|First posted 3/23/2008; updated 10/4/2020.|
Rattle and Hum
Released: October 11, 1988
Peak: 16 US, 11 UK, 113 CN, 15 AU
Sales (in millions): 5.0 US, 1.2 UK, 14.6 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: mainstream rock
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Songs written by U2 unless indicated otherwise.
Total Running Time: 72:27
3.820 out of 5.00 (average of 17 ratings)
About the Album:
Faced with the task of following-up the mega-successful Joshua Tree, U2 made a feature-film documentary and an accompanying soundtrack instead of a conventional studio album. The move wasn’t without precedent. U2 followed their 1983 War album with the live Under a Blood Red Sky and 1984’s Unforgettable Fire with the Wide Awake in America EP which mixed a few B-sides with a couple of live cuts.
The movie was considered a flop, but the soundtrack was a worldwide #1 hit, selling more than 14 million copies The Rattle and Hum album, a mix of new studio cuts as well as live material, “is all over the place. The live cuts lack the revelatory power of Under a Blood Red Sky and are undercut by heavy-handed performances and Bono's embarrassing stage patter.” STE He prefaces “a leaden cover of Helter Skelter with ‘This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles, and now we're stealing it back.’” STE There’s also his laughable “exhortation ‘OK, Edge, play the blues!’ on the worthy, decidedly unbluesy Silver and Gold.” STE
“U2 sound paralyzed by their new status as ‘rock's most important band.’ They react by attempting to boost their classic rock credibility.” STE The live cuts attempt to be an musical history lesson. In addition to tackling the Beatles and claiming to play the blues, the band covers Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower and infuses Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For with a gospel vibe.
By mixing the live material with new studio songs, the album comes across as “the least-focused record U2 ever made.” STE One senses the group couldn’t commit to a live album or a studio album so they comprised and tried to do both.
The studio cuts carry over the general theme of paying tribute to the music that came before, specifically American roots rock. “Desire has an intoxicating Bo Diddley beat.” STE It was released as the first single and became U2’s first #1 hit in the UK.
Angel of Harlem is a punchy, sunny Stax-soul” STE “horn-filled tribute to Billie Holiday.” WK “When Loves Come to Town is an endearingly awkward blues duet with B.B. King.” STE “The Dylan collaboration Love Rescue Me is an overlooked minor bluesy gem.” STE Bono and Dylan met in Los Angeles and wrote a song called “Prisoner of Love” which evolved into “Love Rescue Me.” On the original recording, Dylan takes lead vocals which Bono called “astonishing,” WK but Dylan asked U2 not to use it because of his commitment at the time to the Traveling Wilburys. WK
All three of those songs were recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, at the famed Sun Studios where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison recorded. Those same sessions produced a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Jesus Christ,” which appeared on the Folkways compilation, and “She’s a Mystery to Me,” which Orbison recorded for his final studio album. WK
U2 also create an answer to John Lennon’s “God” with “the bass-heavy” WK God, Part 2. In addition, they offer up “a couple of affecting laments — the cascading All I Want Is You and Heartland.” STE The band started writing the latter during sessions for The Unforgettable Fire in 1984 and worked on it again during sessions for The Joshua Tree. WK
Hawkmoon 269 was, according to Bono, written partly as a tribute to Sam Shepard, an American playwright and actor who’d written a book called Hawk Moon. He said they mixed the song 269 times, a comment assumed to be a joke for years but confirmed by the Edge, who said they spent three weeks mixing the song. WK He did, however, contradict Bono about the song’s subject matter, saying it is a place in Rapid City, South Dakota. WK
In the end, a studio-only album would have been more unified and could have stood on its own with just the nine cuts released on Rattle and Hum. However, it could have been fleshed out with the aforementioned “Jesus Christ” and “She’s a Mystery to Me,” as well as “A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hallelujah Here She Comes,” as well as covers of “Dancing Barefoot,” “Unchained Melody,” and “Everlasting Love,” all of which were released as B-sides.
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