Snare, massacre, muted strings, insane!, "seconds", calm down, no! - Nuclear armament, honeymoon, Jamaica, underground, Poland, protest song, madness!, "drowning man", violin, "Waterboys", prostitution, trumpet, "red light", this is it, "surrender", Psalms, Falkland, Lebanon, Boy, Michael Jackson - "War"!
What is this? 37 words that describe and sum up one of the most important and influential albums of the 1980s - "War" - "U2's" third studio album, released on February 28, 1983.
This album was recorded between September and November 1982 and was meant to reflect the feelings of the band members concerning the main events in the world that year. Britain and the Falkland Islands, South Africa, and the apartheid, the war in Lebanon, and more. Everywhere the band members looked, they saw "war". Bono stated that the intention was to get out of the pleasant and nice image they had and give people a wake-up call, a slap in the face. The boy who appears on the cover is Peter Rowan, Guggi's brother - Bono's childhood friend from "Virgin Prunes". Bono thought that an innocent kid's face would do the job better than tanks and rifles. By the way, the boy has already appeared on the cover of the album "Boy". He has also appeared on the single of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and later will also decorate the cover of the band's first compilation album. The Edge noted that they were aware of the risk involved with taking a position, but wanted to do it and "fly closer to the sun". This is the band's first political statement and it resonates with the same sharpness and intensity even today, almost 40 years later!
The album opens with "Sunday Bloody Sunday", to the war march drums, with the metallic and precise snare sounds of Larry Mullen, Jr., which was recorded in the stairwell of the studio in Dublin. This incredible accuracy of Larry was achieved through the "Click Track" technique - where clicks are sent to his headphones during the recording and help him synchronize with the rhythm. Larry was initially against the technique proposed by producer Steve Lillywhite, but after meeting drummer Andy Newmark who was a member of "Sly and the Family Stone" and worked with artists such as John Lennon, David Bowie, and "Roxy Music", he was convinced. This simple but accurate drumming by Larry, serves as the solid foundation on which this entire album is founded. The metallic sound of the snare and the ruff bass drum sound, served as a fertile ground for the guitar of The Edge, with the bass of Adam Clayton being the glue that sticks it all together.
It is a protest song influenced by an incident that took place on Sunday, January 30, 1972, in which soldiers from the British Paratroopers Unit shot and killed 13 unarmed Irish Catholic boys, who took part in a human rights protest march in the town of Derry in Northern Ireland. For more information on the tragic incident called "Bloody Sunday" click here:
Although all the songs on the album appear to have been written by all the members of the band, this song evolved from a guitar riff and lyrics that were originally written by The Edge, while Bono only reworked the lyrics. What an amazing guitar work of The Edge. The arpeggio chords, the famous palm-muted strings that play ping pong in our guts, and the melodic solo. Here is the conclusive proof that sometimes the genius is in the simplicity and the virtuosity comes from minimalism. The violin that accompanies the song and gives it an Irish scent is played by Steve Wickham who will later be part of "the Waterboys". Wickham met The Edge by chance at a bus stop and asked him if "U2" were interested in enriching their sound with violin for their next album. The Edge got excited and finally, Wickham contributed his playing electric violin on two songs from the album. In 2005 The Edge would admit that without "the Clash" this song would not have sounded the way it did.
The bass drum beat puts us at the right pace for "Seconds", another protest song against nuclear armament. The Edge is the lead singer in this song, and this is his first time doing so. At about 2:00 there is a break, during which an excerpt from the 1981 film "Soldier Girls" is played. It is a documentary describing girls' training for the US Army.
"New Year's Day" was written by Bono during his honeymoon with his wife in Jamaica. The song was originally planned as a love song, but later it was influenced by the general theme of the album and became a protest song, about the Polish Solidarity movement led by Lech Walesa. This song was the band's first to chart in America and its first to enter the top ten. It's also on tRolling Stone" magazine's 500 greatest songs list. A beautiful and chilling song that has not lost its charm to this day. The piano in the song is played by The Edge which also provides beautiful background vocals. This is one of the band's most played songs live, with The Edge constantly switching between guitar and piano. Clayton's dominant and mesmerizing bass part was written by chance, when he tried to figure out how to play the bass of the "Visage" song "Fade to Gray".
"Like a Song…" is meant to sound rough and "biting", to convey the message that the band's roots are still in Punk music.
The track that ends the first side of the vinyl - "Drowning Man" is based on a play that Bono tried to write at the time. It includes a sentence from the book of "Isaiah" 40:31, with the words: "They will run on wings like eagles They will run and not grow weary". This is the second song in which Wickham plays the violin and the quiet atmosphere in it is influenced by the English band "The Comsat Angels".
The song that opens the second side of the album "The Refugee" is the only one on the album that was produced by Irish composer and producer Bill Whelan. The song is meant to show the resemblance between Irish and African immigrants in America. It is one of the band's weakest and least-known songs and to the best of our knowledge, it has never been played live.
"Two Hearts Beat as One" is led by Clayton's fantastic bass playing. It is a classic love song and is the second single released from the album. Bono also wrote this song during his honeymoon with his new wife Alison Stewart in Jamaica.
You guessed it right. "Red Light" is influenced by the Red Light Street in Amsterdam, which the band visited during one of their shows in Amsterdam. What they saw on this street created a dissonance and a great contrast to the Catholic conservatism from which they came from. This song features members of the band "Kid Creole and the Coconuts", who visited Dublin while recording the album - trumpet player Kenny Fradley and three background singers. Rumor has it that during the recording of the song, the red light was turned on in the studio and one of the featured girls took off her shirt and was left with only a bra. "Coconut" band members were also featured on two more songs from the album "Like a Song…" and "Surrender".
The final song "40" was the last recorded for the album, during the last hours of the recording session. Tired Clayton had already left the studio leaving the three band members, who thought they needed a good song to close the album with. Bono opened the Bible and began reading from Psalm 40. The Edge and Mulan joined in the playing, thus creating this wonderful and moving song. The Edge plays both bass and guitar here. During live shows, The Edge plays bass and Clayton on guitar. For a long time, the band used to end their performances with this song, with the band members slowly leaving the instruments and descending from the stage, leaving the audience to sing: "How long, to sing this song ....."
Upon its release, the album received mixed reviews, but its impact on the alternative sound of the 1980s was tremendous. "War" was a huge commercial success and became U2's first album to reach number one on the UK Albums Chart, kicking off "Michael Jackson's" "Thriller" from the top. The album is ranked 223rd on "Rolling Stone" magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.