The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #291: New Year’s Day by U2 (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #291: New Year’s Day by U2.

The music video for “New Year’s Day” by U2 was the very first music video I ever saw. The video is set in a Swedish forest and shows soldiers battling in a Winter War. Even the band, themselves, appear as anti-stars, all bundled up against the cold, their words appearing as frost before their mouths. What I remember most about seeing this music video was the revelatory nature of it, as a concept. All through my childhood, I was always listening to music. I, especially, liked to stay up after everyone had gone to bed, put on my headphones, turn off the lights and let the words of my favourite songs fill my imagination. I was always thinking about ways to make musicals out of the songs I listened to and wrote more than a few drafts of the next big Broadway hit in school, when my work was finished or, at home, in my room, alone with my thoughts. Seeing the words to “New Year’s Day” come to life as a mini-movie was exactly how I thought the full story of songs should be told. It helped reinforce the notion for me that stories could and should be told in a myriad of formats and that I had been right to see movies in my head when I listened to songs in the dark.

“New Year’s Day” by U2 came from their third album, “War”. That album was my introduction to the band and what an introduction it was! “Sunday, Bloody Sunday!”, “Two Hearts Beat As One” and “40” were all on this album. As well, there was a song called, “Drowning Man” which, despite its title, was a love song that Keri and I briefly considered for our “first dance” song at our wedding. *(We went with “Home for a Rest” by Spirit of the West”, which is a conversation for another time). Anyway, “War” became the first #1 album for U2 and helped launch them as an international force to be reckoned with.

The song, “New Year’s Day” was written, originally by lead singer, Bono, for his new bride, Ali. But, because of international events that were unfolding at the time, the lyrics were re-worked somewhat and the song became about the Solidarity Movement lead by Lech Walesa in Poland. The idea behind the lyrics is that optimism is often fuelled by the end of an old year and the start of a new one. In Poland, old laws were being struck down at midnight on December 31st, allowing dock workers to unionize, which was seen as a blow for Communism, which had been the rule of law in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe for decades. Thus, in the music video, the reason it was set in a Winter War setting had to do with the history of nordic battles and how Russia came, in part, to rule Poland. Bono declared that, even though “New Year’s Day” has historical roots; at its core, it is a love song.

The “War” album was the last album produced by U2 before they turned their attention to discovering the myths and realities of America with albums such as “The Unforgettable Fire”, “The Joshua Tree” and “Rattle and Hum”. By the time those albums dropped, U2 had become one of the biggest bands in the entire world. But, for me, I always have a special place reserved in my heart for the “War” album. At that time, discovering U2 seemed like discovering a little secret that I could keep all to myself. As well, you would not be wrong to connect the dots in my life and draw a straight line from me seeing the music video of “New Year’s Day” for the first time and me writing about it in a post like this, today. Music, as storytelling, has always been close to my heart.

So, without further delay, let’s play that memorable video for “New Year’s Day” by U2. Thanks, as always, to all of you for reading these posts. I feel your presence with each song I write about. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “New Year’s Day” by U2, can be found here.

The link to the official website for U2, can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for supporting artists/bands from around the world. The link to their website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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