, this is a song that is very visual in the lyrics. It is the opening title sequence of a movie, you would see the camera panning across those desert spaces, maybe the start of something like the old Clint Eastwood movies, although not necessarily a Western. Maybe it’s the start of some artsy kind of movie set in the desert, and as the song ends we finally finish panning and come to some kind of old shack in the middle of nowhere, and whatever the movie is about begins. Really cinematic, huh?

My rating for In God’s Country: 7 / 10

Race Against Time

Oh, oh, oh, race against time. These are the words that stick in my head from this song, and the only memory I have of the song at any given time. That’s natural because they pretty much are the only words in the song, and there’s not much else that is memorable about it. An instrumental essentially, and not a very interesting one.

Bass starting off, controlling the song, tingles of other things in the background, but it’s all about the bass at the start. Then guitar comes in squealing a little. You get what sounds like “hola” then turns into “water” then turns into “race against time.” In other words weird Bono noises in this song. That kind of repeats for the second half of the song, with mild differences but not much else. I can’t say it’s very musically exciting, or even interesting. The idea of there only being a couple of words in the whole song is odd, nothing like what Bono would usually allow. I guess this is why it was a b side, why it never made it anywhere. It seems like it was an interesting start to a song, where they got down a little bit of the music, made something of it, but never got near to editing it or to Bono adding lyrics other than a few little snatches here and there. He probably needed to listen to it a few more times before he could start putting words to the sounds.

So I can’t recommend it, and I don’t listen to it often, hardly at all in fact. If I wanted to be bored there’s plenty of other ways to do it.

What has the band been doing in the last week? Frustrating not being able to hear them on a regular basis. Taking a little gap before they head off to London for a bunch of shows, then Scotland, then Paris, then Dublin to end. Paris is going to be the big one of course, simply because it is going to be on HBO, although when they say live they of course mean a recording of the band playing live, not that it is a live broadcast. A little confusing in certain cases, like those of a band playing. But we know they’re not really live, because it is being shown here in the US in the evening, which would be the early morning hours in Paris.

I have a strong feeling that things are going to be announced over the next month or so, before the Dublin shows end. What will those announcements be? Well, there’s a rumor going around that they will start again in Europe in March, before coming back to the US in the summer. Hope that’s true. Then there’s the crazy rumor that they’re going to release the next album, Songs Of Experience, before Christmas. I’m not so sure that will happen, but it’s possible. Maybe they should release it on Star Wars day, December 18, and download it to everyone’s phones while they’re in the movie theaters, then auto play it. That would be funny, right? <Sounds of millions of geek voices crying out in anger>

My rating for Race Against Time: 1 / 10

Rise Up

Rise Up qualifies into the fun song group, those that are not quite good enough to make it to an album, and those that get you a lyric stuck into your head. So, a lot of things going for it, but the thing that counts is that it was a b side, and thus didn’t get enough publicity to make it anywhere. Well, to be fair, it has a lot of repetitiveness, the title coming back ad nauseum, and I guess that might count as another strike against it. I do say that I like the song, I like the tempo, I like the music, I like the feeling of the lyrics (but the lyrics themselves are a mystery). Yet another example of even the b sides and unreleased material from The Joshua Tree being so good.

I like that they keep in those directions that they do, right at the start someone says “okay,” then that same person sings the first verse. I do not believe it is Bono, Bono takes over with the “Rise up” section and it clearly isn’t him singing the early part. So who is it? Internet doesn’t give an answer either way, in fact I don’t find anyone even asking the question. It doesn’t sound like Edge, and we know Adam and Larry don’t sing (and what we know of their voices it doesn’t sound like them). My guess is that it is either Eno or Lanois, and again I don’t think I know their voices well enough to say.

The song is clearly an early version, given that someone else is singing on it, but also given that Bono is very indistinct, mumbling his words as he goes. As we always talk about, this is what is called Bongolese, the made-up language that Bono sings when he doesn’t have words and is just trying out different sounds to try and head towards a resultant lyric. This is an interesting and fun way of working out lyrics. I guess it could be something I could try when writing this blog, although I suspect it’s a lot easier for me to write down the drivel that I write than it is for him to come up to lyrics for a song. It’s probably also easier for him to speak them out loud and get the sounds, I don’t think that would work for me here. Maybe if I were writing lyrics, or poetry, it might be a way to go, but even then I think it works much better for it to be spoken than written. That might explain why when you see Bono’s original lyrics there is a whole lot of scratching out, as he slowly builds towards his final version.

Listened to the last two shows in Amsterdam this weekend, seems like they’re not quite keeping the same as they were in the US, like I complained the other day. There have been minor changes, enough to be a little interesting. They are referencing things happening in the world, as they do on a regular basis. They talk about refugees (not migrants) coming to Europe with a great quote from Bono, “if your neighbor’s house is on fire, don’t be surprised if he comes knocking on your door.” And the line adding a lyric for the boy you all saw on the cover of every newspaper, just a slight twist in Pride, but it makes all the difference, “one boy washed up on an empty beach.”

My rating for Rise Up: 5 / 10

Red Hill Mining Town

I love the opening to Red Hill Mining Town, the twanging guitar followed by the takeoff into the music when everyone joins in. Then the song gets a little samey, I think it remains that way for the rest of the song, with mild jumps and dips here and there. But that’s okay, because it’s good music, enjoyable all the way through. It is the emotion from the singing that lifts the song in this case.

So the story goes that it is about the mining community in England in the 1980s, when Thatcher was tearing apart the country and putting it back in a way that was all about the money. The song makes it clear that people are being left behind, the labor day (should have written this for Monday, shouldn’t I?) has come and gone, and there’s nothing left. That lights are going out on a place and way of life that was important to those people. It’s one thing to say screw you, we’re leaving and taking everything with us, and another thing to say life is going to change and we’re going to help you along. That’s kind of the process going on in other places, but like I said abandoning people is the wrong way to go. If you believe that things are only worth money (the whole “a sunset is only beautiful if you can monetize it” theory), then you’re probably not listening to much U2 anyway.

Okay, to the video, which is perhaps the most famous part of this song. Never released officially until the 20th anniversary CD, it has found a way out into the world. Supposedly shot and then held back for reasons I forget, maybe something to do with them not being happy with it? I don’t remember. But let’s face it, it’s a terrible video even now, or maybe especially now. They’re in a mine, and Bono is doing a whole bunch of posing in a wife beater, being about as obnoxious as you could imagine. I mean, this is the ultimate in Bono poser videos, it is all about him flipping his hair and going one way, then suddenly flipping back the other way. It’s kind of ridiculous really. The rest of the band is there for little reason, Larry does a lot of thumping on things hanging against the wall, while Bono looks anxious, or cross, or disturbed, or something, with poor lip-synching here and there. Larry and Edge hang around in the background with very little to do, basically standing there doing nothing, in fact there’s seriously about a two minute segment of the video where you see Adam out of focus in the background a couple of times and Edge not at all.

Adam does get in the action at one point, he comes around a corner in slow motion and throws some birds at the camera. How odd is that? But then Edge does the same thing, after a three second turn the corner slow-mo, a little later he pulls a bird out of a box and throws it. What is the deal? Freeing the canaries? Why would you, when they’re there to save your life, they’re supposed to be the warning that something is going wrong, and you go and get rid of them? Can you imagine being one of the crew on this video, and having the director tell you to go and get a couple of boxes of canaries? Maybe they were trying to warn us about Bono’s overacting and the video’s craptitude.

My rating for Red Hill Mining Town: 8 / 10

Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland)

Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland) is one of the songs the band recorded during the Joshua Tree sessions, but apparently never completed, so it wasn’t released. They finally finished it off and released it on the 20th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree. Maybe they shouldn't have bothered, it's kind of a dull song.

Bono has said that this is about Ethiopia, and it is pretty clear from the lyrics that is the case. The problem with that is that the lyrics put you into a specific time and place, and I’ve said before that is something that messes up a song for me. Whenever he has written songs that talk about an event, it generally hasn’t worked that well. Bono writes much better when he is writing about feelings, or about abstract thoughts. You might suggest that a song like Raised By Wolves breaks that rule, and although I’d agree because he’s writing about an event, he’s also writing about the feelings around it, and that improves it a lot. In Wave Of Sorrow he brings in that specific event, and specific references around that event, and that’s why the song never really came together.

Bono and Ali traveled to Ethiopia in the 1980s, spent a month or two there working in a refugee camp. Bono has cited that as inspiration for much of his life and the work he has done for Africa. One of the things he said was that the $100 million that Live Aid raised was equivalent to just a couple of weeks of debt payments for Africa. That is astounding, that the people there are starving and dying and any money that their country has had to go to debt instead of helping their people. Part of the song talks about that, the line “has every good thing now been sold” meaning that these countries are having to sell their treasures to pay their debts. The same is happening to Greece right now too, I saw a story the other day that said that creditors are trying to force the country to accept casinos, so that they could suck even more money out of the country. It really is time for people to start saying no to these economic vampires, tell them that they “invested” badly and that they lose all their money. Maybe next time they’ll think a little about it, and stop dragging people into debt to feed their own greed.

But the point of the song is how the people have been beaten down, that they are struggling enough that they want to give away their kids to someone who will feed them, or how they will go into prostitution to feed their family. Too many terrible situations when we could all help each other and everyone could survive. And he ends with “blessed is the spirit that overcomes” which I think is a pointer to the hope that survival can bring.

According to Rolling Stone the Birdland part of the name is a reference to a Patti Smith song that inspired them. I know nothing about Patti Smith or her song.

My rating for Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland): 2 / 10

Luminous Times (Hold On To Love)

So the story has been that three songs were meant to form some kind of trilogy, but only one of them ever made it big. That of course was With Or Without You, the others being Walk To The Water and Luminous Times (Hold On To Love). I mentioned this trilogy a little in the Walk To The Water review.

I ended the Walk To The Water review by suggesting that the theme was let me love you, with or without you, and hold on to love. It might just be that continuation, I think I can see it that way. Needing to hold on, not wanting to let go. She is all these influences in his life. It does support that theory. I’m still not quite sure of the order though, I don’t necessarily see it in the order shown above. Dang, the more I write the more I convince myself it’s not a trilogy after all. Maybe I ought to stop.

Slow start, waiting for something to happen, and it does when Bono starts singing. Actually the song really takes off, or at least grabs my attention, when he sings the second “save my soul,” I don’t know why but that’s the point it starts sounding good. 

The “she” verses are interesting, he has used that technique before in a number of songs, that repetitive part, sound, echo, whatever you want to call it. This is the way that I like repetition, doing it a little different each time, so that you don’t quite know what to expect next. This is one of those songs that you know he’d have trouble singing live, mixing up the lines into different orders each time.

There is the “she is the car crash” line, and the way it is sung and the way the music goes right after that line, I always think that is the end of the song. But then it kicks back up into the next line, and I’m left feeling a little perplexed about it.

His guttural “hold on to love” in the middle is an interesting sound too, not sure how he doesn’t hurt his voice singing it like that.

And now I get to end with a huge twist in the tale. As I wrote this, as I read the lyrics, it suddenly occurred to me that he wasn’t talking about love, or the trilogy that was mentioned earlier. No, he was talking about a baby. Not his baby, because the song was written two years before his first child was born. But take the line “God has given me your hand, it holds me in a tiny fist” and tell me that doesn’t mean child. Then read back through the rest of it with that thought in mind. “She comes like carnival, she is the big wheel.” Doesn’t all of it make you think of having a kid in your life? The wildness that takes over and the dedication to that person, that force of nature. Just a thought.

My rating for Luminous Times (Hold On To Love): 5 / 10

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is simply put one of the greatest U2 songs ever. It is widely beloved by fans, it has shown up in all kinds of versions and variations, and is a song that everyone knows. Lately it has been getting some press, because Bono has been asked why the band keeps going, and he responds with the title of the song. The band has also been singing it during the Innocence + Experience tour, often at the end of the show, which I actually disagree with, I don’t think it’s a song to end a show on. I think 40 is a great song to end a show with, although a little tired these days from so much use, and I think that One should be the ending song. But that’s just me.

I have talked about a few of the other highly rated songs this year, how I can sing them note for note, with the music running through my head note for note as well. I can’t do that on Still Haven’t Found. Why? Because of the song variations. I can do the lyrics just fine, it’s the music that gets me, because I’ll start with the album version and within a verse or two I’ve switched to the one from Rattle & Hum, or one of the numerous live versions there are. One of my favorites is the live version from U22, with Hugh Masekela playing trumpet (confession: I never knew his name until now, I could never figure out what Bono was saying, I had it as View Master Kayla).

There is nothing I can tell you about Still Haven’t Found that you don’t already know. It features a lot of repetition of the title, but somehow it doesn’t detract from the song as repetition so often does. Instead in this case it enhances it, it punches up the theme. The words are fantastic, spelling out a lifetime of things that the singer has done, from the high to the low, from speaking to angels to holding hands with the devil, and so on. But all of it comes back to the idea that no matter how much he’s done, he’s still searching. It’s the idea of religion, of God, of trying to find that goal, something that we all have the feeling for. The old saying “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up” that we all repeat, even when we’re old, that’s what this song speaks to. We’re all searching, even if we don’t know what for.

Great song in all it’s variations, I don’t think there’s a version I don’t like, even if I do feel a little saturated. One of just a handful of songs to receive a perfect score from me this year.

If you didn’t notice (and you probably didn’t), today was a monumental screwup. It took me until the 203rd day of the year to forget to write something. Not to forget to plan or anything, earlier in the evening I had picked a topic and was going to work on it, then got distracted and did something else, and never went back to it. So instead I have do dash something out this morning, and fortunately this song was next on the list and easy to write quickly.

My rating for I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: 10 / 10

Desert Of Our Love

A track from the Joshua Tree days, according to Edge it evolved into I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. I’m not quite sure that I hear the Still Haven’t Found influences though, there isn’t really one part that makes me think “that’s a lyric” or “that’s a sound” from it. But if he says so, it must be true right? Technically he says they kept the drums, which is really hard to pick out from one song to another, although of course I’m a guitarist not a drummer.

The opening drums always make me think “uno, dos, tres, catorce.” So maybe the influence extended a lot further than we think.

AtU2.com has a nice little explanation of Bongolese to go along with the lyrics for Desert Of Our Love. It’s interesting, when you think of a song like Elvis Presley And America, which Bono allegedly heard and sang one time in a stream of consciousness. So to go back and hear this song, and think of him making up lyrics as he goes along, filling in things to get the sound pattern or the rhyming pattern, and have it come out as well as this does, it’s really a testament to his talent as a songwriter. Also to his ability to improvise, which you’ve really got to have when you’re in the front of a band like U2. We see that all the time at shows, where something will happen and he’ll make a comment, or make  a speech and slow down the band, or of course with the people they’re pulling on stage.

On the other hand they do have some little comments here and there which sound like them trying to get it down. Like when Bono says “one more verse”, it sounds like he’s telling the band to keep going a little more, and at the end when Eno (I think) says “that’s the best one today.” And very quiet at the end, someone says “Did you simplify the bass drum there?” or something like that. Just makes it really sound like you’re in the moment, in the studio with them. And then there’s the sound which seems to drift a little here and there, back and forth between the ears, or dulling down and up again, does make it feel like you’re in the middle of a mix.

Even though this is a clearly incomplete song, it really sounds good. It’s hard to follow the lyrics, as noted above, because they’re often nonsensical, but listening to them you do actually get a feeling coming through. It’s a religious feeling, a love feeling, a feeling of prayer and desert and early day religion. Hard to explain. If I were to say that it brings forth images of Jesus walking through the desert, and the power and the light and the garden and all that, it might go a little way toward the song’s idea. Really enjoyable, whether or not you understand it.

By the way if you haven’t seen them yet, take a look in the Images section of the blog. Earlier today I uploaded about twenty photos from the four Chicago shows I attended last week. Some of them are really good (if I do say so myself), some of them aren’t great but are representative of either where I was or what I saw, or just an overview of the show itself.

My rating for Desert Of Our Love: 6 / 10

Running To Stand Still

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

With Or Without You

By some strange coincidence, yesterday I wrote about The Joshua Tree and today the random number generator brings up one of the best songs off the album, With Or Without You. As I noted yesterday, With Or Without You is in my U2 top ten all time, so you know it’s going to rank very highly today. It is a fantastic song, there is nothing I don’t like about it, and it often pops into my mind for different reasons. I enjoy listening to it both recorded and live, and I have tried to play it on my guitar with more success than most that I try to play.

The song confuses, there are many who think it is a love song, but many who are adamant that it is absolutely not. There is a significant religious theme, which of course is one of those things I’ve talked about before, with the conflation between religion and love in the U2 sense of things. When you start a song with “see the thorn twist in your side” there’s little doubt that you’re going deep into the idea of Christ on the cross. So much of the song can be read with that idea, in fact the whole “I can’t live with or without you” is a fairly common religious theme, that you are lost without God and you can’t live with him unless you are saved. On the other hand you can read it as the love song version, where you look at it as a person singing to a woman. A little stretch at times (after all the thorn twisting in the side is a little weird in this scenario), but when you sing “she got me with nothing to win and nothing left to lose,” what else can the “she” in that mean? Then of course how do you get to the “I can’t live with or without you” when referring to a woman? Not a great relationship going to ensure there.

As I said, this is one of the songs that I have attempted to play on my guitar. Edge used an Infinite Guitar for his recording, which is a kind of guitar where you place your finger on a string and it plays that note until you release it. As you can imagine, this was very important for the song, as you hear that kind of tone throughout the song. When researching how to copy that sound, I discovered that people were using an E-Bow, which is a small electronic device that produces the same effect. Basically you hold this device on a string and it vibrates the string to make the same sustained sound. I bought an E-Bow and was amazingly successful at repeating the sounds from the song, although not necessarily to the perfection required for it. I have since seen Edge using an E-Bow when playing the song, so at some point he changed the way he did it, or found the E-Bow to be easier, or whatever. Either way, I’m happy to know that he does it the same way I do (or that I do it the same way he does). Yet another song that I have to have a lot more practice on to get halfway decent at it.

My rating for With Or Without You: 9 / 10

The Joshua Tree

Ahhh, The Joshua Tree. What more is there to say about it than that? The greatest album ever written, by anyone, ever. Well, that’s my opinion. The lowest rated song on The Joshua Tree would be the highest rated song on some albums. Heck, some of the songs left off The Joshua Tree could be top five songs on other albums. Yes, that is just how good and how fertile the band was during that period. That was the time when everything they touched turned to gold.

The album opens perfectly, the building resonance of Where The Streets Have No Name, incidentally the greatest song that U2 have made. Then it rolls on into I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, a top five, and With Or Without You, a top ten. So three songs in a row are U2 top ten songs, how can you get any better than that? You could argue that the rest of the album pales in comparison, but that’s ridiculous, because again I could say take away those three songs and the rest of the album would still be top three or four of all U2 albums. That’s how crazy good the whole album is.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the rest of it. The Bullet The Blue Sky/Running To Stand Still combo is perfect, not topically the same but musically so, they run together so well. The first half of side two (how many of you even understand what I say when I say that a record has two sides?) is the lighter part of the album, a little bit of fun, a little bit of whimsy, something to cool down on after the deep ending to side one and before the deep ending to side two. And speaking of the deep ending, Exit and Mothers Of The Disappeared work so well together to pull you down into a introspective, contemplative state which is only broken when the album recycles back to those opening notes on Streets.

And, for the most personal note: I named my son Joshua based solely on this album. When my wife and I were figuring out baby names, we didn’t know whether it would be a boy or a girl. I immediately had the name Joshua, I told her why, and she liked it and was happy with it, even with the reasoning. She even suggested that his middle name could be Tree (although I think she might have been kidding). We had several names for girls (Grace was my favorite, you can probably guess why), but we never narrowed it down to one. Thanks to a slip by the doctor we were fairly sure it was going to be a boy, but if it had turned out to be a girl we would have been struggling in the delivery room to pick one. So we got a little lucky, and he got a great name.

My rating for The Joshua Tree: 7.8 / 10

Mothers Of The Disappeared

In a very political career, U2 turned with this song to a hotly political subject, the disappearances of so many people in Argentina during the 1970s and 1980s, when there was a military junta in charge of the country. A topic that I know little about, that the vast majority of U2 fans and indeed non-U2 fans know little about, until it got publicity through this song and other places, raising awareness as sometimes it seems only Bono can do. In recent years, with changes in Argentina’s government, the actual Mothers have been getting results and finding information about their children, and former high-ranking officials have been convicted of crimes related to the disappearances. Not necessarily due to the U2 song, but it at least helped in some ways and raised attention everywhere.

The last song on The Joshua Tree, Mothers Of The Disappeared joins Exit in forming a deep and dark ending to the album. Listening to the album, those two songs taken together have always left me in an introspective mood, as I said in my review of Exit. It’s not a bad thing, it’s really that emotional depth that you don’t often get in a song, even with many of U2’s songs. Don’t get me wrong, there are others, but this pairing is one of the best ones that U2 have ever done.

The words in the song are raw and emotional, this is very much the painting of a picture, one that you would sit and stare at for hours as you peel back the layers. There are actually surprisingly few words in Mothers Of The Disappeared, for such a long song, only four short verses, with only three lines each (I count “Hear their heartbeat, we hear their heartbeat” as one line, not two as it is partially printed on the U2.com site). Each line provides depth by itself, in a combination it really gets into you. Like I said, I could sit and listen to this and think deep thoughts. Now I think about it, this would be a really good song to play as I lay in bed before going to sleep, or if I can’t sleep, because it certainly calms the mind.

The song starts quiet and scratchy, slowly building up the layers - again - of sound, adding drums, guitar and bass sporadically, but louder and louder as the song goes on. It isn’t until 1:30 that Bono steps in, with the sound continuing with almost no change or break when he joins. After a couple of verses he takes a break while the music continues building, then he comes back in, and you can hear the emotion in his voice as he sings the last two verses. Then he is done singing, except for some ooo-ooohs, and there’s another 1:30 of music until the end of the song. It keeps building up though, louder and louder, until there’s a sudden break, like a cloudburst, back into the scratchy sounds as the song fades to the end. And as I write and listen I realize that the scratchy sound is quite possibly a way to simulate the rainfall that is talked about in the song.

My rating for Mothers Of The Disappeared: 7 / 10

Where The Streets Have No Name

If you’ve been waiting for this song, then you won’t be surprised at the rating. I suspect that every fan of U2 would give Where The Streets Have No Name the same rating I have, a perfect 10. It is one of only four songs in the U2 catalog that I have given 10, and I will go even further and let out the secret that Streets is my all-time number one U2 song.

There is nothing I don’t like about Streets, from the song to the video to the live performances. The video is great, on top of a roof while the cops try to shut them down. So many images show up, Larry looking at a cop bike, shirtless Adam, the firetrucks rushing through, the crowd rushing across the street. There’s a moment where Bono reaches out and touches a crew guy, who looks like he’s about to fall off the roof. This is the absolute perfect image of Bono at his best, and the iconic image of Edge’s look. And I never even noticed that the sign on the back of the roof said Million Dollar Hotel, which would show up again much later.

I have seen Streets played live several times, and have numerous live versions of the song on my computer. During the last tour I took my video camera to two shows and recorded Streets at both of them (the only other song I recorded was Crazy Tonight). I ought to upload them to YouTube sometime, I suppose. They have become favorites because I taped them myself, of course, but there are plenty of other versions to enjoy out there. In fact my all-time favorite of this song is on the b side of the Electrical Storm cd (how does a cd have a b side?). It’s the combo of Bad and 40 and Streets, which is a combo of three of my favorite songs all together. It flows perfectly of course between the songs, it has Bono’s blessings speech in the intro to Streets, and you just hear the crowd explode as they realize that Streets is starting (you hear that every time it is played, in fact I get tears in my eyes when I hear it start, I love it so much). Then hearing the audience singing “I want to run” is just fantastic. I have honestly set this set of songs to repeat and played it over and over so many times.

I have tried to play Streets on my guitar, and have had some minor success with it. Working through the examples on the U2 Guitar Tutorials site has been a lot of fun. I actually bought a delay effects pedal specifically for this song, that’s how much I love it. I can’t say that I can play it well, but this is such a good song that I even enjoy it when I am playing it badly. It’s one of those songs that I could work on for hours and never get tired of it.

I don’t know what else to say about it. For me, Where The Streets Have No Name is the greatest song ever, U2 or anyone else. If I could only listen to one song for the rest of my life, it would be Streets. If I was suddenly struck deaf, I would be happy in the knowledge that I could remember this song note for note. It’s changed over the year, different from the album original, but it doesn’t matter which to me, I love them all.

My rating for Where The Streets Have No Name: 10 / 10

Spanish Eyes

I remember having a conversation with my brother once (when we were younger), where he said that Spanish Eyes was better than the a side that it was the b side for. He couldn’t remember what the a side was though, and I shut him up pretty quickly by pointing out that it was I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. So even though it wasn’t better than the a side, it is still a good song, probably one that barely missed the cut to be on The Joshua Tree. It’s amazing how many of those songs there are, they could almost have made a full album from them, and it wouldn’t have been a bad album either.

So what is the song about? Well, plain and simple it’s about sex. I could have said love, but no, sex is the right word. Desire maybe, although if I say desire then you’re going to think of a different U2 song. Gotta say that U2.com missed this one badly in terms of the lyrics, so many bits missed, haven’t noticed that before. Maybe they’re listening to a different version of the song than I am. Anyway, the lyrics are pure and simple about the desire for a person, presumably Ali given the way he’s talking about her. Not sure about the Spanish Eyes though, suggestions I found online seemed to think that it was an Irish/Spanish history think, although even then that may just be a rumor. Of course if he believes the rumor then that’s okay, right?

“And I need you more than you need me,” I gotta say right here that this might be a phrase that every guy in a relationship ever could say. Nailed this one Bono.

Curiously enough as I’m listening to the song, it ends and goes into the next song on the Best of 80s, which happens to be Sweetest Thing, and I am suddenly struck by how similar the two songs sound. Well, not really, but there is enough of a similarity for me to notice. I wonder if that might be a reason they didn’t make the cut, sounding too similar to other songs?

What I don’t understand is why they made a video for Spanish Eyes. It’s a b side, it never made an album, why did they need to promote it? The video is amusing, it shows the band in the American Southwest, Vegas, New Mexico, along the border. In various scenes they’re hitchhiking, or fooling around, a few shots of locations, some of concerts, others of people in the area. You could probably call it a road movie, I guess, maybe a shortened version of Rattle And Hum, or a preliminary version or something that kicked off the idea for the full movie. Yeah, I doubt it. Anyway, watch the video, it’s fun, a little slice of life for the band in that time. And when Bono is talking and the microphone falls off the stand, his facial expression is priceless.

My rating for Spanish Eyes: 5 / 10

Sweetest Thing

I have a soft spot for Sweetest Thing, simply because of the video. The song is lovely, bouncy, entertaining and all, but the video is really what makes it. Incidentally, I always thought the song was The Sweetest Thing, but it’s not, the The does not appear on the album titles.

Now, if you didn’t see the video or heard the song, and just read the lyrics, you might not get the same impression. From the lyrics it sounds either like a couple that’s breaking up, or a guy who has a girl not responding to his overtures. There’s nothing about the sweetness in the lyrics (except of course for the repeated “sweetest thing”). But you read through it and it sounds like she’s pretty mean to the guy, whether as non-responsive, or as “a stormy kind of love.” Which doesn’t make it a love song.

So then you listen to the music, and it’s all happy and bouncy, and so you kind of forget what the words are saying and you think that everything is lovely and wonderful. And then you watch the video and you think that he screwed up somehow and is trying to apologize for something he did. So three different ways of looking at the song, each of them wildly different.

The video is fun, a ride down the street with all kinds of people in the background doing crazy things, trying to show Ali that Bono is sorry. If you haven’t seen it (and if you’re reading this you have, because you’re a U2 fan) go watch it. Bono looks really kind of goofy throughout, I’m not sure what it is that makes him look strange. Can’t be the camera angle, we always see him like that. The hat? The glasses? I don’t know. My favorite part of the whole thing is right at the end, when he takes off his hat and Larry holds up a halo above Bono’s head, trying to make him look like an angel. It’s hilarious, I don’t know why Larry isn’t cracking up at that point.

Interesting comment from Edge that they realized later that Sweetest Thing should have been on The Joshua Tree. This brings up multiple questions. Firstly, how could it be on the album since it sounds so much different from all the other songs. I think the closest in terms of sound would be Trip Through Your Wires, but even that’s a stretch. Sweetest Thing is much bouncier and relaxed that anything on the album. Next question would be which song would it replace? Assuming that they kept the same number of tracks for a similar running time, which is what mattered back in those days, when you had to fit it all on vinyl, or on a CD, instead of being unlimited because it’s all going on your phone anyway. So, again, Trip Through Your Wires? Sweetest Thing doesn’t necessarily fit in the vibe of the album, does it? Not much of a spoiler alert here, but Trip is tied for worst song on The Joshua Tree (which as I’ve said before makes it a good to very good song on most other albums), and I rate it the same as Sweetest Thing, so the album wouldn’t have gained or lost by exchanging one of those songs.

My rating for Sweetest Thing: 6 / 10

Beautiful Ghost

The full title of this song is written as Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience. Now, if I told you the song was written in the Joshua Tree era, would you believe me? Given that the band just released an album called Songs of Innocence, and are calling the next album Songs of Experience? Probably not a coincidence, but seriously, planning something twenty years ahead seems kind of excessive.

The lyrics of the song are taken completely from some poetry written by a dude called William Blake in 1794. Yes, 1794, so maybe they were planning 200 years ahead. Apparently he wrote a collection called Songs of Innocence, and another one called Songs of Experience. The lyrics here are literally the Introduction to Songs of Experience, as the title says.

I’m joking by calling him a dude, of course, because Blake is pretty well known. Couldn’t have told you any of his works before today, but I had heard his name. Apparently Bono is well-read, even more so than I actually knew. You always hear about him having read this or that literary thing and using it for inspiration, but 200 year old poetry is crazy. I cannot pretend to know what the heck the poem is talking about. I’m not that literary. My knowledge of it is pretty much all from the Wikipedia article. Even then my knowledge is kind of sketchy, I read through this literary discussion of the poem and have no idea of about half of what they’re saying (or more, maybe three quarters). I’ve always been more on the analytical side of the brain, but I’ve been trying to push that artistic side lately. That is one of the reasons for this blog in fact, so I can work on my writing and develop a voice, as it were.

The music is ethereal, random, kind of something you might think of as from a movie. Mostly just ghostly sounds, I suppose you could say that’s why the song is titled as it is. Bono speaks quietly as he quotes the poem. What’s weird is that it is two minutes in before he even says a word, then he reads the poem, and it is right at the end when he repeats “till the break of day” that his voice gets a little higher. That’s the total of the song. Dreary I would have said a few weeks ago, although I think I might have used that word a little too much.

There are a few songs by U2 that are music only, instrumentals, and this one could almost qualify as one of them. It is music by the band, and words by someone else, and they do appear to just be thrown in as an afterthought. I’m going to write about several instrumentals in one post one of these days, because really how much can you write about a song that doesn’t have any words? Not much, I tell you. It’s hard enough to write about one whose words are a 200 year old poem that doesn’t make any sense.

My rating for Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience: 3 / 10

Trip Through Your Wires

Once again we hit a song on the back side of The Joshua Tree, and once again I will tell you that if this song was on most other albums, it would be one of the best songs on that album. That’s just how good The Joshua Tree is.

Harmonica stands out on Trip Through Your Wires, of course. He plays it in several songs over the years, but somehow when I think of the harmonica it’s this song that I think of, probably because it is so upfront. I always liked the little pause in the music just before he sings the title, the whole band comes to a stopping point with the drums beating the stop and the time during the guitar pause, then they kick up again during the title words. I have one point of contention in the words, the words in the song are “I was cold and you clothed me honey” but I always thought he was singing “loved” instead of “clothed”. I guess clothed makes more sense, but loved could work just as well there couldn’t it?

There’s a video of U2 playing this song on tv in 1986, and it’s an early version of the song. The main lyric is “In this town, the tide is turning” compared to the now classic “In the distance, she saw me coming round”, and the point of the song appears to be different. It is just another example of how songs can change and grow as they become clearer to the band. From an initial set of lyrics to something where few of the words may be the same (although the title remains), but in this case much of the music is essentially the same.

The album version to me is kind of a love song, I say kind of because it doesn’t really come out with anything specific. I guess the title is somewhat pointing in that direction, but most of the rest of it could be anything. I actually have this idea of it being a companion or maybe a bookend to my idea of what Exit is. In my review of Exit I said that I thought it was a man battling through a storm in a field, trying to find shelter and God reaching down to protect him. I could see Trip Through Your Wires being a part two to Exit, where the man has survived the night in the storm, and now in the morning he is staggering about, working his way through the desert, and she sees him across the fields. She helps him, as an angel or a devil he doesn’t know, but she gives him the shelter and the water he needs. And at the end he sees the thunder on the mountain, which may be either a reflection back on the previous storm from Exit, or maybe a look at another oncoming storm.

And now I’ve written that all out, it keeps bouncing around in my head that this is the beginning of an idea for a movie of some kind. I’ll have to keep going through U2 songs with this idea in mind. I wonder how to get permission to use their music? Or how to shoot a movie?

My rating for Trip Through Your Wires: 6 / 10

Bullet The Blue Sky

Bullet The Blue Sky is one of those deeply political songs, which U2 have a number of, not nearly as many as they have religious but still, lots. This one talks about Central America and the intervention of the United States, something which, if the US people were to know and understand the true details of, they would be ashamed to know what their government did on their behalf. Well, I say that, but frankly that’s not true. After all, the government tortured people on our behalf, and when those details were leaks there were just as many people saying that they should torture more as there were saying it should stop. Religious people, too. Remember that, next time you’re listening to a so-called religious leader in the United States, ask yourself which side of torture they have professed to be on.

Bullet starts with a howl of guitar (actually it starts with drums, but then the guitar), and it forms a howling wind. You hear Bono’s voice being what, not quite angry, but harsh. The drums rip through the sky, the bass pounds back and forth. In the middle a guy comes up to Bono and you can hear the contempt in his voice. He gets into a mild stream of consciousness at that point, telling a story as he goes, and it’s compelling to listen to. If you know the history of the song, that he was there seeing and experiencing what the people of Nicaragua were going through, you get how authentic it really is.

I’ve heard of the tales that they did or didn’t want to finish with saying outside it’s America, because they weren’t quite sure if they were going to be insulting the US market. Kind of ridiculous that, because the US market is usually too obtuse to understand when they’re being insulted and when they’re not. Witness the use of Born In The USA as a song used in political campaigns, when it is anything but what a politician should use, since it’s an attack on the stated values of the United States. Note I say stated, not actual values, because they’re two separate things, as I note in the first paragraph above.

Bullet The Blue Sky is another of those really good songs on The Joshua Tree that get a little buried because of the rest of the album. It is perfectly placed within the album, it forms a fantastic pairing with Running To Stand Still, but like I’ve said on other Joshua Tree songs, even the lowest rated songs would be top two or three on most of their other albums.

The song does of course give us the title for Rattle And Hum, and it appears live there, and I think I shall do a second review of the song from that album. Not sure why, maybe because it is a separate release, but maybe because I feel I have more things to say that I haven’t quite gotten around to thinking about yet.

My rating for Bullet The Blue Sky: 7 / 10

One Tree Hill

I have a lot of love for One Tree Hill. It is slow, haunting, not quite meandering. But it is powerful. It is perfectly placed within the album, as a lead-in to Exit, it’s calming down from the louder songs like Trip Through Your Wire, and then pushing you along toward the end.

Greg Carroll gets a mention every time this song gets a mention, of course. I suppose he might have done the live fast die young thing, but he got a lot of fame from it, unintended of course. I really just don’t understand how his whole story happened. I mean, you’re walking down the street and you run into U2, you talk to them a bit, then you show up at their next concert as a roadie and they take a liking to you and bring you onboard. How is that even possible? You’ve got to get a real good connection going right away to be able to do that. So much so that I doubt it would be even possible today, now that the band is as big as it is (not that I’m hinting or anything, I think my days of running away to a rock and roll lifestyle might be behind me. But I can dream).

The song itself seems to blend several of the feelings that Bono was having at the time into one outlet. There’s the whole New Zealand part going on, and also bits of Chile with stuff about the poet Jara, and the final verse being the lament of the ongoing struggles there. I have some issues with Bono on some of the things he talks about like this, where there’s a local conflict and he’s heard one side of it and creates a song or a fuss, but in general he is proved right most of the time. I think my reaction is to celebrities in general who jump on the nearest political bandwagon to add to their few moments of fame.

“I’ll see you again when the stars fall from the sky, and the moon has turned red over One Tree Hill,” is a powerful line, deeply emotional as you get further into the sense of the song. It talks of the future, of time everlasting, and of the strong emotional bond that two people can have, either as friends or more than that. Switching throughout the song between night and day, the images of light and dark provide to me a strong contrast. I could certainly see this song making an exceptionally good music video.

Interesting to read that Bono did the singing in one take, I’ve said several times before that usually the band needs their stuff to cook a lot before it is good. This would be the exception that proves the rule (a totally non-scientific idea). I don’t think you could get this song to sound any better at all, at least not lyrically (and not musically either, I suppose). But you know (spoiler alert) that I actually rated this as tied for the worst song on The Joshua Tree. What does that tell you about how good that album is? On almost every other U2 album this song would have been average or higher. Timing is everything.

My rating for One Tree Hill: 6 / 10