10 U2 songs that reflect on American culture and politics

Bono wearing an American flag jacket
Outside is America

10 U2 songs that reflect on American culture and politics


U2 are no strangers to having a say on America, its people and its politics. They are fairly big on political activism,.

In fact, making political commentary is almost second nature to Bono, if he's not singing about troubles in Ireland, he's trying to convince someone like George Bush Jnr to reduce the debt owed to America by third world countries. He shares his views because he earnestly cares.

U2 toured America many times early in their career and appear to have fallen under its spell - so it's no surprise really that Bono has chosen to write about what he's seen and heard and learned.

Here's a selection of 10 U2 songs that feature some form of lyrical comment or celebration of the one of the world's most dynamic countries.

Angel of Harlem


A song about singer Billie Holiday, Bono was trying to throw the kitchen sink at this song, referencing all kinds of musical figures related to the city of New York - even a popular radio station was mentioned!

U2 appeared to be trying to 'get into' the blues on Rattle on Hum - this song was a clear step in that musical genre and the dropping in of names from artists that helped shape it were an attempt to give an air of authenticity.

America is after all, the home of the blues.

A less cynical reader might simply see the lyrics of Angel of Harlem as a celebration of the city.

The Saints Are Coming


While not written by U2 or Green Day (it was a cover of The Skids song), The Saints Are Coming is a song both bands recorded together to deliver a blunt political message about the U.S. Government's response to Hurricane Katrina which many felt was negligent and that the Bush administration was "Stuck on Stupid".

The promotional video deliberately played on popular feelings of utter disbelief and dismay at the way the U.S. government had responded to the event.

Stuck on stupid indeed.

Bullet the Blue Sky


Perhaps the archetype political song by U2 (arguably Sunday Bloody Sunday could take that role too) the lyrics describes the unintended consequences of US President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy decisions in South America.

The song lyrics are a overt criticisms of the American policy of "stop communism at all costs".

Such policy lead the Reagan Administration to provide financial and political support to the Salvadoran regime which required them to ignoring that regime's abuse of human rights. 


Is it really any surprise that U2 ended up writing a song about New York?

Bono has stated that the song is a tribute of sorts to both Frank Sinatra and Lou Reed.

The Play Boy Mansion


The Play Boy Mansion is possibly a symbol of all that is wrong and right with America - either way Hugh Hefner is as popular as ever.

The songs lyrics are perhaps a tongue-in-cheek run down of some American icons.

Certainly Bono would not be deliberately suggesting the route to happiness is a visit to Hefner's pad.

Or is he?

Elvis Ate America and Elvis Presley And America


Two for the money here - U2 have often sang about Elvis - and these songs were a celebration of the man and his legacy on music.

The lyrics that 'Elvis would have been a sissy without Johnny Cash' was a great piece of commentary - the use of the word 'nigger' was a brave move.... did Chuck D approve?

Zooropa


Many of the verse lyrics are borrowed from the slogans of American companies and corporations.

These slogans include "Be all that you can be" from the United States Army), "Fly the friendly skies" from airline United Airlines), Colgate's "Ring of confidence (the lyric being "We've got that ring of confidence"), and Fairy's "Mild green Fairy liquid" (the line being "We're mild and green and squeaky clean").

This could be simply viewed some kind of meta commentary on American consumerism (admittedly the song has slogans from other European countries) and perhaps hints at some kind of moral confusion where the morals of a society may be dictated by the corporate dollar spend on advertising.

Pride (In the Name of Love)


Pride has become an international anthem for peace, freedom and human rights.

It's inspiration was civil rights movement in the United States in the 1950s and '60s.

The song is a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. who has become the symbol for equal rights in America for all persons.

U2 also wrote the song MLK about the same subject.

Seconds


While the lyrics are a loose story of a terrorist trying to arm a bomb and perhaps set it off, the context for the song is that it was written by Bono in the 1980s.

This was a period where the Cold War between the USSR and America had reached an all time freezing point in relations (save for the Cuban missile crisis!).

The song evokes the fears that people had that this Cold War could potentially lead to nuclear war and the own kind of cold winter that would bring.

That's just a taste of songs that U2 have used to make a comment on America.

There's almost a duplicity to U2 in this regard - they tour America and revel in it's people and then at the same time they make sharp criticsm of its leaders, their institutions and Coke but take the ticket sales and sponsorship opportunities.

I trust U2 fans are in on it but it might be hard to tell in a country where many people think Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA is a patriotic song.....

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