In 1983, U2 released their first great album — War.
Produced by Steve Lillywhite and boasting songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “40,” and “Two Hearts Beat As One,” the album was a major leap forward for the band, with stronger songs, more polished playing, and greater thematic cohesion. It was their first album to go Gold, first #1 album in the UK, and an album that set the stage for an incredible run of classics that extended through the 1990s.
War was the most political album U2 had produced thus far, with “New Year’s Day” referring to the Solidarity movement in Poland led by Lech Walesa. Coincidentally, Poland lifted martial law on New Year’s Day 1983, the same month the song was released as a single.
Written in Ab with a rapid tempo of 133 bpm, the song subtly radiates optimism. Bono’s lyrics and phrasing drape across its driving beat with a laconic stride all their own, nicely cleaving the pace. Distinctive piano lines leaven the mood, and there is a chilliness to the song, making it resemble New Year’s Day in feel.
It was U2’s first song to chart in the US, and it received heavy airplay on MTV thanks to an ambitious video the band made.
Bono is one of the great rock singers of our time, and the Edge is a strong harmony singer with a particularly haunting quality to his voice. Together, they can be as arresting as any singing duo in rock history.
I’ve featured the live performance from Red Rocks in 1983.
Enjoy, and have a Happy New Year’s Day!