“Sunday Bloody Sunday” first came together in 1982 while U2 were just starting to work on their third album. Bono was on his honeymoon with his wife Ali Hewson, leaving The Edge to begin working on the music in Ireland. After one particularly miserable day in which Edge got into a fight with his girlfriend and doubted his song writing abilities, he channeled all his anger into a piece of music that would become the song’s main riff. Though both sets of lyrics deal with the troubles in Ireland, Edge’s original lyrics were much more blunt and risky. Starting with the line, “Don’t tell me about the rights of the IRA, UDA,” the track was strongly anti-terrorism. The lyrics were later changed to ensure the safety of the band and their families, as well as to promote a message of tolerance on both sides.
The final version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was the opening track to U2’s third album, War. Kicking off with Larry Mullen, Jr.’s militaristic drumbeat, the song moved away from the echo-laden guitar the band had used on their first two albums. Instead, the guitar notes were icy and had a brittle feel to them. The accompaniment of Irish violinist Steve Wickman helped to connect the track to traditional Irish music. The Bloody Sunday mentioned in the song called back to the 1972 incident in Derry where British soldiers fired on a crowd of protesters, killing 14 of them. Bono directed his anger in the lyrics to the loss of life in general, rather than pointing fingers. With lyrics like, “And the battle’s just begun/There’s many lost, but tell me who has won/Trenches dug within our hearts/And mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart,” Bono conveyed the sadness and anger over such a loss of life.
Like many of U2’s songs, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” has evolved and changed throughout the years it’s been played live. When U2 performed the song on the War Tour, there was some trepidation on how the crowd would react, especially their Irish fans. There were some who saw the song as a glorification of the Troubles and a call for revolution. In order to squash these ideas, Bono introduced the song by saying, “This song is not a rebel song. This song is Sunday Bloody Sunday.” This statement, combined with the white flags that waved behind the band on stage, helped bring forth the song’s non-partisan intention for a peaceful solution.
Part two continued on Tuesday