This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, 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, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #76: Sunday, Bloody Sunday by U2.
The year was 1983. I was in residence at Ryerson Polytechnic Institute in Toronto. I had an apartment at the time that overlooked the heart of the downtown core. I paid pennies for a view that people now regularly pay into the thousands. And, so it was, that with the lights of the city twinkling like stars, that I saw my first music video. It was by an Irish band named U2. Seeing that video led me to travelling a few blocks to Toronto’s iconic record shop, Sam the Record Man, where I paid good money for an album by U2 called, “War”. The first single from “War” was a song about the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, where the band was from. That song was called, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”. From the opening, strident beats of a militarist drum, I was hooked. Much of the album is a cry against the endless cycle of violence that had their homeland so firmly in its’ grip. That is an important note because, at first, many listeners thought that the song, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” was, in fact, U2 declaring themselves to be in favour of Irish independence and, by extension, showing support for the I.R.A. (the paramilitary group that used a mixture of violence and politics to further their aim of getting the English out of Ireland so it could be free and independent). So, lead singer, Bono, was forced to state the band’s neutrality in the form of a very famous opening declaration during the recording of a live performance of the song from Red Rocks Amphitheatre when he started the song off with, “This song is not a rebel song. This song is Sunday, Bloody Sunday!”
Part of U2’s desire to make such a declarative statement was borne from the notion that their message in the song was being misinterpreted. But, more than that, choosing sides, as it were, is what has perpetuated this conflict for as long as it has been going on. So, the band wanted it made clear that they were not choosing sides but that there has been too much killing and loss on both sides and that the time had come for it to all end and for cooler heads to prevail. To choose sides in the conflict in Northern Ireland was, for a time, an invitation to flirt with Death. A perfect example of this is the actual events upon which this song is based. There really was an event that came to be known as “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”. Here is a brief synopsis.
For over a century, the Irish People have been living under British rule. Through many battles and political agreements, Ireland has been partitioned into two sections: the southern two-thirds of Ireland is known as the Republic of Ireland and the upper third, which is known as Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland remains under British rule. Within Northern Ireland, the communities there were divided along religious lines; with Catholics on one side (seeking independence) and Protestants on the other side (seeking to maintain ties with the UK). Further muddying the waters is the fact that Catholics are in the majority in Northern Ireland but have lived under Minority Protestant rule for generations. Needless to say, the tensions have always run high and emotions are tinder dry. From, time to time, the Catholic-backed, Irish Republican Army had carried out bombing campaigns against British soldiers stationed in Northern Ireland and against any business or organization or citizen that patronized them. In reply, the British had long sought to bring the I.R.A. to its’ knees and, consequently, there were many instances when there were altercations. Some of these “altercations” proved deadly. One such incident has come to be known as the Bogside Massacre, just outside of Derry in Northern Ireland. In this incident, fourteen unarmed civilians were shot and killed during a march through the area that had been organized by Catholics in defiance of a ban on marching. You see, a march, when it happens in Northern Ireland, isn’t like a parade as we know it here. Marches in Northern Ireland are often a political statement being made…..a show of strength, if you will……which, obviously, is not usually well-received by the other side. The practice of marching has a long history on both sides. So, when the Administrative council of Derry sought to ban Catholic marches, that was seen as political suppression by Catholics. So, in defiance of this ban, they marched. Because the Catholics marched, the British Army stationed there, mobilized. Because tensions were running high, shots eventually rang out and fourteen people ended up dead. The Bogside Massacre sparked a new round of retaliatory strikes by the I.R.A., such as planting bombs near the British Army barracks, killing seven soldiers.
It was in this endless cycle of retaliation and payback that U2 decided to take their own stand.
“I can’t believe the news today.
I can’t close my eyes and make it go away!
How long? How long will we sing this song?
How long? How long?”
The song goes on to describe the conditions that so many ordinary people found themselves and how so many are affected by personal loss and sorrow. The song ends with a cry for reconciliation and for peace. Nowhere in the lyrics does Bono blame either side but, more, he asks both sides to stop fighting and to sit down and talk. It is an idealistic stance that arose out of a weariness that comes from a conflict without end.
As I mentioned off of the top, the song, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” starts with a strident military drum beat. It does so for the historical reasons mentioned. But then, the emotional fatigue felt by the band informs the opening lyrics which, after a short while, transition into a fiery condemnation of political violence as a solution for geo-political problems. In this light, I am going to share three separate videos with you; all of the same song. First up, I will share the famous live video from Red Rocks, in which Bono states that “This song is not a rebel song. This song is Sunday, Bloody Sunday”. The second video is from a concert in America held during the band’s tour in support of their album, “Rattle and Hum”. In this video, Bono stops the song half way through and makes a speech addressing a recent flare-up of violence back in Ireland. His passion is obvious and moving. Finally, U2 have been very careful about the songs they play back home in Ireland. Needless to say, a song like “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” is a politically-charged song on home turf. So, it is all the more electrifying when U2 decided to open a homecoming show in Dublin with “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”. In this third video, drummer Larry Mullen walks out alone. He receives rapturous applause as he slowly walks to his drum kit and sits down. Then, without any other band members on stage, he launches into the opening drum beats of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” and blows the roof off of the stadium they are in! Sometimes, a song is just a song. This is NOT one of those times. It is an amazing moment! The rest of the video is kind of anti-climatic but, watching Larry Mullen start the concert off that way is awesome!
So, without further delay, here is a song that is not a rebel song but, a cry for peace and understanding and, more than anything else, a plea for the killing and the violence and the hated and mistrust to stop. Here is U2 with “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” by U2, from Red Rocks, can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” by U2 from the Rattle and Hum Tour, can be found here. ***Very powerful!!!
The link to the video for the song, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” by U2 from Dublin, can be found here. ***Note, Larry Mullen’s entrance begins at the 1:50 mark.
The link to the official website for U2, can be found here.
Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of “rebel songs” from around the world. The link to their website can be found here.