U2 101 – Bullet the Blue Sky

1394319982“Bullet the Blue Sky” is one of those songs that I always like to think of as belonging to U2-fandom. There are some songs, like “Beautiful Day”, “One”, or “With or Without You”, that are universally acclaimed and beloved, even by those who don’t know much about the band. In fact, I suspect that there are a lot of people who know the above mentioned songs without even being aware that they’re by U2. Then there are those gems, the deep album cuts, that have never really gotten the attention they deserve. In many cases, and I think that “Bullet…” is one of these, they’re superior to some of U2’s more well known songs, but, even though they weren’t released as singles and remain relatively unknown by the masses at large, they are cherished by those of us in the U2 fan community whose familiarity with the band runs a little deeper.

alb006-01Of course, “Bullet the Blue Sky” was originally written for and released on the band’s first mega-hit record, The Joshua Tree. The guitar part in the song is famous as being the result of Bono’s request that Edge “put the war through the amplifier.”, and it’s a beast of a guitar performance, no doubt, but I always think of the song as one of those that’s really all about the rhythm section. I remember the first time I ever heard it, I was listening on headphones, and the drum part that opens the song really fascinated me. If you listen closely, which I was, you can actually hear the air whistling around Larry’s sticks as he brings them down to crash against the drum. It’s an immediate notice that this song is hard and heavy, lyrically, emotionally, and musically. The stability provided by Adam and Larry allow the Edge to engage in some of the guitar gymnastics that this song is known for, and compel the listener to nod their head in a motion that’s always made me think of soldiers in some evil empire, marching over the corpses of their victims. It’s a powerful and visceral song that’s had a long and varied history of live performances by the band, starting on the Joshua Tree tour in 1987. From the first show of that tour, until the start of the third leg of the Elevation Tour in 2001, the song did not miss a single U2 concert.

On the Joshua Tree tour, as well as the Lovetown tour which followed, the song was played in an arrangement mostly similar to the album version. As was done in the original studio recording, the song was the band’s opportunity to voice their opinions on America’s foreign policy at the time. During these live performances, Bono would shine a spotlight from the stage onto Edge as he played the guitar solo, after which, the light would be turned upon the audience, symbolizing a role reversal between the watchers and those being watched, but also, particularly in the US, representing the fact that the world was watching. Although the moment was staged, and not from an actual concert, the image on the cover of the Rattle and Hum album was meant to represent this moment of their concerts. Starting in 1991, on the ZooTV tour, the song was played in a style which was even more ferocious and heated, becoming an indictment against the rising interest in the neo-nazi movement, as well as against war in general, complete with burning swastikas on the screens in front of which the band would play. A personal favorite moment came at the end of some of the European shows, when Bono would call out individual nations by name which had allowed genocide to go unchallenged, while simultaneously calling for unity under the flag of goodness that all U2 fans uphold, by shouting out “Zoo-nited Nations! ZOO-NITED NATIONS!”, demanding that the sameness that we find as fans of this rock n roll band be enough to heal the rift between us.

U2 Pop Mart Tour 97On the Pop*Mart tour, “Bullet…” was given one of the most interesting overhauls of that tour, when it was performed in a slightly mellower, more controlled arrangement, which took advantage of the song’s reliance on bass and drums to incorporate some hip-hop stylings. To go a long with this mood, Bono’s on-stage antics were more lighthearted, poking fun at war-mongering governments as opposed to reacting with anger. I remember reading some particularly interesting debate at the time, on some of the U2 fan forums on the web, contrasting this performance to the ones that had come before.

For the Elevation tour, starting in 2001, the song became the centerpiece for the band’s pro-gun-control statements. A short video was played near the start of most performances of the song which contrasted some statements from NRA leader Charlton Heston with some statistics concerning gun-related deaths in the US, and the performances that followed were appropriately chaotic, dark and moody, and often climaxed with Patti Smith and David Bowie snippets along with free-associated references to TV addiction and John Lennon and his murder in 1980, at the hands of a crazed gunman in the streets of  New York City. As I mentioned above, the song did miss one show of this tour, the first show immediately following the September 11th attacks of 2001, which I the band correctly interpreted as being a time for healing, not anger.

In 2005, “Bullet the Blue Sky” returned once more, albeit in a more subdued style, as part of a section of the set-list which the band devoted to protesting war. Sandwiched between “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Running to Stand Still”, the once furious “Bullet the Blue Sky” served as a blues-y bridge between moods, transitioning from anger to sorrow. Many fans still complain today about how strongly they disliked this version of the song, but I always felt that we’d heard it fierce and angry so many times before, it was nice to hear it played differently. Unfortunately, it seems that the song was so poorly received that the band made the decision to retire the song following the Vertigo tour. It’s true that as people age, they become less angry, less combative and more prone to introspection, to thinking things through rather than simply reacting, and I think that as the band members’ viewpoints have  changed over the years, so have the feelings that once fueled the hostility behind Bullet’s earlier performances. Since the fans have made it clear that they don’t want to hear a more thoughtful rendition of this song, I think that the band will choose to not play the song again rather than play it in a style that they may no longer feel as truly or deeply as they once did.

1987-04-24 (Joshua Tree Tour)

1993-07-23

1997-12-12

2001-06-02

2005-04-05

"U2 101 - Bullet the Blue Sky", 5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings.

Ever since I realized as a kid, while poring over the liner notes of the Bob Marley - Songs of Freedom boxed set, that writing about music was a viable career choice, one of my greatest desires has been to write about U2. The band has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to contribute a little something to the fantastic online community that's been built around the band.

Home Forums U2 101 – Bullet the Blue Sky

This topic contains 5 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Chris 5 months, 3 weeks ago.

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  • #7956

    broadsword
    Moderator

    “Bullet the Blue Sky” is one of those songs that I always like to think of as belonging to U2-fandom. There are some songs, like “Beautiful Day”, “One
    [See the full post at: U2 101 - Bullet the Blue Sky]

    #7963

    joepit
    Moderator

    Bullet the Blue Sky ROCKS!!!! I agree that the bluesy version missed its mark, unlike the fighter jets with their red, orange glow. Great song live.

    #7977

    Chris
    Participant

    WHAT?????? Nothing About Edge’s Ripping Solo from the Zoo TV-Tour On ???? Rewrite it !

    Indeed…Larry’s Heaviness proves WHY U2 must not fall into the Invisible-puddle, it’s so wrong….I, too, when listening to the song on my headphones can hear how the sound of the drums hit by Larry creates more and more layers as Larry hits them harder and harder and you can truly hear his sticks speeding through the air furiously !!!!

    #7978

    Pam
    Participant

    The ferocity of Bullet The Blue Sky has stirred and fascinated me since I have heard The Joshua Tree for the first time. With his guitar sounds The Edge truly visualises the lyrics, his notes let me see those fighter planes Bono sings about in my imagination. The rhythm section provides much more than just stability, because Adam and Larry contribute tone colours that are essential for the effect of the music. The raw expression of anger mixed with fear is stunning and all those emotions are audible in Larry´s heavy drumbeats. Without doubt, U2 reached a high point of musical intensity with the Zoo TV version of that song.

    #7979

    Chris
    Participant

    In my opinion, U2 defeat the darkness and badness in the world on this song…this song always makes me get over the troubles I have in my life…Both Album, Both Live versions are Great (especially the long Edge solo ones!) !!!!

    #7985

    Chris
    Participant

    I think that the Vertigo-Version is Great in its own way…the worst version of those you posted is the first…I think one of the best Vertigo versions of it is the one from Amsterdam, it’s worth checking out, I don’t know if it’s still available on youtube, it was years ago when I listened to it ! I’m in a terrible lack of words today…I often make long comments about Bullet the Blue Sky in my head at night but they shortly vanish…I think I wrote a comment somewhere when asked what does the song make me feel but I don’t remember where…

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