My TOP 2O so far … 20. Madness Presents the Rise and Fall by Madness 🎺 19. I Just Can’t Stop It by The Beat 🎷 18. Signing Off by UB40 and number 17 is …
WAR by U2 (1983)
War is the third studio album by Irish rock band U2. It was produced by Steve Lillywhite, and released on 28 February 1983 on Island Records. The album is regarded as U2’s first overtly political album, in part because of songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day“, as well as the title, which stems from the band’s perception of the world at the time; lead vocalist Bono stated that “war seemed to be the motif for 1982.”
Much like the Rolling Stones, U2 have overstayed their welcome a teeny weeny little bit. Bono and his boys, like Keef and company, are now pretty much cartoon caricatures of their former selves. U2’s glory days were from around the release of this album (War) up until the very dawn of the new millennium (All That You Can’t Leave Behind in 2000). It has been steadily downhill from there. Before that, the boys from Ireland trafficked in big ideas and even bigger sounds. They are a band that operated on a grander scale than any other from the 80s, and because of this attracted legions of devoted fans. On the flip-side, they also had their fair share of (envious?) detractors. U2 would spend the vast majority of their time as the biggest rock & roll band in the world, a title that captures not only their popularity but their importance.
Before War they were of course yet another struggling post-punk band with only a small cult following for company. Soon though they would channel their yen for moody, experimental sounds into clearly defined rock anthems (and ballads) that would soon see them filling stadiums and arenas across the globe.
Here I sit one cool, overcast Sunday morning, writer’s block yet again somewhat in evidence. Its ugly presence clings to the room like last night’s tikka masala. I’m really not sure what more I can write about this legendary band. I’ve also blogged about them, and War, before – that story involving Albin Wagner returning from a trip to Scotland in 1983 with this cassette in his grubby little paws. The one with the handsome young boy on the cover. With cut lip and eyes angry the lad stared straight back at me as I admired The Punk’s treasured cassette for the first time. A black and white portrait with bold red letters on the right. U2, and below that, in vertically arranged letters, WAR.
The boy on the cover is Peter Rowen (brother of Bono’s friend, Guggi). “Bono lived across the road,” said Peter. “I don’t know why they thought of me.” He also appears on the covers of Boy, Three, The Best of 1980–1990, Early Demos and many singles. He was 5 when he shot the cover of Boy and 8 when he sat for War. Although it was many years ago, Rowen does still hold some memories of the latter shoot, although not exactly fond ones. The first is disliking the soup that was served by the photographer’s wife. “And the other memory is that Bono was driving us back from Dun Laoighaire, Ireland [where the photo was taken],” remembers Rowen. “He was talking to someone in the backseat and someone shouted to watch out for a car. Two memories from the day: I didn’t like the soup, and I was nearly in a crash.”
Here’s a story from the year War was released … and once again my guest-writer is a dear old friend – with some added input from yours truly.
by Albin Wagner (part 1)
1983 was the Centenary Year of the Boys Brigade, which culminated in a (northern) summer celebration of the various international BB Companies at Scone Palace in Perth, Scotland. I was lucky to be sent on that sponsored trip by the 1st Alberton Company as part of the RSA delegation. I used some of my meagre pounds sterling to buy a Walkman at the Virgin Records in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where I also saw CD’s for the 1st time (there was a tiny shelf in a huge store for this ridiculous new technology of tiny shiny records). I also saw my first adult skinheads outside of a Magpies supporter shop, although that style was an anachronism by that time. The skinheads in Blackpool looked like they were 11 or 12, while the cool dudes had big fringes, wore moccasins with no socks & listened to Club Tropicana in the Blackpool pool halls!
Being from the colonies, I was hunting for punk and Oi! (please don’t judge!) music which was long passé in the UK. My local tent-mates at the Scone camp told me that I should be looking out for Big Country (obviously, being Scottish) and U2 (less obviously, being not Scottish) if I liked new edgy rock music. Unfortunately I passed up on Big Country, but a cassette version of U2’s “War” was purchased at a small record store in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile (together with a Fad Gadget single!). U2 became a permanent fixture in my Walkman!
End of part 1️⃣
Back to War with Mark Wilson …
So, with some trepidation, I slipped War onto my CD player’s plastic tray and watched the disc disappear smoothly into the mouth of my favourite ever electronic device. How would it sound all these years later? It’s an album I may easily have listened to 1000 times, but it’s been a while. Is it still worthy of a place in my top 20 I wonder to myself through the last few seconds of silence? Then, out of the speakers, comes Larry Mullen Jr’s instantly recognizable drum intro. Kick, snare, hi-hat. Kick, snare, hi-hat. Kick. snare, hi-hat – so simple, yet so effective. I gratefully receive the instant funk – for possibly the 1001st time. Always, and forever I will LOVE this album, I decided right then and there. At that moment I do not care what U2 did next, or what crap Bono now sprouts all over the planet. This album is why I fell in love with U2. I smile to myself as the Edge leaps aboard. It’s still good. His guitar effects pedal draws out a whine before his nimble fingers bring his 6-string to life. Oh yes! So very good! Adam’s poised to strike and does so as his powerful fingers thump on his bass strings. Finally, the mulleted one they call ‘Good Voice’ shouts out
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
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
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Alright, let’s go!
Adam. Bono. Edge. Larry.
Since 1976 when they formed and called themselves the Feedback (they became the Hype in 1977, followed by a final name-change to U2 shortly after) until today, forty four and a bit years later and it’s still – Adam. Bono. Edge. Larry. I find that incredible. Don’t you? Impressive at the very least. They say being in a band is a lot like a marriage. U2 obviously have a great one of those, and I know of no other group that have stuck together for so long, with the same line-up.
When David “the Edge” Evans, Paul “Bono” Hewson, Larry Mullen, Jr., and Adam Clayton released their first EP, Three, in 1979, they were still teenagers with an attitude and naïveté that didn’t quite dovetail with the rest of the post-punk world. Even on their earliest recordings, they didn’t sound like a band that could be contained by small venues. U2 quite simply, had to be big.
by Albin Wagner (part 2)
Fast-forward to the October break of our matric year (still 1983). The long-awaited Alberton High School cricket tour to Cape Town finally became a reality! Half of the 12 player squad were in Standard 9, the rest Matrics, with obviously little regard for the important exams which were looming! I’m not 100% sure how we split up in our train compartments, as there were a whole lot of couplings happening with Captain Mark “Biza” Wilson rooming mainly with Mark Peterson (who recently won age group colours in cricket, but was also a contact of captain Wilson’s first serious cuddle, Teresa Bezuidenhout).
Someone had a boombox and I volunteered “War” after the dining car breakfast – and that poor tape was played again and again and again. Sunday Bloody Sunday, Two Hearts Beat as One and, of course, New Year’s Day became the soundtrack to the passing Karoo landscape and beyond!
[MW – We played War almost exclusively the whole trip – occasionally Dare by the Human League and You and me Both by Yazoo made fleeting appearances – but mainly the cricket team obsessed over this new band called U2]
End of part 2️⃣…
Back to War by Mark Wilson
The other popular “hit” from the first side, New Year’s Day, was originally written by Bono as a love song to his new bride but later morphed into an ode to the Polish Solidarity movement. Clayton’s distinctive bass line drives the song while The Edge alternates between the signature piano line and several guitar textures, including an actual rock guitar, lead. Though Adam Clayton’s bass line had an unlikely genesis (he was trying to play the Visage hit, Fade To Grey), its reverberations set off a chain reaction of exultant flag-waving around the world. Overall, the song portrays a great atmosphere with the optimistic fantasy of unity and theme of starting over and became the group’s first Top Ten single in England.
Directed by Meiert Avis, the video for New Year’s Day – the first single to be released from the third U2 studio album War – was filmed in Sweden in December 1982 and released in January 1983.
🎬 📽 🎥
Complementing U2’s lyrical growth is a newly developed dark sense of humour, which the band uses to striking effect throughout the album. Seconds, for example, opens with a sleepy funk riff driven by a cheerful toy bass drum. It’s a pleasant juxtaposition, but as the song’s subject matter becomes clear — the insanity of nuclear blackmail, where, as Bono puts it, “the puppets pull the strings.” The Edge interestingly takes lead vocals on this one with Bono adding succinct backing vocals and harmonies. Probably my favourite track on the album …
The album’s musical strengths are largely the product of well-honed arrangements and carefully balanced dynamics. Even as the Edge spins increasingly sophisticated guitar lines, he maintains the minimalist bluntness that sparked Boy. And while bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. have swung to more dance-oriented rhythms, their songs hurtle along with the sort of energetic purposefulness more frequently associated with punk. The songs here stand up against anything on the Clash’s London Calling in terms of sheer impact, and the fact that U2 can sweep the listener up in the same sort of enthusiastic romanticism that fuels the band’s grand gestures is an impressive feat.
The palette broadens on Red Light with backing vocals from Kid Creole’s Coconuts no less, and some equally interesting trumpet – the latter making slightly odd jazz noise atop the impervious surface of the band’s default setting. The hurtling zest of singer and guitarist going full-tilt on Like A Song really becomes interesting when it threatens to spill over into the thunderous rumble of Larry Mullen’s drumming. Other effective contributions arise from Steve Wickham’s soaring violin as it weaves around chiming harmonics and multi-tracked acoustic guitars of Drowning Man – something the Eno-produced James would emulate the following decade. His stirring violin also fires the anthemic Sunday Bloody Sunday, a rough-hewn stomp that superbly navigates its way between posturing and politics.
[MW – After a rowdy start to our long train journey, sleep eventually came as we rumbled across the old Transvaal towards the Northern Cape. We woke with the train stopped in Kimberley for breakfast. I sprung from the train and hastily called Teresa from a call-box on the platform – before she left for school. Yip, I know … I was like a love-sick puppy]
by Albin Wagner (part 3)
An afternoon stop in De Aar was welcome. I distinctly remember asking the conductor for how long we would stop – and that he said TWO hours. It was a Saturday afternoon, so the only local action was the De Aar Café which had a Pacman and (probably?) Space Invaders machine. When we finally made our way back (at what we thought was half an hour EARLY) the train was gone. It was a ONE hour stop, the station master then told us.
[MW – I also remember asking someone at the station what time our train left. The reply came back in Afrikaans, and I confused “half-twee” with two-thirty; when actually translated from Afrikaans it is one-thirty (or thirty before two, I think? I’m still confused, and my E for Afrikaans in matric, still somehow seems quite miraculous) Anyway it did come as a small shock to saunter back onto the platform to discover an empty train-track!!]
Doom! No tickets, no wallets, no bedding or dinner vouchers, no ties or blazers. A schoolboys worst nightmare in the middle of nowhere! We were a weird batch, four of the Matrics (Wilson, Wagner, Hickey, Parsons) plus Peterson …and Gary Joynt, the only genuine school-boy no. 11 bat / opening bowler of our time. Whereas Peterson was a bit of a rebel, Joynt was somewhat of a goody-goody, so his presence with what was now the “dirty half-dozen” was a bit of an accident. He was the one closest to tears when contemplating Mr. Minnie’s retribution if we were ever reunited with the rest of the squad.
[MW – I always thought it was seven of us that were left stranded in De Aar. I recently made contact with Mark Peterson who confirmed Adrian Spence was also there … so … methinks it was the “magnificent seven!” At one point we considered hitch-hiking the rest of the way to Cape Town]
It turned out that all was not lost. The station master called ahead to the next station to get the ticket number from Mr. Minnie (this was long before cell-phones!) and we were able to catch the next train, four hours later!
[MW – In those days the trains (remember them??!!) were segregated as Apartheid was still in full force. The one that left us behind I think was a fancy WHITES ONLY train. The next one into the station was possibly a BLACKS ONLY affair. Or at least part of it was? My dealings, as captain of the team, with the railways staff in De Aar, have become less than vague 37 years later. I remember them shuffling some African folk out of a carriage, and squeezing them into an adjoining one, so we teenage whiteys could have the vacated one to ourselves. Even though this was normal procedure back then, I still remember feeling uncomfortable about the fact that this even happened]
That afternoon most of us were allowed to mill around the station master’s office (except Peterson, who may have been kicked out for smoking). While there, on a scratchy little black and white TV, we watched the S.A. Formula 1 Grand Prix qualifying from Kyalami before boarding the train. Mitchell Hickey was the only one who owned up to having his wallet on him, so he bought cokes for everyone. Then the captain got into begging mode and manages to guilt a newspaper and a packet of Cheese Puffs from some poor family which locked its compartment door too late! That handful of puffy snacks was delicious and the sports section of the Sunday Times provided some insulation against the evening cold.
[MW – early October at night in the Karoo was surprisingly cold – at the time I didn’t know if I was going to freeze, or starve to death – it was a very long night with very little sleep, but I’m still here to add to the tale]
At Cape Town station we were met by a very stern-looking Mr. Minnie, who picked us up in a mini-van. He did not say a word except “My friends, you are in big trouble”! Mark Peterson (based to his representative cricket pedigree and relatively thick skin) was bribed or persuaded to sit in front. The rest of us cowered in the back seats. Silence. Until Peterson said: “Sir, it was cold last night. We used a newspaper as a blanket.” There appeared to the just a hint of movement at the corner of Mr. Minnie’s lip.
To our surprise, our destination was Newlands Cricket Ground. The rest of the team was sitting under the Willows in the Railway Stand with Bev Ditchfield minding them, watching a Nissan Shield game. There was still total silence until Mr. Minnie said: “Peterson, are you hungry?” “Yes Sir, we only had Cheese Puffs!” Finally Minnie couldn’t keep his straight face anymore, cracked a smile and gave Mark a few notes to buy a half-dozen of the famous President’s Stand foot-long hot dogs to rejuvenate the Dirty Half-Dozen! [MW or Magnificent Seven]
End of part 3️⃣ … back to …
War is a commentary on a world that seemed to be at war in every corner. Bono told the NME at the time … “Everywhere you looked, from the Falklands to the Middle East and South Africa, there was war. By calling the album War we’re giving people a slap in the face and at the same time getting away from the cozy image a lot of people have of U2.” Protest songs and albums were not exactly in vogue in 1983 and were considered by many a thing of a bygone era. Upon its release, War initially took a beating from the critics in the UK. They expected the same serene, flowery prose from the band’s previous output.
U2 toured relentlessly in support of War, starting in December 1982 (prior to the album’s release) through most of 1983. The tour spawned a concert film Live at Red Rocks and an accompanying EP, Under a Blood Red Sky, which further increased the band’s exposure and live appeal.
[MW – and finally once we had arrived in Cape Town we could get down to the “serious” business of playing some cricket matches …]
by Albin Wagner (part 4)
The first night was spent in a Camps Bay guesthouse where we bumped into none other than the then England cricket outcast (but later to be reinstated as captain) Graham Gooch! One or two of the brave souls may have asked him to sign a guesthouse brochure.
[MW – It was here where I shared a room with Mark Peterson. In the early evening young Peterson was enjoying a beer, and quiet fag in our room, when he heard Matt Minnie approaching. He passed his smoke to me in a hurry, and when I realized why he was giving me a turn, I tossed it straight back. We repeated this juggling act a few times with much giggling. Minnie watched us for a few moments, shook his head in bemusement, and then left us to continue as before]
Our first tour match was against Camps Bay High on a beautiful lush field flush against the mountain on one side and terracing towards the sea towards the other, with stunning views of the famous beach. No wonder Trevor “Bandan” Pape, whom we encountered later in life, would one day send his lovely boys to be educated there!
After the game (which we won) we were split up to be guests at various private homes – three or four bigger groups and two single quarters! Somehow Shaun Parsons got shafted by his designated bunk-mate Mitchell Hickey and ended up with the parents of two young ladies ominously referred to by the home players as “the Twisted Sisters”. I got the other single gig with a quiet guy who lived with his disabled parents in Sea Point.
There was much talk of the party to follow that evening, but somehow I dropped out of the loop. However, it turns out that the Twisted Sisters lived just down the road from my host, so when Shaun called, told me that the parents had gone out and asked to be rescued I joined him for an evening of wine, laughs and tickles with two not unattractive (but definitely strange) young ladies.
When we were reunited with our teammates at the Green Point Common, for our declaration* match against (the now long-defunct) Sea Point High, we heard wild tales of the London Town Pub in Adderley Street; Captain Biza pretending to celebrate his birthday so that he could down a yard of ale; much puking and Joynt “jolling” in his bowling boots (with the studs removed) because he had lent his white going-out shoes to Peterson (I think!). The result was that our opening bowler was in tears because we were going on to field and he was unable to get his studs back onto his boots! The majority of the team was visibly hung-over and we were thrashed by not very strong opposition. Mr. Minnie was unimpressed!
*[not limited overs. The side batting first bats until it is out, or declares. Then has to bowl out the team batting second before it gets the winning score. If neither happens by close of play, the match is declared a draw. We were bowled out quite a few runs short]
[MW – A few of us stayed at the home of a pupil from Camps Bay High, called Evan Darcy-Jones. He was a lovely bloke, and very keen to show us the Sea Point night-life. With zero hesitation, we agreed to join him. Much drunkenness’ ensued and I vaguely remember all of us hitch-hiking back up to a very misty Camps Bay in the early hours of the morning]
And then came our last game against Herzlia High, which famously featured Standard 10 pupil and Western Province batting prodigy Terrence Lazard as its star player. Herzlia had this strange rule that Matrics could not play school sports during the second half of their matric year – much to the amusement of the “mature” half of the AHS contingent! Their loss, our gain, as we won a close game. This may have been the match where Jacques Botha, a tall fast bowler, and literal “preacher’s kid” dropped a catch at fine leg – because he did not see the ball, as he was praying at the time!
[MW – If it hadn’t been for the vicious hang-overs we were nursing against Sea Point we would have won all three games. We lost to the weakest team we played!! It would have been nice to have returned to Alberton unbeaten,]
And then it was time to catch the train again to the Old Transvaal and looming prelim exams! The train again made its obligatory stop at De Aar. We all stayed in our compartments…!
and that’s THE END of that story. Thanks again to my long-time accomplice in crime, and now guest-writing buddy ALBIN 🕶 WAGNER
and for the last time back to the album U2 called WAR …
I’ve always loved this album for many reasons, one, of course, being the memory of that trip to Cape Town in 1983. We were all very fortunate to have been on that tour, and WAR was the perfect soundtrack to those seven days. For some reason, it sounded at its best on that cassette of Albin’s in whoever’s boombox. The record also takes me back to a time when U2 wasn’t a global phenomenon yet. They were simply that cool Irish band who had finally figured out where they were going. U2 was still our little secret, but they would soon be doing bigger, and even better things.
Go give WAR a spin. If you’re lucky enough to still have it on cassette, and even luckier to have something to play that on, slot it in, and press play.
How long to sing this song?
Thank you, goodnight, and goodbye …… ☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮
Mark 👓Wilson (February, 2021)