"Gangs of New York" - Various Artists
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- "The Hands that Built America" (Soundtrack Version) - U2 (04:35)
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- The Hands that Built America (Soundtrack Mix) – U2 (4:35)
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In October 2001, it was first announced that U2 was busy working and writing the theme for the movie “Gangs of New York” which was being pushed for a release prior to December 31 of 2001. The Edge remembers the reply when they were asked by director Martin Scorsese for a song: “We’re huge fans of Scorsese, so we said yeah pretty much immediately.” At that time the song was still being referred to by another title, “A Man’s a Man”. At the same time they were working on “Electrical Storm” and some early ideas for the next album, including “One Step Closer to Knowing” and “You Can’t Give Your Heart Away”. The movie did not make the end of 2001 date, and was initially pushed back to July of 2002, and then further pushed back to December of 2002. In late 2001 U2 were able to view a rough cut of the movie, and the Edge describes the formation of the song: “We saw a rough assembly of the movie near the end of last year and started work pretty much immediately on a few ideas, and one of them turned into ‘The Hands That Built America’.” Shortly after the Elevation tour ended in December 2001, U2 entered a studio in Monaco and expanded on the earlier ideas, coming up with the piano theme of “The Hands That Built America”, as the song for the soundtrack was now known.
The Edge further describes working on the song for the movie: “It’s fun working on music for movies because it gives you a sort of emotional brief that you need to follow, but it’s also very freeing. You can really experiment a lot, and we had a lot of fun writing ‘The Hands That Built America’ and working on it for the film. It feels like a U2 song, but from a different century.”
In May of 2002, the song “The Hands That Built America” was first played for a public audience, at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival to promote the film. The attendees saw a simulcast of the performance of the song while the band was filmed in Ireland performing by Maurice Linnane. Due to the continued changes in the schedule of release for the movie, although the song was expressly written for the “Gangs of New York” film, the song actually was first debuted on “The Best of 1990-2000” compilation album that U2 released in November 2002. The film soundtrack followed a month later in December, with a slightly different version of the song.
The soundtrack version of the song is a more traditional arrangement of the song than that which featured on “The Best of 1990-2000”. The soundtrack version adds both violin and tin whistle by two of the Corrs sisters, as well as other stringed instruments. The song was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture. While the song won the Golden Globe award, it lost out on the Academy Award to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”. Promotional releases of the song were sent out to the voters of the Awards marked “for your consideration”.
In the movie itself, Bono can be heard singing another song, titled “Báidín Fheidhlimí”. It is a Gaelic song and features only briefly in the movie and was not included on the soundtrack album. Bono had the following to say about the added song, “I sing actually in the middle of the picture, though you’d never know. There’s a street scene, and I sing an ancient Gaelic melody — he wanted me to do it so [that] when my voice came up at the end of the film, it wasn’t strange. The Oscar nomination is a big deal for us.” The Gaelic title translates to “Feilim’s Little Boat”
The movie’s soundtrack was released to correspond to the release of the movie itself, which opened in December 2002 in North America, and January 2003 in Europe. The soundtrack was released on December 10, 2002 in North America, and January 6, 2003 in Europe and the UK. Bono and the Edge performed “The Hands That Built America” at the Dublin premiere of the film.
The Hands that Built America (Theme from Gangs of New York): Written and performed by U2. Featuring Sharon Corr, Violin and Andrea Corr, Tin Whistle. Produced by the Edge. Engineered and mixed by Carl Glanville. Assisted by Chris Heaney. Live strings conducted by Daragh O’Toole. Violins by Katie O’Connor and Una O’Kane. Viola by Rosie Nic Athlaioch. Cello by Emer O’Grady.