“Sunday, Bloody Sunday” by U2 from the album War
Fourth Week in February, 1983
Today, we think of U2 as a classic rock band made up of Irish guys who record crystalline anthems, appear in iPod commercials and, now and again, badger the world’s leaders about third-world debt over $1,000-a-plate dinners. There was a time, however, when U2 was just a bunch of Irish guys who were pissed at the British like Irish guys ought to be. “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” may be the only rock song ever written about the “troubles” between Ireland and England. (On January 30, 1972, British paratroopers killed 14 marchers during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association protest in Derry.) Good times.
It is, arguably, the essential U2 song: on the one hand, it is loud and angry and full of outrage and, on the other hand, it is chime-y and pleading and full of hope-for-the-future-of-mankind-type Biblical allusion. Put another way, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” — or more specifically the exact middle of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” — is the precise moment that U2 pivoted from being a punk band (“Broken bottles under children’s feet / Bodies strewn across the dead end street”) into something that many people could begin to resent. Man, the tune starts with a sloppy, martial beat from Mullen on snare and hi-hat, then The Edge shoots long sparkler streaks of guitar across it all. Adam Clayton’s bass is almost awkwardly unfunky, coming long before the band’s complicated embrace of US funk music. And good ol’ Bobo Vox gets to royally oversing this mother, turning a two-word phrase like “How long?” into an Aria for Shades-Wearing Irish Lad with a Jesus Complex. He’s aided by an engineer who slathered on the reverb like a permissive mom going overboard with the grape jelly on her favorite kid’s brown bag.
By song’s end, Bono actually sings, “The real battle yet begun / To claim the victory Jesus won.” Hey! All that cool anger is gone, U2! Blink and Bono will be feting Frank Sinatra before a Lifetime Grammy award. Eventually, the band’s signal achievement will be saying the phrase “really, really fucking brilliant” during a prime time Golden Globes and having the FCC declare it A-Okay. What “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” wrought: a world in which it’s respectable to say “fuck.”
Best Moment: The guitar break starting at 2:40, exploded into with some really vicious drumming by Larry Mullen that would have been edited out of The Joshua Tree so fast it would make your head twirl like a cheap harlot on Percodan.
- Will Layman