Society Magazine

Songs of '83 Special: "Sunday Bloody Sunday"

Posted on the 21 November 2023 by Russellarbenfox
Songs Special:

Forget Michael Jackson, forget Prince, forget David Bowie, forget Duran Duran, forget The Eurythmics, forget The Police--for many, many, many of my Gen X peers, there is only song of 1983--and only one performance of that song--that can really tell the pop music story of that year. That's this one, right here. It's not part of my memories of that year though, except perhaps retroactively. So, like with Modern English's "I Melt With You," a little off-Billboard charts explanation is necessary.

I grew up in Spokane, Washington--though future NCAA powerhouse Gonzaga University is located there, it's not a college town, and the radio that I listened to growing up was mainstream pop and rock. By 1983, for all the reasons I've laid out in previous posts, the cosmopolitan and technological and stylistic post-punk and post-disco and multi-racial changes that had been building for years in the clubs of UK and in a few select big cities in North America were finally overwhelming institutional resistance (such as on MTV) and getting onto Top 40 American radio--but that still left a huge artistic ferment that wasn't being heard or seen by your average teen-age radio-listener across America. 1983 also was the year that "underground" or "alternative" or "college" radio really began to be a major profit-making market in the U.S., with R.E.M. and Violent Femmes and more all releasing their first albums that year. And then there was U2's breakthrough album War. Their classic song, "Sunday Bloody Sunday," was released in the UK and elsewhere earlier during that same year, but all that was unknown to me.

Songs Special:
I have friends from Spokane around my age who insisted they knew about and were serious fans of U2 and this album, at the same time I was still listening to Thriller and Synchronicity. I grant that they must be telling the truth, but it's hard for me to know exactly how, since there's no way "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was getting much airplay in Spokane in 1983, given that it initially wasn't even released as a single in the U.S. (and War's lead single, "New Years Day," released in the UK and elsewhere in Europe earlier in the year, never even broken the top 50 on the American Billboard charts). But somehow or another, the power of this song--and specifically, the performance of the song which U2 gave at the Red Rocks Ampitheatre near Denver, Colorado on June 5, 1983--could not be contained. That absolutely electric performance--which reflected as well as any other recorded performance of theirs the crazy mix of messy messianic intensity and brilliantly clean sounds which characterized the first stage of U2's fame--was filmed and edited and released to the world, officially, on the concert film U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky in 1984. Unofficially though, on November 21, 1983, 40 years ago today, the band released an 8-track live recording of their 1983 tour, using the same title. And to promote that album, the video from Red Rocks of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was made available (even though the audio of the song synced to that video was actually one recorded in Germany in August of that year). And that video just blew up. I remember seeing it on Friday Night Videos, perhaps sometime late in 1983, but more likely early 1984. Anyway, I had no idea who U2 were, though I think I may have identified them with a band named on some pins that a friend of my older sister (a high school junior at the time--practically a real grown-up!) wore. But that may be just a reconstruction; in all likelihood, I probably just thought I was watching some crazy experimental live recording from some cool but totally marginal indie band. And I guess, in a sense, I was right. It was years before I put it all together with my other pop memories, and realized what I'd missed (or rather, misunderstood).

Oh well. As for the song itself, I don't know when "Sunday Bloody Sunday" finally got airplay on Top 40 radio stations. Maybe it never did! Maybe, instead, it went straight from being a college radio favorite to a classic rock station standard. A strange journey one of U2's most famous songs. But regardless, even though it really doesn't fit into what I remember coming out of my radio during 1983, I had to put it somewhere. So here it is everyone. Enjoy your Thanksgiving, and your own U2 memories; mine are, however retroactive, very good indeed.

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