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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.

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Comments

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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…

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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.

  20. 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).

  21. 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?

  22. 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!

  23. 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.

  24. 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”.)

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.)

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