The origins of the Songs Of Innocence
Even though U2 fans had little time to prepare for the release of the Songs Of Innocence album, the album still is a result of many years of work. Each of the eleven songs has its own story, musically and lyrically. Even the album as a whole has a story. In this article we will try to unravel some of those stories. Stories that trace back many years, stories about how musically bright songs can have very dark themes. Stories about an album which central themes go back in time, to U2's early days, to Dublin, to family, friends and places from the past.
The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)
Bono takes us to the origin of U2: a Ramones concert that changed his teenage heart and soul forever. 'I was young, not dumb/ Just wishing to be blinded/ By you, brand new/And we were pilgrims on our way' sings Bono in tribute to the late lead singer of The Ramones, whom he acknowledges as one of his early influences.
Bono takes us to the origin of U2: a Ramones concert that changed his teenage heart and soul forever.
Every Breaking Wave
The only song on the album that is familiar to us U2 fans. Every Breaking Wave as a song has existed for many years within the U2 camp, originating from the No Line On The Horizon sessions. It was a last minute cut from the album to reduce the total running time. Every Breaking Wave was performed for the first time in 2010, in Helsinki. It has been played live three times within a month and never since.
From the three live performances to the version of the album, the song has obviously undergone some metamorphosis. Currently widely rated as the best song of the album, it leaves little doubt on whether these changes to the song were for the good. Musically, the song has evolved quite a lot, while lyrically it is quite the same as the live version we knew before. The intro the song does sound very similar to the famous intro of With Or Without You.
Every Breaking Wave was a last minute cut from the No Line On The Horizon album, in order to reduce the total running time.
California (There is no End to Love)
The third song on the album is about the first time U2 were in Los Angeles. In their early twenties, the bands visit to the place, as described in "U2 by U2", inspired and affected the direction they went as a band. The song tries to recapture the feeling they had at the time, and sounds like a flashback to traveling through California while hearing the Beach Boys playing on the radio. There' a sense of nostalgia pervading the song that's flavored with the optimism of a young man from across the world staring out at the California sunset for the first time.
Lyrically, the "Bar-Bar-Barbara" in the opening might as well be a reference to The Beach Boys' Barbara Ann. U2start member "AMLBONO" suggested that "There is no end to love" is about the message of the band since their inception. U2's music will live and survive because the songs are about love, to which there is no end to. The "Out on Zuma" bit seems to refer to "Zuma Beach" in Malibu, California.
Musically, the song seems to catch the California summer-vibe, well indicated by people who either live or have visited California, which seem to have a different opinion to the song that the people who don't. For the latter group: you know what to play when you will visit California!
Song for Someone
In July 2014, a U2 fan named Paul recorded a song on the beach outside Bono's house in France and uploaded this recording to the internet. That's when U2 fans heard the name Song for Someone for the first time, as this was the name given to this beach recording.
Lyrically Song for Someone alludes to Bono's experiences as a teen and the comfort he found in Ali
Lyrically Song for Someone alludes to Bono's experiences as a teen and the comfort he found in Ali "I've got some scars from where I've been / You've got eyes that can see right through me / You're not afraid of anything they've seen / I don't know how these cuts heal / But in you I found a rhyme".
Iris (Hold me close)
From a song dedicated to his wife, the album transitions to Iris, "a heartbreaker" , as Mojo describes it, "here Bono pours it all out in Iris (Hold Me Close), comparing her to a vanished star whose light lives on him. Moreover, it humanises the man behind the shades". His mother's untimely death seems to be referenced in the following part: "The ache in my heart is so much a part of who I am / Hold me close and don't let me go / I've got your life inside of me / We're meeting up again".
It's no accident that there's no gap between this song and the explosion of Volcano.
Last.fm user zeppyfish mentions "I feel like this is the emotional centre of the album. The first four songs are joyful and love-filled, then the pain of Bono losing his mum hits us in the face. Musically, we're still in a joyful place, but it can't last. It's no accident that there's no gap between this song and the explosion of Volcano."
From the heartbreaking Iris to the explosion of Volcano. Volcano is a song that could very well be about the aftermath of Iris's passing when Bono became a troubled teenager, wanting to blow like a Volcano.
The lyric "The world is spinning fast tonight / You can hurt yourself tryin' to hold on" relates to Bono saying "My mind was speeding, not from drugs, just from all the pressures" in the book U2 by U2. The lyric "Your eyes were like landing lights / They used to be the clearest blue / Now you don't see so well" may refer to Bono (as being "the blue-eyed boy", stepping out of himself and talking to himself as a confused teenager.
Musically the guitar riff and vocal melody bare similarities with a previously heard but yet unreleased song named "Glastonbury". Some other similarities can be heard with "Vertigo", as Volcano being a short and direct song. U2start user ahn1991 likened the bass line to the power of a volcano.
Raised by Wolves
This song is a song about the bombings on Talbot street, Dublin, in 1974, a series of terrorist attacks on Dublin and Monaghan on May 17, which left 33 people dead. The attacks occurred at 5:28, 5:30, 5:32 and 6:58PM. The time 5:30PM is referenced in the lyrics of the song. Thematically, Raised By Wolves shows similarities with songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday, Please and Peace On Earth.
The part in the song where "Registration 1385-WZ" is referenced refers to the bomb car in the second explosion, a metallic blue mink Ford Escort, registration number 1385 WZ.
A part of the song is written from this referenced point of view of Andy Rowen: "I'm in a white van as a red sea covers the ground". The intro of the song is a clear reference to Andy Rowen, on how he recurred to drugs (needles) and how he trashed his own body trying to forget the massacre: "Face down in a pillow of shame / There are some girls with a needle trying to spell my name / My body's not a canvas / My body's now a toilet wall". Trying to forget the vision of bodies lying on the street, with his whole world shaken: "If I open my eyes, you disappear / I don't believe anymore". The part in the song where "Registration 1385-WZ" is referenced refers to the bomb car in the second explosion, a metallic blue mink Ford Escort, registration number 1385 WZ.
The theme of U2's youth comes to an even greater presence in the form of the song Cedarwood Road, which is a road in Dublin. Bono grew up at 10, Cedarwood Road. He grew up together with his friend Guggi, to which the song is dedicated. "And friendhip once it's won / It's won" is written about how this friendship blossomed when they were very young.
Musically, fans praise the heavier/rockier music of the song which helps to paint a picture of Cedarwood Road in the 1970's.
The song alludes to the violence that sometimes occurred and the fear within the boys "It was a warzone in my teens", "I was running down the road / The fear was all I knew". "I'm still standing on that street / Still need an enemy" could be Bono looking back and acknowledging that growing up there and having to be wary of danger/ready to fight had a lasting effect on him. U2start user Kris_Smith87 points out the connection between the lyrics "Northside, just across the river from the Southside" and Northside Story, a U2 subscriber gift that charts the band's progress from playing gigs in Dublin's Northside through to their War days. There also seems to be a connection between this particular lyric and the song North and South of the River.
Sleep Like A Baby Tonight
This song has a theme that is a bit more dark than the music might reveal. Bono explains in the Irish Times how the song is about how priests were sexually abusing young children: "Then I went a bit further and remembered all the violence meted out to women by their husbands, the beatings children experienced from their fathers and how, at that time particularly, priests were sexually abusing young children."
The song has some clear references to the hypocrisy of the Catholic church, in particular in Ireland in the 1970s
Musically, fans compare this song to If You Wear That Velvet Dress and If God Will Send His Angels. It was described by our mate LikeASong as a combination of a Zooropa+Pop song with Kraftwerk influences, in particular for the intro.
This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now
This song is dedicated to Joe Strummer, singer of The Clash. The song "celebrates The Clash spirit of passion and purposefulness", according to Neil McCormick. As with many U2 songs, the lyrics are ambiguous. One interpretation is that U2 was "enlisted" to The Clash army after seeing them live, surrendering to the band (they've "come to colonize your night and steal your poetry") and knowing that "the world would never be the same" and now we can reach those Irish boys there, in The Clash camp. Alex (ahn1991) offers another interpretation, a political one. "This song is about the soldiers", as for them, "surrendering their will" is the only weapon they know.
Bono on his view of the song: "Seeing The Clash for the first time on their first tour in Trinity College Dublin was a coordinates changing experience for me, Edge, Adam and Larry. We went home that night exhausted from the riot of noise and ideas. We couldn't sleep because we knew we were sleeping in the wrong beds. We had migrated -mentally, spiritually... Joe Strummer was some soldier... his guitar a weapon, his mouth almighty. We weren't sure exactly what they were fighting for/against but this was a public service announcement with guitars on behalf of the soul and we signed up."
Musically, U2start users bartajax, RattleandHum1988 and Yogi found a sample of Slug and even One Minute Warning from Passengers at the beginning of the song. RUMMY and Andrew_C found some similarities in the guitar intro with "Gimme Shelter".
Even to singer Lykke Li, who can be heard as the woman in the song, this song being part of Songs Of Innocence was a bit of a surprise. In a recent interview she shares how and when this song was recorded: "I did it twice. First, I did it a year ago, or even further, maybe a year and a half ago, in L.A., and then I think they changed key. And then I did it again in London this summer." Bono also referenced this song earlier in the year on NRJ's Energy Radio, describing it as follows: "It'll rip you apart .. it's got some soul music in it". Some extracts from this song were leaked earlier this summer as Bono played it loudly in his beach house in France with fans recording it from the outside.
The Troubles was presumed to be another U2 song about the political situation in Northern Ireland, but it's more about Bono learning to move on from his own problems. Lykke Li repeats the refrain "somebody stepped inside your soul", and Bono reflects on his own redemption: "I have a will for survival/So you can hurt me then hurt me some more/I can live with denial/But you're not my troubles anymore".
As a dark closer of the album, it has been compared to Love Is Blindness and Mothers Of The Disappeared by U2start member PageU2.
This article is put together with the help of many fans and U2start members, iTim & cesar_garza01 in particular. Non-U2start references are Mojo, Askmen, The New Daily, Larry Lootsteen, Wikipedia, U2 radio, beatpatrol, the official album booklet and the Irish Times. We tried to give credit where credit is due but if you feel your or a reference is missing, feel free to let us know for us to include.
The article The origins of the Songs Of Innocence was first published on U2start.com by Remy.
- article The origins of Songs Of Experience
- timeline The history of U2's album releases
- slideshow U2's cancelled shows: the why & when's
- article U2's biggest surprises: Two Hearts Bea..
- slideshow U2 and Latin America: A home away from..