40 Years of Under A Blood Red Sky

Original Story by Aaron J Sams (2023-11-21)

Recently I was able to speak about this story, and others on U2 X-Radio, on SiriusXM as part of their “Stories” program hosted by Tassoula Kokkoris, which is available on demand now. The program is currently in production and accepting submissions.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Under A Blood Red Sky, U2’s 1983 album compiled from live tracks from three different concerts. It is also the first time I can remember hearing U2. At ten years old, I was just starting to get into music, and had bought a couple of albums on cassette. I was over at a friend’s house one day, when his sister came home with a new album. Under A Blood Red Sky was put on the shared stereo system.

“Sunday Bloody Sunday” from Denver 1983 (not included on the album)

I don’t remember most of the songs. We were in and out and doing other things. But I do remember one. “40” came up at the end of the album. And hearing the crowd sing the “how long” hooked me. I’d never heard a live album. And I’d never heard a crowd sing like that. It not only caused me to become a U2 fan over the years, but also a bit of a live concert addict. I borrowed the album that day, and I never took it back.

Bono shared in 2015 that it was Dennis Sheehan who stirred up the crowd to sing “40” that night and on many others. “And whatever happened that night, nobody was singing the refrain. So we were backstage trying to figure out what the hell was going on and trying to make it happen. We just heard this lone voice, this single voice, singing ‘How long to sing this song’ – a light voice, beautiful tremolo. It was the voice of Dennis Sheehan, trying to get everyone to sing, which they did.” When performing the song since Sheehan’s passing, the song is often dedicated to him. Thank you Dennis for creating that moment which drew me in.

Becoming a fan certainly wasn’t instant. I peeled back the layers over time. Live Aid was just around the corner, and I started collecting around the time of The Joshua Tree finding out there were unreleased songs on the B-Sides. Rattle and Hum saw me starting to keep notes that would turn into the discography and so on. But that journey started with Under A Blood Red Sky.

Many years later, I was given an opportunity to let U2’s team know what I wanted to hear at the final show of the U2360 tour. Only one song came to mind. “40” was the first choice out of my mouth. And while I’ll never know if that did influence the band that night, I was happy to be in the audience that night to hear it played. And walked back to the hotel with friends singing the “How long” refrain the whole way with hundreds of others.

U2 performs “40” in Moncton NB

Eight songs live on the album. Only two (“Gloria” and “Party Girl”) are taken from the concert that made up the video of the same name. One is song taken from earlier show in Boston (“11 O’Clock Tick Tock”) and the remaining five songs are taken from a August show in St. Goarshausen, Germany). It’s a great look back at the era, and is one of the albums that still gets a lot of play in my collection.

On Friday, a new version of the album is being released on red vinyl, with a slightly different cover, and a new remastering job. The album will be limited to 7000-copies in the USA, and will have a total print run of 17,000 copies worldwide. Will be heading out looking for a copy, 40 years after buying the original. And today, I’ll be pulling out that original version to listen today.

A few links to the various releases over the years, including the newest:

The clip on “Stories” where Aaron talks about this album is currently available on Demand for subscribers to that service. More information on the show is available at U2.com, including submission information.

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