Column: off the record..., vol. 13-588
October 13, 2013
There was some really good news this week on the new U2 album that seems to be taking forever to be completed. If you missed it, Adam spoke briefly about progress on this here.
Now let's, rewind back 25 years ago to 1988.
Rattle And Hum was highly anticipated when it was released in late 1988. The band had completed their most ambitious tour so far, and The Joshua Tree had given them three hit singles and their first No. 1 in the U.S. The band had hit the premier league.
What was next for U2?
1988 was a lucky year for me. Michael Jackson played two gigs in Cork in July, and on the day of the first gig I won what was then called a "Record Grab" in Golden Discs, an Irish record shop chain. This involved running around the shop with a time limit of 60 seconds to grab as many vinyl LPs as I could, complete with commentary from 2FM DJ Larry Gogan. The rules were simple: Whatever you grabbed, you kept. The total value of my grab came to over £1,300. The head representative from Golden Discs Ireland was in attendance, and I had a quiet word with him before the grabbing began. I asked if I could have a credit in the shop for the value of the vinyl since I had moved over to CDs the previous year. He said no problem, so I used to go in regularly over the next six months and just pick up whatever I wanted until the credit was gone (which happened before the end of that year).
On the night of October 9, 1988, U2's new album was sold at several record shops around Ireland at midnight, which was a Sunday night. That weekend, I had been in Dublin attending the All Ireland Gaelic Football final, where Cork faced Meath in a very competitive replay. Some friends and I arrived back in Cork on the train from Dublin. By the time we got to Golden Discs, the doors were closed since it was almost 1 a.m. However, I politely knocked on the door, as all the staff knew me. I got in and picked up my CD copy and a cassette copy.
That night I played it in full. Initially, I was not quite sure what to make of it since many tracks were not typical of what had been on The Joshua Tree. But a first listen does not mean a whole lot. At college the following morning, I slipped the cassette copy across the desk to a friend who was as big a U2 fan as I was. It was a nice surprise for him to be getting the album on release day, and hand delivered.
Further listens proved that Rattle And Hum was very different, but rather than exploring new ground, the album explores American music roots. I really enjoyed the version of "Silver & Gold." I already had the B-side version from the "Where The Streets Have No Name" single, but this live version was rawer, edgier and infinitely more powerful. I clicked with the collaborations straight away -- "Love Rescue Me" and "When Love Comes To Town." The uplifting "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was a lovely surprise and really offered a different take on the song. I had not thought of it as a gospel song, but here it was beautifully transformed. "Hawkmoon 269" immediately grabbed my attention -- the intro with Bob Dylan playing Hammond Organ, and Bono's vocal range on this track is quite impressive. "Heartland" was originally recorded during The Joshua Tree sessions (although, it was worked on during The Unforgettable Fire), and fits in well here. I can see now why this song was originally planned to be on an album with a working title of The Two Americas, but eventually became The Joshua Tree. The Edge gave one of his rare lead vocals on "Van Diemen's Land," and the album had a fantastic closer with "All I Want Is You."
After repeated listens, it became very obvious that the album was a mix of moods and themes. On initial listens, the album is a bit of a mix-up including live versions, but I have always liked this approach. Everything is thrown into this album, and it remains probably the most varied album U2 have released.
There were four singles from the album, and this was the first time in my U2 history that I bought each CD single as it was released.
"Desire" gave the band their first UK No. 1. It had a fantastic black and white photo of Larry that continued the iconic photography U2 had used with The Joshua Tree singles. They also used CD picture discs for the first time on each of the four singles. All four singles made the top ten in the UK, which was one of their most impressive chart runs.
The "Angel Of Harlem" single had an excellent live version of "Love Rescue Me" with Ziggy Marley on vocals. It was the first time they had a guest lead vocalist on one of their singles.
The "When Love Comes To Town" single gave us another first: U2 had a cover version on one of their singles for the first time with "Dancing Barefoot," written by Patti Smith & Ivan Kral. It also included two remixes of album tracks. It was at this point that I realized U2 were spreading their wings a little more, with a guest vocal appearance and a cover version.
"All I Want Is You," the fourth and final single, had two more cover versions with "Unchained Melody" and "Everlasting Love." The title track had an excellent video -- practically a mini-film in itself.
Later on, I picked up the promo CD Excerpts From Rattle And Hum, which featured three live tracks from the film that were not included on the album.
This was a substantial shift for the band: four singles -- the most released in all territories worldwide from any album to date -- (The Joshua Tree had only three singles released in all territories worldwide), three cover versions, two new U2 tracks, a live track and three remixes, making this batch of singles one of the most generous the band have released from any album.
The film was released in Ireland after a major premier event in Dublin on October 27, 1988. In my hometown of Cork, it was the last film I saw in the Capital Cinema, a two-screen cinema and the biggest in the city at that time. (Shortly afterwards it became a multiplex.) I had the album and the first single before the film came out, so I was very familiar with most of the material by the time I went to see the film.
I was blown away by the black and white film footage on the big screen, and this was probably the first time that I appreciated what a difference sound can make. There were many moments that stood out for me from the film. The "Sunday Bloody Sunday" speech was very powerful, and it came across as completely genuine. It also confirmed to many misinformed U2 fans where the band stood on the IRA and the "revolution." The other moment was when the film switched to color as the stage backdrop went red at Sun Devil Stadium for "Where The Streets Have No Name" -- that was definitely a hair-raising moment. While there were many justifiably serious moments, the film also showed the band members' lighter sides, and I did like the way the film spent a little time with each member of the band separately.
Of course the VHS release of Rattle And Hum was a must-buy. At the time, I had been messing around with getting stereo from a VHS cassette player and looking up SCART diagrams to see how this could be achieved. With some perseverance, and no budget for a proper receiver, I inserted wires into the correct SCART output pins and amplified them through my own amp and speakers. Rattle And Hum was one of the first films where I really appreciated the effect of stereo that I heard in the cinema. Of course, this had to be replicated at home.
The following year, U2 extensively toured Australia and New Zealand, which led to a documentary filmed over the last three Sydney gigs. This aired in Australia and elsewhere, and remains some of the only extended footage of U2 on the Lovetown tour. It's well worth a look.
Later on, in 1988 and 1989, we got more releases of material that U2 had recorded during, or around, the Rattle And Hum album. "She's A Mystery To Me," co-written by Bono and The Edge, appeared on the final Roy Orbison studio album in 1989. "Jesus Christ" was U2's contribution to a tribute album to Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. Both of these tracks were originally recorded at the Sun Studio sessions in November 1987, at the same time as "Angel Of Harlem," "Love Rescue Me" and "When Love Comes to Town." As Bono recalls in the film, "We recorded five new songs in five hours." Also recorded at the same session was "Can't Help Falling In Love" -- the band had practiced this in their live set the night before in Tennessee.
In 1989, I attended the first of the four Dublin Lovetown gigs. Tickets went on sale at midnight in November. A group of us lined up early in Cork city center at around 7 p.m., outside one of the authorized ticket sellers. At around 11 p.m., we were given wristbands, which effectively guaranteed us our tickets. This was long before tickets could be bought online, and in hindsight proved to be a much fairer way of obtaining tickets compared to today's online scramble. The gig on December 26th was a very memorable one and the Lovetown shows were the last time U2 played indoor gigs in Ireland.
The aftermath of Rattle And Hum left me with many things. Now it sits as an interesting step in U2 history, but in hindsight it seems like an illogical album for U2. However I have a fondness for the album because when it came out, I was younger and probably less critical. I was more open, and it was an album that I anticipated with excitement and bought on the night of release.
In 2008, Bono & Edge were shown around the new state-of-the-art 02 Dublin arena, and gave us this rare performance of "Van Diemen's Land."
© @U2, 2013.
More U2 News