soundstreamsunday: “The Three Sunrises” by U2

U2_ThreeSunrisesThe principles of exclusion, constraint, and limitation are drivers of art as much as what ends up on the canvas, and more than anything explain how U2’s “The Three Sunrises” did not make the cut of their seminal 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire.  That album, their fourth, changed the band’s trajectory by broadening their palette (thus ultimately guaranteeing their longevity).  Subduing the band’s onward-Christian-soldier martial airs without dulling its passion, producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois — who the previous year had created, along with Roger Eno, one of the great ambient masterworks in Apollo — worked at applying creative filters to make a music that was moody, introspective, less deliberate but also more whole.  The Unforgettable Fire feels more like an album with a sonic narrative than any of its predecessors.  Still, no one, not even Eno, could contain U2’s spirit or strong self-identity, and the recording sessions yielded some work with one foot still grounded in the energetic brightness characterizing their previous catalog.

In 1985, U2 stopped the show at Live Aid with a stunning, impassioned performance of the song “Bad” from The Unforgettable Fire.  In packaging the performance for release — and here it’s important to understand the impact that Live Aid had on popular music at the time, as it was simulcast on radio and TV worldwide — the band put it on the Wide Awake in America EP along with another live track (“A Sort of Homecoming”) and two studio outtakes from The Unforgettable Fire sessions. “Love Comes Tumbling” shares the twilit moodiness of the album it didn’t end up on, but “The Three Sunrises”  is both farewell and greeting, a simple effusion of a youthful love song wrapped in a gleeful guitar riff, its title bearing a suggestion of trinity that so bound the group, especially in its early days, to a strong Christian following.  More than this, or perhaps because of their beliefs and willingness to be moved by the Spirit, U2 was a post-punk band able to express joy like few other “serious” groups of the time, and in “The Three Sunrises” their ability to strike at the heart remained innocently undiminished.

*Above image is a detail of Larry Mullen, Jr., Adam Clayton, and Bono listening to Edge perform the riff to “The Three Sunrises,” from the documentary of the making of The Unforgettable Fire.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

4 thoughts on “soundstreamsunday: “The Three Sunrises” by U2

  1. Thanks so much for this, Craig. I hadn’t listened to this in years–and it comes from my favorite trilogy of the U2 catalog: October, War, and UF. It hadn’t occurred to me until I saw your posting, but now I wonder if the title is reference to Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Given the time when it was written, it seems at least plausible and would explain the otherwise inexplicable “love song” refrain.

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    1. Thanks Brad and Kevin. Until I wrote this I never thought about the “three” but it made sense as I was writing and listening. My understanding of the recording sessions is that while they were groundbreaking they were also somewhat fraught with conflict, with Eno and Lanois frustrated that the band couldn’t get anything actually finished. And the song does play like a sketch rather than a fleshed out song. I heard Bono talking about this approach to songwriting today in fact, on NPR (although he was talking about The Joshua Tree specifically). There’s about 30 seconds of video in the “Making of the Unforgettable Fire” where Edge is playing the riff to the song and Bono and Lanois are doing some odd arm dance thing. Anyhow, it’s always been a favorite of mine. I think I bought the vinyl EP when it came out in ’85, for “Bad,” and I still have it and it still sounds great.

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