[Ed. note: This is the 31st in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
I love that @U2 has chosen to mark the 30th anniversary of the October album. It sits (sadly, in my opinion) at the bottom of many U2 fans' lists of favorite albums. Many feel that it is unfinished or too religious. I love this album for a lot of reasons, in part because I think it's full of great songs! The true test of a U2 song is how it's played live. I believe U2 are at their best live.
In the case of October, all but two of the album's songs made it to the live circuit. So I thought it would be fun to do a list of October songs based on how many times they have been played in concert. And I hope to add to a forum favorite: debating set lists!
9. "With A Shout"
Played 25 times live in concert, the song's last tour appearance was on December 21, 1981, at the London Lyceum on the second leg of the October tour. For many fans this is one of the most obviously religious songs on the album. Some think Bono didn't like what he had seen to date in the music industry and that singing about an openly "uncool" topic was a defiant gesture. The most recent live performance was on TV, on the May 15, 1982, episode of Something Else, a BBC2 youth show. For me, Larry's drumming, plus the crashing guitars, makes this a real rock song!
One of my all-time favorite U2 songs had its last outing on the War tour, thought to be, though not confirmed, at the show on May 1, 1983, in New York. Video of this song is hard to find, but audio does exist. I was fortunate enough to see them perform this song at my very first U2 show, on the War tour, and have been hooked ever since. "Tomorrow" has been played 36 times live. Performed live it's captivating, with booming bass and atmospheric tin whistle followed by a frenetic ending.
Other than a radio-station session, this song dwelt in the bowels of the October album until the release of Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi propelled it to the prelude before "Walk On" on the 360 tour, replacing "MLK." One word -- so simple, yet so right for that segment of the concert. As a result, "Scarlet" has now built up a total of 45 live plays, and my guess is that could be its final tally. Its last outing was on July 30, 2011, at the final 360 show in Moncton.
"Fire" is notorious for having been played on the UK TV show Top of the Pops and going down the charts the following week. It has been played live 65 times, including in Werchter in 1982. Its last outing was on February 26, 1983, in Dundee on the War tour.
The story of Bono's "lost lyrics" before the recording of October has been well documented -- and this song reflects some of the problems that cropped up with that loss. Lyrics made up on the mic like, "And what am I to do? Just tell me what am I supposed to say?" bore out the frustration of that difficult second album. "Rejoice," however, also captured some sublime moments, such as "I can't change the world but I can change the world in me," obviously something Bono went on to more than challenge himself with in later years. Played live 69 times during the October tour, the song's last outing was on August 7, 1982, in Finland at the Ruisrock festival. There's a great version at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark in 1982. Much could be said for Adam's fashion sense at this time…
4. "I Threw A Brick Through A Window"
Played 147 times throughout the October and War tours, "Brick" saw its last outing on April 18, 1985, on The Unforgettable Fire tour. The live performance is the only time the full song title is heard, with Bono singing through one of Larry's most memorable drum solos. (Here's a video from Werchter.)
3. "I Fall Down"
For some fans, this is the hidden gem on the October album. A song that centered on two characters was a departure from early U2 song writing. The piano is up there with Edge's best piano moments. "I Fall Down" has been played 170 times live -- its last outing on April 18, 1985, at the same Unforgettable Fire tour show as "I Threw A Brick."
This song, for me, shows U2 at their most vulnerable. Some people consider it unfinished, but I think most great U2 songs tend to take on a life of their own. "October" is one of them, particularly this live version from Dortmund in 1984. Played 336 times, its last outing was on November 11, 1989, on the first leg of the Lovetown tour.
"Gloria," the most-performed song from October, comes in with 357 plays. Its last full outing was on December 14, 2005, in St. Louis on the Vertigo tour. I think this song best sums up the passion and intensity of early U2 shows. "Red Rocks" is probably my favorite U2 DVD, and the energy captured in this song, which I was fortunate enough to witness at another War show, is exactly why some 28 years on I still love this band. Live is where U2 really reach out to me, and this version of the song, in my opinion, is one of their finest live moments.
© @U2/Irwin, 2011.