Red Light

War is an album that a lot of people love, but I’m not really in that category. I didn’t rate it very highly when I reviewed it, because I felt there were a couple of great songs that have stood the test of time, some songs that were fairly mediocre, and a fairly long tail of poor songs that have quickly disappeared into nothing. Red Light is one of those songs, a song I don’t listen to much, one I don’t want to listen to much, and a song that is fairly competitive as the worst song off the album.

The red light phrase is fairly well-known across the world, especially the red light district of a city, and I think I tend to associate it with Amsterdam more than anything. The song I think is going for the idea of a person being trapped into the life of a prostitute, and the singer is perhaps in love with them, and wants to try and rescue them from that situation, but can’t because they’re not welcome.

The song to me is a little bit of a reversion to the earlier sound in the U2 catalog. It features fairly simple instrumentation and fairly simple lyrics. As I go through the song I’m mostly hearing the bass, and a whole lot of drums, which were a feature of the early days but they also boomed on War, so maybe there is a little bit of progress in the song. There’s also a trumpet playing here and there, turns out that Kid Creole and the Coconuts were in town and some of their musicians helped out on the song in various ways. It is fairly uncommon for an instrument like that to appear on a U2 album in such a prominent way. Mostly when they have guests they’re backing music or short inserts, not leading the song and not showing up throughout. In this case the trumpet doesn’t seem to add much either, it’s not like it is really integral to the song like say when they have the backing musicians on All I Want Is You.

For the lyrics it is quite simple, there are some verses, and then the chorus is overloaded throughout the song. The “I give you my love” is repeated so many times it is irritating, especially at the end of the song when they just ran out of ideas and sang that repeatedly until the song finally faded away, perhaps out of boredom. That is one of those irritations for me, that in the early days they were unable to take an extra step and finish a song, whereas today they would work on it for months to get it just right. I guess that’s a sign of success, that you could push through that problem enough to get to the point where it no longer is a problem. How many bands are never given that chance?

I’m in California right now, just a couple of days for a wedding. I have thought of the song a number of times, I had the idea of visiting the locations in the song, but haven’t had time to do any of that. About the only part I was successful on was the blood-orange sunset, which I actually saw as I flew in on Friday. It was really pretty, I can see why it would stick 30 years later to get into a song.

My rating for Red Light: 2 / 10

Angels Too Tied To The Ground

Just the title Angels Too Tied To The Ground makes me think of Wings Of Desire, with the angels flying around. Of course they’re not at all related, Angels Too Tied To The Ground was done during the War album sessions, but only completed and released a few years ago when they did the anniversary War album. It was re-recorded apparently, Bono’s voice is definitely much more modern, but it’s hard to tell about the rest of it, the music itself, whether it is old or modern, if they recorded that fresh too.

Angels Too Tied To The Ground has piano and bass leading it off, and the bass sounds really good throughout the song. I don’t know if I’ve ever decided on when peak bass happened for Adam, I don’t know if I could decide that, but I think that War is when everything began coming together. It is when the band had several years of experience, which gave them more confidence in what they were doing and meant they would try more risky ideas here and there. Some of them paid off handsomely, and of course got them to where they are today. In Angels Too Tied To The Ground I think the bass is the standout. 

You have the drums which sound fairly similar to the rest of the drums off War, slightly militaristic, a little heavy on the snare, a little loud compared to the rest of the music, nothing wrong with them just needing a little toning down, moving to the background somewhat. The piano is there throughout, but mostly does disappear into the background, that may be because Edge is playing and switching back and forth from guitar to piano, which means when he’s playing guitar the piano is of course gone and forgotten.

Lyrically we see what I have said all year long, that the early songs were much more basic than they are now. Angels Too Tied To The Ground follows that same feeling, you can take half the lyrics away because they are just a repeat of the title, and what you are left with is pretty simple. Essentially just a few sentences beginning with “what is it” that somehow end up about being stopped from love, I think. Either some kind of block from the person you love, or certainly at the end talking about surrender with the white flag. A little obscure, I think, it is mostly just the feeling there. I can’t say it is good or bad, just that it is. Like many of the songs from the early albums, the thoughts behind them are not really coherent, just a display of feelings.

I don’t think I have listened to this song enough to like it, and I’m not sure if I ever will. The one part I do like - the part where he sings the title quite quickly - stands out, but the rest of the song isn’t enough to sustain it.

My rating for Angels Too Tied To The Ground: 3 / 10

Sunday Bloody Sunday

There are, frankly, too many days that could be called Bloody Sunday to pick just one as the date to write about this song, so I picked November 8, to instead remember a day that actually mattered to U2 themselves, the day of the Enniskillen bombing that was memorialized in Rattle And Hum during the lead-in to the song. And today is the anniversary of that day, and yet another Remembrance Sunday. How long must we sing this song?

If you are a U2 fan - and for many who are not - this is one of the greatest songs ever. At the start of the year I ranked all the U2 album songs to begin the project, and the one debate I had more than all others was the ranking of the top two songs. I argued and argued with myself in both directions, before ultimately putting Sunday Bloody Sunday as the second best U2 song of all time. In reality I suppose I would put it and Streets as tied for best.

There have been so many different variations of Sunday Bloody Sunday over the years, from the fast and furious to the slow-burning. I generally prefer the faster ones, thinking of them as better than for example the version that is currently being performed on the Innocence + Experience tour, but even that’s not really true. They’re just variations on the same great theme, and the current one is just as powerful as any other.

But back to the original paragraph, the idea of the song. You will remember from Rattle And Hum that they have that little bit just before the song, where they are talking and debating whether it should even be on the movie, that it was so difficult to play on a night when there had been a bombing earlier in the day. It brings out the deep emotion in the band, in Bono, and you see that very clearly during the movie. I have seen that song on the movie a hundred times, I have listened to it a thousand times (I copied it onto a tape way back when and would listen to it over and over). I know the words and the movements and the emotion of the song deeply, and I feel it all the way down my soul. “The glory of the revolution, and the glory of dying for the revolution. Fuck the revolution. They don’t talk about the glory of killing for the revolution.” I feel like crying just thinking about it while I am writing those words.

The song has far more emotional attachment to the Irish than to me, and yet I think this may be a song that brings the Irish plight to the world more than anything else. It’s also a song that can and has been sung about conflict around the world. “I can’t believe the news today” is one of those phrases that has entered the common lexicon, something that says here we go again, we’re repeating this news over and over. It’s gone from shocking to everyday though, especially if you want to talk about something like gun violence. We need the world to look at Ireland, to look at how things changed there, at least in part because of this song. Bring that to the rest of the world, please.

My rating for Sunday Bloody Sunday: 10 / 10

Endless Deep

I can’t place my finger on what Endless Deep reminds me of. There are bits and pieces within the song that make me think “Oh, that’s music from…” and then I can’t fill in the end of the sentence. But I somehow get it several times during the song, and I don’t know what it is. It’s killing me not to know.

The song shouldn’t really be in here, or perhaps it should have been in the Instrumentals page I did a while back. But I’m adding it, and for one reason only. That’s because a couple of days ago I covered Your Blue Room, which features a few lines sung by Adam, and the random number generator today pulled out Endless Deep, which is I believe the only other song that Adam ever sang on. Sang on being a little bit of a stretch, because there are exactly two lines in the entire song, “where do we go from here?” repeated twice. I’m not sure why he sings them either. That line came from With A Shout, so maybe that’s where I’m thinking of the music from. And why he sang that line right there, I also don’t know.

And that’s why it’s mostly an instrumental, and thus gets a low rating. The song was a throwaway, put on the b side of the Two Hearts Beat As One single, and barely noticeable there. Not one of those b sides which take off and make a name for themselves, although somehow it did get onto the Best Of 1980-1990 b sides. Maybe they needed to fill some space on that CD as well, I can’t imagine why else it would get on there.

Speaking of filler, one of the reasons to not cover instrumentals as individual songs is that there’s usually not much to say about them, and here I am, stuck at the end of a review with a couple of hundred words to go and nothing else to say about the song. This is what it must feel like when you’re trying to fill in those spaces at the end of an album, or rather on the b sides of the singles, and you don’t have anything to go on them. You head to the trashcan, take a look at the stuff that you randomly recorded during your sessions, and you say hey, here’s a piece that doesn’t sounds like complete junk. Or maybe you say hey, here’s a couple of minutes of something that sounds vaguely like a continuous piece of music, not just a bunch of stops and starts. But someone says well, there’s a little bit of Adam talking in the middle, he’s asking where we’re going to eat dinner once we’ve done with the session, how are we going to get rid of that? Then Bono listens to it, and says hey, that reminds me of a song from the last album, let’s leave it on there and see if anyone notices. And so they do.

And that’s how you fill in the last couple hundred words in a review.

My rating for Endless Deep: 1 / 10

Drowning Man

Randomness puts us into Drowning Man, a day after The Refugee, the song that follows it on the album. And I don’t want to recycle the review, but I could essentially say the same things as yesterday, with the slight caveat that Drowning Man gets an extra point compared to The Refugee. Doesn’t make it that much better, obviously.

The music is a little odd, there is a clear strumming chord that Edge is playing over and over, his stuff is usually not that distinct, that separated, it usually flows together much more. The bass line is very generic, it pretty much sounds like the same few strings played over and over. The drums are quite distinct too, very high, very snare I think is the right word, they kind of sound not a lot like any other U2 songs that I can think of right now.

Lyrically the song isn’t that much either. Back to my old bugaboo, the repetition of lyrics, and we see that a lot here even if they are separated into different verses. The “take my hand” part repeats about five or six times, with associated lines, as does the “hold on tightly.” The rest of it has different bits attached, but none of them really grab you, it’s just a whole bunch of saccharine sounding words stuck together. I guess the theme is love, but once again we’re not quite sure whether that love is about a person or about God, or maybe both. I listened to a podcast about U2 in the last couple of days, and the person on there repeated the ongoing theme I have, which I think most people have, that every U2 song is about love, about God, and about an underlying message. I get the first two here, not sure about the third message though, unless the message is “man, this is kind of boring.”

That podcast by the way is Inquisitive by Myke Hurley, the episode was number 46, featuring John Siracusa (nerd hero), and talking about Achtung Baby. Well worth a listen, wish I’d heard it before doing my own review of Achtung Baby less than a week ago.

I also have to say that Drowning Man stands out a little from the rest of the album. War is kind of a harsh album, note the title, and for the most part is fairly martial music, sort of in your face both musically and lyrically. I think that Drowning Man stands out because the music is much softer than the rest of the album (despite - or perhaps in accordance with - what I said above about the guitar and drums). The lyrics also are much less harsh, very lovey dovey if you will, while the rest of the album talks about, well, War. This one is talking about love and wings and tides and holding on tightly. Quite different to the rest, it might fit a little better on October, or perhaps even The Unforgettable Fire.

My rating for Drowning Man: 3 / 10

The Refugee

I have the ratings for all the U2 songs in a single file, which I refer to each day when I randomly choose which song to review. Pick the song, go to the file and look up the song to determine what I rated it. There are a few songs that I know are at the top, there are a few songs that I have a basic idea of where they are, and a few that I have to hunt for. The Refugee is not one of those. For The Refugee I went to the bottom of the list and started scanning up looking for the name, and didn’t have to go very far.

The Refugee came off the War album, fairly reasonably given the title, and I suppose you could say that it fit on that album pretty well. Except there are times when I think it doesn’t. The album does feature a lot of what I’d call martial music, somewhat strident, definitely showing up the drums more than the other albums. Larry came out of a marching band, and for War he uses those skills a lot. It makes for some good sound, like with Sunday Bloody Sunday (and currently on the tour he features heavily in that, especially when Sunday ends and we get toward the start of Raised By Wolves), but it also does give a little bit of overkill, which I think The Refugee is one of the specific examples of that. Along with the rest of the music, and the lyrics, this song just doesn’t appeal to me.

Strident is the word I used earlier, and I’ll repeat it again here. The song seems clipped, driven by short beats in both the drums and the lyrics. There aren’t long winding lyrics in this, they’re mostly a few words said (and I mean said, not sung, although maybe I should say shouted) quickly, trying to keep the tempo running. Again, not necessarily a good thing. Staccato, that’s the word I was trying to come up with to describe it. May make an interesting theme, since the word gets used for gunfire as well, continuing the album theme, but it doesn’t make for good music.

As for the point of the song, it is kind of saying that there’s a girl waiting to become a refugee, to be taken away to America to live in peace. I’m not so sure about that, it’s a fairly simplistic notion of being a refugee. I have been paying a little more attention to refugees lately, as Neil Gaiman has been turning his spotlight on them a little. It is one of those tragic situations, where people are being driven from their homes for reasons that they usually don’t care about. I can’t imagine being in that situation. It tends to lead back to thoughts about the powerful using the rest of us as pawns in their games. They stay in power, or switch power with someone else, and the regular people, the little people, die or get thrown out of their land.

The other thing that irks me about the song is the start, where every time I hear it all I think is “more cowbell.”

My rating for The Refugee: 2 / 10

Two Hearts Beat As One

Two Hearts Beat As One is one of the better songs on War, although that only makes it average overall. I do remember liking it a lot back in the early days, thinking it would be one of their major hits, but it’s one of those songs which I don’t think has stood the test of time. In fact it’s barely been played live since the end of the Unforgettable Fire tour, and I’ll admit that I don’t listen to it too much either. The loudness of the bass and the drums are ironically something that made it good back then, but doesn’t do it for me much any more.

Two Hearts does break some of the rules I’ve been talking about, the repetition of too many lyrics. The words “Two hearts beat as one” repeat throughout, which isn’t a bad thing given that it is the title, after all. But it’s the “can’t stop to dance” lines which are repeated many times at the end, and that tells me that they ran out of ideas for finishing the song, or out of ideas for lyrics that would work.

I have a number of lyrical issues here, words that I haven’t understood for so many years. They’re simple little bits, but it all adds up. “They say I’m a fool, they say I’m nothing” is the lyric, I always thought the second part was “for saying nothing,” which in this case really does change the meaning. The simple one is “can’t stop to dance” which I thought was “can’t stop the dance.” I do have to say that, reading back through the lyrics, I really can’t follow what Bono was going on about here. Apparently love, given the title, but the only bit that refers to it is the words “if I’m a fool for you, oh, that’s something.” The rest of it isn’t really about a love song, or about a couple, or anything like that. It’s about dancing. Maybe that’s why the song didn’t last, it pretended to be a love song but it wasn’t. I just read something in the last few days that said that 90% of hit songs are about love. Maybe they really need to be about love, and not just a title.

The video is funny now, but you know they were so earnest back in the day. They’re on a roof in Paris, for reasons that are lost to the mists of time, although I’m sure you know by now how many rooftops they’ve played on. In Los Angeles for the Streets video, on top of the BBC, and up on Rockefeller Center in New York, just to name three. The gang is very early 80s in the video, like they just took a class on how to look like a rock star. Bono is desperately trying to look cool, Edge is wearing a hat and sunglasses that he stole from the Blues Brothers, Adam looks really young, and Larry with his natural cool in leather jacket. They intersperse with some acrobats, and the kid from the album cover, in something that presumably had some meaning to someone.

My rating for Two Hearts Beat As One: 5 / 10

War

War is U2’s third album, and it takes quite a different direction from the previous two. Boy was very much the band finding their feet, October was about their religion, and War, by the title, tells you what it was about. It was harder rock, much louder sounding, much more confident music from the band. Many people think of War as being the album that caused their career to take off, and in many ways it is. Oddly enough, although comfortably ahead of October in my ratings, I don’t rate it as highly as Boy. In fairness, the peak is higher, but the tail is longer.

War took on the themes of the day, the early 80s when the world seemed to be on fire and heading toward nuclear war. I was in my early teens at the time, and much of it passed me by. If I were to look back now I would call myself naive, little aware of the major stories of the day. It wasn’t until a few years later that I really got politically involved, and that was probably largely due to listening to The Joshua Tree, then switching back and herding these earlier songs. Stuff like War and The Unforgettable Fire were really triggers for me to follow through and find out what was going on in the world.

Now that I look back it does seem like that year, 1982, was probably the closest point to being the trigger of a global conflict. Britain was at war with Argentina in the Falklands, which I do remember, because I remember it as being a televised war and to my eternal shame I will admit that I had a kid’s excitement at seeing the action and reading the news. I remember collecting the set of magazines that documented the war. I suppose you could say I was seeing the glory of the revolution.

As I said, the peak of this album is very high. Sunday Bloody Sunday is an all-time classic song, one of the greatest songs ever written, not just by U2 but by anyone. You add in New Year’s Day and you’ve got a great one-two punch. But after that you start to slip, going down to 40, which fell among the U2 crowd favorites, and then further down to another set of songs that fill out the album but don’t last too well. Of the ten songs on the album, I have three rated as threes and two rated as twos, and you’re not going to end up with a classic album with ratings like that. This is fairly typical of the early U2, all of the albums before The Joshua Tree (and several after) tend to have a few songs that seem to have been worked on hard, and end up sounding great, but then you also tend to get some songs that sound like they were knocked together in an afternoon in the studio, and end up becoming album songs by default. Although having said that, if you’ve listened to some of the deluxe versions of the albums, you’ll have heard some of the songs that were left off the album, and realize that what made it wasn’t too bad after all. 

Perhaps the best thing War did - apart from being a U2 album - was to bring the band back together. There are all kinds of stories about how they were on the verge of breaking up around October, but they pulled together to get that album out and then kept going and did War. By that time they were touring a lot, and figuring out how they worked, and how they liked each other, and then things began rolling. They got a lot of notice during War, enough to push them ahead into Under A Blood Red Sky and The Unforgettable Fire. And by then they were starting to become an unstoppable force.

My rating for War: 4.7 / 10

Surrender

The random number generator pulls out Surrender just a couple of days after it brought us Moment Of Surrender. Coincidence? Of course, but being human we like to look for oddities like that. Kind of like seeing faces on Mars.

War brought some really good songs, some average songs and some poor songs. I’m sorry to say that Surrender is one of the poor ones. It’s not musically outstanding, and the lyrics aren’t much to listen to either. It’s one of those songs I’ve listened to a hundred times and still not gotten an understanding of what it’s about or how it could grab my interest. I think it’s about letting go, being yourself, quitting on all the material things in your life in order to be able to live for real. Of course I don’t think I could do that myself, much as I might want to sometimes, because I do love much of my stuff. I’ve read a lot lately about minimalism and it seems like something I could get into, but when it comes to actually doing anything about it that’s when I take a step back and realize I want the things I have. Whether I use them or not.

It hasn’t been played live since 1985, which is odd since it was played seemingly every show for a couple of years. How often does that happen, that a song is a strong regular part of the setlist, but disappears quickly and is never seen again. I understand sometimes, because you switch from one album to the next and something has to go, but you’d think a song would fade out of the setlist rather than be dumped and never seen again. Yet another thing I guess I should research, huh?

One of the things you’ll see repeatedly when you read about this song is the idea of surrender being the idea of suicide. Sadie heading up to the forty-eighth floor to find out what she’s living for. The famous line from the song is “if I wanna live I gotta die to myself someday.” I’m not sure I get that. You’re going to think about suicide to get yourself to live more? Maybe I can get the idea of people going through a near-death experience, then wanting to live life as much as they can. But to consider suicide as the step that pushes you into wanting to live, that seems like a little stretch. Although now I think about it more, I do seem to recall stories of people who have been close to committing suicide, and being rescued as they decide they want to live after all. That’s still not getting you to live more though. So I don’t know. What’s the idea of dying to yourself mean? Back to the taking your life and throwing it away, walking away and starting fresh somewhere else. I guess.

I always thought Sadie was somehow related to Sexy Sadie from the Beatles, but I guess not. Just a coincidence.

My rating for Surrender: 3 / 10

Seconds

I was a teenager in the 1980s, but the whole nuclear war thing really passed me by. I never felt that anything bad could happen. It just didn’t seem possible that someone could start a nuclear war. I read all kinds of books about it, like Clancy and that sort of thing, but it was all just stories. I guess the end of the real threat was with Gorbachev, but really that could have gone either way, instead of choosing openness he could have been pushed into war.

Seconds is about a nuclear bomb being built and detonated in an apartment, the kind of scare that became much more prevalent about 20 years after the song was released. If I were being worried about anything today, it would be this, the idea of terrorists building and detonating a bomb in a city, or several cities at the same time. That would be absolutely destructive to any society, you would never have people living in a city ever again.

The song is interesting in the way it shows a breakthrough in writing by the band, in turning themselves toward protest music - not the traditional kind that you would think of when you hear that term, but the more awareness kind that U2 certainly made famous throughout their career. The War album is where they sort of took off on this path, several songs being in the vein of “what the heck is going on and how do we stop it?” Seconds is a wide look at a global problem whereas Sunday Bloody Sunday was more specifically aimed at their homeland.

Big drums at the start remind us of Larry’s history in a military band of sorts, and you get the bass driving the song throughout, the rhythm section really coming together here. Edge does a lot of singing in Seconds, there aren’t too many songs where he sings this much (although there are the occasional Numb or Van Diemen’s Land where he does pretty much all the singing). It is a nice change of pace for the band, Bono’s higher voice contrasts nicely with Edge’s deeper one, and I think it helps in making the song sound like an increase in urgency as it goes along.

Seconds has that weird little bit in the middle (“I want to be an airborne ranger”) that I guess fits in the context of the song but if you were to feature something like that in a different song it would sound very odd indeed. No, it’s not right of me to say that, because if you are going to come up with something like that, you can probably come up with it in an appropriate way for another song too. But I can’t think of many - if any - songs where there is an absolute pause in the song for ten seconds before it continues. There are some where the music stops but starts again right away, just not like this.

Speaking of stopping abruptly, just yesterday I was complaining about the end of Volcano, where it comes to an end quickly and doesn’t sound right. Seconds comes to a stop just like that, but in this case it sounds much better, more planned and fitting in with the continuity of the song. Singing “say goodbye” several times, then the instruments coming to a stop at just the right time.

My rating for Seconds: 4 / 10

40

It astounds me that this is a song. Essentially Bono took a couple of lines from the bible and the band turned them into a song, supposedly within an hour at the end of a recording session. This leads to talking about his religious knowledge, but just to be able to do this at all, from a couple of lines from any book, is just incredulous. If I could do that, I think I could be famous.

The song is very short, apart from the chorus it is virtually just word for word the first two lines from Psalm 40: “I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” There are slight differences to the song (“He lifted me up out of a pit”, “and made my footsteps firm” are the substantial ones), but really those could just be from a different interpretation of the bible that Bono was using, or simply making the words fit the tune better. Either way it is an amazing piece of work, whether in terms of lyrics or religion.

I once had a discussion about U2 and religion, where the other person didn’t believe they were that religious. I used 40 as one of their prime examples, along of course with many others. Sooner or later one of these posts is going to cover religion and U2, something which has been covered in many different ways.

40 is to me a magical song. In the 2011 World Series I remember walking out of game 4 with the crowd chanting “Derek Holland” and “Napoli”, the names of the two heroes of that game. As far as I recall, the only other time I’ve walked out of an event with the crowd all singing together is at the end of a U2 concert, which of course ends with us all singing “How long to sing this song” over and over. It really is a magical and communal feeling of all being together in this one moment. I suppose that is the feeling that some people get when they are in church. Of course it is also slightly bittersweet, because the playing of 40 is often the last song in a concert, and I never want the show to end.

Having said all that, talking about ending a concert with 40, my favorite version doesn’t even do that. That version is from the B side of the Electrical Storm single, and is a live combo of Bad/40/Where The Streets Have No Name. In it, 40 is only a snippet of the whole song, but you hear the crowd start to sing along with Bono, you get a slightly sad moment of feeling that the concert is over, then it starts rolling into Streets (and you still hear the crowd singing “How long to sing this song” in the background) and then you ramp back up into the joy of the show continuing. Like I said, magic happens around this song.

My rating for 40: 6 / 10

Like A Song

When deciding what order to review in, I first chose a number of songs that were date-specific and slotted them in. The easy example of this is the first review, New Year’s Day. There are about a dozen of those, which leaves a lot of songs and a lot of days. For the rest, I put them in album order, then got a random number generator to choose which to do when. To my great surprise, having started with New Years’ Day, the randomly chosen next song is Like A Song, which happens to be the next song on the War album after New Year’s Day. What are the odds of that? (One in a hundred and forty-five, to be exact).

I said yesterday that War brought us some hugely successful songs, but also some duds that make little impact today. Like A Song is one of the duds. Prior to writing this review, I couldn’t tell you the last time I listened to it. Not on my regular playlist, it only makes an appearance when I listen to the whole album, and honestly that’s probably only a couple of times a year these days.

If you’re a U2 aficionado, you can listen to this and hear a few things standing out. Bono’s voice is obviously the young version, not as rough (mature?) as it is these days, and he also sounds a lot more earnest than he does now. Like A Song features lots of drums, this is possibly the most drum-heavy U2 song ever (it’s all about the drums, right Larry?). There are others that feature drums prominently (most of the October album in fact), and others where the drum stands out for a certain part of the song (like the beginning of Breathe, or Love and Peace), but in Like A Song the drums seem to dominate everything, including the lyrics. I once read that U2 turns up the sound on the mic so that you can hear the lyrics better, in this case I think they turned up the wrong mic and got too much drum.

On the other hand, the bass in this song is so understated it almost disappears. You can hear it in the background for most of it, but it doesn’t have an impact. Lead guitar is quiet too, there are places it stands up and is heard (around 2:15 just after Bono sings “Let the bells ring out” you really do hear Edge’s guitar ringing for the next 30 seconds or so), but again it’s mostly playing second fiddle to the drums. As for the end of the song, the last about 1:15 is just drums with some guitar in the background, it seems like a lot of filler really.

Odd that Like A Song has only ever been played live once. Why? What other U2 album song has been played live that little? Or not at all? I don’t know, I’ll have to research that. I remember reading that The Unforgettable Fire wasn’t played live for a long time because it was difficult to play, but it’s got over 250 live plays (and a big gap from the Joshua Tree tour until 360). So why not Like A Song? Maybe the answer is that it was so drummy that the others didn’t want to play it?

You can probably tell I don’t like this song much. The lyrics are those of a protest song, but it tries too hard for that. It’s almost like they set out to write a protest song and threw everything in they could. Along with half-hearted guitar and too much drums, it’s a song I’ll listen to when it comes on, but not intentionally seek out.

My rating for Like A Song: 3 / 10

New Year's Day

I start the year with one of the great songs in the U2 pantheon, and definitely among my favorites. I play it several times every January 1st (as do many radio stations), and it is in my regular playlist for the rest of the year. Over the years since New Year’s Day was released it has been surpassed a number of times in my list, but still, to be there for so long is a definite accomplishment. It came off the War album, which spawned a couple of hits that still resonate strongly today. Since it has been around and popular for so long, it’s one of the most played U2 songs - Wikipedia says it’s the fifth most played live song.

Surprisingly enough, given the theme of the album (its name is War after all) I have always thought of New Year’s Day as a love song. “I want to be with you night and day”. I’ve thought of it as both a song between two people, and a song between the singer and his crowd (as evidenced by the version in Under A Blood Red Sky). So it was interesting to read about Bono using the Polish Solidarity movement as one of his inspirations for the lyrics, as I had not really made that association before now. Also interesting was to note his comment about the piano sounding like ice, so making the song feel like it was in a snowy setting, which matches up with the music video.

“Nothing changes on New Year’s Day”. This is true, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people who have argued this point with me. My brother was probably the first, when he said that yes, the calendar changes. I point out to him and others that this is the whole point - the calendar changes from one year to the next, but nothing else changes. On New Year’s Day and the days following you’re going to see the same old news, arguments about politics or religion or whatever, as you did just a few days before, when an arbitrary number on an arbitrary piece of paper was one digit smaller.

As a rookie guitar player, this is one of the U2 songs I have worked on most. It is fairly slow, which makes it easier to follow, and it also has regularly repeating sections with breaks between them. I cannot do the switch between piano and guitar that Edge does, since I have both no piano skills and no piano, but I have found that the times he switches into piano are the times when I can catch up, as I’m usually behind by the end of one of the guitar sections. And speaking of, when Edge starts into the piano part, with the dum-dumdumdum-dumdumdum section (at about 2:52 on the album version, I’m assuming you know the song here), that’s possibly my favorite part of the song. Listen closely and you can hear that specific part repeated in other sections, especially by the bass guitar throughout the song, giving it the unique rhythm it has. That piano part is such a calming moment within the beat of the rest of the song, a respite (bridge? Is that the right term?) that U2 regularly use in their music.

All in all, New Year’s Day is one of the better and longer-lasting songs that U2 have produced. Although not in my top of the top, I would put it up near there. If I was able to create the playlist for my ideal U2 concert, New Year’s Day would certainly be in it (keep in mind that concert would be three or four hours long, or as long as Bono has any voice left).

My rating for New Year’s Day: 8 / 10