Sunday Bloody Sunday

U2’s earliest song to be labelled as a classic, the kind of must-turn-up-on-best-ofs, must-get-mentions-in-biogs sort of song, happens to have everything that tends to be associated with U2; the political angle, the religious references, the strident vocals, the hard drums and a (toned down, but present) delayed guitar, and a strong impression that this band is Irish, rather than, y’know, the usual American or British act. And needless to say, it’s also very, very blunt – I mean, sheesh, the main subject’s even in the title. That said, the song’s stance was, at the time, provocative – in 1983 the IRA were more supported than they would be around 15 years later, to the point where this was naturally taken as a show of support – cue the “this is not a rebel song” line.

With “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, we’ve also got one of the earliest U2 songs to go outside of traditional rock instruments (along with “Tomorrow” from October) with the addition of…a violin. Not the kind of thing you’d expect on a hard rock song, but its slashing phrases do actually work quite nicely. The guitar alternately chimes moderately and riffs sharply in either the opening arpeggi or the two-bar riff throughout. Edge also uses a solo that I’m not entirely sure of the context of (it doesn’t exactly raise or lower tension), but does swirl the song neatly into the bridge nonetheless. And of course, here it’s Larry deserving major kudos for his part – it’s rare for songs to truly have distinctive drum parts, but here is the most distinctive one perhaps of U2’s career.

In any event, U2’s version is well familiar; enough to spark several cover versions. Oddly, it also seems to be the one U2 song that inspires the biggest variety within covers – where “One”, for example, is seemingly always a downbeat ballad, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is seemingly capable of turning into anything. Hence we get Radiohead’s drum-free version (seems slightly pointless, but still), metal versions from Echo Hollow and Evergreen Terrace, a punk version from Ignite, apparently a mambo version from comedy band Richard Cheese and Lounge Against The Machine, U2’s own acoustic version from PopMart, Paramore’s somewhat-too-leisurely-and-as-a-result-fairly-MOR acoustic version, Electric Hellfire Club’s industrial version (often misattributed to KMFDM) and probably the best one, Saul Williams’ hip-hop/digital hardcore version, which manages to take the song away from being purely an Irish thing and to launch it into a dystopian future world. Still, the original rules over them all, probably because this is, as seen later on in U2’s career, an key issue for them.

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~ by 4trak on September 18, 2008.

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