Glorifying the Past: The U2Songs Team Talks Rattle and Hum
Original Story by Don Morgan (2018-10-10)
Today is Rattle and Hum‘s 30th birthday! The album was released on 10 October, 1988, with the film following on the 27th. Thirty years is a long time, and many of us at U2Songs are waxing nostalgic about this significant era in the band’s history… and also marveling at how old we all feel. Let’s travel back to 1988 together as some of the U2Songs staff shares their thoughts and impressions about one of U2’s biggest (R&H is the third-highest selling album in the band’s history, eclipsed only by The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby) and most controversial releases.
Rattle and Hum came out at a time where, after The Joshua Tree, I had started discovering the rest of their discography. It was also the time I had discovered how to copy songs off vinyl and cassette, and onto mix tapes. I remember making a new U2 mix tape every other week, and taking it with me on my Walkman everywhere I’d go.
I remember hearing about the Lovetown Tour, which I still find impressive, considering there was no Internet at the time. Satellite television however, had started to emerge in Greece. One of those channels once broadcasted that Lovetown special from Sydney. I taped it on VHS, and would play “Hawkmoon 269” and “God Part II” every day, after coming home from school. My first ever U2 t-shirt was also a Lovetown t-shirt that my parents bought me while on holiday in Rhodes.
Then one day, my local video rental store brought the Rattle and Hum film in! Watching that film was when I realised that U2 isn’t just my favourite band, but the biggest band out there, there’s just no way any other band could top the performances on that film.
If you were looking back today, it’d be easy to overlook Rattle and Hum, being in between two huge U2 records and eras, but it was an important era on its own right. For me, it solidified my bond with U2’s music, and the fact that it mixed studio and live songs together in one story/session/experience, completely blew my young mind.
Well, it’s sometimes hard to remember what things were like in the days before the Internet. I think that the first time I heard the name of the new album was when I saw the trailer for the film in a movie theater. I recall thinking how cool it was that they named the album after a lyric from “Bullet.” My first exposure to the music was the “Desire”/“Hallelujah Here She Comes” cassette single. To me, “Desire” picked up right where the band had left off with The Joshua Tree, and HHSC is still one of my favorite b-sides. I drove around with the windows down listening to those two songs over and over again. In 1988, we all sort of lived in our own bubble, and I don’t think I realized until years later that Rattle and Hum had caused any sort of backlash. I love that album from top to bottom, really enjoying the juxtaposition of the new songs with live versions of familiar songs, and has there ever been a better closer than “All I Want is You”?
Like Harry, my first U2 shirt was a Rattle and Hum one – but mine was the front cover of the “Desire” single with Larry Mullen drumming up a storm. It was a birthday present from my mom in 1989.
I lived hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest record store, so I got lucky and was in the city and was able to buy the 12-inch of “Desire.” But that had to hold me out for months, because it wasn’t until late November that I actually got to buy the album (on cassette). I had been able to tape a radio show where many of the songs were premiered, and I wore that cassette down while waiting. So really I got my Rattle and Hum in doses, starting first with the single, then the 7-8 songs that were part of that radio broadcast, and finally the full album. Later in life it was also the first album I ever bought on CD for myself.
I had a U2 scrapbook back when the movie came out. I remember cutting out the movie ad each day for our local cinema, and pasting it in. And when I ran out of room in the scrapbook I started taping them to my wall. I remember many long nights at university where my buddy Don and I would put on Rattle and Hum and just watch it over and over. For a kid in a town that I didn’t figure would ever see a U2 concert, that movie and that record were an amazing way to feel like part of the show.
In the back of the Rattle and Hum book there was a short discography. I started updating it on paper, shoved into the back of the book, and that later formed the backbone of the site that has become U2Songs.com for almost 24 years now. So without Rattle and Hum, who knows what path we may have taken?
As Brad said, it’s tough to remember what life was like in 1988 before the Internet. My first awareness of Rattle and Hum came when I heard “Desire” debut on the radio. I wasn’t impressed at first, it didn’t sound “spiritual” and “Eno” enough for me. Even so, I was a completely devout U2 fan at that point, and the whole era was full of excitement. I was thrilled to see ads for the movie during “Saturday Night Live,” and ended up seeing the film several times in the theater. (I told blogger Jeffrey Overstreet about this a few years ago for the R&H 25th anniversary.)
I bought the album on cassette on release day, and I could have sworn that I bought Simple Minds’ Street Fighting Years on the same day, but Wikipedia tells me that album didn’t come out until May of 89, so my memory is clearly failing. I also dutifully bought all the cassette singles. At the time I was kind of bothered that the Rattle and Hum cassette singles came in cardboard sleeves while all the Joshua Tree cassette singles had come in plastic cases. Even at that tender young age, my collector quirks were showing. I still love the album to this day, and since there are apparently no longer plans to release a deluxe edition or box set, I have created my own deluxe R&H playlist. Thanks to the Fan Club for making that easier by providing downloads of 3-D Dance Mixes!
When Rattle And Hum came out, I was still pretty oblivious to the whole idea of buying music. That was something that my older siblings did, and I just listened to whatever they had or whatever was on the radio. U2 wasn’t foreign in our house. We had a few albums, including Rattle And Hum on CD. I used to play it fairly often. I knew so little about how albums got put together that I didn’t understand why the new album had “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” but not “With or Without You” (shouldn’t a new album have all the good songs from previous albums?). Mostly I remember how much I loved the “All I Want Is You” video. It was easily my favourite song on the album (and still may be) and the video was so uniquely poetic relative to everything else on TV at the time. I remained a very casual fan until 1992, which is when I began my journey of U2 obsessiveness. In 1994 I acquired the four singles from Rattle and Hum and that’s when I truly realized that I loved what U2 had done in that era.