I was 13 years old and half way thru the 8th grade in January of 1983 when the first single from War, “New Years Day”, was released. Like most of us, my interest in music had begun when I started the 7th grade a year and half earlier. My musical tastes at the time were mostly divided between 2 radio stations. Stereo 101 which played a mostly hard rock format that featured bands like Rush, Van Halen,etc. And KQ92 whose format was classic rock which focused on the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who among others. While the outer ring suburb of Blaine,MN where I was growing up was thousands of miles away from the ghettos of Dublin, I still felt a connection to the music. It was completely different from anything else that I had heard or was listening to. That bass line starting the groove soon accompanied by the haunting piano. The Edge’s raw guitar. Then Bono’s vocal kicks in…all is quiet on New Year’s Day….and rock and roll would never sound the same. Although this was the bands 3rd album, they were virtually unknown at the time. The truth is they hadn’t found their soul yet and it was on War that the band grew up. The themes on the previous records didn’t have the maturity that this album did. Bono found his voice, both lyrically and musically, on War. The subjects and lyrical content were more mature (under a blood-red sky…a crowd has gathered..black & white..) than the adolescent work he had done on Boy and October. Perfect? No. But that would come down the line for them. War was the album where they would take the big step that would lead them down the road to iconic status. They were displaying a musical sound that was unique and could be compared to nothing that came before them. It could not be defined by a label, like post-punk apocalyptic rock pop (nice right? I just made that shit up). It became simply U2. I love the sound on the War album. The success of this record would afford the band higher production value and more studio time, they would never sound this stripped down and raw again. Although I loved New Years Day it was not the spark that inspired me to buy this record. That in fact was also a commentary on the changing tide of the music industry in the early 1980’s. It was when MTV, still relatively in its infancy, began playing the video for Sunday Bloody Sunday, filmed at a live performance at Red Rocks Amphitheater, with the stage being framed with torch fires and twilight skies it was a very powerful video that seemed to provide perfect accompaniment to the song. It grabbed ahold of me and sent me running to Great American Music to purchase the record. I remember watching them and thinking “this is important” but could not tell you why, it just was. Sunday Bloody Sunday will always be a song that epitomizes what U2 are: political,important,intelligent, informative, urgent,uniting and rocking. At 13 years old I did not have a clue and was ignorant to what Bloody Sunday was (often refered to as the Bogside Massacre,click on the link to read about this event if you are curious to learn about the context in which this song was written), when the event occurred in 1972 I was 4 years old. It would not be until I was much older that I could understand the story behind the song. As a newly christened teenager in mid-America growing up in the Cold War era 1980’s ,that song spoke to me about the ugliness and hollowness of war (wipe your tears away..and today the millions cry, we eat and drink while tomorrow they die..). We had grown up with the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation (how long? how long must we sing this song…..because tonight we can be as one….) hanging over our heads. The song was emotive from the start with the military sounding drum beat pronouncing the urgency of the message and providing a feeling of empowerment when the guitar kicks in. The song touches on the prominence that religion has with starting wars (…The real battle just begun…to claim the victory Jesus won..) and hints at the beginning of the media proliferation in the coming age of information (..and its true we are immune…when fact is fiction and T.V. reality..). “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is without a doubt one of the greatest protest songs ever written. The cold war theme was revisited and accompanied by a pounding drum beat teamed with a heavy bass line on Seconds. The band was not subtle with their anti-war message on this cut. In the middle of this song the music level drops low and over the sound of the drums you hear a drill instructor leading a well-known military jody, “I wanna be an airborne ranger, I wanna lead a life of danger”. You may recognize this cadence from the a scene in the movie Breakfast Club where Judd Nelson uses it to draw attention to himself and allow the others to make it back to the library. While the soul of War was it’s obvious anti-war, nonviolence stance…that is not to say the record was not without heart. Two Hearts Beat As One is an uptempo number built around The Edge’s trademark guitar sound…and although the chorus is built around a positive message of love there is still some pacifism tucked into the lyrics. Like A Song is a cry to stop the internal fighting and religiously fueled violence that was enveloping their native Ireland. On “The Refugee” they turn the anti-war message into a dance up rave…but stay on message with the lyrics. More than any other U2 record before or since this album was built around Larry Mullen Jr.’s drum kit. His beats and rhythms are at the core of War’s sense of desperation and urgency. When I look back and re-examine this work for the purpose of this blog I am reminded of just how important and special this record was. It may have been dwarfed by the popularity and record sales of U2’s subsequent offerings but go back and give this one a listening with fresh ears and I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised.
other U2 on this blog: