Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Sunday Bloody Sunday" - U2


Driven by a ferocious martial drumbeat and a hauntingly universal refrain -- "I can't believe the news today / I can't close my eyes and make it go away" -- "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is one of U2's imperishable anthems. Like another song on this list, The Cranberries' "Zombie", it's inspired by the Irish Troubles: "Bloody Sunday" references the British massacre of 14 demonstrators in Derry on January 30, 1972. But like "Zombie," it also rejects the terrorism of the Irish Republic Army (IRA). The lyrics anyway are general and allusive, and the song has proved readily adaptable in U2 concerts over the years, as a call to resist battle calls and bear aloft a standard of peace.

Like many of U2's great anthems -- think of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" on this list, or "One" -- "Sunday Bloody Sunday" has a clear spiritual dimension. It's implicit in the title, but only becomes explicit at the end: "The real battle just begun to claim the victory Jesus won / On Sunday, bloody Sunday ..." Secular progressives may want to snip the entire last verse, which includes those lines, and concentrate on the song's epic essence:

I can't believe the news today
Oh, I can't close my eyes 
And make it go away
How long...
How long must we sing this song
How long, how long ...
'Cause tonight ... we can be as one
Tonight ...

Broken bottles under children's feet
Bodies strewn across the dead end street
But I won't heed the battle call
It puts my back up
Puts my back up against the wall

Sunday, bloody Sunday
Sunday, bloody Sunday
Sunday, bloody Sunday

And the battle's just begun
There's many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters 
Torn apart

Sunday, bloody Sunday
Sunday, bloody Sunday ...

Here's the original version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," leading off U2's breakthrough third album, 1983's War:


The version at Red Rocks recorded for the Under a Blood Red Sky live video and album is a barnstormer, with Bono famously declaring: "This song is not a rebel song" (beginning at 2:37):


Undoubtedly the most emotional live performance of the song was filmed in Denver, Colorado for the Rattle and Hum movie and CD, on November 8, 1987 -- the same day that IRA terrorists killed thirteen civilians in a bombing at Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, evoking one of Bono's most passionate declamations from the stage.


The radiant final cut on the War album, "40", was a singalong concert-closer during this period. It echoes the opening lyric of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" with its "How long to sing this song?" refrain. However, its anthemic potential is restricted for secular activists, since the lyrics are so openly religious, drawn from Psalm 40 of the Old Testament.

Other Resources

Available on U2, War (1983), Track 1.

Full lyrics here.

"The Rhetoric of U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday", by Mike Rios.

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