26
May 15

U2 – “Beautiful Day”

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#877, 21st October 2000

u2beautiful A theological detour. The rise of New Atheism – Dawkins et al. – seems to have made it somewhat infra dig for lifelong unbelievers like me to admit there are things we respect and admire about religions and the religious. But of course there are. For instance, one of the things I find most admirable – perhaps I just mean enviable – when I meet it in Christians is the sense of faith as a reserve of redemptive strength. The feeling that, no matter how bad things are, no matter how bad you are, Jesus loves you. The fact I don’t believe in him doesn’t invalidate the testimony of millions who have found this kind of grace when they needed it – any more than their belief invalidates the experience of those who reached for it and could not find it. I believe what they’re taking is a placebo; they believe it’s the real thing. Whoever’s right, they get a chance at the benefit, and I don’t.

Or don’t I? That kind of feeling saturates “Beautiful Day” – one of U2’s most obviously Christian singles, full of grace and floods and doves and no-room-at-the-inn. And I feel this song well enough. I think it’s the most honest and moving record Bono and the crew have landed at Number One – the one where the reliquaries of rock’n’roll and the baggage of experiment are jettisoned, and Bono sings a big, slick modern rock song about faith. Sings it well and cleverly, too – the quiet, beaten-down tone of the opening verse, that halting gap on “lend – a hand”, the breakdown into gutterals on some of the closing chorus lines; these things dramatise the idea of a man on his last chance. “Reach me – I know I’m not a hopeless case”, he pleads: there’s a need I can relate to sometimes. You don’t need to feel God is your judge to understand the urge for redemption. Irony abounds, of course – Bono’s performance here rests on him selling the idea of himself as a man of great humility. But sell it he does.

U2 are Christians, not Christian Rockers (though, like indie, that’s a genre defined by distribution and audience more than content). They are careful to make sure “Beautiful Day” is also about a lover, or a shitty week, or anything a worldwide audience wants to make it about. But I hear religion in the song’s bones. And in any case, religiosity is rarely far from the surface of stadium rock. I once wrote a piece for Pitchfork about rock music as “secular gospel” – something that harnessed the sense of yearning, awe, and the numinous in religion and translated it into a folk idiom, like soul music slyly borrowed the tactics and techniques of Church music to sing about earthly desire.

But these strategies come with a price. You don’t have to believe in God to believe in ghosts – that when you borrow from the spiritual, other inevitable associations might make the journey and haunt the music. So soul music drew on gospel to describe love and lust, and often became, at its strongest, a music about sin and the terror of judgement. Rock music harnessed the scale and awe of religion, and brought upon itself the imp of reformation – the itch to purify, refocus, be born again. In the 80s, on a song like “Bad”, U2 took a track’s length to build up a questing, burning fervor. On “Beautiful Day”, that big, stadium sized music is out of reach at the start of the song – it flares for the chorus, but dies: they have to earn it back.

Perhaps, after the exhausting – and exhausted – mess of Pop and its tour, humility came easier. U2 needed that purification themselves – though you could argue they’ve never moved significantly on since. Bono apparently objected to The Edge’s guitar tone – too retro, too close to the band’s new wave roots. But “Beautiful Day” isn’t, and isn’t trying to be, the kind of spontaneous small-band performance The Edge’s move might indicate. From its glimmering keyboards to its slightly arid drum sounds, this is as meticulously crafted and fretted over as anything on their 90s records, it’s just ended up somewhere more straightforward. It takes smaller bets than Zooropa or Pop, and they pay off: the sudden cut-ins of backing vocals on the chorus (and bits of the verses) are a good, effective example, giving a sense of the singer shored painfully up as he contemplates his life. “Beautiful Day” is a success, but U2 have become what – for better and for worse – they never used to be: a band that knows what they’re good at.

The biggest risk “Beautiful Day” takes is its sudden expansion of scale in the middle eight – “see China right in front of you”, and so on, accompanied by a ripple of William Orbit style keyboard. It shows its protagonist all the kingdoms of the earth – OK, the song isn’t all humble – not as temptation, but as a reach towards a more redemptive view, one that acknowledges the problems and error of the world but wants to love it anyway. Whether this planetary point of view is global or simply globalised – the airy take of a jet-setter with the ear of the mighty – it’s the emotional crux of the song, the turning point at which the singer shrugs off his own narrow troubles and gets that shot at redemption. If it works, the rest of “Beautiful Day” falls into place. And, for all my grudges about the man and his band, it does work. It earns the urgency of the coda – “if you don’t know you can feel it somehow”, a singer willing himself back to stardom. I am no closer, I think, to believing in God. But for a few minutes here, I can manage something quite as unlikely: I can believe in Bono.

8

Comments

  1. 1
    Tom on 26 May 2015 #

    BONUS REVIEW PARAGRAPH. At one point this was in there too, but it’s too derailing.

    “(Our fallen world intrudes in unexpected ways, mind you: “Beautiful Day” came closer than almost any song I’ve covered to terminally wearing out its welcome. It was adopted – surely at great expense – by ITV when they snatched Premier League football rights from the BBC, for the first and only time. Their show used “Beautiful Day” incessantly, particularly those wistful, trailing licks at the beginning and end, locked in my mind in Pavlovian death grip with Des Lynam and the Tactics Truck. “The Premiership” was flashy, hubristic, and barely competent – “Discotheque” would have been a better choice.)”

  2. 2
    Chelovek na lune on 26 May 2015 #

    Gosh…. I couldn’t agree less… I am going to have to see if I can explain exactly why, though. Tomorrow, maybe, hopefully….

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 26 May 2015 #

    did (do) U2 consider themselves Christian by this point? the lyrics I’ve read online suggest (to me) that this is a nostalgic meditation on the consolations and contradictions of (a lost) faith. The echoes of U2s earlier music serve to underline this nostalgic mood and the title is reminiscent of ‘Perfect Day’, another example of equivocal memories.
    ‘And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth/After the flood all the colors came out’ describes a world made ‘beautiful’ by divine destruction contrasted with the manmade mess that Bono sees from his plane window. Neither viewpoint is satisfactory or comforting and by the end of the song ‘the beautiful day’ becomes a thing of the past.
    Similar sentiments of bittersweet nostalgia for the certainties of faith can be found in Bob Dylan’s later lyrics (I went to church on Sunday and she passed by /My love for her is taking such a long time to die) and in the poem ‘Piano’ by D. H. Lawrence:

    Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
    Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
    A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
    And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
    In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
    Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
    To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
    And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

    So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
    With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
    Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
    Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

    as my online name may suggest these are themes that exercise me from time to time so I may well be projecting my own viewpoint on to the song – but then what are these songs for if not (in part) that.
    Anyhow, there’s no way I’d give this 8 but it’s fairly tolerable for U2 (even if the video makes me want to slap Bono repeatedly) so a 6 for me

  4. 4
    Ed on 27 May 2015 #

    Time is a flat circle.

    U2 have been all over, and they end up back where they started. No more irony, no more camp, no more “there’s always been a dance element to our music”. Back to the wide-eyed surge of the first five albums, back to the Keith Levene-meets-John Martyn guitar sound, back – as Tom says – to God.

    Except you can never really get back home again, because home has changed, and so have you. And although all the elements are in place, this feels overwhelmingly like a retread of past glories rather than a renewal.

    ‘I Will Follow’ and ‘Out of Control’ sound like the thrill of discovering for the first time the richness and strangeness of the world with all its infinite possibilities. ‘Beautiful Day’ sounds like the thrill of gunning a BMW 3 series down an unexpectedly empty stretch of the M4 on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

    Tom’s bonus paragraph is for me the key to it: the song is a perfect fit for the well-regulated thrills of the Premiership, an ideal soundtrack for a montage of goals scored by Alan Shearer and Michael Owen.

    It’s enjoyable enough: the first line of the chorus and the A-ha-quoting middle eight kick in more effectively than anything U2 has managed since. But I was 17 when ‘War’ came out, and BD wasn’t, and could never be, the same.

  5. 5
    Phil on 27 May 2015 #

    I hated this at the time, precisely because it was so obviously a post-Zooropa reconstruction of the spontaneity and sincerity – and faith – that U2 had made their name from. As well as sounding the Fakeosity Klaxon in the here and now, it seemed to confirm any suspicions one might have had of the spontaneity and sincerity of “New Year’s Day” and the rest.

    And that’s a dangerous game. There’s a terrible, corrosive bitterness that is unleashed when a preacher (like Bono) seems to have shown his showman side – See? See? None of it was ever real, was it? Was it? I suppose the most charitable interpretation is that it was incredibly courageous for Bono (& co) to risk that reaction, when they’d previously done so much to stress the inauthenticity of the performance they were putting on. But I didn’t (and don’t) feel very charitable; I think it’s more a case of hoping that the caravan would have moved on, and a slick retread of the old Sincerity Show would do the biz again. As, indeed, it did.

    No mark tonight; I’ll re-listen to the track tomorrow. Right now I’m – with ChNL – genuinely puzzled by your rating of (what memory tells me was) an awful meretricious pile of soulless(!), opportunistic crap.

  6. 6
    Tom on 27 May 2015 #

    I’m expecting a level of disagreement – for one thing most people here think (quite rightly!) that Bono is a dick. But I’m not really sure what I can add to my explanations in the review to resolve your puzzlement – I like the performance of humility, I think the band know full well they can’t turn the clock back, and aren’t really trying to (there’s one more bunny to come that fits that idea better) – the level of producerly artifice to BD surely gives the lie to that. I don’t think they’re trying to fool anyone, basically.

    One thing that may account for my liking this is that I don’t care about very early U2 at all. I thought they were very boring when they were sincere and wide-eyed: it’s only once their music starts being a dialogue between their spiritual/didactic/rootsy impulses and their modernist production (circa 1984 or so) that they get at all interesting – though the results are terribly mixed. So going back and using that modernist production to interrogate their early sound seems a useful, interesting thing for the band to do. It doesn’t necessarily leave them anywhere to go, though.

  7. 7
    Tom on 27 May 2015 #

    (Oh, also I hated this at the time too! Liking it has been one of the bigger surprises for me doing Popular.)

  8. 8
    AMZ1981 on 27 May 2015 #

    I’ve been dreading this entry for quite some time; anticipating both a stinking review ending in a low mark (which I was wrong about obviously) and pages and pages of U2 bashing to follow. I’m a fan and for me this is by some distance the worst thing they’ve ever done. To be frank it barely belongs on a B Side and it’s fate was sealed in my eyes when Tony Blair declared it `a great song`.

    To be fair I was in the minority who quite liked Pop and as a result I wasn’t too struck on All That You Can’t Leave Behind. It has grown on me slightly since and any of the three subsequent singles in which they celebrated Michael Hutchence (Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of) and Aung Sang Suu Kyi (Walk On), the stomping Elevation splitting the two – are ten times better than this.

    In U2’s defence they’ve always had a policy of releasing strange first singles from albums and maybe Beautiful Day, in its own way, was no exception. There’s two bunnies still to come but it’s interesting how we never meet them with one of their signature songs – can this be said of any other act with as many chart toppers? Also Tom’s marks have now gone 4 (Desire), 7 (The Fly), 2 (Discotheque) and now 8. What pattern will form in 2004/5?

  9. 9
    AMZ1981 on 27 May 2015 #

    Just to avoid confusions Tom’s posts 6&7 crossed with mine.

  10. 10
    Kinitawowi on 27 May 2015 #

    This has always felt (among my circle of friends, at least) to be The U2 Song It’s Okay For U2 Haters To Like. Maybe it was the football connection, maybe it was that superficially it seemed less up-his-own-arse-y than a lot of U2 stuff (even though reading the lyrics now, it looks even more so – the sneaky “it WAS a beautiful day” after the middle eight almost hinting at an environmental theme that he’d never let up on). I dunno.

    I wasn’t a U2 hater, and somehow this didn’t grab me. Still preferred most of the rest of ATYCLB (there are times when I’d rather just have fun listening to something as proudly plain dumb as Elevation (a MOLE! digging in a HOLE! etc)).

    Decent enough though, but I can’t really go above 6.

  11. 11
    Cleofis on 27 May 2015 #

    Hey all, decent-time reader/first time commenter here.

    I think when talking about Bono (and U2 generally), it helps to make an effort in differentiating between Bono-that is the man, that is Paul Hewson-and what I’ve taken to calling the Bonobot-the shades, the jacket, the moving the song catalog to Amsterdam; or, alternatively, U2 the band and U2: The B(r)and, if you catch my meaning. The latter, in both cases, is the machine built by the former for two purposes: to become The Biggest Rock Star/Band In The World (because obviously there must be one), and to channel that success into some form of Christlike material social progress. I don’t think Bono and the band ever expected to be subsumed by the beast they created, and its alliance with neoliberal capitalist notions of “progress” and “aid,” and as a result I’ve always considered Bono more with pity than with scorn, even despite the fact that he is/can undeniably be an egotistical dick. Frankly, I have never, and still don’t, think of Bono as a huckster, or a fraud; I believe he did, and still does, believe every bit of what he sells, which is what makes him such a compellingly, even humorously tragic figure to me (and also makes him dangerous in the way all privileged rich white people Who Just Want To Help can be, and usually are). Even during their all-artifice-all-the-time, Eno/Lanois redux/Flood 90s, they still had “The Wanderer,” “Love Is Blindness,” and “Wake Up Dead Man” as punctuation–moments of grace that are some of the most moving work they’ve ever done, and far more effective invocations of Christ for coming at the end of their most overt attempts to actually engage with the culture they were in, as Christian Rockers so resolutely refuse to do. Basically, even putting side the fact I generally greatly enjoy U2’s work, I find it impossible to hate Bono, though I understand why many do, and why dismissing him is a perfectly understandable, even reasonable response (though not particularly interesting or helpful). I just hope the poor sonuvabitch receives the sort of clarity he seems to so strongly wish to give his audience here.

    Oh, right, “Beautiful Day” itself. It’s, uh…bit shit, isn’t it? I mean, no, that’s unfair, but it just doesn’t work for me the way that “Gloria” or “Ultraviolet” or “Grace” do. I can respect what it’s trying to accomplish, the state of being it’s trying to capture, but it’s rock’s answer to “I Hope You Dance.” #4 above had it nailed with “the thrill of gunning a BMW 3 series down an unexpectedly empty stretch of the M4 on a sunny Saturday afternoon;” it’s spiritual redemption for discreet corporate interiors. Now, having said all that, the one context this song ever really, truly worked in was the post-9/11 Super Bowl Halftime Show. In fact, it’s strange going back to find out this was released almost a year beforehand, I associate it so strongly with that immediate period following the attacks. It was times like that U2: The Band was constructed to tackle, and that particular performance still moves to this day, even despite the sickening knowledge of all that would come after. U2 were the biggest rock band in the world, and in “Beautiful Day” they created something that, even in its overexposure, was big enough to hold that much pain. There’s value in that, I’d say; and we all find ourselves with a stretch of empty highway now and again.

  12. 12
    Ed on 27 May 2015 #

    @6, @11, etc – Serious question: why is it so clearly self-evident that “most people here think (quite rightly!) that Bono is a dick”?

    Is it his raging ego, which has been a characteristic of every great pop performer from Sinatra (and maybe before) to Kanye West? (OK, so maybe Sinatra and West both were / are dicks, but their dickishness is not the characteristic that defines them.)

    Is it his work on poverty relief, which, tendentious though it is, at least is evidence that he has a sense of problems in the world other than his own? Or is it that he somehow engages with poverty in the wrong way, sounding self-righteous rather than being altruistic in a spirit of humility and abnegation?

    Would it be better if gave money to charity privately, and never talked about it? Or better still if he spent his money on a garage full of Maseratis and his own Boeing 777, rather than paying the salaries of development experts and lobbyists?

    I mean, I can see why he is an unsettling and challenging figure. He inevitably provokes the question: if you had that much money and fame, what would you do with it? But is he that much more of a dick than most of the other people we come across in the Popular story? I just don’t see it.

  13. 13
    Cleofis on 27 May 2015 #

    @12: Sorry, I meant to refer to the general/lower-case-“p” popular sense of animosity towards him, not an assumption that most people here on capital-“P” Popular think of him as a dick. I’m actually more or less in agreement with you, and if my comment failed to convey that that’s on me, my bad.

  14. 14
    Izzy on 27 May 2015 #

    For what it’s worth, Bono is probably my single favourite figure in rock n roll, maybe along with McCartney. They both have that sense of being good people with boundless energy, little cynicism and no use for or fear of embarrassment. If only I were braver, a player, had stamina and could work a room, that could be me, I sometimes idly dream.

    With people like that you can still conquer the world, but in a good way.

  15. 15
    Izzy on 27 May 2015 #

    The consequence is that someone hating Bono, or perhaps more accurately someone saying so, always makes me think that bit less of them. Y’know, what are you in it for?

    Anyway, this is one of their songs that I never put on, but I’ve started my day with it and – what I never expected – I found it very moving. You’re totally right, it’s the middle eight. It *does* have that sense of the divine – at the end of the day, more than anything else, that is what I want from music.

    Oh, and ‘the thrill of gunning a BMW 3 series down an unexpectedly empty stretch of the M4 on a sunny Saturday afternoon’ made me laugh, but it *does* nail it – and maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe, once life gets in the way, that’s the best you can ask for. If you’ve used and kept your wonder for life – and Beautiful Day does – maybe that little thrill is all your heart should take. (9)

  16. 16
    katstevens on 27 May 2015 #

    Meanwhile in the dressing room backstage at the Astoria, Coldplay are listening to this and taking careful notes.

  17. 17
    alexcornetto on 27 May 2015 #

    “If your entire life is a performance, does that make everything you do inherently authentic? Is this guy for real, or is this guy full of shit?” Chuck Klosterman on Bono, 2004*

    U2 are one of those bands I have never been able to bring myself to like, despite a scattering of pretty wonderful songs throughout their career, purely because of how obnoxious their frontman is. I was 11 when this came out, and remember harbouring the same feelings towards the band as I do now – if not stronger, because I couldn’t quite define why at the time. He makes me ashamed to tell people that I like even their most widely-appreciated songs – save ‘One’, which has entered ‘Bunnylujah’ levels of talent show ubiquity which have left me unable to form an opinion on it anymore.

    Post-Achtung, even their moments of post-modernist self-parody (see: their appearance in The Simpsons**) seem too overly-contrived for me to find them likeable. ‘Beautiful Day’ is as calculated a lead-single as ‘The Fly’, for the exact opposite reasons – one of those return-to-our-roots, sorry-about-the-last-decade singles that a band of their stature could get away with putting out and losing no good will whatsoever.

    Mission-statement songs like this never really gel with me, but I have to begrudgingly give it to U2 – it’s a really great song. Thanks to the rapid turnover of number ones in 2000, I can remember snatches of most of them; I’d like to think it’s down to the quality of the song itself, rather than its ubiquity, that I can call practically every beat/note of this one to mind.

    It’s not one of The Greats in their catalogue – it seems just a little too calculated as a comeback single, and I’m sure I read that at least five choruses were shitcanned before the final version was hit upon. But, and it pains me to say it, it’s probably one of my favourite number ones in a year which wasn’t exactly spoiled for quantity, if not quality. Just a shame we won’t be talking about ‘Stuck in a Moment’, which is probably my favourite song of theirs – for some reason, I can’t be cynical about it, and you can’t beat a mass Eno choir on backing vocals.

    Oh, and if you haven’t listened to it, there’s a fantastic podcast run by Scott Aukerman from Comedy Bang Bang and Adam Scott from Parks & Recreation called U Talkin’ U2 To Me, in which they go through an album an episode. They rarely get further than running through the names of the band members and referring to Eno as “ol’ sourpuss” before it all goes a bit tangential, but it’s a really interesting (and hilarious) bunch of conversations between two guys who want to make more sense of their collective fandom. At the very least, it added another five or six tracks of theirs to my list of “U2 songs I quite like, but shh don’t tell anyone.”

    (7)

    *This quote comes from an article from around the release of BUNNY-DOS-TRES-FOURTEEN – when it seemed to me that Bono started to feel critically-reaccepted enough to mix the ingénue/apology act he was peddling with this record with a more palatably diluted version of the Zoo-era po-mo trappings. It’s well worth a read.

    *Which, to its credit, has driven the phrase “What thuuuuh bloody’ell?” into my day-to-day vocab.

  18. 18
    Idris on 27 May 2015 #

    I don’t buy the humility at all. Doesn’t Bono steal someone’s apple in the video, then lie down on an airport bench munching it smugly and revelling in the wonder of his (rather than His) creation?

  19. 19
    DanusJonus on 27 May 2015 #

    I think I actually preferred Pop to this album and by association the singles from the former. This always seemed like a renaissance return to classical U2 singles, alas I can’t confess to have ever been in thrall to classic U2.

    This did seem to re-launch them from their less unanimously received and sometimes rather subdued 90’s offerings. Although I liked pop, it always gave me the impression they were trying very hard. Two things have always struck me about this song. The first was mentioned by Tom; the over exposure from The Premiership and later ITV football offerings. The second relates to the fact that song seamlessly links into ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’ by A-ha. The part of Beautiful Day I always remember is the ‘Touch me……’ and I have difficulty not immediately humming the Morton melody afterwards. I’m sure this was commented on at the time and that on occasion U2 even played snippets of the A-ha song at the end of performances of Beautiful Day. (I know this is also mentioned in an above post).

    I can’t confess to being moved by this on re-listening the ways some commentators have. I could never go higher than a 5/6 in rating the song. I’ve also never been quite able to put my finger on the reason why this doesn’t grab me.

  20. 20
    Phil on 27 May 2015 #

    Unlike Tom I did quite like this on first hearing, but it wore off quite quickly. That said, on re-listening to it properly, it is more interesting than I’d remembered it to be. The sound is surprisingly dance-y and beat-driven: if you watched the ‘performance’ sections of the video with the sound muted, you’d expect to hear a lot more guitar. And the video is interesting (although I could have done with less snogging) – it dramatises a sense of creative exhaustion, being stuck in a totally artificial situation and trying to find a route back to authenticity.

    My problem (contra #6) is that I don’t think the ‘authenticity’ part – embodied in the vocals, ranging from confessional mumble to soaring yelp – is undermined or undercut or reframed in any way. If anything it’s showcased, as if to say “yes, it’s us and we do this now, but we can still do THAT!” It’s an each-way bet – you get the artificiality of the band, with the motorik beat and glimpses of some genuinely interesting, abstract soundscapes; then you get the authenticity of the singer (the video also embodies this fake opposition, of course).

    And then what does authenticity mean – what emotions are being authentically expressed? A bit of numb exhaustion (which is interesting…), a bit of dazed contemplation, but mostly it’s just U2’s eternal stock-in-trade – desperate yearning alternating with moments of celebration. Yearning (can we? will we? could we possibly?), celebration (yes we can! right here right now, we can!). And repeat. Very rock’n’roll, deeply fraudulent and, once you’ve spotted it, very unengaging.

    OK, so it’s much better – or rather, to use that word again, much more interesting – than I’d remembered. I don’t think I can go beyond a 6, though.

    PS From the blog post linked above, a possible answer to the question “why do people hate Bono?”

    There’s something deeply spectacular about [the rock band/audience relationship], in the sense of grafting a sense of active – and rebellious – participation on to a state of passive spectatorship which is never really challenged. This, I think, is the real fraudulence of presenting Bono or Chris Martin as a political figure: their entire career rests on acting out the impression that repressions are being triumphantly overcome, in a performance which by its very design challenges nothing in the outside world. To take this as a basis on which to mount some sort of rhetorical challenge to real oppression and real injustice is deeply confused, and self-deceiving on the part of everyone concerned: it’s as if Peter Falk and Telly Savalas were holding press conferences demanding better crime detection.

  21. 21
    Tom on 27 May 2015 #

    Bono-as-dick: a shallow characterisation on my part, yes. But also a generalisation to group opinion based on the three long threads we’ve had about him! From a personal perspective, I think he’s a dick because I was first aware of him during the Rattle & Hum and then Achtung Baby eras and both his earnest rootsiness and his clumsy post-modernism rubbed me right up the wrong way. He used both the past and the future in ways that felt blundering and obvious. First impressions die very hard.

    The latter-day incarnation of Bono as chum of Blair, doer of good works, etc. actually doesn’t annoy me much or at all – there are many worse ways for a rock star to spend their middle age. Every now and then some of the old clumsiness, the old addiction to the big muddled gesture, surfaces, the Apple thing for instance.

  22. 22
    Tom on 27 May 2015 #

    #20 Yeah, I am normally pretty unmoved by rock bluster and can’t deny that’s what’s happening here: but it works for me on this occasion. Maybe the difference here is in the dynamics, the numb exhaustion and the dazed contemplation: it means the shared fiction of the stadium rock song feels a bit better plotted, the climax more skilfully built up to. The difference between a rote hero’s journey style cinema blockbuster and a good one with decent character bits, maybe. In any case, it’s those quieter registers that touch me.

    The commenter upthread who said Coldplay were taking notes was right, I think – they’re an example of a stadium rock band who never seemed to have any grasp of the ‘rock’ bits, the moments of release in the yearning-release equation, or at least no skill with them. So they built a whole aesthetic around the more numbed and dazed bits, and the yearning…. put like that it sounds more interesting than it was, I think. We’ll meet them eventually but it’s a long way off.

    Final bit of catch-up: this IS one of their signature singles, surely? If anything in the 00s is? U2 singles I like more than this: “Where The Streets Have No Name”, “The Unforgettable Fire” (their only shot at a 10, or even a 9, in my book), the Batman one probably, er that’s it.

  23. 23
    AMZ1981 on 27 May 2015 #

    This is the first U2 entry since the infamous Apple giveaway late last year and probably as good a time as any to touch on it. Personally I’m not sure why people got so exercised about getting something for free although it might have been more about how it automatically appeared in their library putting the onus on them to delete it rather than simply being available for free download. That said I had to download it from the cloud and it took me ages to work out how to do that. Also given that I’ve spent time on Itunes sorting out mangled album tracklistings only for it to reset them it might be that the deleted songs keep coming back.

    My main objection to the giveaway was that it gave the message that people shouldn’t have to pay for music, the same way that the brief craze for giving away new albums with the Daily Mail did. While U2 may not need the money (and the current tour will be the cash cow anyway) up and coming bands do need the royalties in order to be able to continue making music. The more I think about it the more I’m sure it was an ill though gesture that did a lot of damage.

  24. 24
    Mark M on 27 May 2015 #

    Re23: What I bothered me, and almost everyone I know, was indeed having something unrequested turn up on your phone, which felt like the worst kind of spamming – and then being told it was a gift. It was a bit like being chased down the street by someone from a coffee chain with a free sample.

    It may not seem like a bit deal, but as you can normally see watching someone get an unwanted sales call, mobile phones (maybe laptops/PCs/tablets less so) seem to be regarded as quite personal spaces, and therefore intrusions into them quite… well, intrusive. I think that – apart from the fact it was bloody U2 – was part of why people got actively rather than mildly annoyed.

    Plenty of other acts have managed to give free music to THEIR ACTUAL FANS (e.g. you sign up to a mailing list, they send you an email with ‘here’s a link if you want it’, you follow the link if you want it). As you say, there are issues with that too, but it least it’s not about junk mail.

  25. 25
    Mark M on 27 May 2015 #

    Or the U2/Apple thing was a bit like Kleeneze etc – one of those little catalogues put through your door and you have to find a place for it so you don’t chuck away but can give it back to the desperate-looking door-to-door seller and say you don’t want anything. It didn’t cost anything financially but figuring out how to clear off your iTunes was cost of time and effort.

  26. 26
    Tom on 27 May 2015 #

    For me, the Apple thing was a flashpoint because it was a gesture that really brought to life the idea that digitisation and particularly “the cloud” mean we don’t *own* stuff any more – it exists, ultimately, on the whim of whoever we rent our access to it from. We’ve all sort of known this for a while – apps we buy stop being supported, social media platforms die off, videos vanish from YouTube, blah blah. But even though removal of stuff is a worse outcome, we’ve got used to it, and it generally happens to individuals who aren’t us. So U2’s inversion of that – making people realise their lack of agency by making something appear unbidden on everyone’s device – really draws attention to it, even though the actual outcome isn’t especially onerous. It felt creepy – like the kind of stuff the villains in Russell T Davies Doctor Who episodes were always pulling. Also bear in mind this is happening in people’s record collections – which have a long social history of being spaces people curate and put effort into.

    I’m not saying this was the conscious thought process of everyone participating – but I think it’s why “U2 gives everyone an album free” got such a hostile reaction: it touched a nerve about technology and control that was waiting to be touched.

  27. 27
    lmm on 27 May 2015 #

    This was off one of the first albums I bought (or rather, had a family member buy for me). It was never spiritual for me; it was just a fun song. Agree with #15 on the M4 point.

  28. 28
    James BC on 27 May 2015 #

    “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb”, the worst album title I can think of, sums up U2 at this point. If you start to think you might like this song, just remember it comes from an album called “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” and you’ll have it back in the proper context and be able to go back to comfortably hating U2 with everyone else.

    EDIT: Oh wait, that was the next album. Well, whatever. U2 suck!

  29. 29
    DanusJonus on 27 May 2015 #

    For anyone wanting to unite the Apple giveaway with the ‘Bono is a dick’ theme, I thought the quote he gave that was bandied around last year; the giveaway exercise being a ‘drop of megalomania’ ties the two points together quite nicely.

  30. 30
    Jonathan on 27 May 2015 #

    I like this band plenty, but this album cycle was the last one in which I was much engaged with what they were doing; I bought ATYCLB and played it plenty, but today I’d be lucky to string together an EP of songs from it that I’d like to revisit, and even those it’s mostly to admire how they created a vagueness so vastness as to apply as a salve to so many people. (Particularly in the context of the post-9/11 Super Bowl show mentioned upthread, but in a more general sense too.)

    This was supposed to be the return-to-the-roots record — a narrative I did buy at the time — but in retrospect it looks more like a shift into their third and final phase. It doesn’t actually sound like UF or TJT or R&H; rather it grabs a few of those albums’ production choices and shoves them into a tote made from renewable materials and purchased from the local mall’s Oxfam shop. And yet the product relaunch — a return to the brand’s core strengths? — worked, even ifs success feels rather unsatisfying. In “Beautiful Day,” the new model trundles along, gleaming the way only pre-9/11 pop could and with the easy capitalistic optimism possessed only by ’90s boom pop, and even then Bono achieves lift-off with that wonderful soaring “what you don’t have you don’t need it now” bit that does still feel like flying. I mean, gosh, when I think of this band I want to think of the darkness of “Acrobat” and “Exit” or the Reagan paranoia of “Seconds” or the Euro-utopianism of “Zooropa,” but this is part of their story too, and it’s still a good part, even if it was the moment in which all the parts were set in place for the coming crash.

  31. 31
    thefatgit on 27 May 2015 #

    I find myself thinking more about Bono = dick rather than “Beautiful Day” (he clearly is, but does it stop me from liking the song? Maybe not). So let’s try and reconcile the two… If someone who is a dick tells me on a lovely sunny day, while I’m feeling quite positive about life, that it’s a beautiful day, then I can’t very well say “no it isn’t because you’re a dick”. Although I could say “yes it is, but dicks like you insist on spoiling it for me”. Either way, I’m not being fair on their correct assertion that it is a beautiful day. I’m just being rude, which would make me just as much of a dick as Bono.

    So today, the sun is shining and FIFA all of a sudden realise that they are NOT above the law, and Her Maj can make the Tory-designed hell that we’re gaily marching into, sound like Earl Grey tea and cucumber sandwiches, then BD sounds positively life-affirming and wonderful. I’ll give it a 7. If it was raining, I’d probably shave 4 off the score.

  32. 32
    JoeWiz on 27 May 2015 #

    Was the album where Bono said U2 were ‘reapplying to be the biggest band in the world’? I hated that, that whole please forgive us our indulgences and take us back with this blanded out version of our previous material. ‘Pop’ shouldn’t be in anyone’s favourite U2 albums list, but at least there was a spark of innovation a little ‘what’s that?’ going on. From this point on everything mostly grounded to a halt. This is, in my view, pretty terrible, a paint by numbers version of another song that works better. And anything that reminds me of Andy Townsend can never be a good thing.
    I agree broadly with all the sentiments expressed here about last years giveaway, the main problem was so few people were discussing the music, which was a considerable improvement on the real debacle of the album that came before it. But more of that later.

  33. 33
    Mark M on 27 May 2015 #

    Lots of musicians are dicks, but that dickishness is not necessarily embodied in their work. In one camp (not embodied) I’d put Frank Sinatra, in the other I’d put Bono and Jim Morrison, eg.

  34. 34
    Ed on 27 May 2015 #

    Morrison is a good reference point. Bono is the answer to the question no-one asked: “What would it be like if Jim Morrison had a social conscience?”

    They are also two of my favourite performers, Morrison in particular. The flair for the theatrical, the play of sincerity and artifice, the dead-pan humour: all those make Morrison pretty much the perfect rock star in my book.

    Is he a dick, in the sense that I wouldn’t want to share a flat with him? Definitely. But I find him irresistibly entertaining. Bono may be less consistently enthralling, and sometimes clumsier in his gestures. But in flashes he shares some of the same appeal.

  35. 35

    Not to derail too much, but l’affair Jimbo fascinates me: one of the panellists at my conference — the one who conducted the first ever interview with the Pistols, John Ingham — let slip he was a Morrison fan while we were chatting. And that Morrison represented what was pretty good about the old-skool rock pantheon that (as a Pistols fan) he was happy to trash and overthrow. Possibly it helped that he’d seen him live several times — Ingham grew up on the US West Coast, and saw all that stuff up close — but he’s not alone in this: RMeltzer and Nick Tosches are also Doors fans, two writers you’d expect to see right through spectacular bullshit (at least, their careers have been devoted to punching holes in every other example of it). So
    (a) was he just terrific live and it doesn’t come across on record (so we young uns miss out)?
    (b) is there a generational thing going on, that the lateborn are more allergic something on offer? (apparently not, given bono’s stature, elsewehere if not on this thread)
    (c) [some other reason i can’t right now put my finger on]
    (d) THE SNAKE IS LONG, SEVEN MILES

    I like the Doors, except for Morrison, who I just think is silly. But people I admire — including Ingham, Tosches and Meltzer — don’t. (Or else, they]re happy that silliness is/was always part of the package, I guess.)

  36. 36
    Rory on 27 May 2015 #

    As you’d expect of someone who’s rated all three U2 number ones to date as 6+, I’m once again going to contradict the usual chorus of U2/Bono hate (which at least isn’t as much of a chorus this thread as it has been in some). I can’t see Bono in the same dismissive light as so many do; to quote Gag Halfrunt, he’s just this guy, you know? (Blinding revelation: Bono is Zaphod Beeblebrox, in all his good and bad aspects.)

    What fascinates me today, after re-listening to All That You Can’t Leave Behind, is that my 2015 response is the opposite of my 2014 response to Pop: instead of sounding so much worse than I’d remembered, it sounds much better. At the time it came out I saw ATYCLB as a backwards step, a treading of water, a loss of nerve—the usual objections. Now, I see Passengers and Pop as the projects where they truly dropped the ball, a fact masked at the time by my admiration for a few specific tracks; they glimpsed a possible future but didn’t embrace it. ATYCLB wasn’t the moment they wussed out, it was their moment of taking stock, of looking at what they couldn’t bring themselves to discard [oh, all right] leave behind—at what they hadn’t been able to leave behind in the Pop process, which had ended up messing up that project so thoroughly—and saying, okay, let’s build on that, and see where it leads. It led here, to a classic-sounding U2 album which actually didn’t sound like their ’80s classics, but was instead something new.

    That “something new”, unfortunately for U2’s popular reputation, was the sound of contented middle-age. Where their earlier work was the sound of their querulous youth, questing twenties and questioning thirties, this was a band hitting forty (as Bono and Clayton did in 2000, and the Edge and Mullen were about to) and coming to terms with themselves.

    I was eight years behind them, and didn’t want all that: I was still questing in 2000, still questioning. Would I have heard the album differently had I been 40 at the time? Quite possibly. But then, it depends what kind of 40 you’ve had. There’s the 40 of successful rock-stars who’ve achieved all that anyone could reasonably expect… and there’s the 40 where you wake up and realise that you still haven’t got there, that you’ve lost your sense of where “there” even is, and that the last thing you want to hear is a millionaire singing about how beautiful everything is. Not so much singing a new song; more “how long to sing this song”.

    It’s no surprise, then, that a song called “Beautiful Day” would come off as smug and complacent to a listener who isn’t in the right mood. The surprise is that its lyrics are actually all about that struggle between middle-aged contentment and mid-life crisis, and are surprisingly tentative; there’s still a sense in them that pessimism might prevail. The music, though, indicates where the band hope the struggle will end; this is no “Wake Up Deadman”.

    I’m not sure I’m quite at the point where I believe them, but I’d like to, and I like the track enough to give it 7.

    And I like the album even more. Unlike Pop, there’s no tailing off here: the songs are consistently strong, with only “When I Look at the World” less essential than the rest. I rather wish my copy of the CD didn’t end with the bonus track of “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”, which is fine but belongs on the Greatest Hits rather than here; “New York” and “Grace” make a better conclusion. But ATYCLB has gone up in my estimation today, which isn’t at all what I’d expected.

  37. 37
    Phil on 27 May 2015 #

    After watching a friend of mine (and an artist I genuinely admire) perform at the local folk club, I formulated the theory that all performers are wankers. I mean, the sheer presumption of it – getting up there and asking people to look at you as if you’re the best thing ever, and cheerfully screening out the knowledge that (a) it’s a distinct possibility that you’ll screw up and (b) even if you don’t, there are lots of people who could do just as good a job… You’d have to be in love with yourself, and you’d have to be aware of that, and you’d have to want to carry on anyhow; basically you’d have to be a bit of a wanker. Singers, musicians, actors, it applies to all of them.

    I explained this enthusiastically to my OH, who replied, “Are you calling Michael Gambon a wanker?” OK, fair point. But I do think a certain kind of stage presence derives from being in love with yourself and knowing it’s ridiculous and not caring (think of Julian Cope or Robbie Williams). For a long time Bono didn’t tick all these boxes, to my mind – just the first, really – but this period in the band’s history does have that saving grain of self-mockery, or knowledge of the possibility of self-mockery.

  38. 38
    Ed on 27 May 2015 #

    @35 Another deeply (deeply!) serious rock writer who loves The Doors, Morrison included: Greil Marcus.

    Also a generational, W coast thing for him, perhaps. And I think he says in his book he saw them live several times.

    @37 Yes, Robbie Williams also a great parallel for Morrison.

  39. 39
    Phil on 27 May 2015 #

    #35 – my best guess is that when the Doors were good (which for me would probably be “Crystal Ship”, “Break on through” and, er) they were very, really very good – and the near-ecstatic experience those few peak tracks can produce is strongly bound up with the sound of that voice. So it’s almost Pavlovian – you hear some fluff like “Riders on the storm” or “Light my fire”, or nonsense like “The End” or “Horse Latitudes”, and you get off on how good it could be (because that voice).

  40. 40
    IP on 27 May 2015 #

    I’ve never been particularly whelmed by U2 in any period of their existence, and yet I somehow seem to know an awfully large number of their songs. If there’s a ratio between “time spent listening” and “time spent enjoying”, U2 probably have the lowest ratio of any big band of the 80s or 90s. What they’ve always lacked is a top notch guilty pleasure single – something like “Livin’ on a Prayer” for Bon Jovi, or “Killing Moon” for the Bunnymen, a keeper that even the avowed non-diehards can get down with. Those Joshua Tree singles are powerful, even great – but they’re aren’t much fun, either. The closest U2 got, for me, was “I’ll go crazy if I don’t go crazy tonight”, which didn’t do very well, but I’ve always thought was fantastic – nice riff, killer chorus, and Bono knobbing it up (for once) in the best possible way.

  41. 41

    MUTE NOSTRIL AGONY

  42. 42
    Tom on 27 May 2015 #

    Re Jim: I wonder if the thing in him that dates isn’t just the theatre but the combination of sex and theatre (and religion and psychotherapy and….) That said, “Like A Prayer” hasn’t dated for my generation, but who knows what its rep will be in another decade or two? When did the Doors’ descent into critical no-mans-land begin? After the film, surely.

    Was the backlash to do with men feeling embarrassed by a streak in male sexuality of 20-25 years’ past?

    This is where the Bono comparison breaks down – I can’t think of a U2 song that has much to say about sex.

    (There are, of course, parts of the world where the idea of a backlash against The Doors is a laughable notion.)

  43. 43
    wichitalineman on 27 May 2015 #

    Re Jim: I think the film was the final straw, but it had started before that. Early 80s it felt the Doors were absolutely on a par with the Velvet Underground as an influence – Cope/McCulloch loved him obviously, but somehow they were seen as a bit silly by the mid 80s, at least in my circles. Possibly (damningly) seen as proto goth?

    Jim M aside, I find their albums way too patchy. Strange Days is a weak, soundalike follow-up to the debut, incl. long song at the end. Which, oddly, is just what U2 did with October after their storming debut (except they put a very short song in the same place).

    Bono is a dick. Some evidence. These two, from the file labelled ‘hat’:

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/79141/Bonos-1k-jet-bill-for-hat.html

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1534262/Stylist-told-to-give-back-Bonos-hat.html

    “He said his Stetson was a hallowed symbol of U2 in the late 1980s and giving it away “would be like the Edge giving away his guitar. It just wouldn’t happen.””

    And of course their tax affairs don’t really square with their espoused beliefs.

    Nothing much to add on Beautiful Day – yes, backwards looking, it could be on War… which to me in 1983 sounded like a puffed-up, slappable version of Boy so that’s no compliment. Stuck In A Moment, though, I have to admit to liking.

  44. 44

    Calling them an influence in the early 80s to me just amplifies the problem of the word influence: it’s true that a number of singers with deep voices were *often* compared with him (Curtis, Ian McBunnyman) but the bands they were in really weren’t a bit like the Doors, in form or style or thrust of purpose, in musical or cultural ethos…

    Earlier the Stranglers had also been compared, bcz Dave Greenfield had a keyb-style that was kinda sorta like Manzarek-for-dummies. But being floridly good at yr instruments wasn’t seen as a positive quality in 1978, and the consequence of this suspicion hung around: the Velvets were hymned because it was pretty easy to play like them; the Doors — well, no, it wasn’t the Doors, it was Morrison’s vocal timbre as a handy indicator of a sound. And really I think that’s it: there wasn’t a residual general fondness there, just a single item in the mix you could note a certain similarity to.

    Early on Iggy Pop was also often described as a Morrison-alike, again bcz he had a voice of similar timbre; but by UK punkydays it was much more useful to be citing the Stooge-way with a guitar as a source, bcz — again — it was both vivid and not that hard to imitate. Manzarek, for all his faults, is hard to imitate (after all, he’s playing the basslines with his feet in half the songs, on the organ pedals); Kreiger is not a blues stylist *anyone* in the UK was copying in the 80s.

    Adding: So I suspect the tide was already going out for the Doors some time before the film. The shifts in sexual politics that arrived with punk probably didn’t do Morrison many favours. They may not have been considered the “enemy” in the sense that the Airplane or the Dead possibly were, by my generation, but I don’t think there was that big a cushion of approval either.

  45. 45
    Rory on 27 May 2015 #

    A couple of further thoughts: my comment on “the last thing you want to hear is a millionaire singing about how beautiful everything is” makes me think of “Black Coffee” (model marries millionaire, feels surprisingly content, writes number one single about it). Clearly there was something in the air in 2000: life was good, a lot of people were feeling well-off, and surely nothing could go wrong?

    On the album giveaway: I’m sure Tom @26 is onto something, but I personally wasn’t bothered by that aspect; the Snowden revelations had already dwarfed anything that U2’s deal with Apple could possibly represent in terms of The Man’s control over us. It must have helped that I was actually happy to have the album, my favourite new U2 in a long time, and wasn’t looking for ways to delete it from the cloud. But it might also be that my iTunes library had long passed the point of curation and headed well into “when will I ever get time to curate all this stuff” territory. Answer: never, and does it matter? The real curation lies surely in what you choose to listen to, not in what you potentially could. I still struggle with those curatorial instincts, though; it may be why I’ve never given myself over fully to Spotify et al.

    I saw it as Apple’s marketing screw-up, really, and not U2’s. From the band’s point of view, they got a guaranteed payday for an album that might otherwise have been no sure thing, after the disappointing performance of No Line on the Horizon. Apple, in turn, got a powerful lure for any U2 fans who hadn’t yet bought into the iTunes Store, which must have seemed a big enough number to be worth it. Apple must also have figured that having the album show up in people’s iTunes library with the “download from cloud” icon next to it was functionally equivalent to having an advert that said “click here to download the new U2 album, if you want it”—because it was. The trouble is that it looked like something else, an uninvited guest on everyone’s virtual record shelves; but no more, really, than an advert on TV is an uninvited guest in a programme, or a magazine advert is an uninvited guest in a personal collection of magazines. I suppose the problem was that music collections hadn’t previously needed an ad-skipping/ignoring strategy, and now they would. But again, Spotify was already pushing us in that direction, not to mention commercial radio, video shows on TV, etc.

  46. 46
    swanstep on 27 May 2015 #

    @44. Hmm, ‘Wilderness’ on Unknown Pleasures could *be* the Doors (with the organ run through a distortion pedal). Indeed I was in a band a few years later that covered ‘Wilderness’ and segued it into ‘Riders On The Storm’. I tend to think that Apocalypse Now’s use of The Doors briefly made them cooler in the early ’80s than they’d ever been before and their stocks have certainly never ridden that high again since.

  47. 47

    be the Doors” in the slightly specialist sense of “make the centre of the song some musical material that the Doors would never have thought of or played” :)

    The other element here is someone wichitalineman recently had to point out to me as very much in Doors-ish ambit (bcz I refused to accept it): Patti Smith and her group! I think they were filling (and consequently shifting and “feminizing”) this space throughout the late 70s, and of course Patti went dark for nearly a decade after 1979’s Wave.

  48. 48
    Tom on 27 May 2015 #

    That’s another element that people got suspicious of – the poetry. Not as in, here are my lyrics written down, look, they rhyme and mean stuff, but the way actually publishing poetry (and/or setting it to music) and seeing oneself as an essentially literary figure was a thing big mainstream rock stars might do in the 1960s and not in the 1980s or much after (tho there’s a hint of the Lizard King about Nick Cave, and sometimes more than a hint).

  49. 49
    anto on 27 May 2015 #

    As a U2 fan it ought to rankle with me. This is where it all became very streamlined, all a bit too polished and professional. Some of their previous records might have fallen victim to folly (and even some of their best are flawed – ‘New Years Day’ and ‘Pride’ are both great songs, but would be even better if their last verses had been chopped off) but ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ appeared to be saying ‘fear not, we have learned from our mistakes and shan’t be making them again’ – seasoned experience reduced to ‘best practice’.
    And yet both ‘Beautiful Day’ and ‘Stuck In A Moment…..’ are not only fine works, they are wise and uplifting. A major group facing forty with dignity and generosity.

  50. 50
    Matthew H on 27 May 2015 #

    I bought The Doors’ debut when I was about 17, so around 89/90, and my peers and I all thought we were pretty cool listening to that. Indeed, we were reasonably excited about the film, but I reckon there was an element of aversion to mass adoption that happened after that. The usual snobby thing. At any rate, I found other Doors stuff dreary after that first hit.

    As for U2, in a spirit of vapid beneficence, I quite like them, quite like Bono and quite like this. And I heard about the Songs Of Innocence giveaway on Twitter when I was on a train and was looking forward to getting home and listening. I guess I just like free stuff. Natural curiosity too, of course. It’s still on my iPod even though I wasn’t wildly thrilled with it.

  51. 51
    Izzy on 27 May 2015 #

    47: Patti Smith talks persuasively in Just Kids about seeing The Doors at the Fillmore East or some other legendary venue (is that even in New York? I’m only now realising I couldn’t place a single concert hall that I haven’t seen in the flesh, despite having lived with these names for decades) and being beguiled by what she felt towards Jim – a mixture of desire, and complete contempt. It’s a good bit of writing.

  52. 52
    lonepilgrim on 27 May 2015 #

    re the Doors – starting in the early 1990s I used to run a yearly trip to Paris for my 6th form students studying Art and/or French and for the first few years there was a clamour to visit Jim’s grave as part of the cultural experience, so he still enjoyed some clout among the youth. If you’re an adolescent with intellectual aspirations/pretensions then he represents a figure from a mythical age of sexual and chemical freedom. A similar mindset informs the editorial policy of Mojo and Uncut which are the contemporary equivalent of the men’s ‘sweat’ magazines I used to see as a kid which featured rugged heroes wrestling alligators or Nazi guards whereas now the cover stars are wrestling guitars and/or drug habits.
    I’m not sure that UK critics have ever been comfortable with cocky lead singers. Jagger has always been portrayed with suspicion; Bowie, Ferry and Mercury were frequently portrayed as suspiciously effete in the music weeklies. What separates Bono from those figures is that they seemed more comfortable with the sexual/sensual motivation within their performance (while simultaneously winking at the audience to say that yes this IS a performance) whereas Bono mostly appears to pretend its not there. It’s what annoys me about the video where he steals the womans apple with the underlying assumption that ‘hey you don’t have any thing to fear , it’s me Bono’ without questioning the privilege that allows him to do it (regardless of whether the incident is staged or not).
    Performers like Iggy presented a more abject form of performance that chimed more with a Punk and Post-Punk aesthetic that pretty much ended the idea of a sexualised male performer (with the exception of Adam Ant, but even he emphasised the performative aspect).

  53. 53
    Phil on 27 May 2015 #

    Abject? Mind you, if you look at him from the neck up that’s about right – he has that elegantly-wasted androgynous urchin look which was very punk, & very influential (early on in that clip there’s a weirdly unsettling closed-eyes shot which instantly reminded me of Ian Dury, then had me flashing forward to safer versions of the same look from Damon Albarn & Robbie Williams).

    But if you look further down something very different is going on – something quite Morrisonian in its sexuality, and not just because of the leather. I remember Tony Wilson saying that he’d had complaints when he played some of that clip on So It Goes – his manager had said “don’t ever put a guy with a horse’s tail coming out of his arse on TV again!”

  54. 54
    Shiny Dave on 27 May 2015 #

    We will meet many bunnies – and mention many more not-quite-bunnies – that are trying to pull off what this does, a massive stadium rock anthem for the 21st century, and come nowhere close to its quality.

    There’s depth for those looking for it, and maybe some of that ends up as a deterrent in the context of, well, Bono faking humility. However, I think for an awful lot of people, it all came down to the sheer enormity of the sound. Certainly, ITV Sport producers seem to be in that number on the evidence of the introduction to The Premiership, and I’m not sure I can blame them. For all that the oddly spaced roars of crowd noise feel like they should break everything on paper, twelve years on and I still sometimes imagine them popping into the coda. It’s a massive sound, it feels celebratory, and perhaps for a lot of people that was the problem. Maybe it does break it.

    I don’t think I can give it anything less than a 7, because it shoots for enormity and absolutely gets it. However, it feels like it might be trying for something more profound, and for me it doesn’t do that. I’d go as far as an 8 for “Elevation,” if and only if we’re talking of the made-for-the-movie-of-the-game Tomb Raider remix that injects rocket fuel into the production to create a colossal adrenalin rush. I’m planning to go lower for their next “proper” bunny, but mostly for the purposes of a pun.

  55. 55
    Izzy on 27 May 2015 #

    51: not desire, as it turns out, but instead something spookily on point:

    “We didn't have the money to go to concerts, but before Robert left the Fillmore he got me a pass to see The Doors. Janet and I had devoured their first album and I felt almost guilty seeing them without her. But I had a strange reaction watching Jim Morrison. Everyone around me seemed transfixed, but I observed his every move in a state of cold hyperawareness. I remember this feeling much more clearly than the concert. I felt, watching Jim Morrison, that I could do that. I can't say why I thought this. I had nothing in my experience to make me think that would ever be possible, yet I harbored that conceit. I felt both kinship and contempt for him. I could feel his self-consciousness as well as his supreme confidence. He exuded a mixture of beauty and self-loathing, and mystic pain, like a West Coast Saint Sebastian. When anyone asked how The Doors were, I just said they were great. I was somewhat ashamed of how I had responded to their concert."

  56. 56
    23 Daves on 27 May 2015 #

    #37 There’s more than a grain of truth to that. I think it was Johnny Vegas who said that stand-up comedy was in itself an incredibly arrogant act, because you’re essentially expecting people to pay you for standing on stage and talking at them. Who goes into that genuinely believing they’re funnier than anyone else’s bar table friends, and what sort of person must they be?

    I’m of the view that most people are pillocks when they first start to get involved in live performance, usually as teenagers, but that dickishness tends to get eroded away as live audiences teach them that arrogance is seldom an attractive virtue in isolation, and also as other aspects of life teach them valuable lessons and knock the stuffing out of them a bit. Rock music is probably one of the few creative spheres in which you can 100% get away with being nothing but a rude, self-congratulatory little bastard and it’s seen as “giving it attitude”, so there are probably more Bono-ish people working in that sphere than elsewhere.

    Also, there are plenty of actors and stand-ups who fell back on the stage as a method of communicating to people and overcoming shyness or insecurities, and we shouldn’t discount that too.

    Anyway, “Beautiful Day” – it’s probably a 6 from me, and is one of the few U2 songs I actually appreciate. I can’t add much to this thread, but the sentiment behind it definitely lifted it for me at the time (and now) despite my misgivings about Bono. After years of silly posturing, there did seem to be something very everyman about this single, and it could so easily have been disastrous – but it’s a simple and seemingly honest expression of wonder, hope and optimism at a point where rock music in general felt slightly sulky, dowdy and Vervey. And when it soars, it really, seriously soars.

    I bitch about U2 most days, but they’re allowed this one.

  57. 57
    Mark M on 27 May 2015 #

    So, after repeated references to The Doors film in this thread, I’ve created a little space on the internet for an essay I wrote for an MA I did at Goldsmiths in the ’90s (it could have only been written for an MA at Goldsmiths in the ’90s), which I’d probably subtitle ‘why Umberto Eco, Roland Barthes and Stanley Fish say it’s OK for me to consider Oliver Stone’s The Doors a comedy.’

    In case anyone actually wants to have a look, the close reading of the movie starts about 40% of the way in (not to dismiss my crude summary of late semiotics or reader response theory or anything).

  58. 58
    katstevens on 27 May 2015 #

    Didn’t have enough time on the bus earlier to flesh out my thinking behind invoking Coldplay above before their allotted time – the particular off-beat of the drums on Beautiful Day combined with its soaring wordless backing vocals is something that hardly any of Coldplay’s Xfm-level indie peers were going for in 2000. Doves were still in the cheerful post-Britpop mould (see ‘Catch The Sun’), the Stereophonics got bogged down in a sulky hole, the less said about Starsailor the better. Coldplay’s first album was a mostly gentle parade of acoustic bibble that I practiced my guitar to. Their second was packed full of spacious sporting montages that had Embrace crying into their ever-diminishing PRS cheques. As soon as Coldplay did it, Snow Patrol followed suit. IT’S ALL BONO’S FAULT GUYS

  59. 59
    Chelovek na lune on 27 May 2015 #

    So, coming back to this: I am neither an atheist nor a U2-hater, although, frankly, I would have a lot more respect and affection for them had they hung up their instruments and mikes a while before this – “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” would have been a fine, even perfect, finale to an accomplished and diverse career. (I think of the later singles, the only one I remotely care for is “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”) And I find the more experimental, post-modern stuff (above all “Achtung Baby”, to a lesser extent “Zooropa”) to be U2 absolutely on top of their game, where (mostly) everything clicks and fits together -the spiritual and corporeal are united, guitars and dancebeats happily marry, self-conscious intelligence mixes with a certain self-awareness in a way that their more overtly earnest “authentic” earlier material (very fine though some of it is) couldn’t even aspire to….

    This, though…admittedly is much better when heard without its rather distracting and irritating video. But still, rather than being “back to basics”, I think it overblown musically (stop that yelling, tone down those cymbals, just reign it it, lads), and largely, although not entirely, lyrically undistinguished (and it becomes painfully apparent that the whole song is clearly not a patch on “The Sun Never Shines on TV”). I suppose one might identify some kind of sense of struggle being expressed in Bono’s rather pained tones at some points – but rather than hinting at potential redemption (as the better U2 songs do – although you know Depeche Mode integrate Christian religious themes, even if not entirely orthodox, into their music more successfully than U2 a lot of the time) it is just painful to listen to, the sound of a band treading water in more ways than one . Maybe that is, in part the point, but frankly white noise would be preferable to my ears.

    After reading a lot of the positive comments and real appreciation being expressed for the song here, my initial mark of (2) seems a bit mean, maybe I could double it – but this really does very little for me, I’m afraid.

  60. 60
    Cleofis on 27 May 2015 #

    @58: …oh god, I think you may be right.

  61. 61
    The Arn on 27 May 2015 #

    Really you can learn all you need to know about U2 from Bill Bailey’s ‘Catastrophic Power Failure at a U2 Gig’ sketch. If you haven’t seen it, it’s quite simple. Bailey starts the sketch by playing a typically Edge-esque epic chiming riff, swathed in effects. And then, the power fails and Bailey strips the effects back… and it’s Three Blind Mice.

    Because that’s U2’s great strength, and therefore also their tragic flaw. They’re magnificent when making the grand gesture. That’s when they make sense, when you understand what they’re about. Spectacle and losing yourself in the magnificence of the universe (God if you’re of a religious bent). It’s there in Beautiful Day with that panoramic pull back, that attempt to see the world from above and understand the wonder of it all. Perhaps their career is an attempt to recapture that sense of rapture they clearly had from their belief. But you need that sense of scale with the band because they come unstuck with the smaller gesture. They blow it – With or Without You’s selfish, even the much feted One seems a touch mean-spirited when you listen to it. In hindsight , even that dancing with an audience member at Live Aid looks contrived. They want to connect to other people but they can’t connect without some kind of distance from the audience, whether it’s the ironic presentation of their 90s work, the comforting space between stage and stadium audience or the huge guitar sounds distracting you from what you might hear without a huge budget for guitar techs. You can’t get too close or you’ll see the men behind the curtain. The ordinary men wearing the showbiz masks. Basically they’re the pop equivalent of the Wizard of Oz. Most acts are to some degree, but few are as good at the grand gesture as U2.

    And that’s really why Beautiful Day works. As Tom points out, it’s them winding the clock back, past the 90s irony, to the religion of their early work and the deliberately widescreen Joshua Tree presentation. Only the production marks it out as a modern record. Beneath the buffed-to-within-a-nanometre-of-its-life production it’s U2 going back to basics. They spent much of the 90s trying to distract everyone with presentation, now the sincerity and bigness is the point. This is them going back behind the curtain, turning the power back on.

    But what makes it all work is that humility at the start., with Bono almost even coming close to genuinely seeming human in that first verse It’s what makes the big stuff later on – that last bit would’ve been a bit televangelist without that low key opening. It’s that momentary chink in the showman armour that makes their grand gestures and panoramic sweep meaningful. There’s actually a heart underneath it all. Against my natural inclination to distrust Bono in preacher mode, like Tom, I find myself warming to it. 8 seems about right I think.

  62. 62
    Izzy on 27 May 2015 #

    58: surely it’s The Edge’s fault? Whatever Bono’s crimes may have been, his guitar-playing never gave mediocrities (and Coldplay) something to fill arenas with.

  63. 63
    Tom on 27 May 2015 #

    The other thing about that Live Aid farrago is how awkward and unsexy it is (pace earlier comments in the Doors bit) – it’s a straight rip-off of Springsteen’s famous “Dancing In The Dark” tour move (and maybe has earlier precedent) but I bet the Boss didn’t look as clumsy as Bono’s waltzing.

  64. 64
    The Arn on 27 May 2015 #

    Again, it’s all about not being able to connect isn’t it? Sex is really about connecting with another person, literally and metaphorically – perhaps the ultimate connection. And as you mentioned earlier there’s little hint of sex (if any) in U2’s music. They want to connect but in in a pure way. It might be the conscious, calculated nature of the gesture, the absence of spontaneity that removes any trace of sex, like someone copying chat up lines and moves they’ve seen on the telly.

    Although looked contrived when Springsteen recreated it for the Dancing in the Dark video with Courtney Cox too, so perhaps it’s a case that it’s a gesture that really only works once and you’re looking past the showbiz illusion after that. The element of unpredictability that can give a performance a tension that raises it to greatness is gone. You know Bono and Springsteen are just going to dance. Jim Morrison on the other hand…

  65. 65
    wichitalineman on 27 May 2015 #

    Re 48: Poetry/literature in rock, it’s so problematic. And The Ass Saw The Angel is the single most godawful name for anything in the history of pop culture, or heavy culture, or anything really.

    Not sure where this leaves Sleaford Mods, who I feel I should like, but are already so Radio 4-friendly they make me instinctively turn to PC Music as my kinda pop poetry.

    Re 61: That’s a tremendous pro-U2 argument. The only thing I’d add is that, by this logic, I Will Follow, 11 O’Clock Tick Tock and A Day Without Me would have all scored 9 or 10 had they reached no.1.

  66. 66
    Ed on 27 May 2015 #

    Sex is another reason why Beautiful Day sounds somehow soulless, I think. Chastity (symbolic if not necessarily literal) was central to U2’s energy at the beginning, and once their music lost its virginity, around Achtung Baby, they could never really get it back.

    Beneath all the snickering about horny adolescents, it often goes unnoticed that many of the enthusiasms of teenage boys – video games, Dungeons and Dragons, sport in general, heavy metal and prog – are essentially sexless. U2, for the first three albums and maybe longer, fit squarely into that psycho-social landscape.

  67. 67
    Ed on 28 May 2015 #

    @44 etc… Belatedly, I want to agree with Swanstep here. Are Joy Division and the Bunnymen really so different from The Doors? Melodrama, a reach for the epic, propulsive energy, an exploration of the dark corners of the soul and an interest in the derangement of the senses? Tick, tick, tick, tick and tick.

    That’s interesting about Patti Smith’s ambivalent attitude towards Morrison, too. She’s the missing link between him and Bono, I guess: IIRC U2 were huge fans of hers when they started out.

    Same with Joy Division, as in the notorious story about Bono telling Tony Wilson that Ian Curtis would always be number one in the pantheon of great vocalists, but he, Bono, was number two, and he could achieve the fame and glory that in a better world would have gone to Curtis.

  68. 68
    Phil on 28 May 2015 #

    On poetry, rock and Jim Morrison, I keep thinking of this and then remembering it’s not genuine (which, apart from being fairly obvious, is something I really ought to know, given that I wrote it).

    Hey, hey, Milne!
    Let’s open up your kiln!
    Let’s break up all your pottery!

    That was pretty much it. A few days later I came up with ‘lottery’, but Jimmy said the moment had gone.

    Sleaford Mods – I know just what you mean. I’m (even) older than they are and considerably more respectable, but I rebel against the idea of getting into a band I saw for the first time on the Culture Show.

  69. 69
    mapman132 on 28 May 2015 #

    Interesting discussion here. Re Bono: I thought he jumped the shark when he was named one of Time’s Persons of the Year (admittedly not really his doing), although a lot of Bono-hate had built up long before that. Even as I see why he rubs people the wrong way, I’ve always thought he was sincere in what he was trying to accomplish, even if it wasn’t necessarily the best way to accomplish it. Perhaps it’s not really possible for an uber-wealthy rock star to try to solve the world’s problems without coming across as a self-righteous prick. Obviously it would help to not criticize governments for not doing enough while simultaneously minimizing one’s own tax burden.

    Musically, I’ve mostly liked U2 over the years. Pleasantly surprised to see’s Tom high mark for BD. Never really thought of BD in religious terms but it makes sense given U2’s background. Also, in line with Rory’s comments, the optimistic contented feel seems very much of the year 2000 – right there with the two All Saints hits and Madonna’s upbeat channeling of Don McLean. 9/10 from me.

    Despite BD’s 2000-ness, the rest of the ATYCLB album is very much 2001-2002 for me. “Stuck In A Moment” and “Peace On Earth” got a LOT of airplay in the US immediately after 9/11. It was shortly thereafter I got around to acquiring ATYCLB, and it partially soundtracked my summer 2002 road trip around the Great Lakes. I distinctly remember POE playing when entering Wisconsin for the first time – my first “new” visited state post-9/11 (40th overall for me) – symbolic that life was going on after all.

  70. 70
    Martin on 28 May 2015 #

    It might interest some here that Joy Division apparently covered “Riders on the Storm” in some demo/practice context — if live, only rarely and audio is scarce. The hilarious part being that JD kept getting compared to the Doors but Hook and Sumner didn’t know who they were; Curtis did.

  71. 71
    DanusJonus on 28 May 2015 #

    I would wager that The Doors stand alone when their place in the supposed pantheon is judged against their initial success (while they were active), particularly in this country. Are there any other bands whose popularity soared so much so long after they were together? Although the number of hits and albums sold should never be a true or definitive indication of a band’s worth (trying to keep this part short when commenting on a site whose premise is the history of songs which sold more than others), it can’t be ignored either. So why is this? Was their something in their music which afforded them continuing adulation or appreciation, or was the mystique of JM (and the fact he died and joined the 27 club) enough to ensure they’d always be a curiosity?

    Also, in regards to their standing having depleted by the 80’s, I think that’s true of many 60’s bands. I know that’s a generalisation, but so at odds were the concepts of the 60’s and 80’s that many bands were derided by then. The Beatles weren’t treated too kindly during the 80’s (I give you the guitar solo in Madness’ ‘Our House’ video as a brief example). There’s many reasons for this and Ian MacDonald’s opening chapter in Revolution in the Head is a sound critique of this idea. Does anyone recall any other 60’s bands who became revered in the 1980’s?

    Finally, a brief comment in response to the sexless nature of early U2. I always think the early part of the 80’s as a sexless time. It seemed that the concern was with self and the celebration of appearance. Harping on about sex would only deplete the time available for this. I’m sure I’ll regret saying that though.

  72. 72
    swanstep on 28 May 2015 #

    The phrase that jumps out for me from Tom’s essay is ‘meticulously crafted and fretted over’. Like some of my favorite tracks by Earth Wind and Fire (but, you know, without the funk) ‘Beautiful Day’ is a dead simple song (verses and choruses are the same chord pattern and we play the keep away from the tonic (D) game for the most part resolving to the V (A) – that plus tempo and the pitter-patter of the drum-machine makes BD feel nimbler than say, ‘Stay’ or ‘Windows in the Sky’ or ‘So Cruel’ or ‘Still haven’t found…’) that’s built up into magnificence with layer upon layer of overdubs (in this case flutey keyboards and guitar and backing vox and wooshes of various sorts) and astute use of dynamics – pauses that let the whole near-unison breathe then surge back in again for good measure. Probably every key part is doubled or more, and even listening through good headphones you can’t be quite sure what you’re hearing.

    But if the record escapes full analysis (without having the master and a mixing desk in front of us), the emotional impact of the record is clear as a bell from first listen: we get chills when the retro guitar chimes in on (‘Touch me…’) the first change (to the iii, F#m chord) away from the verse/chorus pattern, *again* when that guitar returns on the same change after the middle eight, and then biggest of all (full body chills?) when we get back on the Verse/Chorus pattern (“What you don’t have…”) as the high retro guitar drops out as the vocal melodies drop down an octave, some mid-range fill guitars swell, and the bass suddenly gets some additional bottom end – a psycho-acoustic master-stroke (pure Eno witchcraft? Or did the band nut this out by themselves? Or something in between?). After 4 bars of that, the middles drop out of the mix again and the high retro guitar returns now in its pomp over the main Verse/Chorus pattern together with a fragment of the main chorus vocal melody. It’s a final shiver of delight. Live Bono tends to garnish these final bars (often extended for another minute or so) with ‘(Put) Soul… Soul…. Soul in the world’ completing the secular hymn.

    Although it’s somewhat hard to recover BD’s initial rush after hearing the track many hundreds of times (as others have noted, unlike most 2000 chart-toppers, BD has never gone away despite not being obvious X-factor/Idol material), for me BD is a high ‘8’. If ‘Ray of Light’ called the zenith of the .com bubble and late ’90s irrational exuberance then perhaps BD marks the beginning of the end of that period.

    @67, Ed. Echo+Bunnies covered ‘People are strange’ for The Lost Boys soundtrack (it was featured very prominently in the first ten minutes of the film.)

    @48, Tom. The ‘frontman as poet’ idea hung on down under through the ’80s and ’90s. Not just Cave (who went full shaman/Lizard King as you acknowledge) but Steve Kilbey from The Church, and at least Forster from The Go-Betweens published poetry too, and a whole bunch of other, e.g., Paul Kelly, did a lot of very self-conscious publishing of lyrics.

  73. 73
    Izzy on 28 May 2015 #

    I’ve been reading Eamon Dunphy’s 1987 biography of the band, and Bono seems to be towards the other end of the poetry spectrum. While poetic enough to keep an ongoing notebook of ideas – catastrophically stolen before the sessions for October – a recurring theme is others’ frustration at him never having a lyric ready even when the time comes to lay down his vocal.

    He seems to work more as a mood channel, painting images as the music demands. It’s testament to his gift as a frontman that it works as well as it does, and one suspects that if scrutinised a lot of the words wouldn’t stand up too well.

    Again, Chris Martin could have been taking notes. But where he always floats in a sort of vagueness, Bono somehow conjures things that carry real meaning, even if that meaning isn’t necessarily always verbal.

  74. 74
    Mark M on 28 May 2015 #

    Re71 etc: As others have pointed out, I remember that when I first read about the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes* in some Sunday supplement, they were compared to The Doors, who at the time (1981) I loved (as I also loved U2). At that point, the Velvets and The Doors were given equal credit for being the dark flip to the ’60s. By the time I was back in London and regularly reading the music press (’85), the Velvets were considered as just about the most important band ever, and The Doors rather silly. In those circles, I’d say that, yes, The Beatles weren’t as revered as they were before and after. ’60s bands other than the Velvets who got lots of love included Love, The Stooges, The Byrds and Syd-era Pink Floyd.

    In the US (and also in Mexico, where I was), The Doors were massive in the early ’80s, with huge sales for the 1980 Greatest Hits and 1983’s Alive She Cried.

    *And the long-forgotten Afghan Rebels, on whose website I found the article in question.

  75. 75
    Tom on 28 May 2015 #

    Yeah, the early 80s is as low as the Beatles’ critical rep has ever sunk – still not very low, you wouldn’t call them dismissed. But they didn’t have the salience they obviously did later. They were having actual hits, of course – the 20th anniversary reissues of the early singles charted – but those seemed a weird, unwelcome interruption in a dynamic pop time, a bit like a certain regal revenant who we’ll be re-discussing in the mid 00s.

  76. 76
    DanusJonus on 28 May 2015 #

    Although it’s more mid-80’s, I always found the RUN DMC ‘King of Rock’ video interesting for the way it positioned the Beatles as some sort of antiquated and irrelevant curiosity. I suppose it also shows how the reputation of the Beatles had slid on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s an extraordinary turnaround to their re-emergence as deities by 1995.

    From Mark M’s post (and I was asking the question because I was too young to be aware of the 80’s view of 60’s bands) it seems that the alternative side (in the very literal sense) of the 60’s is what became revered in the 80’s. When viewed from that standpoint, it almost seems to be a commentary that people in the 60’s had the incorrect focus as to what was truly exciting and of value and that people in the 80’s were proposing an alternative narrative where Love, The Stooges et al were the true trailblazers (was this a general view of was it confined to the music press?) . Although perhaps revisionism of every decade happens at some point.

    From a memory of seeing the chart position, I think there was a push to get Love Me Do into the top 10 when the 20th anniversary re-issues came out (it being the only officially released original single that didn’t make the top 10) but that all subsequent re-issues consequently fared less well.

  77. 77
    Rory on 28 May 2015 #

    #76: if there was a dip in their critical reputation in the ’80s, it was over by 1987, because the twentieth anniversary of Sgt Pepper and its release on CD prompted a media orgy of Beatle reminiscing and reappraisal. The following year Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions appeared, which was when things really got exciting; it paved the way for the anthology releases.

    Love, the Stooges, etc: confined to the music press, I’d say. I remember Rolling Stone trying to push Big Star in a big way around this time, too. All well and good, but when you’re a kid looking to spend serious coin on music (as opposed to looking for a sneaky download today), taking a punt on the lesser acts of yesteryear is usually going to lose out to keeping up with new music and catching up on landmarks.

  78. 78
    lonepilgrim on 28 May 2015 #

    Paul McCartney at Live Aid may have played some part in reviving the fortunes of the Beatles in the 1980s and he also popped up on the cover of issue 1 of Q magazine

  79. 79
    Mark M on 28 May 2015 #

    Re77: Hang on, though – let’s not slip into ahistorical view that by the ’80s we all paid for all the music we had, unlike today’s rapscallions. As assorted people from my era have pointed out on Popular threads, you only needed someone you knew to buy an album (or borrow from the library, or from an older brother) and then everyone else taped it*. I have no doubt whatsoever that many more people listened to The Beatles than the Velvet Underground all the way through the ’80s, but the chasm between their relative fame was slightly less vast, and young bands and the people that wrote about them were more likely to talk about the Velvets. That was changing by the end of the decade.

    Also, in my case, I knew exactly what The Beatles sounded like because my brother had the blue and red comps, plus Abbey Road, so I had that covered. Whereas Big Star, etc, were as fresh and exciting as a new band to my ears.

    *The Jesus and Mary Chain discovery story supposedly is that their demos were on the other side of a tape from some Syd Barrett songs. The bloke they sent it to thought it was terrible, but Bobby Gillespie might want the Syd tracks. Gillespie at some point then flipped the tape, and the rest is (minor pop) history.

  80. 80
    Mark M on 28 May 2015 #

    Re78: To connect this to the Underground/Overground discussion, a large part of the (unspoken?) Q manifesto was that famous people WERE more interesting than unfamous people, that Paul McCartney was more worth writing about than (to pick a classic cult ’60s figure) Roky Erickson of The 13th Floor Elevators.

    (It’s counter-revisionism, I guess).

  81. 81
    DanusJonus on 28 May 2015 #

    Re:77 Wasn’t there also a TV documentary to coincide with the 20th Anniversary of Sgt. Pepper where Paul, George and Ringo were all interviewed? In-fact, I’m sure some of the interview with George Martin from this went into the Anthology series (the bit with Lucy in the Sky and Day in the Life?).

    Linking back to U2, I’m sure I’m right in saying that around the time George finally relented to the Anthology project he forced himself to watch hours and hours of unedited footage of The Beatles that Neil Aspinall had put together for what was originally The Long and Winding Road project. He’s supposed to have commented that he’d like a band like U2 to see the footage, then they’d know what a really big band looked like.

    I’m assuming also that the second summer of love and all that went around it made The Beatles more appealing again. Though I do now have Candy Flip’s version of Strawberry Fields Forever in my head. I also think that the wrangling between Michael Jackson and McCartney over the rights to the ATV Music and the Beatles back catalogue in the mid 80’s may also have a part to play. I think for the first time in a while, certain songs were released for advertising purposes, something that previously didn’t happen. Wasn’t Revolution on a Nike advert?

  82. 82
    Andrew Farrell on 28 May 2015 #

    Bono vs Jim Morrison has always seemed a crucial distinction in the grand unified theory of humour – that you can’t see or unsee a sense of humour in art: I don’t believe in Morrison’s “dead-pan humour”, and can see Bono’s sense of a good joke in a lot of his work (particularly the serious stuff! though not so much this song), and so I hate the first and like the second.

    The Doors fans (particularly the ones which are clearly Jim Morrison’s Band fans) make that easier of course with their stinking pedestals: man uncompromised! man unbound! man, these assholes can’t be right!

  83. 83
    Andrew Farrell on 28 May 2015 #

    I think Beautiful Day is fantastic, and looking out my window I propose we keep discussion ticking along for another week or two just to be safe. Never quite heard the similarity to a-ha, though.

  84. 84
    Phil on 28 May 2015 #

    For a long time I only knew the Velvets through the first two albums, so I was mystified by all the Velvets references that floated around in the C86/Pastels/Sarah period; I remember reading a reference in the NME to bands that seemed to think the Velvets had only existed so that they could have a band to sound a bit like (or words to that effect but wittier), and thinking well, if they sound like “European Son” or “Sister Ray” I’m in, but from the context I really doubt it. Some time later I heard “Pale Blue Eyes” and all was revealed. (Bobby Gillespie must be one of the few people to have been in bands that sounded like “Pale Blue Eyes” and “Sister Ray”.)

  85. 85
    Tom on 28 May 2015 #

    #76 I think the Underground/Overground oscillation Mark M points out is key: if people in the 70s had been wrong about what mattered in music – the thought crudely runs – why would it have been any different in the 60s?

    It’s the indie/underground problem of history: if you have a situation THEN where the great records were also ones that sold millions, and a situation NOW where the great records are the ones which sell to 200 people in the Bull and Gate, what happened? Either:

    i) The biz ruined everything, or
    ii) People got stupider, or
    iii) The stuff that sold back then WASN’T the *really* good stuff or
    iv) The stuff that sells now is in fact sometimes good.

    At different times, each of these answers has been fashionable – the early 80s was the heyday of explanation iii.

  86. 86
    Andrew Farrell on 28 May 2015 #

    The quote in #20 – this would be a better point, I think, if all that Bono did was take 15 minutes during a show to sit down and talk to us about poverty – the (less) sexy work he does as a pseudo politician is what makes the difference.

    It’s an interesting phenomenon, I think, when your seat at a table is because your divisions are your fans, and what happens when your fans start to wander away (possibly partly because of all this other work you’re putting in rather than your band!). “Cool” is a political force after all – you can see George W Bush soaking it up when Bono’s commending him on African aid; The flow isn’t necessarily in the same direction when he’s meeting Obama, but by then he’s another lobbyist, one of those faces that you see around, someone who knows people.

  87. 87
    Rory on 28 May 2015 #

    #79: Certainly not trying to do that – I benefited just as much from it (my first exposure to the White Album, Jethro Tull, and plenty more, was via tapes from friends) – but there were still distinct differences between then and now. Yes, you could tape your brother’s records, or your friend’s, or maybe your friend’s brother’s, but you couldn’t go much further than a tape of a tape before the results degraded. Somewhere not too far away was an actual record or factory tape or, later, CD that somebody had actually purchased. The home-taping landscape was still dominated by the bigger acts, and if you didn’t know anybody with any Big Star or Stooges, you were out of luck unless you were prepared to pay for it. Scratchy library records didn’t always make satisfying tapes, either, though of course they were another possible way of satisfying curiosity. No guarantee you’d find what you were after, though.

    #81: Yes, there was.

  88. 88
    swanstep on 28 May 2015 #

    I wonder whether the relative neglect of The Beatles and the Stones in the ’80s was due in part to the rediscovery of Motown and Stax and James Brown and so on. I’d grown up as a kid in the ’70s with Abba and Fleetwood Mac and Eagles and Disco and Bowie and Ferry on the radio and with the Red and Blue Beatles compilations + Sgt Pepper at home, but except for a few Supremes and Jackson 5 songs I hardly knew any of that other tradition. When the Motown and JB/Aretha etc. nostalgia aimed at Boomers hit in the ’80s, for a lot of people younger it was almost all new and sounded great and needed to be explored. Beatles stuff I already kind of knew just wasn’t as much of a priority when I had time to do anything more than just keep pace with current developments.

  89. 89
    anto on 28 May 2015 #

    Re 81: I think you might be referring to the South Bank Show special on Sgt Pepper from 1992, so it was to mark the records 25th anniversary. Paul McCartney certainly contributed to it – I’m pretty sure the other two did as well, and George Martin featured prominently throughout. It was the first music documentary that I can recall doing what has now become customary when interviewing a producer – i.e having him seated at the mixing desk demonstrating features of different tracks and separating sounds etc. There was a touching moment towards the end when Martin played the original track for A Day In The Life and you could hear the voice ofJohn Lennon counting himself in using the phrase ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’ and then the song began, the producer listening intently with a fond, sad smile.

  90. 90
    Ed on 28 May 2015 #

    @82 Jim Morrison’s comedy stylings, Exhibit A (from The Soft Parade):

    There’s only four ways to get unraveled
    One is to sleep and the other is travel,
    One is a bandit up in the hills
    One is to love your neighbor ’till
    His wife gets home

    And if you can’t raise at least a wry chuckle at the spoken part of The End, then we obviously have very different senses of humour.

    It’s odd, really, that as mentioned above the VU’s critical rep remains as high as ever, while The Doors are now condemned, apparently because of Morrison’s crimes against good taste. Lou Reed was more of a pompous, preening, self-important capital-A Artist than Morrison. And his jokes weren’t as funny. (John Cale was the Velvets’ true comedian, obv.)

  91. 91
    swanstep on 28 May 2015 #

    @ed, 90. Lou is a motor-mouth, laugh-a-minute riot on his Take No Prisoners live-set. He’s pricklish there too of course and more than a little misanthropic but not at all pompous I would have thought.

  92. 92

    Stepping in here again, the VU were feted by younger musicians in the 80s because of their sound — or their various sounds — not because of their singer. With the Doors, to the extent the same happened, it was the other way round: none of the 80s bands that “sound like” the Doors actually do sound much like the Doors; their singers sound (a bit) like Morrison.

    Adding: since two of my signature critics who favoured the Doors back in the day were Tosches and Meltzer, I have to say this is evidence that Morrison was at the time considered pretty funny (whether deliberately or not). Neither writer ever had much time for non-mischief-making seriousness in rock or out of it. (And they would surely both have seen the Doors live, probably several times.)

  93. 93
    Andrew on 28 May 2015 #

    #83 “Touch me… [take me to that other place / how can it be]”

  94. 94
    alexcornetto on 28 May 2015 #

    #81 – Taking this underground/overground debate as an excuse to throw in one of my favourite ridiculous rockstar quotes ever.

    A US music magazine called Musician put The Replacements on the front cover of an issue late in 1989, calling them “The Last, Best Band of the Eighties.”

    Next issue, Jon Bon Jovi wrote a letter to the editor, which began, “How can the Replacements be the best band of the eighties when I’ve never even heard of them?”

  95. 95
    Mark M on 28 May 2015 #

    Re90/91/92: A few quick points: 1) one of downsides artistically of dying young is you don’t get to have periods of work that people can separate out – ‘I liked him before he…’ Etc. Whereas liking the VU in no felt like condoning later Lou* (or the ghastly comeback tour) to me.

    2) He was a lot of things, but Reed wasn’t really a rock god type, maybe apart from the horrible Rock’n’roll Animal.

    Because? 3) I haven’t thought this through, maybe because as a songwriter he’s always an observer, even when might be considered the protagonist? (My blueprint for that notion is not a Reed song, but Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel).

    *i do like Songs For Drella. It should be a musical.

  96. 96
    Matthew H on 28 May 2015 #

    Re: renewal of interest in The Beatles – my own was rebooted by the John Lennon: Imagine movie soundtrack in 1988. We’d always had Help! and a couple of singles around the house, but it was tracks like In My Life, Revolution and Don’t Let Me Down (all new to me at that point) that had me diving into the catalogue. Perhaps that worked for others too.

  97. 97
    ace inhibitor on 28 May 2015 #

    the football connection is interesting. I hadn’t remembered it was the ITV premiership that briefly used BD, and at first couldn’t quite believe it – thought it must have been running under the highlights for many more years on Match of the Day or Sky. Which I think is because it seems such a perfect fit for the endlessly spiralling hype of the premier league, in which the transcendentally Real Experience (being there in the moment, taken to that other place, not letting it get away) is hugely fetishised, just at the same time as the experience is ever more mediated (not just in the sense that its mostly consumed on the telly, but also that the responses of the fans who are Really There seem themselves to be mediated through a pre-written narrative of triumph, despair etc. Witness Survival Sunday last week, in which Newcastly and Hull fans and players faithfully produced the rituals of ecstacy and abjection that had been pre-announced. In th’old days you just got relegated, which was disappointing, or didn’t; no one died or got resurrected)

  98. 98
    ace inhibitor on 28 May 2015 #

    re the velvets and the doors. In 1981 our PE teacher brought his tape player into school in order to give us 5th years his potted history of 60s music, working his way through all the usual suspects (he was a particular enthusiast for the Pretty Things, who were the only band I hadn’t heard of) through to flowerpower which, he made it very clear during a bit from ‘Are you Going to San Francisco’, was a Historical Mistake. Then he said something like “but not everyone was going on about peace and love and flowers. In New York some people were doing THIS (Venus in Furs); meanwhile in LA some people were doing THIS (The End)…”

  99. 99
    Izzy on 28 May 2015 #

    My father-in-law’s version of the 60s is the weirdest – it starts with The Shadows, and ends with Merseybeat. Get him talking about it, and it’s soon clear that he doesn’t really rate anything that came after. The odd Stones single maybe, but the ship had long sailed.

    The strangest thing is that in 1964 he’d’ve been 12 or 13. I can’t get my head around being a teenager through the second half of that decade, and all the time thinking nothing could touch Gerry Marsden.

  100. 100
    Phil on 28 May 2015 #

    #98 – that’s some PE teacher! We only had an *R*E teacher, and half the kids thought he was an utter wanker (and let him know. sadly).

  101. 101
    23 Daves on 29 May 2015 #

    #99 For the longest time, if you asked my Dad who the best sixties group were, he would reply “The Hollies” without any hesitation. He thought they were staggeringly good and would play their Greatest Hits to death.

    I raised this subject with him again not too long ago and he got embarrassed.
    “Oh,” he said. “I don’t really like them as much as that anymore.”
    “What happened there, then?” I asked.
    “I think I got carried away. I don’t think they’re THAT good,” he said, then went quiet.

    I think what happened is he got hold of their Greatest Hits album in the early eighties, when a lot of EMI hype was going on about the group and their place in the great rock pantheon (as often happens with heavily marketed “Best Of” packages) and let the combination of nostalgia and advertising get the better of him.

    I remember for a brief and weird moment in the early eighties The Hollies were everywhere, particularly with their Stars on 45 styled “Holliedaze” medley. There was a serious attempt to package them as an important band. These days, of course, I’d probably argue they’re under discussed and under-appreciated. They never did quite get the right balance…

    Unless anyone can think of an earlier example, I suspect the Walker Brothers were the first 60s group to be revived in 1975, although The Searchers also had a crack in 1979.

  102. 102
    JoeWiz on 29 May 2015 #

    Re: Beatles in the early 80s. I actually think that Lennon’s death contributed to their lowish rep in the first part of the 80s. Someone’s uploaded the entire day’s UK news coverage on the day after he was shot an you can feel McCartney’s reputation (and indeed George and Ringo’s) diminish as the day goes on. Suddenly the world is given this martyr, this faultless Saint who led The Beatles through every creative high and then surpassed it with his powerful solo catalogue. McCartney gets hideously sidelined as ‘experts’ (Tony Wilson chairs a late night discussion programme) discuss the epic originality of Strawberry Fields et al. Naturally, this was always going to happen, and if Macca had been shot that day the exact same attitude would (probably) have been pointed toward him.
    But the canonisation meant that the public, thanks to Ono’s careful and clever handling of the situation, were so focused on grieving for John, they forgot about his poor old mates.
    Not that they were really helping themselves, Starr’s solo work had long become a joke, 81’s ‘Stop and Smell the Roses’ is very nearly as appalling as it sounds and 83’s ‘Old Wave’ didn’t even get a UK release. Harrison’s ‘Gone Troppo’ from 82 might be his creative nadir, a tired, lazy album by a new father who’d rather be anywhere else.
    Conversely, dear old Paulie headed into 82 with ‘Tug of War’ still one his most vibrant and vital sounding solo records. Was he charged by the critical mauling he’d recieved after his old friend was killed? If he was, it didn’t last until the following years ‘Pipes of Peace’ which, despite containing some big singles, only fed the fire of McCartney as the frothy lightweight.
    The two anniversaries of Pepper in 87 and 92 regain the Beatles some credibility and the rest, as they say, is history.
    I could, as you might have guessed, talk about The Beatles all day.

  103. 103
    DanusJonus on 29 May 2015 #

    Re: 102 – I don’t think McCartney helped himself when Lennon was shot with his infamous ‘It’s a drag….’ quote to a journalist, though I know he later admitted regretting it. I suppose at least for Paul he’d for the most part made his peace with John before his death.

  104. 104
    Phil on 29 May 2015 #

    #101 – I should have said, we only had an RE teacher who showed any awareness of contemporary music. Obviously we did have a PE teacher or two.

  105. 105
    23 Daves on 29 May 2015 #

    Continuing the “Why was the Beatles popularity in a trough in the early eighties?” question, their association with the cheesy Stars on 45 medleys may not have helped. And while they may not have completely approved of those wedding buffet sound-a-like stomp-a-longs, they certainly issued their own medley (“The Beatles Movie Medley”) to compete with the series, one of the very few pieces of heritage-shitting the Fabs ever committed.

    Actually, just listened to it on YouTube to remind myself and it’s *worse* than Stars on 45. Just bits of Beatles tunes mangled together with no rhyme or reason. A stomping beat would have been a plus. It makes Jive Bunny seem like Fatboy Slim. (Admittedly the transitions between tracks seem to get better past the halfway point, but before that you can almost hear the edits).

    In addition to that, the sixties revival at that point was rather naff, seaside stuff. I say this because my family moved to Southend in the early eighties, and the names of various Merseybeat has-beens were regularly advertised as doing gigs there – so their peers on the, er, end of the piers were probably tarnishing things a little bit too. The main association I had with the sixties as a ten or eleven year old was lots of suited musicians smiling and playing quite simplistic beat music, and certainly the earliest part of the Beatles singles reissue programme emphasised that aspect of their work, right at a time when it seemed a bit tatty.

  106. 106
    swanstep on 29 May 2015 #

    I’ve been trying to think of overtly Beatle-ish material from the early ’80s and haven’t been able to come with much (The Jam’s ‘Start!’, Depeche’s ‘Shout’, but what else? Not any whole albums that I can think of.). By ’85 and ’86 tho’, Prince was in a big Beatles-zone on Around the World In A Day, XTC sounded very Beatles-ish on Skylarking, and World Party’s Private Revolution was the kind of Beatles/Dylan/Love mash-up that sounds now like a dry run for Brit-pop.

  107. 107
    23 Daves on 29 May 2015 #

    #106 Hasn’t Andy Partridge admitted that “Towers of London” was inspired by The Beatles “Rain”? And “Black Sea” was released in 1980.

    A lot of the power pop/ Thamesbeat sounds from the late seventies bleeding into the eighties were very clearly Beatles inspired, but didn’t catch fire in the UK. And the ones that seemingly were quite successful for one single – The Pinkees – were apparently hyped into the charts by their record label, so we may never know the true success of “Danger Games”. I suspect it wouldn’t have climbed to number nine without a strong helping hand (and it slid down the charts again pretty rapidly after peaking there).

  108. 108
    Ed on 29 May 2015 #

    In NME reader land, which was where I lived at the time, the big events were Husker Du’s cover of Ticket to Ride in 1986, and the Sgt Pepper Knew My Father album in 1988.

    Re the discussion about how did people get to hear the music, I remember a friend who had been lent a copy of the White Album by his uncle saying in about 1982: “You have to hear this”. It was the first time I had heard anything by the Beatles properly, and was knocked out by it.

    It was an enormous privilege to be able to hear it for the first time like that, entirely unanticipated, without even any knowledge of their earlier career to prepare me.

  109. 109
    swanstep on 30 May 2015 #

    @107, 23 Daves. Thanks for those suggestions. Now I think about it, a fair few XTC and The Jam and Madness tracks in the early ’80s could be fairly described as Beatles-ish. A couple of other tracks that I remember people specially describing (deriding?) as Beatles-influenced at the time, Haircut 100 ‘Fantastic Day’ (I hear some Wings in their first album too now I listen again!), Teardrop Explodes ‘Passionate Friend’. Oh, and the big one: Siouxsie et al. took their ‘Dear Prudence’ cover to #3 in 1983. Everyone I knew *loved* this single (which went onto the Hyaena album in ’84), and I remember it being genuinely ear-opening for myself and friends (lots of mental notes to selves written to give Revolver and The White Albums proper listens, track down Abbey Road, etc.).

  110. 110
    Tommy Mack on 30 May 2015 #

    Re: 102/103. Funny about McCartney’s stock being devalued by the inevitable posthumous deification of John Lennon. I’d say the critical redemption of Macca was helped by the tarnishing of the Lennon myth when the self-proclaimed keepers of his flame (Oasis and all the rest) took the ship down with them. Add to that that there aren’t really any Lennon-like artist-tyrant figures in modern pop (except perhaps Bono! EDIT: And Kanye obviously! ) while there are loads of critically respectable McCartneyish craftspeople.

    Calling back to Izzy’s earlier comment about Paul McCartney’s boundless optimism, I’ve personally always found it a little forced, desperate even. There’s a moment in the last episode of the Anthology TV series where Paul’s saying ‘I don’t think we ever really had any big arguments in the studio’ and it cuts straight to a Let It Be clip of him and George Harrison having a bitter row over George’s guitar part. If he’d maybe just once say ‘there were times I’d have liked to punch John but I still miss him dearly’ it’d ring a bit truer for me than the relentless rose-tinting. That and I only really like his singing voice when he’s doing his cabaret Little Richard impression are probably why I’ve never quite got on board with Paul McCartney. Though he was blinding in Hyde Park a few years back.

    As for U2, as a kid I always quite liked their none-more-earnest, none-more-sexless rock without any roll schtick (Sunday Bloody Sunday was one of the first songs I learned on the guitar) I guess I really went off them when everything started sounding a bit like U2 (depressingly much more on that in Popular years to come)

    Rock star as poet: Surely the problem with Jim Morrison was that his poetry was *really, really bad* by anyone’s standards. As for The Doors, who I mostly love, they’re a band who are most famous for what they’re worst at: big, noisy epic theatrical showdowns: Morrison isn’t a convincing screamer and all the nuances of the band’s usually quite intricate playing get lost in the din. Give me the quiet horror of People Are Strange or the spare, lean groove of Soul Kitchen over the fireworks. Though General Khaki occasionally used to close our gigs with an organless When The Music’s Over. As a teenager I was very impressed by the ‘father, I want to kill you ‘ shtick from The End. Now it’s ‘it hurts to set you free but you’ll never follow me’ that convinces most.

    Another EDIT: as a teenager, my favourite band was in fact The Velvet Underground who a few.people have mentioned. I first heard them…in The Doors movie!

  111. 111

    this will perhaps be a tough sell after my strictures on who does and doesn’t sound like the doors in the 80s, but there was a big and obvious and very popular placemarker in 80s pop and rock for some of the things the beatles did, and that was CHEAP TRICK — they’re not maybe beatlesque in the (very narrow) sense that e.g. oasis will be, but from 1979’s “live at the budokan” onwards they were known (in japan) as the “american beatles”, partly perhaps bcz of their vast audiences of shrieking girls, but certainly also bcz they’d retooled the sound of their first two LPs in the direction, song after song, of actual beatles precursor cuts, and NOT just vocally (drummer bun e. carlos’s solo opening “ain’t that a shame” on budokan is a straight-up love letter to ringo)

    (to be fair, there’s metalgummed echoes of many other precursors also, from the ramones to donna summer, ABBA to slade) (tho of course the last and the first are both other routes back to the beatles)

    i like cheap trick but i’m not an expert in any territory their (huge) success opened a door to (i find it hard to believe that there isn’t one)

    adding: tougher sell still maybe, but my currently unsustainable thesis is that cheap trick’s live at the budokan is basically an alb-length version of helter skelter (and a version that’s possibly as reshaping for US pop-rock in the 80s as the banshees version was for UK pop-rock in the 80s)

  112. 112
    23 Daves on 31 May 2015 #

    #111 Good call, actually. I remember Cheap Trick getting DLT’s record of the week on Radio One in the early eighties (trust me, this DID happen – with, I think, “If You Want My Love” – though it didn’t seem to translate to sales). My Mum’s irate comment? “Who do this lot think they are? THE BEATLES? They need to get some ideas of their own!”

    I can remember similar criticisms of Cheap Trick in the eighties from more credible sources than “My Mum”, which makes what happened with Oasis in the 90s quite interesting. The greater distance from the event did seem to make using them as a very obvious influence more acceptable somehow.

  113. 113
    Andrew on 31 May 2015 #

    I Want You to Want Me is one of my favourite songs of all time. Perfect pop writing. The live at the Budokan version is so exhilarating with the crowd’s “CRYING! CRYING! CRYING!”

  114. 114
    Phil on 1 Jun 2015 #

    I think the difference is that you could never look at Oasis and think that they actually wanted to be taken for the Beatles, or even for the contemporary equivalent of the Beatles. Or listen to them, really. Even when they were doing I Am The Walrus with a string section, the guitars were so much heavier and Liam’s vocals were so much snottier – you could never forget that we were on the right side of punk. I’m not sure Cheap Trick had even noticed punk.

  115. 115
    Pink champale on 1 Jun 2015 #

    @110 A friend of mine, who has a serious interest in poetry, once ventured the radical opinion that, while the Doors were clearly a terrible band, Jim Morrison was actually quite a good poet.
    So there. I must admit I’ve never put in the hours to test this theory and I have to say fr what I know of his lyrics it seems unlikely.

    I properly hate Beautiful Day btw and am shocked and appalled at the good reception it’s got here.

  116. 116
    Izzy on 1 Jun 2015 #

    114: Oasis’ I Am The Walrus never had strings, did it? I can’t listen now, but I had it on recently and couldn’t get over how relentlessly indie-heavy it gets. To be honest what I can’t get over is the designation of Oasis, on the Some Might Say thread, as the biggest shoegazing band there ever was. It colours every time I hear them, and in a good way. At any rate The Beatles were never shoegazey, so I hear no overlap at all.

    As an aside, I was supposed to be, but in the end wasn’t, at the Cathouse gig that IATW’s subtitle comes from. I regret that – the only time I ever did see them, a few months later, turned into a fiasco. Years later it was revealed that IATW wasn’t recorded at the Cathouse at all, but at an industry event where they were … I don’t know what they were doing, passing demos around or something I imagine. Anyway they didn’t want the IATW subtitle to be ‘Live at Gleneagles Conference Room no.4, The Argyll Suite’ or whatever, so went for what they considered to be a way cooler thing.

  117. 117
    Phil on 1 Jun 2015 #

    It did when they did it on Later. I don’t think it had boogie-woogie piano as well, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

  118. 118
    Pink champale on 1 Jun 2015 #

    That IATW is the best thing Oasis ever did I think and the fact that they were able to summon that level of ferocity at some bored executives on a Wednesday afternoon makes it an even greater achievement.

  119. 119
    Andrew Farrell on 1 Jun 2015 #

    I could well imagine that that Lennon-botherer Noel would use it as warm up exercises or such for the band.

  120. 120
    Andrew Farrell on 1 Jun 2015 #

    The executives seems well up for it, in fairness. There’s a claim on Wikipedia that the 8:15 version on Cigarettes and Alcohol is from the Cathouse, and the 6:30 version on The Masterplan is for the executives.

    Because I love you all and hate myself, I’ve checked, and apart from the crowd noise it would require Liam to repeat verbatim the banter at the start (“Doesn’t matter if it’s not our song, because you’re all cool”), which I would assume doesn’t much happen.

  121. 121
    Tommy Mack on 2 Jun 2015 #

    I always had Cheap Trick down as a sort of Van Halen thing. When I finally saw them at Download a few years ago I was amazed at how poppy they were (and how many of their songs I already knew). I suppose if you take the most bubblegum of Van Halen’s stuff, something like Dance The Night Away, it isn’t a million miles away from Cheap Trick’s powerpop.

  122. 122
    Tommy Mack on 2 Jun 2015 #

    #115 Similarly I’ve never knowingly read any of Jim Morrison’s poetry but as Sukrat’s mockery up thread attests, the ‘poetic’ bits of The Doors’ songs are by far the worst and Morrison’s lyrics far better when he plays it straight.

    Perhaps one reason The Doors have never been quite credible in the English speaking world is that they were scorned for courting the mainstream while other more solidly underground bands like the velvets and jefferson airplane picked up all the kudos.

  123. 123

    No, I think they had more or less unimpeachable credibility through until the mid/late 70s, at which point there was of course a great sea-change in some quarters in what was seen to matter. Blues became suspect; being musicianly became suspect; and the ways it was OK to be pop and yet not-pop began to turn more or less inside out.

    (I also have to say I actually really like ‘Horse Latitudes’, overwritten as it is.)

  124. 124
    Tommy Mack on 2 Jun 2015 #

    I’d heard that 60s hipsters saw them as a teeny bopper version of the underground. Which I guess they kind of were though that’s never been a bad thing in my book!

    Re: Horse Latitudes, if anything it’s more the bellowing THIS IS ROCK POETRY voice he does it in than the actual words that annoys. Mute Nostril Agony would be a great band name. As would Awkward Instant and The First Horse.

  125. 125
    Mark M on 2 Jun 2015 #

    Re123: I was going to mention the blues thing – I think that’s quite important. Along with the singing, that’s one of the main points of distinction between The Doors and the Velvets.

    Which of course, links us back to U2, who made the critically much-mocked mid-career move of getting bluesy (I watched some of the BB King documentary the other night, and I must confess to being disappointed by Bono not being as all-out dickish as I expected. More dickish as a talking head now than in the footage from 198whatever it was, despite the cowboy hat/ponytail combo.

  126. 126
    Mark M on 2 Jun 2015 #

    Re124: Ah, but that’s a whole different issue to why they were considered a bad thing in certain circles in the 1980s. In the ’80s, we weren’t comparing them harshly to e.g., the Incredible String Band or Soft Machine. And (in mid-’80s indie/parts of the music press) like the VU was often accompanied by an enthusiasm for properly pop ’60s pop (The Ronettes, Shangri-Las, Lovin’ Spoonful etc).

  127. 127
    Tommy Mack on 2 Jun 2015 #

    U2’s ‘blues’ phase was fixated on roots and authenticity which always grates on me: musicians who do this never seem to capture much of what made their source material thrilling in the first place. Probably not least because the artists who recorded the original stuff weren’t thinking about authenticity and such when they did it.

    As late 60s rock bands go I wouldn’t say The Doors’ sound was much indebted to the blues though clearly they thought of themselves as ‘bluesy’ as, if nothing else, their choice of covers shows. I suppose by LA Woman, they’d become quite blues-rock in a way that was ripe to get swept away by punk. Perhaps more damning was the idea of Jim Morrison as the obnoxious template for every preening 70s frontman, the very image of everything punk condemned about the old rock.

  128. 128
    Phil on 2 Jun 2015 #

    #127 – yes, by the late 70s Jim Morrison was seen as a kind of cross between curly-haired* Roger Daltrey and fat Elvis; zero credibility either way.

    It’s easy to forget the anti-performance ethic of punk and post-punk. Looking at old footage of Johnny Rotten/Joe Strummer/Ian Curtis you see somebody putting on a terrific performance, but that’s absolutely not how we saw it at the time. Everything was real, down to what Rotten & Strummer wore on stage – sure, you wouldn’t wear that stuff walking down the street, but they did (or so we believed).

    *If I’d said ‘post-perm Daltrey’ I bet everyone would have known what I meant, but in fact the guy’s naturally curly – he was perming it flat in the early days.

  129. 129
    Mark M on 2 Jun 2015 #

    Re: 127 It was ludicrous, as U2 soon realised. I’m assuming it all started with this track from the Sun City* album – certainly in the King documentary Bono says it was Keef who turned him on to BB.

    U2’s essential non-blueiness is very clear in the film It Might Get Loud, which is meant to be a sort of cross-generational guitar god summit between The Edge, Jack White and Jimmy Page**. It’s very clear when they start jamming that The Edge does not speak the same musical language as the other two.

    *Should point out that the Sun City album was the Artists Against Apartheid record aimed at convincing their peers not to play at the resort in the South African ‘homeland’.
    **Hastily points out that I saw it because I was reviewing it. I in no way condone films with jamming in them.

  130. 130
    Andrew Farrell on 2 Jun 2015 #

    #112: I think being from 50 miles from Liverpool is also a crucial distinction!

  131. 131

    Tommy, it may not be clumsy 12-bar Thames Delta blues but Morrison is roaring and Krieger is bending notes like crazy and when he’s not being baroque Manzarek does that thing with near-simultaneous minor and major thirds that keyboard players do, and he does it a LOT: the Doors are bluesy in a way that’s very much their own but they *are* bluesy

    Adding: if/when I ever finish my epic essay on Rattle & Hum I’ll have a LOT to say about all this — however even in very unfinished state it’s abt 40,000 words long already, so this may not been soon :( :( :(

  132. 132
    Andrew Farrell on 2 Jun 2015 #

    Even-I-can’t-remember-if-I’m-trolling challops: Rattle & Hum is the peak of U2 not taking themselves seriously – they just didn’t feel the need to correct others for doing so.

  133. 133
    Phil on 2 Jun 2015 #

    #130 – speaking as a Mancunian, Manchester’s a long way from Liverpool. So much so that I had to read your comment three times before I realised that was what you were saying (“Cheap Trick were from 50 miles from Liverpool? Should that say 5000 miles?”).

  134. 134
    Izzy on 2 Jun 2015 #

    U2’s album trajectory is very odd: it goes smash, interesting dud, smash, interesting dud (in very different ways*) for a long time, right up to Zooropa. I can’t think of a discography quite like it. What I think it shows more than anything is a band who aren’t afraid to fail. It’s very Bono.

    * calling The Unforgettable Fire a dud is a bit much, except that commercially they were surely set up for a radio smash, and listening again it’s nearly all much too vague to get close.

  135. 135
    Andrew Farrell on 2 Jun 2015 #

    #133 – not compared with America, as regards acceptability of claiming the Beatles as an influence, though.

  136. 136
    Phil on 2 Jun 2015 #

    I honestly don’t see it – it wouldn’t occur to someone from Manchester that they had anything in common with a scouser. The only thing Noel Gallagher shares with John Lennon (in his own head) is that they’re both geniuses.

  137. 137
    Inanimate Carbon God on 2 Jun 2015 #

    Once again I’m ridiculously late to the party (sorry, my home wi-fi’s still stuck in the mud – literally, I’m in London today though) but I have a soft spot for this one. Think Tom nailed it .

    The great irony of U2’s that for all the slating of Bono as an arrogant git, their best singles aren’t when he plods around stuck in moments and still not finding what he’s looking for, but when he speaks directly to you with tough love, like the voice of an old friend who’s a bit of a git, but a loveable git all the same. A high 7. A bit like the “It’s when you’re down but you gotta get up / Even if some guy’s trying to blackmail you..” song from Baseketball where it’s on the car radio speaking directly to the listener. I won’t link to Youtube though as the title’s “Warts On My Dick…” that would be a bonanza of horrible thumbnails :-/ Seriously, though, I did have one of these almost cinematic moments when I first heard this in the car – it was two weeks after my mum and dad separated so my confidence was at a low ebb so after various misfiring boybandery and dance tracks not as good as Groovejet, such grown up, autumnal frankness just really clicked. “The traffic is stuck” verse especially as it was around the time of that mass fuel strike and I really feared it would last till Christmas by which time we’d be reading by candlelight and living off powdered eggs..

    It was a template for a lot of horrifically MOR stadium indie of the next decade though… After the flood all the Scripts come out. But morelateronwhenwegettothemanwhonamedhisdaughterafteracomputersystemonlyformedievalsavageskthxbai.

  138. 138
    Inanimate Carbon God on 2 Jun 2015 #

    Sorry Tom if I broke your formatting with the last long word, didn’t mean to do that. You’ve got past the Manics now though and moreover thank our lucky stars album 3, track 2 was never a single :)

  139. 139
    Inanimate Carbon God on 2 Jun 2015 #

    P.P.S. I actually liked this even more when I first heard it as I thought it was Semisonic. Please feel free to crown me Mr King of prematurely middle-aged dullards UK 1985-2015.

    (Oh maybe I thought it was Eels. A band who maybe I need to give more time and did another very good record with “Beautiful” in the title this year but nothing I’ve discussed here has packed the punch of “Soul jacker Part 1.”

  140. 140
    Andrew Farrell on 2 Jun 2015 #

    Oh for God’s sake, look at comment 112 which I was responding to – do you honestly think there’s no difference in the reception an English and an American band would get to having Beatles influences? I’m sure you have trouble stooping to consider a Liverpudlian a compatriot – it’s a fairly common point of view elsewhere.

  141. 141
    Phil on 2 Jun 2015 #

    #140 – apparently I was answering a question you didn’t ask, which was about how the bands saw themselves, presented themselves & wanted to be seen. Seen from London, sure, there might seem to be a certain legitimacy in one group of gobby working-class Northerners claiming to have picked up another one’s baton. But from Oasis’s own standpoint in Manchester, Liverpool was (is) just another city where they speak English; the sense of a common identity doesn’t go much further than that.

  142. 142
    swanstep on 3 Jun 2015 #

    @134, izzy. It’s never occurred to me to think of The Unforgettable Fire as a dud! It sold a ton (if not quite as much as War), Pride (In The Name of Love) was a #1 single where I was, they were simultaneously getting poppier and also more cred. thanks to Eno, people *loved* album tracks such as ‘Bad’ and ‘A Sort of Homecoming’ (and liked their live versions on the tour E.P. Wide Awake in America even better). The upshot was that in 1985 U2 was clearly a band still very much on the rise even as all sorts of new popsters were breaking up and flaming out all around them.

  143. 143
    Izzy on 3 Jun 2015 #

    Thinking about it a bit more, I’d say it’s the order of that three-album run that makes it seem strange. If they had gone Fire – Joshua Tree – War it’d look like a band focusing their power for massive commercial impact; if it had been War – Joshua Tree – Fire it’d look like they were honing their craft and creative vision to superb effect. As it is, going from War to Fire, and then sort-of marrying the two, feels strange – unless you look at Joshua Tree as a refinement of the dud(!) Fire, which I can just about see.

    On the other hand, it may be that this is all infected by the knowledge that Rattle And Hum comes next, which makes no sense in any context.

  144. 144
    James BC on 3 Jun 2015 #

    Oasis have a Liverpool connection. When they were starting out they went to Liverpool and found the scene a lot more supportive to an up-and-coming band than in Manchester. Apparently they got a lot of help from The Real People.

  145. 145
    Auntie Beryl on 3 Jun 2015 #

    Oasis sounded a great deal like The Real People, early on.

  146. 146
    Ed on 28 Jun 2015 #

    “The band is unified in its belief that the songs are more durable than the last batch”.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/kot/ct-u2-interview-united-center-bono-20150622-column.html#page=1

  147. 147
    Ramzi on 26 Jul 2015 #

    Very glad to see its use in ITV’s The Premiership noted in your comment (football being the other other religious experience in Britain). While the programme was obviously a poor imitation of Match of the Day, it was the first of its kind I knew, becoming interested in football in the summer of 2002. The actual programme was forgettable, but I’ll always remember the opening titles. In my mind, Beautiful Day is linked with the childish excitement of waiting for the football to start.

    Yesterday I was at the Emirates Cup, a pre-season friendly tournament held at Arsenal’s stadium. Arsenal were the team I used to support when I first started watching football. This song came on the PA just before kick-off. The sun had come from behind the clouds, and the feel of the new season was in the air. I felt quite emotional.

  148. 148
    Jimmy the Swede on 27 Jul 2015 #

    Re groovy teachers – Brian May was a science teacher at my school. Beat that!

    (Mind you, he left a year before I got there…)

  149. 149

    Jesus wept. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/strictlycomedancing/entries/29bfb417-442d-4f02-af05-d767b2e57281

    What next, Legs & Co re-uniting for a routine of Taylor Swift – Bad Blood to re-enact the cover of Dwarves’ Blood Guts and Pussy?!

  150. 150
    Mark G on 16 Oct 2015 #

    And last but not least, Peter and Janette will dance the Tango to New Order’s Blue Monday.

  151. 151
    pink champale on 19 Oct 2015 #

    Entertaining attempt at the Blue Monday vocal from the Strictly house band.

  152. 152
    Turn on 12 Feb 2017 #

    “Beautiful Day” is a fine pop song, and in a sense this phase, a conscious return to their former ‘sincere’ image as a collection of tropes, is a refinement rather than rejection of their ‘nineties strategy – as though Bono had acquired enough self-awareness to realise that, while pop may not be kitsch, U2 are, if by ‘kitsch’ you mean ‘specious sincerity’ or ‘performance of “guilelessness” whose artlessness resides solely in its failure to conceal its own calculation’. As music, a 2, as an embrace of their own intrinsic contrivedness, a 6.

  153. 153
    Girl with Curious Hair on 29 Mar 2018 #

    To return to the debate over how much of a dick Bono is, I’d like to submit the story behind U2’s concert in my hometown, Sarajevo, as a pretty good encapsulation of all his contradictions:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U2_concert_in_Sarajevo

    The article is pretty detailed, so to summarise: during the Zoo TV tour in the early 1990s, U2 decided to interrupt each concert with live broadcasts from Sarajevo. As you’ll probably know, at the time Yugoslavia was collapsing violently and Sarajevo was enduring the biggest siege seen in Europe since WW2. Sarajevans, who were being shelled and shot at and starved, were offered the chance to speak directly to the audience at a pop concert.

    It won’t come as a massive shock to learn that quite a few Sarajevans took the opportunity to basically tell U2 and their comfortable, western European fans to fuck right off.

    This is the worst of Bono right here – the Messianic complex and the compulsion for clumsy, tasteless Big Gestures, (“if WE raise awareness of this humanitarian disaster, maybe something will be done!”). It’s arrogant and tasteless and self-regarding and exploitative, and horribly tone-deaf, and from a certain angle you could say it’s cynical and self-serving.

    Certainly, if you read that wiki article, there are quotes from the band and its management that suggest they were less than keen on it. The Edge tries to justify it but clearly doesn’t feel comfortable. The drummer is dead against it.

    But then… Bono made an off-hand promise to visit Sarajevo once the war was over. (At one point he apparently wanted to go during the war, which might be the high point of the Not Thinking Any Of This Through At All period he was clearly going through.) And when the war ended, he and the band actually made good on that promise, despite considerable personal expense. (The wiki says they turned down $5m to play in Switzerland on the same date.)

    They came to Sarajevo during the Pop tour, bringing the lemon and everything else, and played a full concert even though Bono was suffering with his throat and literally couldn’t sing at all during points of the concert. They made efforts to include people of all ethnicities, and opened the gates to allow people in for free when they realised that fragile post-war economics meant most people couldn’t afford tickets.

    While it’s obviously hard to gauge these things accurately, I don’t think you can underestimate the psychological boost this had on the city (a city, don’t forget, that that had suffered siege tactics that were deliberately and explicitly psychologically damaging): some kind of normality, or at least positive attention from the outside world, returning after years of horror.

    This, I think, was U2 and Bono actually following through with a genuine, unmistakable Big Gesture. For all Bono’s posturing, and his awkward fumbling with post-modernism and ideas of artiface, this was him showing that he can be sincere and generous and even humble: there’s a quote from him about how the concert wasn’t really about U2 at all, but more about Sarajevo’s recovery, and while it’s not *hugely* humble (you need some serious arrogance to even think your presence can repair a country shattered by actual fucking war, let’s not forget), it’s something.

    So I’m not a huge fan of U2, but I have huge respect for what they gave my birthplace, and I think Bono’s actually quite an interesting, contradictory character. I mean yeah, he’s clearly got that arrogant rock star dick side to him, and as a showman (and a salesman) he seems pretty aware of the value of the Saint Bono thing. But below the artifice and the bloody cowboy hats there’s something sincere and genuine. U2 did spent a a large part of their careers basically exploring that contradiction, pogoing between painful earnestness and being self-consciously self-conscious about it. In the 90s, paradoxically, they became very earnest about not being so earnest; they were very guilless about exploring their own guile. Their singer is both a dick and not a dick at the same time. Something I like to call my Quantum Bono theory.

  154. 154
    Mark M on 8 Mar 2020 #

    Re46 and the many other Doors-related comments: A number of the tributes to Mazzy Star’s David Roback mentioned that Roback was a huge Doors fan (and that shared Doors fandom had been one of the things that led to the forming of the Rain Parade).

    And I do think there are Doorsy elements to Roback’s music, but – seeing as he mostly worked with softly sung (and, in Hope Sandoval’s case, undemonstrative in the extreme on stage) female vocalists – the only Morrison aspect is some of the vocal phrasing. What Roback drew on was the cavernous sound decorated with instrumental fills. The most obvious example, I think, is the title track of Mazzy Star’s debut album She Hangs Brightly (it’s my least favourite song on an LP I love).

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