Top 20 Political Songs: Sunday Bloody Sunday | U2 | 1983

"Don't talk to me about the rights of the IRA, UDA"

On U2's 1983 live album Under a Blood Red Sky, Bono proclaims to the Boston crowd at the beginning of track five:

There's been a lot of talk about this next song. Maybe too much talk. This song is not a rebel song. This song is "Sunday Bloody Sunday"

From a band that defined stadium rock for the indie generation, this song was meant to be heard live. A staple of the U2 set list, its subject matter is the Bloody Sunday tragedy in Londonderry on 30 January 1972, during which 27 protesters were shot by the British Army Parachute Regiment. Lord Saville's inquiry report into the events is still to be published, and is subject to fresh delays until after the general election.

Built around a simple and memorable descending guitar riff, the lyric of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" stays the right side of the balance between sentimentality and earnestness. Its melodic and instrumental repetition is relentless, and Bono handles the vocal with the same emotion that made The Joshua Tree album a masterpiece.

Early versions of the song opened with the line "Don't talk me about the rights of the IRA, UDA". However, the band's revision ensured a less aggressive tone, built around the question "How long must we sing this song?". Biblical allusions and corporate suffering lead to appeals for unity: "Tonight we can be as one".

The first track on 1983's War, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" epitomised U2's turn towards greater political involvement -- even if the band would try to deflect literal readings of the album title or a limiting political stance. In the middle of the 1980s, invoking John Lennon's criticism of inoffensive "wallpaper music" lining the charts, Bono staked a claim for music that meant "more":

Music can be more. Its possibilities are great. Music has changed me. It has the ability to change a generation. Look at what happened with Vietnam. Music changed a whole generation's attitude towards war.

Next: The Internationale.

Previous: La Marseillaise.

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