Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors: Ten Songs About Hospitals. The UK Labour Government Publishes Plans to Revolutionise the NHS. This Day in History, 27/07/2000.

1.  Editors ‘Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors’

(from the album The End Has a Start, 2007).

2.  The Modern Lovers ‘Hospital’

(from the album The Modern Lovers, 1976).

3.  The White Stripes ‘St. James Infirmary Blues’

(from the album The White Stripes, 1999).

4.  The Lemonheads ‘Hospital’

(from the album Car Button Cloth, 1996).

5.  New York Dolls ‘Pills’

(from the album New York Dolls, 1973).

6.  The Rolling Stones ‘Sister Morphine’

(from the album Sticky Fingers, 1971).

7. Cold War Kids ‘Hospital Beds’

(from the album Robbers & Cowards, 2006).

8.  Eels ‘Hospital Food’

(from the album Electro-Shock Blues, 1998).

9.  10cc ‘The Hospital Song’

(from the album 10cc, 1973).

10. David Bowie ‘All the Madmen’

(from the album The Man Who Sold the World, 1970).

Just Looking: Ten Songs About Shopping. Tesco, the Largest Supermarket Chain in the UK, Bows to Public Pressure and Return to Scales with Pounds and Ounces and Metric Weights. This Day in History, 17/07/2000.

1.  Sleeper ‘Inbetweener’

(from the album Smart, 1995).

2.  The Coasters ‘Shopping for Clothes’

(single A-side, 1960).

3.  Heaven 17 ‘I’m Your Money’

(from the album Penthouse and Pavement, 1981).

4. Tom Waits ‘Step Right Up’

(from the album Small Change, 1976).

5.  Stereophonics ‘Just Looking’

(from the album Performance and Cocktails, 1999).

6.  The Kinks ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’

(single A-side, 1966).

7.  The Clash ‘Lost in the Supermarket’

(from the album London Calling, 1979).

8.  Bennet ‘Mum’s Gone to Iceland’

(from the album Super Natural, 1996).

9.  Bow Wow Wow ‘C 30, C 60, C 90, Go’

(single A-side, 1980).

10. David Bowie ‘God Knows I’m Good’

(from the album David Bowie, 1969).

Song of the Day: Music About Other Artists (Day Four). The Go-Betweens on Patti Smith on Kurt Cobain and Others. “When She Sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I Thought What A Shame It Wasn’t About Tom Verlaine”.

Patti Smith, along with her husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, began work on her sixth studio album, Gone Again (1996) in 1994.  Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, previously of the seminal garage band MC5, was a highly influential force on what would become Patti Smith’s first album since Dream of Life in 1988, teaching her to play acoustic guitar so she could write songs by herself and providing her with titles and concepts to develop.

The first of these songs was Summer Cannibals, the eventual single from the album, which discussed the darker side of being a rock musician.  The couple drew from Fred’s Indian ancestry in order to compose a song told from the point of view of a tribe’s shaman.  The song tells of an old woman coming down from the hills in order to tell her people of their history, informing them of, in times of strife, the cycle of life and the changing seasons. And thus began the potent theme of death on Gone Again, a theme inspired by the deaths of several people close to Smith.

Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe had died March 9th 1989, aged 42, from an AIDs-related illness …

… and Patti Smith Group pianist Richard Sohl had died on June 3rd 1990, aged 37, from heart failure.

During the writing of Gone Again, Patti Smith was devastated yet further when on November 4th 1994, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith died suddenly from heart failure, aged just 45.   The loss of her husband informs a vast majority of Gone Again but specifically the final song, Farewell Reel.  Played on the acoustic guitar which her husband taught her how to play, Farewell Reel opens with the spoken message, “This little song’s for Fred; it’s G, C, D and D minor”.

Shortly after the death of her husband, her brother, Todd, also died, aged 45.  Gone Again is also notable for featuring the last studio performance by Jeff Buckley, who added his voice to Beneath The Southern Cross.

Smith was also moved by the death of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, with whom she had sympathised.  Cobain committed suicide, aged 27, on 5th April 1994.  Smith didn’t know Cobain personally but told Seattle Weekly News in 2010:

“My reaction to Kurt Cobain was much more emotional.  I was heartbroken when he committed suicide.  I loved Nirvana.  And I knew that Kurt Cobain was very fond of my husband and the MC5.  We felt so badly.  We just wished that we would have known him, and been able to talk to him, and had some sort of positive effect on him.  Seeing Robert [Mapplethorpe] doing everything to live, and then seeing this very gifted boy kill himself was painful to factor”.

Smith’s reaction to Cobain’s death can be heard on the song About A Boy, a suitably etheral and sometimes funereal lament, the title of which is a play on Nirvana’s About A Girl, from their 1989 album Bleach.

Lyrically, About A Boy, much like many other songs on Gone Again, is spiritual and almost hymnal with lines such as “Toward another, He has gone, To breathe an air, Beyond his own, Toward a wisdom, Beyond the shelf, Toward a dream, That dreams itself”.

The verse “From the forest, from the foam, from the field, That he had, Known, Toward a river, Twice as blessed, Toward the inn of happiness” tells of Cobain’s ascendance to heaven but also refers to his hometown of Aberdeen in the US State of Washington.  The forest mentioned in the verse is most likely to be Olympic National Forest in the State of Washington, whilst the river mentioned is the Wishkah River, a tributary of the Chehalis River which flows south through Washington and empties into the Chehalis at Aberdeen.  Linking in with the Indian theme on Gone Again, the name “Wishkah” is an adaptation of the Chehalis Indian word ‘hwish-kahl’, meaning “stinking water”.  More importantly, however, the Wishkah River has a great deal of significance in the legend of Kurt Cobain, as he lived under a bridge on the river during a period of homelessness after dropping out of high school and being thrown out of his mother’s home.  The song Something In The Way from Nevermind details this time in Cobain’s life.  After his death, one third of his ashes were scattered in the river.  Additionally, the river gave its name to the Nirvana live album, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, released in 1996 and featuring live performance recorded between 1989 and 1994.

A band who had been listening to Smith’s tender tribute to Cobain was Australian band, The Go-Betweens.  For their 2000 album, The Friends of Rachel Worth, Robert Forster wrote When She Sang About Angels, in part an answer song to About A Boy.

When She Sang About Angels includes the slightly sarcastic sounding riposte to Smith choosing to pay tribute to Cobain, “When she sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I thought what a shame, it wasn’t about, Tom Verlaine”.  Tom Verlaine is best known as the front man of seminal New York rock band Television, most notable for their critically acclaimed and highly influential debut album Marquee Moon (1977).  Verlaine was a stalwart of famous New York punk clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and dated Patti Smith whilst they were both up and coming artists.  Verlaine has collaborated with Smith many times over the years, most notably adding guitar to Smith’s albums Horses (1975); Easter (1978); Gone Again (1996) and later, Gung Ho (2000) and Twelve (2007).

The song’s title and lyrics “When she sang about angels, She looked at the sky …” refers to both Smith’s songs about people who have died on Gone Again and to Smith’s song Ask The Angels, the opening track on, and third single taken from, her 1976 album Radio Ethiopia.

Additionally, When She Sang About Angels includes lines such as “When she sang about the fields, She raised up her arm, As if she was pushing back the cotton on some Midwestern farm”, a reference to Smith’s powerful stage mannerisms and the imagery of fields which inhabits some of her songs.  Take for example, in About A Boy where she sings, “From the field that he had known”; Ask the Angels, in which she sings “Across the country through the fields” and Birdland (Horses, 1975) in which she sings, “Him and his daddy used to sit inside, And circle the blue fields and grease the night”.

Despite the hint of sarcasm which pervades Forster’s critique of Smith, there is also a lot of tenderness expressed towards Smith in When She Sang About Angels.  Take for example the refrain, “Anybody else, anybody else, but I let it go by”, absolving Smith of her various lyrical and performance tendencies and the reminiscence of the lines “Then she threw some names, Like she always did, She threw some names, she dropped some names, Like she used to when I was a kid”.  Smith is known for writing songs about other people and in particular other artists.  Take for example, her song Frederick (Wave, 1979), written about Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith before their marriage in 1980.

Smith would pay further tribute to Kurt Cobain on her 2007 album of cover versions, Twelve, when she covered Nirvana’s 1991 mega-hit Smells Like Teen Spirit, from the album Nevermind.

Smith’s version of Smells Like Teen Spirit strips away the thundering bombast of the original, the sound which inspired a thousand other bands and almost single-handedly invented ‘Grunge’, and delivers it with a sparse country-tinged arrangement featuring a bass guitar, acoustic guitar, violin, banjo and her voice, which much like Kurt Cobain’s, has influenced whole generations.

Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Six). “What If I Take My Problem to the United Nations?”

For her eighth studio album, Let England Shake (2011), PJ Harvey looked to war for inspiration and in particular, the war in Afghanistan, which Britain was heavily involved in at the time of the album’s writing and recording.  Harvey also took inspiration from past conflicts, most notably the two World Wars.  Of the album’s subject matter, Harvey told Uncut Magazine in January 2015:  “I’ve always felt that I’m affected by the world, by the way we treat each other, by the way different countries treat each other”.

Let England Shake was not the first time that Harvey had spoken about war in her music.  On her 1996 album with John Parish, who also collaborated on Let England Shake, Dance Hall at Louse Point (credited to John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey), she included the song Civil War Correspondent.

At this point in time, Harvey never explained her lyrics and they were, more so than ever, left open to broad interpretation.  One could assume that the civil war mentioned in the song is the 1992 – 1996 Afghan Civil War, a phase of the war in Afghanistan which had been raging since 27th April 1978.  The war in Afghanistan had started when the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) took power in a military coup, known as the Saur Revolution.  Most of Afghanistan subsequently experienced uprisings against the PDFA government.

In December 1979, the Soviet War in Afghanistan began with the aim of replacing the existing communist government.  The mujahideen, Afghanistan’s resistance forces, fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  Some factions received support from the US, with the Pakistani ISI serving as the US middleman, and Saudi Arabia.  The Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in February 1989.  The Soviet-backed Afghan communist government survived for three more years until the fall of Kabul in 1992.

In 1992, Afghan political parties agreed on the Peshawar Accords, a peace and power-sharing agreement which established the post-communist Islamic State of Afghanistan after the resignation of communist President Mohammad Najibullah and appointed an interim government.  Militia leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar opposed the agreement and with Pakistani support started a bombardment campaign against Kabul, signalling the beginning of the 1992 – 1996 Afghan Civil War.  In addition, three militias who had been able to occupy some suburbs of Kabul engaged in a violent war against each other.  Other than Kabul, other cities to witness violent fighting included Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar.

Despite these assumptions that the civil war of which Harvey speaks in Civil War Correspondent is probably the Afghan Civil War, it is left open to interpretation.  Therefore, the narrator of the song could easily be a correspondent in any war, making the song a stark reminder that all war is the same:  Each war has its casualties and its devastating effects on those involved, whether on the frontline or witnessing the atrocities from a journalist standpoint.  “Word leave my heart dry, Words can’t save life, Love has no place here, No joy, no tears” sings Harvey emotionally on the song.  Perhaps the correspondent is actually Harvey herself as opposed to a media correspondent, a songwriter attempting to put into words what she sees through the media.  “I shout but he don’t hear, Just put down the page, Darling spare me your tears, Dear God please send me the light of day, I can feel his, Heart wired, Heart like, Gunfire …” continues Harvey in the guise of a war correspondent watching a soldier losing hope in the face of the brutality he is facing.  By the end of Civil War Correspondent, the soldier’s mind and spirit has been consumed by the war and he cannot escape the gunfire anymore than he can escape his own heartbeat.

On her 2000 album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, Harvey had been inspired by her love of New York City.  Take for example, Good Fortune, with its references to China Town, “In China Town, hung-over, you showed me just what I could do” and Little Italy,  “When we walked through Little Italy, I saw my reflection come right off your face”.

Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea also includes the highly prophetic song One Line, which includes the lyrics, “I’m watching from the wall, As in the streets we fight, This World all gone to war, All I need is you tonight”.

Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea won the Mercury Music Prize, the ceremony for which was held on September 11th, 2001, the infamous day as the terrorist attacks on the USA.  Harvey was in Washington DC and had witnessed the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon from her hotel room window.  When she was announced as the winner, she made her acceptance speech by telephone, saying, “It has been a very surreal day.  All I can say is thank you very much, I am absolutely stunned”.

Following the September 11 attacks, the USA announced its War on Terror, a term coined by President George W. Bush.  The USA, backed by its close allies, including Britain, invaded Afghanistan.  The war followed the Afghan Civil War phase (1996 – 2001) and public aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda and deny it a safe base in operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power.

Additonally, in 2003, the USA, with assistance from the United Kingdom, invaded Iraq, signalling the start of the Iraq War, which aimed to and succeeded in toppling the government of Saddam Hussein.  The conflict continued for much of the next decade as an insurgency emerged to oppose the occupying forces and the post-invasion Iraq government.  The USA and United Kingdom officially withdrew from the country in the 2011, the year of Let England Shake’s release but the insurgency and various dimensions of the civil armed conflict still continue.

After witnessing the horror of the September 11 attacks which sparked off the Afghanistan War firsthand, it is no wonder that Harvey would at some point in her career feel compelled to compose more songs pertaining to war, this time using the subject of war to create a concept album.  Harvey began writing the lyrics for the album before setting the words to music.  She has cited the poetry of Harold Pinter and T.S. Eliot as influences, as well as the artwork of Salvador Dali and Francisco de Goya and the music of The Doors, The Pogues and The Velvet Underground.  She also researched the history of conflict, including the Gallipoli Campaign, and read modern-day testimonies from civilians and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of the musical content on Let England Shake, Harvey makes full use of the autoharp which she began to play in concert some years prior to working on the album.  She told local newspaper Bridport News in 2001:  “I was really enjoying this different, enormous, wide breath of sound that the autoharp gives.  It’s quite a delicate sound, but it’s also like having an entire orchestra at your fingertips.  I began by writing quite a lot on the autoharp, and then slowly as time went by, (because this album was written over two and a half years) … my writing started moving into experimenting with different guitars, and using different sound applications, ones that I had never really experimented with”.

In order to tell the tales of war which make up Let England Shake, Harvey adopted a very different vocal style to that used on previous works.  Harvey commented in her 2011 interview with Bridport News that “I couldn’t sing [the songs] in a rich mature voice without it sounding completely wrong.  So I had to slowly find the voice, and this voice started to develop, almost taking on the role of a narrator”.

Let England Shake is a wonderfully executed suite of war-inspired songs.  The title of the album and its opening track can be interpreted in two ways with respect to the two different periods of time which inspired the songs.  Firstly the opening line of the title track, “The West’s asleep, let England shake” refers to the past, before World War One, when England appeared to be a perfect epoch for peace and prosperity.  The Western world was asleep, overconfident in its own power, economy and technological development.  The brutality of both World Wars proved the opposite and England was one of the countries which suffered the cruel and tragic consequences.  Secondly, the same line also refers to the present, where we find Harvey pondering as to whether England is now, once again, overconfident and whether the Western world is, once again, on the brink of collapse.  Therefore, based on historical evidence, England will, indeed shake again.  Interestingly, shortly after the release of Let England Shake, a series of riots occurred across England, breaking the deceptive state of calm.

Additionally, Let England Shake features the lines “I fear our blood won’t rise again, Won’t rise again”, an observation about death.  In this line, Harvey is saying that if our blood doesn’t rise again, from the graves that contain our corpses, then there is no hope.  The line also poses an attack against the teachings of Christianity, which has justified the most horrendous actions against humanity throughout history, such as Crusades, Inquisition, paedophile networks and torture practices.  Christianity states that we are going to be saved by Jesus after death and this life is not a real one, for only in resurrection will we be reunited with divinity and eternal life.

Further into the album, we find the song This Glorious Land, the third track and the second single to be taken from the album.  The lyrics of This Glorious Land refer to the military and the ongoing Afghan War, told from the perspective of the locals in a country invaded by England and America (“Oh, America, Oh, England”).  The song tells of how such interventionism often exploits those being invaded, removing their culture and ability to be a contender in the world economy:  “How is our glorious country ploughed, Not by iron plows, Our land is plowed by tanks and feet, Feet, Marching”.   The people of the invaded country are also often forced to exploit their own children in order to survive.  The lyrics in the final refrain allude to the disastrous effects of war:  “What is the glorious fruit of our land?  The fruit is deformed children, What is the glorious fruit of our land?  The fruit is orphaned children”.   Whilst the song was primarily inspired by the conflict in Afghanistan, it could also refer to the bombing of Japan by America and Britain during the Second World War.

The fourth track on the album and its first single, The Words That Maketh Murder, is also about the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan as well as the World Wars, the First World War in particular.  The lyrics also criticise diplomacy, particularly in the final refrain, “What if I take my problems to the United Nations?”  which, with dark humour, finds the subject of the song, who has experienced the unimaginable whilst involved in the conflict such as “soldiers fall[ing] like lumps of meat”, looking to the international peacekeeping body for help.  The refrain is based on a lyric from Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues (1958), where he sings, “I’m gonna take my problems to the United Nations”.

The reference to the United Nations places the song’s setting in the modern day, i.e. the Afghanistan War, as opposed to the First World War, as the United Nations did not exist until 1945.  The League of Nations, the United Nations predecessor, was regarded as powerless and content to allow the strong to bully the weak and, two decades after the First World War, failed to stop the outbreak of the Second World War.  The United Nations has been slightly more successful but has also often ignored, as recently as the Invasion of Iraq by the US and Britain.

In the lead up to the catchy and beautifully conceived refrain, Harvey paints a bleak picture of battlefield carnage.  “I’ve seen and done things I want to forget, I’ve seen soldiers falling like lumps of meat, Blown and shot out beyond belief, Arms and legs were in the trees”.  The lyric “Longing to see a woman’s face” finds the subject of the song missing the comforts of home, perhaps his wife or just female company.  “Instead of words that gather pace” is likely to refer to the Treaties and threats that tipped Europe into the First World War in 1914.  After the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand is Sarajevo, all of the world’s major powers were pulled into the First World War one by one.

The chorus of the song, “The words that maketh murder, These, these, these are the words, The words that maketh murder …” are a further attack on the diplomacy which surrounds war.  By referring to war tribunals as “The words that maketh murder”, Harvey is discussing the way in which killing on the battlefield is seen as legitimate but when investigated by war tribunals, it can be classified as a war crime.  Whilst the work that the soldiers carry out is important, killing, regardless of circumstances, is still murder.

Following the first chorus, we find the line “I’ve seen a corporal whose nerves were shot”, a reference to Post Traumatic Stress (shell-shock), which is a common ailment suffered by soldiers who have fought in wars.  The line “I’ve seen flies swarming everyone” and later lines “Death lingering stunk, Flies swarming everyone, Over the whole summit peak, Flesh quivering in the heat” refer to the way in which war was often conducted in extremely unsanitary conditions and disease was as big a threat to the soldiers’ survival as the opposing side.  The repetition of lyrics about soldiers falling is most likely an expression of shell-shock related flashbacks.

The video for The Words That Maketh Murder’s single release in January 2011 was directed by Seamus Murphy, who also created videos for the other eleven tracks on Let England Shake.  Harvey contacted Murphy after seeing his “A Darkness Visible:  Afghanistan” exhibition in London in 2008.  In her interview with Bridport News, she said that she “wanted to speak to him more about his experiences being there in Afghanistan”.  After an initial meeting, a collaboration grew with Murphy taking charge of promotional photographs for the film in July 2010 and completing the promotional videos in January 2011.  The resulting videos were screened at various UK festivals between the 14th and 17th July 2011 and released on the DVD Let England Shake:  12 Short Films by Seamus Murphy on the 12th December 2011.

The video for The Words That Maketh Murder features Harvey practicing the song on the autoharp.  The opening scene features lights shining through a car windshield, followed by imagery of warfare such as a soldier walking through an open field.  Later in the video, the soldier is shown dead in the middle of the road during the lyric “I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat”.  Additionally, the video shows soldiers dressed in formal uniform and children playing a war-related video game.  Other scenes show a funfair and slips from a rock concert as well as a ballroom scene filmed in Blackpool, a still from which was used as the single’s artwork.

Let England Shake was named Album of the Year in no less than 16 different publications, including Uncut, Mojo, NME and The Guardian.  In September 2011, ten years after winning the Mercury Music prize for Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, she won the Mercury Music Prize for Let England Shake.  This win marked the first time in the award’s history that it had been awarded to the same artist twice.

Back in the USSR: Ten Songs About Russia. Vladimir Putin is Inaugurated as President of Russia. This Day in History, 07/05/2000.

1.  The Beatles ‘Back in the USSR’

(from the album The Beatles, 1968).

2.  Boney M ‘Rasputin’

(from the album Nightflight to Venus, 1978).

3.  Sting ‘Russians’

(from the album The Dream of the Blue Turtles, 1985).

4.  Sisters of Mercy ‘Dominion / Mother Russia’

(from the album Floodland, 1987).

5.  Blondie ‘Contact in Red Square’

(from the album Plastic Letters, 1978).

6.  Maximo Park ‘Russian Literature’

(from the album Our Earthly Pleasures, 2007).

7.  Supergrass ‘St. Petersburg’

(from the album Road to Rouen, 2005).

8.  Matt Munro ‘From Russia with Love’

(from the soundtrack From Russia with Love, 1963).

9.  Kate Bush ‘Babooshka’

(from the album Never Forever, 1980).

10. Charlotte Hatherley ‘Siberia’

(from the album The Deep Blue, 2007).

Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day Three). “I Can’t Believe the News Today …”

Derry is a small town in Northern Ireland, the home to approximately 100,000 people.  Derry has a dark past.  In 1970, the British Army had entered Northern Ireland to keep the peace at the height of The Troubles.  On the 9th August, 1971, Internment had been introduced by The British Government and the Unionist Government in Northern Ireland.  In the small hours of the morning, those suspected of being IRA members were subjected to their houses being raided and being put in prison with no trial, completely bypassing the judicial system.  On the 30th January 1972, British soldiers shot twenty six unarmed civilians during a protest march against internment organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and The Northern Resistance Movement.   Fourteen people were killed.  Thirteen were killed outright whilst another man died four and a half months later due to the injuries he sustained.  Many of the victims were shot whilst fleeing from the soldiers, whilst others were shot trying to help the wounded.  Two protestors were also injured when they were run down by army vehicles.  This bleak event in the history of Northern Ireland became known as Bloody Sunday.

Move forward eleven years and Northern Ireland was still in the grips of The Troubles.  A young band from Dublin begins to play a song.  Starting with a militaristic drum beat which evokes image of soldiers and guns and almost makes the listener feel as though they were there on Bloody Sunday even before the vocals begin, this song is Sunday Bloody Sunday and the band is U2.

Sunday Bloody Sunday, from U2’s third album War (1983), grew from a guitar riff written by guitarist the Edge in 1982.  Whilst singer Bono and new wife Ali Hewson were on their honeymoon in Jamaica, the Edge was in Ireland working on the music for what would become the War album.  Following an argument with his girlfriend and a period of self doubt over his abilities as a songwriter, the Edge channelled his frustration into what would become Sunday Bloody Sunday, writing the first draft of the song’s lyrics.  Bono rewrote the Edge’s lyrics, which started with the line “Don’t talk to me about the rights of the IRA, UDA”, fearing that the original lyrics would be misinterpreted to be sectarian thus placing them in danger.  Instead of the original potentially volatile opening line, Sunday Bloody Sunday starts with the line, “I can’t believe the news today”, evocative of the prevailing response to the violence in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s.  Thus, with this still powerful opening line, Sunday Bloody Sunday became U2’s equivalent of The Beatles’ A Day in the Life (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967), which starts with the line, “I read the news today, oh boy”.

Despite the way in which Sunday Bloody Sunday is often perceived as a protest song, something heavily disputed by the band, the song actually takes the viewpoint of somebody outside of the violence who is horrified at the cycle of violence in the province and the effect it has on people.  Sunday Bloody Sunday links together the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 and Bloody Sunday in Dublin, 1920, where British troops fired into the crowd at a football match in retaliation for the killing of British undercover agents.  The band has said that the song is not specifically about either event.  Sunday Bloody Sunday is more a condemnation of the glorification of violence, common with those involved in it and those supporting it in Ireland and elsewhere around the world.  In an interview with Lucy White in 1983, Larry Mullen Jr said of the song:

“We’re into the politics of people, we’re not into politics.  Like you talk about Northern Ireland, Sunday Bloody Sunday, people sort of think, ‘Oh, that time when thirteen Catholics were shot by British soldiers’; that’s not what the song is about.  That’s the incident, the most famous incident in Northern Ireland and it’s the strongest way of saying, ‘How long?  How long do we have to put up with this?’  I don’t care who’s who – Catholics, Protestants, whatever.  You know people are dying every single day through bitterness and hate, and we’re saying why?  What’s the point?  And you can move that into place like El Salvador and other similar situations – people dying.  Let’s forget the politics, let’s stop shooting each other and sit around the table and talk about it … There are a lot of bands taking sides saying politics is crap, etc.  Well, so what!  The real battle is people dying, that’s the real battle”.

At a concert filmed the night of the IRA Enniskillen bombing on the 8th November, Bono backed up this viewpoint, saying:

“I’ve had enough of Irish-Americans who haven’t been back to their country in twenty or thirty years coming up to talk to me about the resistance, the resistance back home.  And the glory days of the revolution.  FUCK THE REVOLUTION!  They don’t talk about the glory of killing for the revolution.  What’s the glory in taking a man from his bed and gunning him down in front of his wife and children?  Where’s the glory in that?  Where’s the glory in bombing a remembrance Day parade of old age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day?  Where’s the glory in that?  To leave them dying or crippled for life or dead.  Under the rubble of a revolution.  That, the majority of people in my country don’t want.  No  more!”

The song also links the events of both Bloody Sundays to Easter Sunday, paraphrasing religious text from Matthew 10:35 in the line “Mothers children; brothers, sisters torn apart” and twisting 1 Corinthians 15:32 to fit around the theme of Bloody Sunday in the line “We eat and drink while tomorrow they die”.  The chorus of Sunday Bloody Sunday, the opening track on War, is echoed in the album’s closing track 40, which is a heavily based on Psalm 40.

The chorus of “How long, how long must we sing this song …” rhetorically pleads with those involved in the killing of innocent people and the glorification of such atrocities over the course of The Troubles.  What became known as The Troubles lasted between 1960 and the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998 but in reality, Ireland has seen bloody clashes since the 1600s and continues to see sporadic violence, such as the Massereene Barracks Shooting in 2009.

Throughout Sunday Bloody Sunday, disturbing images of violence abound.  In verse two of the song, “Broken bottles under children’s feet” refers to the combatants’ use of Molotov Cocktails during The Troubles and “Bodies strewn across the dead end street”.  These lines are followed by Bono’s insistence that he affiliates with no side in the conflict and that he and the band are simply against violence:  “But I won’t heed the battle call, It puts my back up, Puts my back up against the wall”.  Later in the song, we see the lines “And the battle’s just begun, There’s many lost but tell me who has won”.   Between 1969 and 2001, 3,526 people were killed as a result of The Troubles.  “The trench is dug within our hearts, And mothers, children, brothers, sisters Torn apart” Bono continues, telling of the devastating effects of death, political and religious difference and imprisonment.  The lines, “Cause tonight, we can be as one, Tonight, Tonight” end this section of the song with a powerful cry for unity and an end to the bloodshed and misery.

In the final verse of the song, Bono tells of the effect of media manipulation on conflicts with the lines “And it’s true we are immune, When fact is fiction and TV reality”.  The band itself grew up in Dublin, Republic of Ireland where the violence of Northern Ireland didn’t impact them in terms of seeing it firsthand but more through media coverage, relating back to the song’s opening lyric, “I can’t believe the news today”.  Therefore, much like most other people listening to the song, he is taking the viewpoint of simply seeing second hand accounts of the violence.  Bono has said of the day of Bloody Sunday in an article for The New York Times in 2010:

“It was a day when my father stopped taking our family across the border to Ulster because, as he said, the “Nordies have lost their marbles”.  And we were a Catholic-Protestant household”.

The band end the last verse of song on a religious note, neatly linking the events in Northern Ireland to Easter Sunday and calling for an end to the violence with the lines, “The real battle just begun, To claim the victory Jesus won on …” before returning to the chorus for the full effect of the “How long …” refrain.  This refrain has been used to great effect in concert during The Troubles and other conflicts around the world, often being played as the final song of the set, with the audience continuing to sing it long after the band have left the stage.  Also greatly effective in live performances was Bono waving a white flag whilst performing the song, both as a call for peace and to ward off unwanted politically-motivated attention for the song.

U2 have returned to the subject of The Troubles several times throughout their career, most notably on the song Please, from 1997’s Pop album. The song is about the ongoing Northern Ireland Peace Process and in particular, the lack of resolution from the talks.  When Please was released as the fourth single from the album, the sleeve featured pictures of four Northern Irish politicians – Gerry Adams, David Trimble, Ian Paisley and John Hume.  In the song’s fourth verse, we find the lines “Your holy war” referring to The Troubles and “Your northern star” referring to Northern Ireland.  These lines are followed by an allusion to car bombs in the lines “Your sermon on the mount, From the boot of your car”.

In the final verse of Please, Bono sings: “September … streets capsizing … Spilling over, down the drain … Shards of glass splinters like rain, But you can only feel your own pain … October … talking getting nowhere … November … December … remember, Are we just starting again?”  These lines juxtapose the difficulties in coming to a peace agreement with images of violence in The Troubles, which were still continuing.

Please could be seen as the sequel to Sunday Bloody Sunday, perhaps approached with more maturity but also more cynicism.  Bono has now gone past the point of screaming for peace and sounds positively exhausted, at his wit’s end pleading with those involved in The Troubles to find a resolution.

Around the same time as Bono penned the lyrics for Please, he and the Edge collaborated with Christy Moore on the equally mournful and pleading North and South of the River, also influenced by The Troubles.  The song was recorded during the Pop sessions and released on the B-side of the album’s second single, Staring at the Sun in 1997.  The band played the song live for the 1998 television benefit for the victims of the Omagh bombing.  To date, this is the only time the song has been played live.

For their All That You Can’t Leave Behind album, released in 2000, the band were inspired by The Troubles once again.  Peace on Earth was directly influenced by the Omagh bombing on the 15th August 1998.  The car bombing was carried out by the Real IRA, an IRA splinter group who opposed the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement.  The bomb killed 29 people and injured about 220 others, making it the highest death toll from a single incident during The Troubles.  Telephoned warnings had been received approximately 40 minutes before the incident but the details conveyed by those responsible were inaccurate and as a result, the police had inadvertently moved people towards the bomb.

During the song, Bono pays tribute to the victims of the bombing, reading out several of the names of people killed in the highly moving verse:  “They’re reading names out over the radio, All the folks the rest of us won’t get to know, Sean and Julia, Gareth, Ann and Breda, Their lives are bigger, than any big idea”.  Similarly, the song makes reference to the funeral of victim James Barker in the lines “She never got to say goodbye, To see the colour in his eye, Now he’s in the dirt”.  The Irish Times had quoted James Barker’s mother as saying, “I never realised how green his eyes were”.  Peace on Earth gained further meaning in the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 attacks when the band performed the song as an encore, usually coupled with Walk On from the same album, during their Elevation Tour.

After the anger and frustration of Sunday Bloody Sunday and the emotional appeal of Please, Peace on Earth, although also political, finds Bono at crisis point.  In Peace on Earth, Bono expresses that ‘Peace on Earth’ is simply a saying that is thrown around with no actual meaning.  As much as the singer despises war, he finds the concept of people saying that there will be peace on Earth difficult.  Peace on Earth is Bono attempting to come to terms with the seemingly impossible nature of peace.

Baby Elian: Ten Songs About Cuba. Federal Agents Seize 6 Year Old Elian Gonzales From His Relatives’ Home in Miami. This Day in History, 22/04/2000.

1.  Manic Street Preachers ‘Baby Elian’

(from the album Know Your Enemy, 2001).

2.  The Ramones ‘Havana Affair’

(from the album The Ramones, 1976).

3.  XTC ‘Living Through Another Cuba’

(from the album Black Sea, 1980).

4.  The Clash ‘Washington Bullets’

(from the album Sandinista!, 1980).

5.  The Rolling Stones ‘Indian Girl’

(from the album Emotional Rescue, 1980).

6.  Buena Vista Social Club ‘Hasta Siempre Commandante’

(recorded during Buena Vista Social Club album sessions, 1997).

7.  Pete Seeger ‘Guantanamera’

(from the album We Shall Overcome, 1963).

8.  Kirsty MacColl ‘Mambo De La Luna’

(from the album Tropical Brainstorm, 2000).

9.  Jackson Browne ‘Going Down To Cuba;

(from the album Time The Conqueror, 2008).

10. Billy Bragg ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’

(from the album Worker’s Playtime, 1988).