In 1988, U2 released their fifth studio album, Rattle & Hum. The record was a critical and commercial success, reaching the top of the charts in several countries and selling over 14 million copies worldwide.
Rattle & Hum saw the band exploring new musical territory, with influences ranging from blues and gospel to rockabilly and country. The album also featured some of their most political material to date, with impassioned live versions of songs like “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” tackling racism and violence head-on.
For many fans, Rattle & Hum is seen as one of U2’s best albums – a timeless collection of songs that perfectly captures the band at the height of their powers. This movie was my first true immersion into U2, the beginning of a lifelong affection for the bands and their albums.
In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the stories behind this classic record. But not before we mention da movie.
The Rattle & Hum Movie
“They’re making a movie, we’re playing a Rock n Roll concert.” Released in 1988, this [mostly] black & white documented the band’s journey across America, playing huge gigs and soaking up some of the cornerstones of American Music – recording at Sun Studios, performing with Blues legend BB King and a private tour of Graceland.
It ranks in the top 70 (at number 70!) of the greatest music documentaries of all time, according to Rolling Stone. The movie had a limited box office release, generating around $8 million at the global box office but it remains a treasured possession in my DVD collection!
Into the Locust Wind comes a Rattle & Hum
Rattle & Hum was the tour of ‘The Joshua Tree’ – a landmark album that cemented the Dublin band’s Rock God status. Released in 1987, The Joshua Tree quickly became U2’s most successful album to date. It spent over 200 weeks on the Billboard charts and spawned several hit singles, including “With or Without You”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, and “Where the Streets Have No Name”. The album went on to win multiple awards, including Grammies for Record of the Year and Album of the Year.
Documenting the 1987 US leg of the tour, Rattle & Hum set out to document life on the road and to share the band’s passion for American Roots music, Americana and generally – America!
In the Rolling Stone review, writer Anthony Decurtis said, “RATTLE AND HUM is an expression of U2’s urge to have it both ways. A sprawling double album that incorporates live tracks, cover versions, collaborations, snippets of other people’s music and a passage from a taped interview, the record is an obvious effort to clear the conceptual decks and lower expectations following the multiplatinum success of The Joshua Tree.”
Outside it’s America!
Rattle & Hum mixed new songs, recorded on, and inspired by the road. Heartland (my favourite track) sings of an exotic land far beyond my suburban home. “Mississippi and the cotton wool heat,Sixty-six, a highway speaks, Of deserts dry, Of cool green valleys, Gold and silver veins, Of the shining cities”
For many critics, Rattle & Hum came across as bombastic and arrogant, as if the band wanted to place themselves on the same pedestal as American greats like BB King or Elvis. For me it was anything but. Watching this at home on a VHS cassette, it was my ticket to new music, new locations. I learnt the name of BB King many years before Spotify (and before Nobody’s Home featured on a Levi’s Ad.)
The album still gives me cues for musical and movie connections. With Rattle & Hum, U2 sought to explore their passion for American music by collaborating with Parks on a sweeping orchestral arrangement for the final track on the album. The accompanying video (which was left off the movie for some reason) pays homage to The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)- a classic movie about the highs and lows of a travelling circus.
Thumb a Lift there Edge!
Rattle & Hum took me to new locations, places I still want to visit today. I still want to visit Graceland, now because I know the story of Elvis, but then because U2 went there. I want to sit by the Mississippi and see if the Edge will thumb a lift!
And most of all, I would love to see U2 perform at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. For an impressionable teenager, just the stadium sounded exotic and I will still want to go!
Too big to like?
The success of the Joshua Tree, and release of Rattle & Hum became for many, I believe, the perfect excuse to dislike the band. Despite coming down to earth with Achtung Baby, the band remain a focus for disdain, whether it is for their free album release or their tax affairs – which overlooks a strong canon of work that stands the test of time.