Rattle and Hum by U2

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Rattle and Hum by U2With some major commercial success in the bag by 1988, U2 decided to try something different. The ambitious double length LP Rattle and Hum is a hybrid of new studio tracks and live recordings comprised of select cover songs and previously released originals and this record was released along with a companion documentary film. The result is a collection that is both interesting and entertaining as well as uneven and disjointed, all of which was reflected in the album’s mixed critical reception.

The idea for this album was spawned in mid 1987 during the tour supporting their highly acclaimed and commercially successful The Joshua Tree. Film director Phil Joanou pitched the idea to the band and they ultimately chose a late 1987 show  at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado as the concert to film and record the bulk of the live material. The project’s title was derived from a lyric from the song “Bullet the Blue Sky”, which appears here as one of the live tracks.

Rattle and Hum was produced by Jimmy Iovine, with studio tracks recorded at several studios, including the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Much of this new studio material incorporated elements of American roots music such as folk, blues, Gospel and soul into U2’s distinct rhythmic sound.


Rattle and Hum by U2
Released: October 10, 1988 (Island)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine
Recorded: Sun Studio, Memphis, TN; Point Depot, Danesmoat & STS Studios, Dublin, Ireland; A&M Studios & Ocean Way, Los Angeles; McNichols Arena, Denver, CO; Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ; 1987-1988
Side One Side Two
Helter Skelter (Live)
Van Diemen’s Land
Desire
Hawkmoon 269
All Along the Watchtower (Live)
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Live)
Freedom for My People
Silver and Gold (Live)
Pride (Live)
Side Three Side Four
Angel of Harlem
Love Rescue Me
When Love Comes to Town
Heartland
God Part II
The Star Spangled Banner
Bullet the Blue Sky” (Live)
All I Want Is You
Group Musicians
Bono – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
The Edge – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass
Larry Mullen, Jr. – Drums, Percussion

The album opens with an odd sequence of songs, starting with a live cover of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter”, which is a bit smoother, cleaner and calmer than McCartney’s original. Next comes “Van Diemen’s Land”, featuring guitarist The Edge on lead vocals for this sparse arrangement with picked electric and much reverb. The lead single from the album, “Desire” is the first place where the heart of the album is reached with a Bo Diddley-like rhythm working well as bedding for Bono‘s soaring vocals and fine harmonica. The song reached the Top 5 in the US and later won a Grammy Award. “Hawkmoon 269” finishes the original first side as a methodical track, built on repeated rhythms and lyrical motifs along with fine overdubbed, layered guitars.

The album’s second side features all live tracks, starting with a cover of Bob Dylans‘s “All Along the Watchtower”, recorded in San Francisco. Although upbeat throughout, the overall vibe is rather lethargic, not even coming close to capturing the magic of the Hendrix version on Electric Ladyland. “Silver and Gold” is a strong rocker with a folk-like lyrical delivery and a strong bass presence by Adam Clayton along with an explosive ending guitar lead by The Edge. Also included on side two are live versions of previous U2 hits “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, with the former track featuring a Gospel-like arrangement with a chorus by The New Voices of Freedom.

U2 in 1988

The third side of Rattle and Hum is the album’s finest, starting with the exquisite “Angel of Harlem”, a fine, lyrically rich Soul rendition which shows the group’s musical versatility. Released as the album’s second single, the song was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. “Love Rescue Me” was co-written by Bono and Bob Dylan and it slowly fades in with harmonica and picked electric guitar. Arranged like a classic ballad, the track is quiet during the verses, exploding during choruses where Dylan joins Bono on vocals, and later on features The Memphis Horns. “When Love Comes to Town” features B.B. King on lead guitar and co-lead vocals and is held together with Clayton’s thumping bass and rolling drums by Larry Mullen, Jr., all adding further unique elements to this album’s potpourri of sound. “Heartland” closes the side through a slow, methodical intro before slowly building towards a full-throated, high octave chorus and arrangement.

The fourth and final side commences with “God Part II”, an intense, rhythmic rocker with some dance elements and the chorus hook “I Believe In Love”. The song was written by Bono as a sort of sequel to John Lennon’s song “God” from his 1970 album Plastic Ono Band. After a short inclusion of Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance of “The Star Spangled Banner”, comes the climatic live track “Bullet the Blue Sky”, recorded at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, featuring a persistent, mechanical motion. The album concludes with the ballad “All I Want Is You” with fine sonic effects over simple, strummed guitars along with an orchestral arrangement which adds to the song’s beauty.

Despite the critical panning, Rattle and Hum topped the charts in over a half dozen countries and went on to sell over 14 million copies worldwide. It also marked the end of an era for the group as they headed into the 1990s and forged a new sound on future albums.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

The Unforgettable Fire by U2

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The Unforgettable Fire by U2 U2 decided to take a bit of a turn following their initial mainstream success. They brought in producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois to forge the ambient sound of The Unforgettable Fire. Much of the album was recorded in a castle in the group’s native Ireland, with the live acoustic of the various rooms lending much to the unique final sound. Led by the layered and effects-laden guitar of The Edge and the introspective and philosophical poetic lyrics of Bono, this album brought the group to a higher artistic level, while still carrying enough pop/rock punch to make this a mainstream success and solidify U2’s new found standing as the eighties top rock group.

Steve Lillywhite had produced U2’s initial three albums, culminating with the UK chart topper, War, in 1983. However, both the producer and the band agreed that they did not want to create the “son of War” on the next album and amicably parted ways. The Edge was a longtime fan of Eno’s “weird works”, but Eno was also initially reluctant to work with the band and suggested Lanois, his engineer, instead. However, Bono’s vision for the band won Eno over and both Eno and Lanois agreed to produce the record.

In May 1984 the band moved into Slane Castle where they wrote and recorded much of the material. Bassist Adam Clayton said they were “looking for something that was a bit more serious, more arty”, and the castle offered much inspiration on that front. The group took the album’s title from an art exhibit about the bombing of Hiroshima that they saw while on tour in Japan.


The Unforgettable Fire by U2
Released: October 1, 1984 (Island)
Produced by: Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois
Recorded: Slane Castle & Windmill Lane Studios, Ireland, May–August 1984
Side One Side Two
A Sort of Homecoming
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Wire
The Unforgettable Fire
Promenade
4th of July
Bad
Indian Summer Sky
Elvis Presley and America
MLK
Group Musicians
Bono – Lead Vocals  |  The Edge – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass  |  Larry Mullen Jr – Drums

The rolling drums of Larry Mullen Jr introduce the album opener “A Sort of Homecoming”. The rhythm is soon crowded out by a bucket of treated guitar phrases, all of which seem pretty cool by themselves but kind of saturate the atmosphere as produced on this album. This recording of the fine song suffers in comparison to the later, superior and simpler live version on the 1985 EP, Wide Awake in America, where the vocals and rhythm are much better defined and the song’s true beauty shines through.

“Pride (In the Name of Love)” is the most brilliant early career track by U2. Here is the quintessential U2 sound displayed at its height with the steady and shuffling rhythm section of Mullen and Clayton, the alternating arpeggios, chord strums and textures of The Edge, and Bono’s vocals soaring above all else. The first of two songs written about Martin Luther King, Jr, it was released as the album’s lead single in September 1984 and became a popular radio hit.

 
“Wire” could easily be a pre-cursor to the later, dance-oriented Manchester sound, as the opening spastic guitar is joined by even more frenzied rhythms, including some strong funk elements. Clayton puts down some slap bass and Bono’s vocals are near screams at times, harkening back to U2’s post punk roots. “The Unforgettable Fire” is an upbeat, but deep and most philosophical track on side one. This title song has at once a pop feel along with something darker and more foreboding. It was released as the album’s second and final single and includes a string arrangement by Irish musician Noel Kelehan. “Promenade” is a short and incomplete song, seemingly built as a studio experiment in capturing sound.

The second side begins with the Eno-influenced atmospheric instrumental piece “4th of July” before launching into “Bad”, the highlight of side two. This song continually builds as it goes, with Bono’s voice getting ever more animated and Mullen and Clayton getting more intense, while The Edge stays pretty consistent throughout. It began with an improvised guitar riff during a jam session at Slane Castle, with Bono adding lyrics about heroin addicts in Dublin.

“Indian Summer Sky” is another fine, upbeat track with multiple sections of vocal and musical motifs. “Elvis Presley and America” is a unique but odd and questionable acoustic, with long, improvised lyrics. This song was almost entirely a spur of the moment creation with rhythm borrowed from an altered backing track of “A Sort of Homecoming”. The closer “MLK” is all synth and vocals, but with a brilliant melody and lyrics that serve as a lullaby to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Unlike much of the other experimental tracks, this brief closer gives the album a real classic feel to end the album on a high note.

The Unforgettable Fire was re-packaged in 1985 along with a VHS documentary of the making-of the album. and a remastered 25th Anniversary edition was in 2009 with several bonus tracks. U2 launched a worldwide The Unforgettable Fire Tour, further increasing the band’s massive popularity.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

1984 Images

 

Top 9 Rock Festivals of All Time

This week Classic Rock Review joins the celebration of the 45th Anniversary of the historic 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. In conjunction with Top 9 Lists, we present a list of the Top 9 Rock Festivals of all time, along with a bonus list of Top 9 Single Day, Single Location Concerts.

Woodstock from behind the stage

1. Woodstock

August 15-18, 1969
Bethel, New York

This remains the mother of all music festivals, held at a 600-acre dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur. A series of coincidental events unfolded which effected the location and operation of this festival, which grew to become a “free” event for over 400,000 attendees. Regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, 32 acts performed during the rainy weekend, starting with Richie Havens, and concluding with a memorable performance by Jimi Hendrix as the crowd dispersed mid-morning on Monday, August 18th. Woodstock was immortalized in a later documentary movie as well as a song by Joni Mitchell, who was one of many major acts that did not attend by later regretted it.

Woodstock Performers: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix and Gypsy Sun Rainbows

Buy Woodstock soundtrack
Buy Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music DVD

2. Monterey Pop Festival

June 16-18, 1967
Monterey, California

Jimi Hendrix at MontereyCredited as the event which sparked the “The Summer of Love”, The three-day Monterey International Pop Music Festival had a rather modest attendance but was soon recognized for its importance to the performers and significance to the sixties pop scene. The lineup consisted of a blend of rock and pop acts with memorable performances by The Who and Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Monterey Pop Performers: Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s, Ravi Shankar, The Mamas and the Papas

Buy Monterey Pop Festival Live album

3. Live Aid

July 13, 1985
London and Philadelphia

Live Aid, PhiladelphiaStill the largest benefit concert 30 years on, Live Aid was a also the first live multi-venue event, with over 70,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium and close to 100,000 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Organized by musician Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats as relief for the Ethiopian famine, the concert evolved from Band Aid, a multi-artist group who recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984. Live Aid was also one of the largest worldwide television broadcasts, with an estimated audience of 1.9 billion in about 150 nations. Memorable performances and moments included those by Queen, U2, Dire Straits, a reunited Black Sabbath, and a loose reunion by members Led Zeppelin, the first since their breakup in 1980.

Live Aid Performers: Status Quo, The Style Council, The Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, Nik Kershaw, Sade, Sting, Phil Collins, Branford Marsalis, Howard Jones, Bryan Ferry, David Gilmour, Paul Young, U2, Dire Straits, Queen, David Bowie, Thomas Dolby, The Who, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Band Aid, Joan Baez, The Hooters, Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Run–D.M.C., Rick Springfield, REO Speedwagon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Santana, Ashford & Simpson, Madonna, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kenny Loggins, The Cars, Neil Young, The Power Station, Thompson Twins, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin (announced as “Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Tony Thompson, Paul Martinez, Phil Collins”), Duran Duran, Patti LaBelle, Hall & Oates, Mick Jagger, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, USA for Africa

Buy Live Aid DVD

4. Isle of Wight Festival

August 26-30, 1970
Isle of Wight, UK

Isle Of Wight Festival, 1970In sheer numbers, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival may be the largest ever, with estimates of over 600,000, which is an increase of about 50% over Woodstock. Promoted by local brothers Ronnie, Ray and Bill Foulk, the 5-day event caused such logistical problems (all attendees had to be ferried to the small island) that Parliament passed the “Isle of Wight Act” in 1971, preventing gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special license. Memorable performances included late career appearances by Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, and The Who, who released their entire set on the 1996 album Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Isle of Wight 1970 Performers: Judas Jump, Kathy Smith, Rosalie Sorrels, David Bromberg, Redbone, Kris Kristofferson, Mighty Baby, Gary Farr, Supertramp, Howl, Black Widow, The Groundhogs, Terry Reid, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, Fairfield Parlour, Arrival, Lighthouse, Taste, Rory Gallagher, Chicago, Procol Harum, Voices of East Harlem, Cactus, John Sebastian, Shawn Phillips, Joni Mitchell, Tiny Tim, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Doors, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Melanie, Good News, Ralph McTell, Heaven, Free, Donovan, Pentangle, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Richie Havens

Buy Message to Love, The Isle of Wight Festival DVD

5. Ozark Music Festival

July 19-21, 1974
Sedalia, Missouri

Ozark Music Festival stage“No Hassles Guaranteed” was the motto of the Ozark Music Festival, held at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in 1974. While this festival offered an impressive lineup of artists as well as a crowd upwards of 350,000 people, the Missouri Senate later described the festival as a disaster, due to the behaviors and destructive tendencies of the crowd.

Ozark Music Festival Performers: Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Blue Öyster Cult, The Eagles, America, Marshall Tucker Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Boz Scaggs, Ted Nugent, David Bromberg, Leo Kottke, Cactus, The Earl Scruggs Revue, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Electric Flag, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Joe Walsh and Barnstorm, The Souther Hillman Furay Band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Charlie Daniels Band, REO Speedwagon, Spirit

6. US Festival

May 28-30, 1983
Devore, California

Steve Wozniak’s US Festivals were staged on two occasions in September 1982 and May 1983. The second of these was packed with a lineup of top-notch eighties acts who performed in an enormous state-of-the-art temporary amphitheatre at Glen Helen Regional Park.

1983 US Festival Performers: Divinyls, INXS, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, The English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Stray Cats, Men at Work, The Clash, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions, Van Halen, Los Lobos, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, The Pretenders, Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie

7. The Crossroads Guitar Festival

June 4-6, 2004
Dallas, Texas

Crossroads Festival 2004 adStarting in 2004, the Crossroads Guitar Festivals have been held every three years to benefit the Crossroads Centre for drug treatment in Antigua, founded by Eric Clapton. These concerts showcase a variety of guitarists, with the first lineup at the Cotton Bowl stadium in 2004 featuring some legends along with up-and-comers hand-picked by Clapton himself.

2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival Performers: Eric Clapton, Johnny A, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ron Block, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Doyle Bramhall II, JJ Cale, Larry Carlton, Robert Cray, Sheryl Crow, Bo Diddley, Jerry Douglas, David Honeyboy Edwards, Vince Gill, Buddy Guy, David Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain, Eric Johnson, B.B. King, Sonny Landreth, Jonny Lang, Robert Lockwood, Jr., John Mayer, John McLaughlin, Robert Randolph, Duke Robillard, Carlos Santana, Hubert Sumlin, James Taylor, Dan Tyminski, Steve Vai, Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Walsh, ZZ Top, David Johansen

Buy Eric Clapton: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2004 DVD

8. Live 8

July 2, 2005
Locations world wide

Pink Floyd at Live 8Held 20 years after he organized Live Aid, Bob Geldof’s Live 8 was even more ambitious, being held in nine different locations around the world on the same day. Timed to coincide with the G8 conference in Scotland that year, the goal was to raise money to fight poverty in Africa. The most memorable moment from the concerts was at Hyde Park in London where the classic lineup of Pink Floyd reunited for the first time in over two decades.

Live 8 Performers: U2, Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Mariah Carey, R.E.M. The Killers, The Who, UB40, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Bob Geldof, Velvet Revolver, Madonna, Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Will Smith, Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Rob Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Wonder, Maroon 5, Deep Purple, Neil Young, Buck Cherry, Bryan Adams, Mötley Crüe, Brian Wilson, Green Day, a-Ha, Roxy Music, Dido, Peter Gabriel, Snow Patrol, The Corrs, Zola, Lucky Dube, Jungo, Pet Shop Boys, Muse, The Cure

Buy Live 8 DVD

9. Woodstock ’94

August 12-14, 1994
Saugerties, New York

Organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock festival, Woodstock ’94 was promoted as “3 More Days of Peace and Music”. in fact, this concert took place near the originally intended location of that first show and other similarities such as common performers, similar crowd size, rain, and mud.

Woodstock ’94 Performers: Blues Traveler, Candlebox, Collective Soul, Jackyl, King’s X, Live, Orleans, Sheryl Crow, Violent Femmes, Joe Cocker, Blind Melon, Cypress Hill, Rollins Band, Melissa Etheridge, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, John Sebastian, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Aerosmith, Country Joe McDonald, Sisters of Glory, Arrested Development, Allman Brothers Band, Traffic, Santana, Green Day, Paul Rodgers Rock and Blues Revue, Spin Doctors, Porno For Pyros, Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Peter Gabriel

Read more on Woodstock ’94 from our recent Comebacks and Reunions special feature


Bonus Top 9 List: Best Single Day, Single Location Shows

The Who at Concert for New York City

1. The Concert for New York City October 20, 2001. New York, NY
2. The Band’s Last Waltz November 25, 1976. San Francisco, CA
3. Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Celebration May 14, 1988. New York, NY
4. Concert for Bangladesh August 1, 1971. New York, NY
5. Knebworh Festival June 30, 1990. Knebworth, UK
6. Texxas Jam July 1, 1978. Dallas, TX
7. Farm Aid September 22, 1985. Champaign, IL
8. Canada Jam August 26, 1990. Bowmanville, Ontario
9. Altamont Free Concert December 6, 1969. Tracy, CA

~

Ric Albano

War by U2

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War by U2With their third album War in early 1983, U2 fully arrived on the international music scene and has remained on the top echelon ever since. A commercial success for the band, the album topped the U.K. charts and reached #12 in the U.S. Further, it found the band forging their definitive sound for the first time under the guidance of producer Steve Lillywhite, who introduced the band some new recording techniques. Among these was the incorporation of a “click track” to keep perfect time, an idea that drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. was initially against. However, he did relent and the album ended up being a real showcase for Mullen.

The album got its title from the band’s perception of the world at the time, or as lead vocalist Bono put it; “War seemed to be the motif for 1982.” The title was also a concerted effort by the band to branch out into “heavier” theme, as they felt that critics had taken the music from their first two albums, Boy and October, lightly. Being an Irish band, U2 was in a unique position to address the troubles in Northern Ireland, and hit that head on with this album. Still, U2 was cognizant that such heavy themes could backfire with mainstream listeners, so they also worked hard to compose melodic and more direct tunes.

Lead guitarist The Edge uses far less delay and echo than previously and experiments with differing guitar textures throughout, adding to the overall sonic atmosphere of passion. As a counter-balance, bassist Adam Clayton provides the “glue” musically with simple, strong, and direct bass lines. With these carefully balanced dynamics, U2 found their formula for success throughout the rest of the decade.


War by U2
Released: February 28, 1983 (Island)
Produced by: Steve Lillywhite
Recorded: Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin, May 17–August 20, 1982
Side One Side Two
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Seconds
New Year’s Day
Like a Song…
Drowning Man
The Refugee
Two Hearts Beat As One
Red Light
Surrender
“40”
Band Musicians
Bono – Lead Vocals
The Edge – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass
Larry Mullen, Jr. – Drums

 

Although all songs on War are credited to the entire group, in reality certain tunes were largely composed by individuals. “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” was composed by The Edge, and has remained one of the most indelible tunes of the band’s career. From its opening martial drumbeat, featuring a heavy hat and beat by Mullen to the simple, raw guitar variations accompanied by some strategic violin by guest Steve Wickham, the song is a unique musical experience. Add the passionate vocals (including some great backing vocals by The Edge), which describe the Bloody Sunday events of 1972, and you have a rock and roll classic.

The other popular “hit” from the first side, “New Year’s Day”, was originally written by Bono as a love song to his new bride but later morphed into an ode to the Polish Solidarity movement. Clayton’s distinctive bass line drives the song while The Edge alternates between the signature piano line and several guitar textures, including an actual rock guitar lead. Overall, the song portrays a great atmosphere with the optimistic fantasy of unity and theme of starting over, and became the group’s first Top Ten single in England.

The rest of side one contains solid tracks which compliment each other nicely. “Seconds” contains another wild beat by Mullin above a strummed acoustic guitar. Although a little unfocused and a bit busy, the song is original and entertaining. “Like a Song…” sticks to the formula on the first side, although it does get pretty intense as it progresses. “Drowning Man” is acoustic and haunting – almost jazzy – with trance electric guitars above strummed acoustic and deeper sounding vocals by Bono.

 
The best pure pop song on album (and perhaps of any early-era U2) is “Two Hearts Beat as One”. While still just slightly unfocused and edgy, this tune is held together by the superior composition and pure performance by the whole band, especially Bono on vocals. A propulsive bass line by Clayton and a fantastic counter-melody by The Edge during the chorus push this song to the top level of any U2 classic. The song became a hit in several nations as well as a rare staple of the dance floor for U2. “The Refugee”, on its surface is a new wave motif, almost to the point of absurdity. Yet it is still oddly entertaining based mainly on the odd guitar textures by The Edge.

U2 in 1983

The album’s closing tracks include a couple featuring the background chorus from the group The Coconuts. “Red Light” is the closest to a pure rock song on this album, with Bono singing in more contemporary manner and more rock-oriented guitar riffing, a sound that U2 would morph towards in the future, starting with Achtung Baby in the early 1990s. “Surrender” is danceable, almost post-disco and could be a decent pop song in its own right with rapid verse lyrics and sustained chorus. The album concludes with “40”, which was written and recorded right at the end of the sessions, allegedly in less than an hour. With Clayton having already left the studio, The Edge plays both the electric and bass guitar, while Bono based the lyrics on Psalm 40 from the Bible.

U2 toured relentlessly in support of War, starting in December 1982 (prior to the album’s release) through most of 1983. The tour spawned a concert film Live at Red Rocks and an accompanying EP, Under a Blood Red Sky, which further increased the band’s exposure and live appeal.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

The Joshua Tree by U2

Buy The Joshua Tree

1987 Album of the Year

The Joshua Tree by U2The Joshua Tree was the long-awaited fifth studio album by U2, released in the spring of 1987. Although not a true “concept” album, it was uniformly inspired by the United States and the geography, literature, and politics and the nation the band so often toured in the early part of their career. U2 released four studio albums in the relatively short period of 1980-1984, culminating with The Unforgettable Fire, their widespread commercial breakthrough. They began writing new material in mid-1985 and began recording in Ireland at the start of 1986. However, this fifth album took a long time to formulate and produce, building much anticipation among fans.

The Joshua Tree was produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, who both worked with the band on the band on The Unforgettable Fire and whose goal was a harder rocking sound for the band while still exploring unconventional song structures. Throughout the 1986 sessions, U2 strove for a “cinematic” quality for the record, embedding American scenery as a backdrop to the soaring sound scapes and lyrics. Many of those lyrics were influenced by American writers that lead vocalist Bono had been reading at the time. Musically, although all the group members had different ideas on how to approach this album, they all agreed that they felt disconnected from the dominant synth pop and other musical trends of the time. Most of the recording was done in a Georgian house, with the dining room and drawing room used for recording and performing.

After completing the album, Bono said he thought that The Joshua Tree was their most complete record since their first. This opinion was born out with its commercial and critical success as the album became the fastest-selling album in British history to date, selling over a quarter million copies in two days. It reached number one within two weeks of release and spent over three years on the album charts. The Joshua Tree topped the albums charts in 20 total countries. Ultimately, the album sold over 25 million copies worldwide and topped several publication’s lists of album of the year for 1987 including, of course, our’s.


The Joshua Tree by U2
Released: March 9, 1987 (Island)
Produced by: Daniel Lanois & Brian Eno
Recorded: Various Studios, Ireland, January 1986–January 1987
Side One Side Two
Where the Streets Have No Name
Still Haven’t Found What Looking For
With Or Without You
Bullet the Blue Sky
Running to Stand Still
Red Hill Mining Town
In God’s Country
Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Exit
Mothers of the Disappeared
Band Musicians
Bono – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
The Edge – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass
Larry Mullen, Jr. – Drums

The album starts out with a great, nearly two minute, anticipation building intro to “Where the Streets Have No Name”, a top twenty hit worldwide. The intro provides a smooth synth pad rise that gives way to the hyper arpeggio riff by guitarist The Edge, who joined by an equally intense rhythm section throughout the song. Due to its multiple time signature shifts, Lanois called this “the science project song”, while Eno estimated that half of the album sessions were spent trying to record a suitable version of the song. Bono wrote the lyrics while on a visit to Ethiopia, which at the time was devastated by famine.

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” originated from a rhythm pattern by drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. with lyrics influenced by American gospel music. Nominated for Song of the Year, a the 1988 Grammy Awards, its lyrics describe spiritual yearning, accented by Bono’s vocal soul desperation and accompanied by The Edge’s guitar chime riff. The song’s title was influenced by Bob Dylan’s line from the song “Idiot Wind”; “You’ll find out when you reach the top you’re on the bottom…”, suggesting the recurrence of life and the infinite quest for happiness.

“With or Without You” was the band’s first single release and one of the oldest compositions on the album, dating back to 1985. Bassist Adam Clayton provided a pulsating bass line as a canvas to slowly developing, ambient guitar notes and dynamic vocals. The song was originally rejected by the band and producers but Bono reworked an arrangement with friend Gavin Friday and gave the song a second life. The lyrics address marriage from the perspective of a popular musician and the contrast between life on the road and domestic life. “Bullet the Blue Sky” is an equally simple song but with an entirely different, intense approach. Written about American involvement in the El Salvador Civil War of the 1980s, with aggressive and growly vocals and an intense rhythm. Latin America was also the subject of the album’s closing song “Mothers of the Disappeared”, written about the “Madres de Plaza de Mayo”, a group of women whose children had been “disappeared” under various dictatorships.

Some of the lesser known songs on the album explore various sub-genres of American music. “Running to Stand Still” is influenced by acoustic blues with a lyric that looks back at the band’s native Dublin, Ireland. “Red Hill Mining Town” is a blue-collar folk song, directly influenced by Bob Dylan, who Bono met for the first time in 1984. “Trip Through Your Wires” contains a definite nod towards blue-eyed soul, while “Exit” captured the band in a live studio jam with lyrics influenced by Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song.

The western desert was greatly symbolic on The Joshua Tree (which itself is a national monument in the Mohave Desert) and “In God’s Country” puts that image to music beautifully. It was the band’s most overt attempt at a contemporary rock song on the album while still containing some trademark guitar licks and rhythms. The up-tempo song was difficult to records musically and early versions of the song were written about Ireland before the shift was made to America.

“One Tree Hill” was the fifth and final overall single from the album and was written in dedication to the band’s former roadie Greg Carroll, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in Dublin in 1986. Following the funeral in New Zealand, Bono wrote the lyrics to “One Tree Hill”, which he dedicated to Carroll. This song has been described it as “a soft, haunting benediction” and describes a volcano near Auckland, New Zealand, where Carroll was a native and where the band first worked with him in 1984.

U2 in 1987

U2 has had a long and storied career which continues into its fourth decade. The Joshua Tree has been the apex of this long career and has held up excellently a quarter century later. In our 15 reviews of 1987 albums, re elected 25 years later, we’ve featured several that marked an artist’s commercial and creative peak. However, unlike any of those others, U2 has persevered over the subsequent decades and continued to release quality and relevant material right up through the present day.

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1987 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums.

 

The Live Album

CRR Special on The Live AlbumWe pretty much cover studio albums exclusively at Classic Rock Review and will continue to do so with the exception of the few studio/live hybrids that we explore later in this article. The reason we do this is because of the generally ubiquitous nature of these live albums as well as the inconsistency in sound and the art of production. In short, we feel the only true way to hear a band live is to hear a band live and we’ll stick to that whole other entertainment art form, the studio album. However, this surely does not mean that the live album has now place in the world of classic rock. So today we will examine some of the more important live albums through time, with a special look at 1976, the current year we are reviewing with our regular features and one year that was especially rich with quality live albums.

The Classic Live Albums

Ever since Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 there have been live recordings, starting with the the first commercially available music recordings in the 1880s. All recordings were “live”, whether in a studio or concert hall for about 70 years until the 1950s when the first multi track recordings began. But it wasn’t really until 1960s when the true distinction of a live album was made. Although rock n’ roll would be the genre most strongly tied to the live album, two of the most influential recordings came from artists tied mainly to other styles, James Brown and Johnny Cash.

Live At the Apollo by James BrownLive At the Apollo was recorded on October 24, 1962 at the famed theatre in Harlem, New York and released the following year. It was produced at Brown’s expense when his record label opposed the concept of recording an album full of live versions of songs which had already been released. To everyone’s surprise, Live At the Apollo sold rapidly and spent more than a year on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. It was so popular that many radio DJs began playing the album in its entirety, only pausing for commercials during the side break.

Live at Folsom Prison by Johnny CashJohnny Cash met much of the same resistance from his own record label when he proposed recording an album live at the prison he made famous over a decade earlier with his song “Folsom Prison Blues”. The album was recorded at the state prison in California during two shows on the morning and afternoon of January 10, 1968 and released later that year. Cash was supported in this project by his future wife June Carter, his backing band The Tennessee Three, supporting act The Statler Brothers, as well as then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, but with little investment by Columbia records. Nonetheless, the album still rocketed to number one on the Country Charts and the top twenty on the mainstream charts. Further, the album revitalized Cash’s career and lead to his producing a second prison album, At San Quentin.

Woodstock Original SoundtrackA third mega-successful live album from the recordings in the 1960s was the Woodstock soundtrack, a 6-sided triple album released on May 11, 1970. The album was unique at the time not only because of the variety of performers (18 different artists performed on the original version), but also for its “feel” as just about each track contained stage announcements and conversations among the musicians, which acted as a narrator of the overall Woodstock story. The original LP was also laid out with side one backed with side six, side two backed with side five, and side three backed with side four, to accommodate the popular record changer turntables, something which would become standard for most multi-disk live albums.

Early 1970s Live Albums
Some of the better Live Albums of the early 1970s

Starting in 1970, a prolific period of several top-notch live recordings began. That year featured many great live albums such as Live At Leeds by The Who, Absolutely Live by The Doors, Band of Gypsys by Jimi Hendrix, and Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Joe Cocker, which had sales fueled by his impressive performance on the the a fore-mentioned Woodstock soundtrack. Subsequent years saw more classic live recordings such as At Filmore East by the Allman Brothers in 1971, Made In Japan by Deep Purple in 1972, Yessongs by Yes in 1973, Alive by Kiss in 1975, along with a couple of original live recordings by the Grateful Dead.

As the golden age of live albums started to wane in the late seventies and early eighties, the quality live albums were fewer and further between. In 1978 Aerosmith released the fine Live Bootleg while the newcomers Cheap Trick released At Budokan. The Eagles finished off their remarkable career with Eagles Live in 1980 while another band with a long career capitalized on their new found fame with Showtime! in 1982. The following year, U2 displayed their talents on Under a Blood Red Sky.

The great live album that never was should have been released following the plethora of great performances at Live Aid in 1985. No tradition “album” was released from these performances with a four DVD set finally coming out in 2004.

Top Live Albums from the Later Classic Rock Period
Top Live Albums from the Later Classic Rock Period

Live Albums in 1976

At this articles date of publication, the year the Classic Rock Review is examining is 1976, which also happened to be a very strong year for live recordings. In fact, the deliberation on whether to cover some these live albums with regular reviews is what initially sparked the idea for this special feature. So we’ll give a little bit of special attention to some of the great live albums from the bicentennial year.

Frampton Comes Alive by Peter FramptonFrampton Comes Alive! by Peter Frampton
Released January 6, 1976 (Double LP)

Perhaps one of the most successful commercial live albums ever, Frampton Comes Alive! was a double live that sold at a price comparable to “single” albums of the day. This marketing scheme may have incentivized fans to check out this artist whose previous four solo albums had little commercial success, but it was the quality of the material and performance that created the snowball effect making this a true breakthrough for Frampton.

Robin Trower LiveRobin Tower Live by Robin Tower
Released March 3, 1976 (Single LP)

Recorded in Sweden over a year before its release, this album by a true power trio lead by the former axeman of Procol Harum captures the group extremely loose and freewheeling. This is because the shows were recorded by the Swedish Broadcasting Company while the band was completely unaware that the show was being taped.

Live Bullet by Bob SegerLive Bullet by Bob Segar
Released April 12, 1976 (Double LP)

Live Bullet forecast the popular rise of Bob Seger by first becoming a staple on Detroit rock radio and later reaching a much further audience due to some of the timeless classics on the album. Although Seger’s success was still mainly regional, this album played a large role in him headlining before 78,000 at the Pontiac Silverdome in June 1976.

One More From the Road by Lynard SkynardOne More From the Road by Lynard Skynard
Released September 13, 1976 (Double LP)

This was Lynard Skynard’s first, and sadly last live album during the “classic” era of the band, which ended with a plane crash in 1977 that killed several members. The version of “Freebird” propelled that then-five-year-old song into FM radio super status for decades to come.

The Song Remains the Same by Led ZeppelinThe Song Remains the Same by Led Zeppelin
Released September 28, 1976 (Double LP)

Led Zeppelin was a fantastic live act, as we later found out from the various bootlegs and eventual collections released in the 1990s and 2000s. Unfortunately, the band’s only concerted effort at capturing the live magic was done during a couple of sub-par shows at the end of their 1973 tour. Producer Jimmy Page and the band spent three years overdubbing and patching in both audio and video for the dual film and soundtrack. It was great because it was Zeppelin live and it was all we had for decades. But it could have been so much greater.

All the World's a Stage by RushAll the World’s a Stage by Rush
Released September 29, 1976 (Double LP)

All the World’s a Stage was the first live album by Rush, marking the conclusion of the first four studio, one live album “phase” of the band. They would repeat this pattern several more times through their long career. The performances were recorded in June 1976 in the trio’s home city of Toronto.

Wings Over America by WingsWings Over America by Wings
Released December 10, 1976 (Triple LP)

A decade after the Beatles stopped playing live gigs, fans finally got a chance to hear Paul McCartney perform live with his new band, Wings. Although the triple album was made up mostly of songs from McCartney’s post-Beatles career, Wings Over America did offer five Beatles songs becoming the most modern recordings to date of these compositions.

Hybrid Albums

Through the years there were a select number of albums which contained a hybrid of live and recorded material. These include Cream‘s Wheels Of Fire from 1968, Pink Floyd‘s Ummagumma from 1969, Eat a Peach by the Allman Brothers and Everybody’s In Showbiz by The Kinks from 1972, and Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young & Crazy Horse in 1979. Classic Rock Review may review these as regular albums when the time comes.

Hybrid Albums

Ironically, as more and more live albums proliferated through the 1990s their prestige seemed to wane and fewer and fewer were considered “classic” recordings. This is likely due to the relative simplicity of digital recordings and hence the less capturing of “lightning in a bottle” with live performances. Still, we’ve only just scratched the surface of all the fine live albums through the decades, so please feel free to comment on some of these omissions.

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Ric Albano

Achtung Baby by U2

Achtung Baby by U2“The sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree.” This is how lead singer and lyricist Bono described the radical new approach that the established and successful band U2 took when putting together their 1991 album Achtung Baby. The album was produced following the group’s first extended break from touring and recording and it marked a distinct milestone in the evolution of U2’s sound.

This was the first full studio album since the blockbuster The Joshua Tree in 1987 and Bono felt that they were creatively unprepared for the phenomenal success of The Joshua Tree, which resulted in the critically panned soundtrack album Rattle and Hum in 1988. In October 1990, the group headed to Berlin to start work on this new album. On the eve of German reunification the band felt that recording there would be uplifting and inspiring. Instead, they found the vibe to be depressing (the studio was located in a former SS ballroom). Further, there was division growing within the band itself over the musical direction. Bono and lead guitarist The Edge were becoming influenced by recent fads such as the Madchester scene in England and the industrial rock movement in America. However, these dance-oriented beats and rhythms did not sit well with bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, who felt their roles were being diminished within the band. The fact that Bono and The Edge were also writing the material in more isolation did not help matters.

The band was actually close to breaking up in Germany as ideas stagnated and disagreements escalated. But they were all brought back together by the nearly totally improvised “One”, where each member contributed on the spot to this excellent new composition. The band returned home to Dublin for Christmas 1990 where they all recommitted to a future with U2. The bulk of the rest of the album would be recorded in Dublin starting in February 1991.


Achtung Baby by U2
Released: November 19, 1991 (Island)
Produced by: Daniel Lanois & Brian Eno
Recorded: Hansa Ton Studios, Berlin, STS & Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin, October 1990 – September 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Zoo Station
Even Better Than the Real Thing
One
Until the End of the World
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?
So Cruel
The Fly
Mysterious Ways
Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around the World
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
Acrobat
Love Is Blindness
Bono – Lead Vocals, Guitar
The Edge – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass
Larry Mullin, Jr. – Drums & Percussion

Achtung Baby by U2

The album’s title, “Achtung Baby”, is German for “Attention, baby!” or “Watch out, baby!”, and it was adopted by sound engineer Joe O’Herlihy during recording in the early Berlin sessions. Later in the process, the band decided on this as the title over more “serious sounding” titles that they were considering. The album was co-produced by Daniel Lanois, who was hands-on from start to finish and Brian Eno, who would work on the project intensely for several days straight and then take three or four weeks off in order to be able to come back and listen with “fresh ears”.

Upon listening to the album, the first thing you’re struck by is the sound – steady, almost techno beats, processed vocals, and very judicious use of the band’s previous biggest asset, The Edge’s signature riffs. For this album, the inventive guitarist used many different techniques and processing, most with stellar success, some with less.

Some of the most inventive guitars appear on the songs “Zoo Station”, “Love Is Blindness”, and the first hit from the album “Mysterious Ways”, which introduced the pop world to the “new U2”. Other songs used various inovative techniques as well. “Even Better Than the Real Thing” starts with wild synths and then uses doubled up, octave vocals. “So Cruel” uses a simple piano riff with a modern dance beat. “The Fly” experiments with alternate personalities of Bono, each portrayed by distinctive vocals built by cadence and effect. While the music fluctuates between alternative and R&B. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” starts as a piece of doomy, space age, psychedelia then morphs into a decent pop song that really hits a sweet note during the bridge with the high-pitched Bono vocals.

Other song highlights include the cleaver and inventive “Until the End of the World”, which portrays an imagined conversation between Jesus Christ and his betrayer, Judas Iscariot, while moving towards the traditional U2 sound musically. “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World” contains a calm R&B beat with just enough musical decor to make it really moody under the somber vocals.

The true great from this album, on a level with anything U2 has done before or since is “One” . This is a gem that really deviates from much of the rest of the album. It starts with a traditionally strummed acoustic guitar coupled with a nice, overdubbed electric riff and then kicks in with perfect rhythm accompaniment. Calm vocals become more agitated as the verses proceed until we reach a climatic banshee scream at the close. Further, this is the song that really saved the album and possibly the band. As The Edge recalls;

“At the instant we were recording it, I got a very strong sense of its power. We were all playing together in the big recording room, a huge, eerie ballroom full of ghosts of the war, and everything fell into place. It was a reassuring moment, when everyone finally went, ‘oh great, this album has started.’ It’s the reason you’re in a band…”

As the release date drew near, rumors of U2’s new direction leaked out and certain critics and members of the press began to preemptively trash the new album on hearsay alone. On the eve of Achtung Baby’s release in November 1991, U2 was more unsure and less confident than they had been for any previous work. However, once the actual music was heard, the reception nearly all positive by critics and fans alike, with Achtung Baby topping most “album of the year” polls and winning a Grammy.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

1991 Images