I have a grudging respect for U2, although I am not really a fan of their music. I say “grudging respect” because A) they are one of the biggest rock bands in history and plenty of people love them. B) I can’t overlook the fact that of any “classic” rock act, they’ve probably been consistently better than almost any band you can name, for a longer period of time, too. (Compare U2 to the Rolling Stones. Their classic period begins in 1966 and is over by 1973 or 74 (arguably). Eight years out of what, 90 or something? Even the towering genius of David Bowie’s peak creative years have got nothing on U2 who have never really been “bad” in over 30 years. You can’t say that about Paul McCartney, can you? U2 have had a remarkably good run of it. Put them next to any really longterm rock act, and they acquit themselves admirably.
Still they are just not my cup of tea. I think I feel guilty about putting them on DM, I guess, because, frankly, I’ve always found them a bit naff and Bono, although he’s undeniably done some good things in the world, strikes me as a man who absolutely loves himself, like Sting does. For the record, I like Boy (but don’t own it) I like the Zooropa-era material (but don’t own it), and I thought “It’s a Beautiful Day” was… just beautiful. But there are only really two tracks by them that I am absolutely nuts over: “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” from 1995 Batman Forever soundtrack, which just completely blew me away, and the least-known single of their career, 1982’s “A Celebration.”
“A Celebration” does not appear on any U2 album and was deleted six months after it came out. According to a 1983 interview with drummer Larry Mullen Jr.:
“We did a video of it. We went to this prison in Dublin, where the 1916 uprising took place, called Kilmainham Jail, and filmed it with the idea of breaking out. It was very much a look at ourselves. Like when we were in school and everyone was telling us ‘you’re crap’ and we couldn’t get a record dealit was the triumph of breaking through.”
The reason for the record’s cold shoulder from the group who recorded it—and were presumably proud enough of it to shoot a video for the song—have to do with the way Bono’s lyrics were misinterpreted. From a transcript of a 1983 radio interview
Interviewer: I wanna play the other side of that, which is ‘A Celebration’, since we have no hope in the world of hearing this tomorrow, since the band’s forgotten it we’re gonna play that. This is a terrific track, is it ever going to appear on an album?
Bono: No…(laughs) I don’t think so. It ah -
Interviewer: Do you not like it?!
Bono: No I do like it actually, I’m… sometimes I hate it, I mean it’s like with a lot of music, if I hear it in a club it really excites me, and I think it is a forerunner to War and a lot of the themes. It was great in Europe because… A song like ‘Seconds’ people thought was very serious - on the LP War ‘Seconds’ - it’s anti-nuclear, it’s a statement. They didn’t see the sense of humour to it, it’s sort of black humour, where we were using a lot of clichés; y’know It takes a second to say goodbye, blah blah, and some people took it very seriously. And it is black humour, and it is to be taken sort-of seriously, but this song had the lines in it, I believe in a third world war, I believe in the atomic bomb, I believe in the powers that be, but they won’t overpower me. And of course a lot of people they heard I believe in a third world war, I believe in the atomic bomb, and they thought it was some sort of, y’know, Hitler Part II. And Europeans especially were (puts on outraged French accent) Ah non! Vive le France! and it was all like, all sorts of chaos broke out, and they said, What do you mean, you believe in the atomic bomb? And I was trying to say in the song, I believe in the third world war, because people talk about the third world war but it’s already happened, I mean it’s happened in the third world, that’s obvious. But I was saying these are facts of life, I believe in them, I believe in the powers that be BUT, they won’t overpower me. And that’s the point, but a lot of people didn’t reach the fourth line.
It’s too bad, because this is a fucking corker of a song with an amazing guitar riff. I’d have probably never have heard it myself had it not been for the fact that a woman I lived with in the early 80s owned the 45rpm single. I used to play this record over and over and over again back then. MTV on occasion would play the video (and Vh1 Classic probably still does) but it’s still tragically the least known song in U2’s large catalog. Eventually it was released on CD in 2004 on The Complete U2.