"[I]n the early '80s . . . there was this rather ridiculous idea . . . that if it was big, it was bad. Which of course rules out Elvis."
U2 Lists: Top 9 Memories of War
February 20, 2013
[Ed. note: This is the 47th in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
The War album is celebrating its 30th birthday this month -- a significant milestone on the U2 timeline. The album and what developed around it were very much the start of things to come. With War, the U2 machine demonstrated its potential and decisions were made that laid the foundation for a hugely successful career.
War is significant to me personally as well. It's the first U2 album I bought on the day of release, and the War tour was the first time I saw the band live. I got to thinking about the many things I associate with War, and came up with the following list of nine:
1. Red Rocks
U2 have shown a risk-taking approach to business. The money they borrowed to go to London to get a record deal was their first significant risk, and Red Rocks was their second. Using funds from the War tour, they set out to create a video that nearly didn't happen. Mother Nature tried to intervene, and despite crew members suggesting it was too risky with all that water and electrical equipment, they went ahead with the show.
What they captured was visually stunning but also caught U2 at what they do best -- playing live. I often wonder: If they had to follow modern safety and risk-management practices, would they have been allowed to go ahead? And if not, how would history have been different?
2. "This song is not a rebel song"
"Sunday Bloody Sunday" was U2's first overt move at making a statement about how they saw the world around. In U2 By U2, Bono referred to the song's "harmonic power" as opposed to its "verbal strength." I can understand why he said this (having felt the need initially to explain the song before playing it). But when I consider the Rattle And Hum version, I can't help but think that the band mildly distorted the song's lyrical impact. That said, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" paved the way for U2 to campaign through their music -- something that continues to divide people's opinion of the band.
3. Edge on Lead Vocals
Edge's contribution to U2's vocals has grown over the years, with the focus mainly on harmonies to complement and support Bono's changing vocal range. "Seconds," however, was the first time he took lead on a recorded vocal and sang it live ably supported by Bono on backing vocals. As an aside, it has a really funky Adam bass line, too!
4. Guitar Swaps
"40," recorded in the last hours of the War recording sessions, was done after Adam had left the studio. It's a fan favorite for closing U2 shows and the one time Edge and Adam swap instruments, with Edge playing bass. The four band members leave the stage one by one with Larry left to finish off the set.
5. Backing Singers
Another first was the Coconuts (of Kid Creole fame) singing backing vocals on "Red Light" and "Surrender." The story goes that U2 were looking for a trumpet player for "Red Light" and managed to get Kenny Fradley, who was playing with Kid Creole. He turned up with the Coconuts in tow, and the rest, as they say, is history!
6. Anton Corbijn
The original album release was in a gatefold sleeve with some of the lyrics printed on one side and a picture of the band on the other. That picture of U2 was taken by a certain Anton Corbijn -- the beginning of a creative partnership that continues to this day.
7. Peter Rowen
Guggi's wee brother made his second appearance on a U2 album, for which he was famously paid in Mars bars. He has subsequently gone on to photograph the band himself, most recently on the 360 tour.
Clannad's "Theme from Harry's Game" was played at the end of the shows on the War tour and is also featured in the Under A Blood Red Sky video. Perhaps it's Bono's further collaboration with the band on "In a Lifetime" that makes me associate Clannad with U2, or perhaps it's simply the hazy memory of hearing that song as I left my first-ever U2 show thinking, "WOW -- what just happened there?"
9. Bono's iconic War T-shirt
OK, maybe I'm the only one who thinks the War tour T-shirt is iconic, but it's the first time I remember thinking about U2 in visual as well as musical terms. The white flags emblazoned on Bono's T-shirt and used during shows were truly powerful images. Or maybe it was simply that I, along with all my friends, wanted to be Bono at that time. Who knows? But in the world of U2 coolness, I think that shirt rates pretty high.
If you want to share your thoughts on things that remind you of War or just your thoughts on War in general you can join the discussion on our forum.
(c) @U2/Irwin, 2013.