"The Spaghetti Incident?"

Set lists and a little bit of Rock

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Is Michael Jackon really history?


What rhymes with achtung?

The one thing that truly stands out for me when thinking about the brilliance of U2 is not their songs, the drums, or riffs. Nor is it the hype and hyperbole of one of the world's most popular bands but their lyrics.

Bono has written the vast majority of U2's lyrics and in many of them you can find some true gems of penmanship, little sparkles of lyrical bliss that took a good song and put it into the territory of musical greatness.

I suggest that while some non U2 fans take any chance to diss Bono, they would be really grumpy buggers if they denied that Bono was a great lyricist.

Like a good poet, Bono's lyrics feature a whole range of subjects - love and loss, drugs, faith, faith in drugs, gods, Elvis and other monsters and of course, politics and it's prisoners. This work leaves ample room for an inquiry into U2's lyrics, especially when The Edge chips in the odd song.

So what are Bono's best lyrical moments and qualities? What's his inspiration for putting pen to paper.  What makes Bono's lyrics so well received by millions of listeners and readers around the world? I can't speak for any one else but I thought I could share 10 U2 songs which I think highlight Bono's mastery of his craft. Some of thing are simply clever word plays, others are stories of delight and irony - a thing which Bono and the boys were very heavy on in the 1990's. Trabants on stage anyone?

10 songs that show Bono's lyrical qualities


Perhaps second only to With Or Without you in terms of popularity, it is arguably U2's finest song and I believe the lyrics are what make this so - I think this is because it's one of those songs where the lyrics can mean anything and everything to anyone.

At work last week a manager did a pop quiz and asked what this song was about. The answers varied from 'it's about a gay couple' or 'two torn lovers'. I think Bono's actually on record in the U2 by U2 book as One being a song about a couple that's breaking up. But that doesn't matter as its words are universal and have been taken to heart by so many U2 fans - indeed some have even had it as their wedding song which I'm sure would be a delicious irony for Bono

The Wanderer

"They say they want the kingdom but they don't want God in it". I think that's Bono perfectly capturing the wishes of so many of us. We want the nice things, but aren't prepared to put in the effort. Or something. For me, The Wanderer always seemed like some post apocalyptic dream - and it's perhaps a sign of a great song where it allows you to shape your own thoughts and fantasies around it (well when Bono mentions the 'atomic sky', that's nice nudge). Indeed, the whole of Zooropa's lyrics seem to take me to a strange other world, where in some places it's OK to feel numb or taste the lemon but spit out antifreeze.

Original of the Species

The title is suggestive of what's to come in this song, a play on Darwin's epic work about evolution - the song's lyrics are possibly a father looking at his daughter's own evolution from - child to woman. The second half is more likely Bono singing to his wife (and the message in the first half could also before her) - either way both, themes are heartwarming.

If God Will Send His Angels

'Blind leading the blond' is perhaps my favourite U2 line ever. It's just a cleverly simply play on words. Bono does that trick a fair bit in the Pop album - an almost too cute example is from The Playboy Mansion which opens with the lyric "If Coke is a mystery, and Micheal Jackson, history..." which was a nice play on the failing career of Jackson and a play on the name of his Greatest Hits album.


Sunday Bloody Sunday

Bono defiantly wears this song's lyrics on his sleeve. A song about soldiers shooting civilians in Northen Ireland - the lyrics capture the moment crisply by invoking a cross fire between religion and the military (and by extension the State) and the sad consequences when both collide.  Featuring a fine use of  a marching drum beat by Larry Mullen, the song's chorus is a defining moment for Bono - it was one of U2's first truly popular 'classic' songs and it many ways this song defined U2 as a band that could carry some political weight.

Until the End of the World

"In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim

Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You, you said you'd wait
'Til the end of the world"

Simply one of Bono's finest song writing moments. Water is commonly used as a metaphor life yet here's Bono drowning in his sorrows. The song can be seen as a obvious story about how Judas betrayed Jesus and thus seen as one of those "U2 going on about God and spiritually" type songs but as with all good lyrics they can mean anything. I tend to see this one more of a dramatic break up between two lovers where the relationship perhaps has been bit one sided.

The Wanderer

"They say they want the kingdom but they don't want God in it". I think that's Bono perfectly capturing the wishes of so many of us. We want the nice things, but aren't prepared to put in the effort. For me, The Wanderer always seemed like some post apocalyptic dream - and it's perhaps a sign of a great song where it allows you to shape your own thoughts and fantasies around it (well when Bono mentions the 'atomic sky', that's nice nudge). Indeed, the whole of Zooropa's lyrics seem to take me to a  strange other world, where in some places it's OK to feel numb or taste the lemon but spit out antifreeze.



Not a hugely popular song on release as a single but I think time has shown that Please was a fine song from U2's Pop album. Lyrically it was a political plea, invoking the captains of Irish politics to sort their messes out. The listener would perhaps know the song had political connotations if they had seen the cover which featured Gerry Adams and other elected leaders - however this stanza effectively leaves no stone unturned as Bono thows a rock in the air to hit home the issues:

Your Catholic blues, your convent shoes
Your stick-on tattoos, now they're making the news
Your holy war, your northern star
Your sermon on the mount from the boot of your car

Strong stuff from an album many people were quick to write off.


One could be forgiven for thinking that Get on Your Boots was simply a throw away song by U2 ( indeed one wonders why they released it as the first single from No Line on the Horizon when Magnificant probably would have given them a hit single) however the lyrics of this song run deep. Almost a stream of consciousness, tripping through it's seemingly nonsensical words but when Bono writes "I don’t want to talk about the wars between the nations" he's saying everything.

All I Want is You

This is Bono's finest love letter he has ever written. The closing from Rattle and Hum is simply a man tell a woman how he loves her - it's perhaps not the happiest song with undertones suggesting things may have gone awry - indeed the tremendous coda at the end suggests a passionate love affair being ripped apart by uncaring forces. A good lyric deserves a fine musical backing and All I Want is You has it in spades.

Summary

So that was my attempt to highlight some of the fine lyrical qualities and charms that Bono and U2 have to offer. Of course with any interpretation of songs, the whole exercise is a subjective journey, indeed a musical journey that could have stopped at a completely different set of songs.

Bono is a bit of a lyrical magpie. He steals lines from the bible and riffs on the work of others (such as when he tried to write a sequel of sorts to John Lennon's 'God') to make his point. But he does that and gets his unique messages across to the listener very well.

If someone hasn't already printed a book featuring all of U2's lyrics, they surely will as they serve as some fine literature in their own right. Throw in some political rallying and a little love making and there's a best seller book of poetry on your hands....

What are your favourite lyrical moments from U2?

Speaking of Star Wars and Last Jedi Trivia, we can't help but wondering if Michael Jackson was a Star Wars fan and if so, what would he thought of these facts about Rogue One? We kinda think he might have liked it.

No comments:

Recent Posts