“U2 – 42 Years of Song Writing”
Today, exactly 42 years-ago, a high-school boy named Larry Muller Jr. posted a note on a board. He was looking for musicians to form a band. Among the people who answered the post, Adam Clayton, David Evans and Paul Hewson were the ones that stuck around. They are together all those years as one of the best rock bands of all time.
When U2 was taking the first steps to become what they are today, I was in Kindergarten. I first heard of them thanks to some local radio stations. In the 80’s in Brazil, regular vinyl stores didn’t have their albums yet. Songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day” became very popular when I was in high school.
When they released “The Joshua Tree,” their albums weren’t a commodity to be found only in imported stores anymore. I felt in love with their music and, above all, their song writing. A big part of my crafting and writing style I owe to Bono & Co.
Along their 42 years, they have many stories to tell along those 42 years. Among my favorites, how they composed “One.” In the documentary “From The Sky Down,” they talk about the troubles to make “Achtung, Baby.” Nothing was going right in the studio, The Edge was divorcing and the idea of quitting the band emerged in the conversations.
That moment of conflict and uncertainty turned into fuel for Bono. He started to write what would later became, “Is it getting better / Or do you feel the same? / Will it make it easier on you now? / You got someone to blame.” The band came together as one again, and after that song they composed the other tracks of one of their most acclaimed works.
In 42 years, U2 had written a vast range of song lyrics about love, politics, religion, important figures and even their own lives. But more important than what they write about is how they write their lyrics.
They developed an abstract way of narrative that fascinates me and I believe that many writers can learn from it. I refer to the way most of their songs serves more than one meaning. It is up to the listener to decide whether the song is one thing or another entirely different.
Take “North and South of The River” as an example. The narrator wants to reach out and feel someone else’s hand across the water. The song is a ballad and it passes as a romantic song. However, a different layer of the song is revealed almost in the end: “There’s no feeling / Thats so alone / As when the one you’re hurting is your own.” The song refers to the political and religious division in Ireland—the north part and the south part of the river. When you listen to it a second time, you don’t know anymore if the song is only about of theme or about many at the same time.
The quality of their song writing and the deepness of their lyrics helps to explain why they lasted 42 years with the same formation.