Tag Archives: 1980’s Production

My Favorite U2 Song

A few weekends ago I was in a crepe restaurant waiting for some breakfast.  I was holding down a table for a group of my friends; the place was packed, with a line wrapped around the counter.  Sunday (bloody Sunday) morning was in full effect: I was mildly hung-over and the prospect of a new work-week loomed large.

And what did I hear?  What did I hear while my head ached and I waited for my corn beef hash?  Irish rockers U2 wailing out “Vertigo” on the restaurant’s sound system.  I whipped out my iPhone, and as I do from time to time, I posted something snarky and nasty on Facebook about the song and the band. Almost immediately I got feedback, the general consensus: What the hell is wrong with you, Jason? U2 is awesome.      

A long time ago, I used to fall to peer pressure when it came to what was hip or cool,  but those days are long since passed.  I like what I like and I don’t give a fuck.  I purchased the first two Lady GaGa albums, and I’m admitting it! On my Axl Rose-themed music blog!!! So believe me when I tell you, I like you but I could care less what you think of what I like or don’t like. When it comes to U2 I’m so torn.  On one hand, I love classic U2.  I think THE JOSHUA TREE is an amazingly, triumph of an album.  On the other hand, “Vertigo” is pretty much the worst U2 song ever.  Their current output has left me cold at times, though I did finally come around on their last album.

I remember in the early 1990’s when U2 came to Kansas City to film a music video for “Last Night On Earth” and how all the people who interacted with them said nothing but nice things. I remember when I thought U2 was lame and over-the-hill…and then ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND came out and proved me wrong.  

I saw U2 in 2001 a month after 9/11 and Bono had me in near tears projecting the names on the side of our local arena–so when I tell you that U2 is one of the most disappointing bands I’ve ever known, realize that comes form a place of love.  What disappoints me about them? The same things that I find disappointing in myself: they’re lazy.  U2 used to consistently put out fucking life-affirming, kick-ass rock music. Music that was not only bad-ass but had a clear message either about how fucked up our world was or how it could be a better place.  This year? I’m listening to U2 sing in Spanish about what? 1-2-3?

What’s wrong with “Vertigo”? Where to start…how about it’s not nearly as good as “Another Day.”  I bet you’ve never heard “Another Day.”  Don’t feel bad if you haven’t, it just means you got laid in High School and aren’t crippled by your obsession of obscure rock music like I am.  The song came out in 1980 just before U2 released their first album BOY, and it’s my all-time favorite U2 song.  The song, which features a memorable punky-yodel from Bono, and vaguely recalls a Steve Miller song, is great for none of the reasons I like U2.

Only 2 luftballons…

It’s not particularly political and doesn’t make any large point.  The song is super-unique musically (again, I swear there’s a Steve Miller song that sounds just like it).  So why do I love it?  “Another Day” is pure and fun.  There’s a simple, but awesome guitar lick and Bono sounds like he’s having fun.  The song also has a bit of a tough-edge (pun intended) near the end with the Edge’s guitar solo…but it’s not an over-the-top wank-fest.

“Another Day” is a young, hungry band having a blast…”Vertigo” is an bunch of old men resting on their laurels.  If you can honestly listen to “Another Day” and tell me “Vertigo” is a better song…then you’re completely delusional and need professional help.

Seriously though, “Another Day” is a lost classic that I love dearly.  Long live U2.  Fuck “Vertigo.”

EDIT 10/25/2012: So while I was writing this I was trying to figure out which Steve Miller song “Another Day” reminded me of.  Today at work it came to me, like something from a dream–“Swingtown.”  It’s the vocals, nothing else really is similar.  Anyway, mystery solved.

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Classic Albums Revisited: IT’S HARD

The second album following the death of drummer Keith Moon, and the last until 2006’s ENDLESS WIRE, The Who’s album IT’S HARD isn’t as highly regarded as the group’s late 60’s and 70’s output. Released in 1982, the band wasn’t considered “relevant” anymore by most mainstream rock critics. Radio stations and casual music fans greeted IT’S HARD with ambivalence when it came out, and the album languished at #11 in the UK and #8 in the US. Of course, most bands would kill for their album to reach #8. But IT’S HARD wasn’t released by “most bands,” it was put out by the legendary Who (or what remained of them).

“He’s an Atari Wizard, there has to be a trick…”

A few years ago I got into this phase where every time I took a long car-trip I’d go buy a Who album to listen to while I drove. After a few long-ass car rides I’d purchased just about every single Who album, except for FACE DANCES and IT’S HARD. I chose IT’S HARD over FACE DANCES because I’d heard “Eminence Front” on the radio growing-up and remembered liking it.

Despite being deemed a failure upon it’s release, I found IT’S HARD to actually be not only a pretty solid late-period Who album, but actually a pretty good Who album-overall. IT’S HARD is an extremely passionate record. Roger Daltry is no slouch when it comes to conveying emotion through his legendary rock-howl…but on IT’S HARD his voice is downright visceral.

I also read a review somewhere that said the album was full of complex songs with meandering structures that, for the large part have no strong melodies. I agree with some of that. The songs do have long, almost prog-rock like structures, but this enhances the album and is a detraction. I will admit that the hooky lyrics and melodies of the early Who albums aren’t as strong here. But what the album lacks in “hooks” and choruses you can instantly sing along with, the album makes up in passion.

The album’s two singles–the before mentioned “Eminence Front” and “Athena,” aren’t really very reflective of the album as a whole. Whenever this happens (a band’s single not representing the bulk of an album’s content), that artist is nearly always in trouble. Perhaps the main record-buying public balked at IT’S HARD because of “Athena” and it’s bubbly, adult-contemporary-ness. Serious Who fans who were floored by the groovy white-guy soul (that only Brits can pull off) of “Eminence Front” were probably turned off by the rather non-groovy white-guy soul of the rest of the album. Both groups are hard to please, but with the passage of time and absolutely no expectations I walked into this album complete and utterly shocked. And amazed.

As stated earlier, this is a record dripping with passion, and passion and politics go hand-in-hand. No stranger’s to politics, The Who once again dabble in fiery protest rock with “I’ve Known No War.” Equal parts anti-war/pacifist, this song chillingly points out that even if a person doesn’t want to fight in the great war it won’t matter…because the next great war will be fought by two people with there fingers on “the button.”

Also political, is “Why Did I Fall For That?” which seems to directly answer the band’s earlier “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Listening to this song reminds me some of my relatives who voted for the current president…then voted for him the second time. The song reminds us that history will hold ALL of us accountable for falling for the same old line time and time again. In other words, twenty years later, it STILL touches a nerve. That, my friends, is awesome.

The album’s title track is fucking amazing. It’s completely 100% classic Who. It has the nice, rollicking guitar. It has the pounding drums. It has the classic Who-background vocal-chant. The lyrics, while a little cumbersome at times are still pretty good. Who (not the band) after a particularly bad day hasn’t asked the heavens above to be dealt a better hand? The Who (band) have:

“Anyone can do anything if they hold the right card
So I’m thinking about my life now
I’m thinking very hard
Deal me another hand Lord, this one’s very hard
Deal me another hand Lord, this one’s very hard”

The guitar work on this record, while a little more restrained (compared to previous Who records) is still very good. I’m not a fan of the ridiculous Rocky-Theme-sounding horns at the beginning of “One At a Time.” These horns were never cool, not even in 1982. Crappy horns (they’re seriously only there for like 5 seconds) aside, “One At a Time” is actually a pretty good song, in the same vein as “Squeeze Box” and “You Better You Bet.”  But my biggest gripe I have about IT’S HARD is that it’s production is a bit dated (read: sounds like the 1980’s) and the band uses a bit too much synthesizer for my taste. I’m sure at the time; this wasn’t as big an issue as it is now. Like black and white film, the sound of a synthesizer really turns a lot of young people off. To be fair to The Who, IT’S HARD makes good use of the synthesizer. Still, I think the production/synthesize-issue are the two main reasons this record’s reputation takes such a hit compared to the bulk of the Who’s recordings in many people’s esteem.

Despite a lackluster public and critical reception, IT’S HARD is actually pretty fucking amazing now that I think about it. Next time you find yourself about to listen to WHO’S NEXT, TOMMY, or (if you’re really cool) QUADROPHENIA, pop in IT’S HARD instead. This album demands a second (or third, fourth, etc.) listen.

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