As noted after the album “War”, U2 made a conscious decision to evolve their sound and move beyond the raw sound of their first three albums. Their songwriting advanced, they change producers, moving to the complex sounds that came with working with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, and the resulting product was “The Unforgettable Fire”, which was named for the jarring images of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. As this album hit the airwaves, my devotion to this band only continued to increase. I thought then, as I do now, that this was amazing record.
The album opens with “A Sort of Homecoming”, an optimistic song through the grey shades of this record. The melody is a beautiful structure, and Bono’s vocals and lyrics offer hope and strength of better days ahead. The next song was the biggest single to date for the band, “Pride (In the Name of Love)”. This was the first of two anthems written for Martin Luther King, Jr. As big as this song was, there were others I liked better, although I still appreciate the message and the tribute to Dr. King. With that said, I have two unusual memories of this record. The first goes back to high school, when this album was released. I remember back to what I believe was English class, discussing the date of April 4th, which is mentioned in the song, as it was the date Dr. King was killed in Memphis. One of our classmates, Jinnie, mentioned that this day was actually her birthday. To this day, I always remember that this date is her birthday, so have a great birthday on April 4th if you are out there, Jinnie! A more lasting memory comes from my days in college, when I would “prepare” for class at Kepner Hall, then put a tape in my Sony Walkman for the journey to class. I remember playing this song a lot; for some reason it sounded particularly good in my headphones.
Now that we have those random memories out of the way, we can move on with this great record. The next track is “Wire”, which features some insane and unique guitar playing from The Edge. As I have learned, whether it is Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Malcolm Young, Mark Knopfler, or The Edge, each and every guitarist has the ability to transform a common instrument into their own, with a sound that is recognizable and unlike any other. On this album, he digs deeper into his bag of tricks, creating some sounds we have never heard before. The title track continues the phenomenal run of songs that make up side one. Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. set a great foundation, and with the Edge adding color on guitar and piano, Bono once again shines as the premier vocalist of his time and genre.
Not every song on this album is a masterpiece, but after the instrumental opening to side two, “4th of July”, we get the first of many true anthems from U2, the epic live song that builds from this studio original, the song “Bad”. It is classic U2, in that it is basically the same chord structure and melody line repeating throughout the track, not unlike their first hit “I Will Follow”. This one is much slower in tempo, but it builds with passion and power, surging with an emotion only they could deliver at this time… “To let it go, And so, to fade away, Wide awake, I’m wide awake.”
The next two songs have never caught my ear, and today is no exception, but the album ends with the stunningly powerful “MLK”, the second tribute to Dr. King, who has to be one of the greatest humans this planet has ever produced. This song is mostly just Bono’s vocals, sung to a low hum of melody that offers the softest accompaniment to his beautiful delivery. It is truly breathtaking, and yet another piece that served to create a live performance experience for U2 that was without compare.
Unlike my missed opportunity at Red Rocks the year before, we didn’t miss this chance to see U2 for the first time. The memories are not as clear as I wish they were, but I know the show from this tour was at McNichols Arena. I believe my party for this show was Jim and some of his pack, and although I’m not positive on any of these, I feel like Brandon, Alan, and Eric were among those who joined us. If that was the lineup, tragically Jim and I are the only ones left from that 5-some. Life is precious my friends… enjoy the good music in your life, and those you share it with.