Analysis of Sunday Bloody Sunday 1983 U2’s album War

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“Sunday Bloody Sunday” (1983) is most easily identified by its bellicose drumbeat, sharp guitar, and melodic harmonies, which is why it is no surprise it’s the debut song on U2’s album War. The song is a response to the Troubles, which was an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland during the late 20th century. The lyrics focus on the Bloody Sunday incident in Derry where British troops shot and killed unarmed civil rights protesters, bystanders and children on January 30, 1972 (Sams). “Broken bottles under children’s feet, bodies strewn across the dead end street” are somber, yet powerful words commenting on the negatives of war in a more generalized form. Furthermore, the line “there’s many lost, but tell me who has won” denies that hate and revenge are the correct answer to these atrocities.

There are no direct events mentioned in the song, but instead it takes the viewpoint that every teenager felt during this time of constant violence. This is most notable and immediately present in the opening line, “I can’t believe the news today.” Furthermore, lead singer Bono once commented that ‘love is…a central theme’ of the song (Lozaw). When discussing violent events in Ireland’s history, it is easy to assume that the song has political meaning and is sectarian, nonetheless, this is not true. During some live performances, Bono would open the song by saying “this song is not a rebel song” in order to enforce the song had nothing to do with government (Youtube).

Opening with a fierce electric violin part and a snare drum style that resembles a beat that would keep soldiers in formation, U2 wanted to pay homage to the troopers in Ireland, as well as everywhere else. As the song progresses, the guitar becomes more brutal. It is impossible to listen to the song in its entirety and not start to feel emotional towards the horrors of war. The sense of increasing tempo aids in making the song seem inspirational in its efforts. The song has a relatively low BPM of 101 (BPM); however, the continuous rhythm of the drum helps keep the high pace. In contrast to the intense nature of the verses, the refrain sung by Bono, “How long? How long must we sing this song?”, is toned down by the emergence of major chords, thus creating a sense of hope that there is a chance everything will be okay in the end.

“Sunday Bloody Sunday” is the epitome of what U2 stood for as a band. The vision in their heads convinced them, through hard work, ingenuity, and imagination, that a rock band could be a force for change; “it might be more than just fun, it could be a family, and whatever notes they played could take a sad world and make it better” (Neufield). I can say, personally, after listening to this hit song as well as many others by U2, that I feel inspired to help rid the world of unnecessary violence and war.

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