U2's 'Rattle and Hum' Turns 30: Why Critics Had the Live Album/Documentary All Wrong


“This is a track Charles Manson stole from The Beatles. We’re stealing it again.”

Those had been the primary phrases uttered by Bono within the 1988 U2 rockumentary Rattle and Hum earlier than the band ignited a sold-out McNichols Sports Arena in Denver with a rendition of “Helter Skelter” so electrical Manson himself would possibly’ve felt its vibes by the partitions of San Quentin. Thirty years later, Manson is grime within the floor and “Helter Skelter” is 12 minutes lengthy on the 50th anniversary version of The White Album popping out this November. Yet the vital disdain for each the Rattle and Hum movie and its chart-topping soundtrack stays the identical because it ever was. Upon the discharge of the Jimmy Iovine-produced album (Oct. 10) and the movie (Oct. 27), Rattle and Hum was met with largely complacent and downright hostile opinions.

“By nearly any rock & roll fan’s requirements, U2’s Rattle and Hum is an terrible document,” wrote Tom Carson in The Village Voice. “But the chasm between what it thinks it's and the half-baked overweening actuality doesn't sound attributable to pretension a lot as monumental know-nothingness.”

In The New York Times, Jon Pareles accused the band of attempting to “seize each mantle within the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame” earlier than scowling “what comes throughout in track after track is honest egomania.”

“This is a multitude with a mission,” wrote David Fricke in his year-end evaluate of Rattle within the Dec. 15-29, 1988, concern of Rolling Stone. “But a multitude however.”


For a lot of the naysayers, it wasn't a lot the precise music that bought their collective goat because it was the way in which the band portrayed themselves to filmmaker Phil Joanou, who was solely 26 when he directed Rattle and Hum (it was his second function movie behind the 1987 highschool black comedy Three O’Clock High). At its root, it's a extremely stylized live performance movie culled from U2’s blockbuster tour in assist of their breakthrough fifth LP The Joshua Tree -- the album that catapulted Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. into a brand new stratosphere of superstardom. In between performances, nonetheless, had been scenes of the group traversing by American cities essential to the material of rock n’ roll’s historical past.

They went to San Francisco to play the “Save the Yuppies” live performance in Justin Herman Plaza, the place they dazzled the impromptu crowd with a model of “All Along the Watchtower” which served as the right center floor between Bob Dylan's authentic and Jimi's fiery takeover of the track. They visited Harlem, the place they lower a gospel model of their Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with the New Voices of Freedom choir and caught the famend road blues duo Satan and Adam busking on 125th St. They headed right down to Memphis to go to Graceland and lower some songs at Sun Studio, together with “Angel of Harlem” that includes the legendary Memphis Horns and references to Billie Holiday, John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and “Love Rescue Me,” a co-write with Bob Dylan which, together with the Daniel Lanois-produced Oh Mercy, helped many U2 followers get hip with Zimmerman. They additionally recorded “When Love Comes to Town” at Sun, a track that helped many younger U2 followers discover their solution to the catalog of the track’s soulful co-captain B.B. King and such blues classics as Live on the Regal and Indianola, Mississippi Seeds.

These had been the scenes that drew the ire of music critics, who had been unfairly satisfied that U2’s motives got here from someplace aside from sincere admiration and appreciation. But for a 14-year-old in 1988 within the first weeks of his freshman yr of highschool, Rattle and Hum -- each the movie and its soundtrack -- proved to be an eye-opening introduction to music past my slender scope of MTV and rock radio on the time. It was the primary time I ever heard about A Love Supreme or skilled the string preparations of Van Dyke Parks, who together with Benmont Tench on pump organ, supplied the sweep of heartbreak that imbues the album and movie’s closing quantity “All I Want Is You,” nonetheless very a lot thought of U2’s biggest ballad. I by no means actually, actually felt the shimmy of the Bo Diddley beat earlier than I listened to “Desire,” a track that earns the distinct honor of being the primary single to concurrently high the mainstream and trendy rock Billboard charts (and scored the group a Grammy in 1989). “God Part II” gave me a deeper appreciation for the solo work of John Lennon, significantly Plastic Ono Band, whose key observe “God” U2 had been responding to as Bono defends John and Yoko by taking a shot at controversial biographer Albert Goldman with the road -- “I don’t consider in Goldman, his kind like a curse/Instant karma’s gonna get him, if I don’t get him first.” The atmospheric great thing about “Heartland” -- that includes Brian Eno on keyboards -- was an ideal gateway to the extra esoteric moments on The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree, particularly for somebody who went into the Rattle and Hum expertise as one thing of a U2 skeptic. 


It was the power of the reside materials featured each on display and all through the soundtrack that helped make this cynical younger music fan so irritated by these Joshua Tree singles on heavy, heavy pop radio rotation all through 1987-88 a real believer. Largely break up between black and white footage at McNichols and fantastically shot shade celluloid at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, the movie's rousing renditions of “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Bad,” “With Or Without You” and “Bullet the Blue Sky” (the place the venture’s title comes from, in addition to the primary cowl/poster artwork) burst by the encompass sound with extra impassioned power than the studio originals. Elsewhere, there’s merely no touching the reside rendition of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from Madison Square Garden with the aforementioned New Voices of Freedom in tow that quickly remodeled the Mecca of sports activities and leisure into America’s largest Baptist church in probably the most transcendent means attainable.

There are two particular performances from the live performance portion of the movie that will’ve both cemented your devotion to U2 or confirmed your disgust for them. The first one, “Silver and Gold,” is a supercharged model of a track Bono recorded with Keith Richards and Ron Wood on Little Steven’s 1985 Sun City charity album for Artists United Against Apartheid the place Bono goes on a prolonged riff in regards to the troubles of South Africa on the time earlier than asking the gang “Am I bugging you? I didn't imply to bug ya” after which directing The Edge to peel off one in every of his greatest guitar solos of the '80s. And whereas it wasn't included on the soundtrack itself, there isn't a extra pointed or combative model of the War screed “Sunday Bloody Sunday” than the one U2 carried out at McNichols Arena. Evoking the fierce rendition the group delivered at Red Rocks 5 years prior, Bono goes into an impassioned rally towards the Irish Republican Army with a defiant “fuck the revolution!” He continued, “What’s the glory of taking a person from his mattress and gunning him down in entrance of his spouse and his youngsters? Where’s the glory in that? Where's the glory in bombing a Remembrance Day parade of outdated age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day. Where's the glory in that? To go away them dying or crippled for all times or useless underneath the rubble of a revolution that almost all of the folks in my nation don't need" after which main the viewers within the “No More!” chant that outlined the Red Rocks model so resonantly. It’s simply probably the most highly effective second within the film, one made actual sufficient for the band to invoke a moratorium on performing the track in live performance till the second leg of the Zoo TV tour 5 years later.

“They say within the Eighties that rock & roll is useless,” Bono instructed author Steve Pond within the March 9, 1989 concern of Rolling Stone. “I don’t assume it’s useless, but when it’s dying, it’s as a result of teams like us aren't taking sufficient dangers. You know, make a film. Put your self up towards what’s on the market. Robocop and Three Men and a Baby. That’s nice for rock & roll, not only for U2. I believe you’ve bought to dare.”

Thirty years later, it’s time for the skeptics to look past the allegations of bombast, self-importance and idol worship levied at U2 by American music journalists and dare to expertise Rattle and Hum with recent ears – and you could recognize the marvel felt by a 14-year-old freshman who marched straight from the movie show to the document retailer on the opposite facet of the mall to choose up the cassette instantly after seeing it again in 1988.