Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
U2 has spent most of the 21st century inadvertently ruining their own reputation. One of the most popular rock bands of the nineties, despite probably being a better band in the eighties, they evolved from a band trying to push their own musical boundaries, to a band trying to write Earnest Dad Rock with an inspirational bent. And they're good at being Inspirational Dad Rock, but it's not a skill most people appreciate.
I grew up in the eighties and nineties. I not only liked U2, but I *still* like U2, even though I completely understand why people dislike the band, collectively, and Bono, specifically.
I'm going to explain how I still enjoy the band by sharing an incorrect discography. I remix albums to remove songs I don't like, build a new narrative, eliminate problematic and/or annoying verses that have ruined my enjoyment of otherwise good songs. This series will be a walk through the discography I have reimagined for them. I'll share my mixes so that you can hear the versions of the albums that I listen to.
Maybe, probably not, but maybe I can get people to either grown a new appreciation for their music, or, at the very least, see how someone might still enjoy their music, despite annoying radio singles, preachy politics that don't always line up with Bono's actions, and some really dreadful lyrics.
Released as two mediocre albums in England, Island Records decided to release a better condensed and thematically appropriate debut in the United States. This first American album, Boytober, focused on Bono's struggling with his adolescence, as these songs were written mostly in his teen years, and at the age of twenty.
The opening song, "Another Day", was released as a single in Europe, and appeared on neither Boy or October. It was not released as a single in the United States. It begins with a forty second instrumental lead-in, which sets this tone as being more about the music than the lyrics. The lyrics focus on children forced to be soldiers before their time, a common theme in early U2 that will lead nicely into their next album, War. It's less effect heavy than some of the later songs on the album, as this is the one track on Boytober not produced by Steve Lillywhite. As the music fades, we hear Bono's falsetto transition into the next track.
In Europe, "Fire" served as the first single from October. It was not released as a single in the United States. We get a better feel in this track for The Edge's use of pedals with his guitar, and for Steve Lillywhite's soft, glassy effects in the background. The lyrics and the crinkling noises segue perfectly into track three.
"I Fall Down", never released as a single, focuses on the death of Bono's mother, without ever actually mentioning who "Julie" is, and what's happening to her. The lyrics are often misinterpreted as being a love song about making it through difficult times in a relationship. Neither interpretation makes the lyrics especially deep.
"I Will Follow", the second single off of Boy in Europe, serves as the debut single in the United States. In interviews, Bono talks about this song being about Agape Love. Possibly about his relationship with his mother or his relationship with God (which was the theme that sank October, making it their least popular twentieth-century album). The simple repetitive chorus aligns with "I Fall Down".
The most resonant song on the album is "Tomorrow", about Bono's mother's death, while mourning at her father's funeral. This is The Most Irish song on the album, both musically and lyrically. Not released as a single in Europe, it's a surprise third single from Boytober, as the band convinces their label that their Irish heritage is an important part of their music. Like the other singles on the album, it barely charts, but receives Heavy Rotation on college radio and MTV.
The version of "Gloria" on this album is one verse shorter than the one you'll find on October. Mainly because the lyrics in this song aren't particularly strong. This is another song that heavily benefits from Lillywhite's production. The layered chorus also seems stronger in the more condensed version.
"J Swallow" was merely a B-side to "Fire" in Europe, but a one minute edit transitions from "Gloria" to "Stories For Boys". Like "Gloria", the lyrics are really just background for the true highlights: Edge, Lillywhite, Clayton, and Mullen Jr.
Returning to the more generic I Am Aging Out Of Adolescence, "Stories For Boys" has similar lyrics to "Another Day" but a catchier hook.
"Out Of Control" is about how tough it is to turn eighteen, which everyone feels, but usually grows to laugh at, in hindsight. There's blood on the garden gate/The man said childhood is indicative of the type of lyrics I'm trying to avoid putting on these reimagined albums. But some of them are going to sneak through.
Building out of the previous song, "I Threw A Brick Through A Window" starts with Mullen's drums. Even though this is never a single, U2 chooses this as an opening song for most of their Boytober tour, as it allows Mullen Jr, who started the band to be the first presence on stage, followed by Clayton's bassline, The Edge's guitars, and then Bono's vocals. We get a little bit of religion in here, as well as a return of the use of "blindness" that was the focus of "I Will Follow". Clayton's very basic bassline is expertly highlighted by the Lillywhite effects, and spare use of Edge's guitar in the middle of the track.
"Trash, Trampoline & The Party Girl", another B-Side in Europe that makes its way onto the main release in the United States, is more in the "unplugged" or "acoustic" vain of music that will be popular on MTV in the 90s. While not everyone agrees with me, I choose to see this song as Bono talking about exploring bisexuality, as he deals with three lovers who won't tell him his name, one woman, and two men. He knows what they all want with him, and it's not his heart. He ends up "dancing" with Trampoline, one of the dudes, as the song bridges into "A Day Without Me".
Starting a landslide in my ego/ Look from the outside/ To the world I left behind are the opening lyrics from "A Day Without Me", as Bono finally steps outside his adolescence. It's time to grow up, Paul.
Bono takes his younger self to task (in theory, the lyrics are hardly barbed wire) in "Electric Co.", as he worries he isn't really old enough to be taken seriously. Hey, Bono, maybe people would take you more seriously if this weren't the third song on the album where you rhymed boy with toy. "Electric Co." is the second single released in the United States.
The Edge puts the guitar down, and plays piano for the haunting "October", a mostly instrumental track written as the band struggled with how their faith threatened their future as rock and rollers. Always a standout, never a single, this track proves to have the most longevity of any single on the album, as it was still played, even in their final tour.
Closing out the album is "Twilight", which falls more in-line with the rest of the album's sound. Starting off with Clayton and Edge's interplay being broken through by Mullen Jr. on drums. Bono lets us know I laugh when old men cry. Yeup, he's still growing up, guys. It's the twilight of his youth. He's going to have to get So Serious on the next album, you guys. So serious.
I do really like this "debut" album. It definitely feels of its time, as there's a sort of Joy Division vibe, as Bono takes other musician's suicides very seriously. The death of Ian Curtis factored into U2's first album being delayed. Twenty years later, Bono would write All That You Can't Leave Behind, mostly on the subject of Michael Hutchence's suicide.
It's interesting, looking back, that a lot of the reviews talk about Bono being more of a poet than a songwriter. I don't think that really shows in this first album. But I'm amused that in the nineties, Bono stopped at The Cantab Open Mic, and the then slammaster, Michael Brown, refused to let him take more than three minutes, and had to be convinced to put him on the open mic list at all, because Brown had no idea who Bono was.
Personally, I came to this album much later. I heard Under A Blood Red Sky well before Boy or October, so that's how I came to know "I Will Follow", "Electric Co.", "Gloria", and "Trash, Trampoline, and The Party Girl". It was either my junior or senior year that I went from casual U2 fan to I Own Every Bootleg, Single, and Album. And even then, the first two albums were not often in rotation on my CD player. It wasn't until I combined them into Boytober that I found myself listening to early U2 on a moderately regular basis.
The songs should come through with all their info encoded, but if, somehow, track numbers don't come through, please refer to the album cover up above.