Annie (canadanne) wrote in u2,

Song Of The Day

So the World Cup kicked off this afternoon in South Africa. How times have changed (thank goodness)... hard to believe it's only a couple of decades since the end of apartheid, which had led to various sporting and cultural boycotts. It was a theme that inspired the protest song 'Sun City' to which Bono contributed, and while on that subject he also wrote this:

Silver And Gold

The original version, which Bono recorded with half of the Rolling Stones, appeared on the Sun City album in December 1985. I didn't even know about that recording until I bought the Joshua Tree remaster (where it's included on the bonus CD) - I was only familiar with the U2 version from The Best Of 1980-1990, which had been a B-side to 'Where The Streets Have No Name' in August 1987. And the famous live performance from Rattle & Hum, of course. It's always been one of my favourite B-sides (alright, jointly with dozens of others)... I shall explore its origins and general brilliance behind the cut tag!

In the wake of Live Aid, Bono and Ali secretly went to Ethiopia in September 1985, where they spent five or six weeks working at a feeding camp and orphanage in Wello. (This trip made a lasting impact on them both, as we all know!) When they got back home to Ireland, Bono found out his friend Steve Van Zandt (aka Little Steven, formerly of the E Street Band) had been trying to get in touch with him - "there's not many phones where I was". Van Zandt was putting together a project called Artists United Against Apartheid, inviting a host of prominent musicians to collaborate on an album condemning South Africa's apartheid policy. The album and its title song were named 'Sun City' after a huge entertainment complex which aimed to attract major international stars to perform in South Africa, despite a UN embargo. All proceeds from the record would go to The Africa Fund, an anti-apartheid charity supporting political prisoners and South African exiles.

Naturally Bono was keen to join the line-up and flew straight to New York City for recording sessions and a video shoot. "I didn't know which end was up! One moment Addis Ababa, three days later in New York. I didn't sleep for a week, but I was very refreshed and reenergized after spending time away from rock and roll music." He confessed to the NME that his involvement in the project was partly to increase his own awareness, as well as that of their audience: "I'm just like everybody else. I watch the television and read the papers and I don't really know what's going on, especially regarding something like South Africa. I really don't know. I'm as numb and mummified as anyone else. I use my songs as a way to awaken myself. It's like sticking a needle in your leg after it has gone to sleep."

While in NYC, Bono went to a bar with Peter Wolf (singer with The J. Geils Band) and during their conversation, mentioned that he'd love to meet Keith Richards. The Rolling Stones were in town recording the album Dirty Work with Steve Lillywhite, so Peter Wolf called the studio and they dropped in for a visit. The meeting turned into a jam session that went on for hours, with Keith Richards playing the piano while Jagger and Wolf sang some old classics ("the entire Everly Brothers catalogue, Little Richard, and the blues"). Bono wasn't familiar with any of these R&B standards and was unable to join in; he was even more embarrassed when Keith suggested he play them one of "his songs", as he felt he didn't have anything suitable without the presence of his U2 bandmates. They ended up in a room listening to records by the likes of John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, which were also new to Bono. It made him realise "there was something about the blues that I felt close to, a kind of raw power". He says of the recording by Hooker "I was struck by this sound of his boot banging on the floor to keep time, and his voice sounded like razor blades", and "When I started listening to Robert Johnson, it was the words that got through to me. I thought 'I can write these words'."

After humiliating himself in front of his heroes with his musical ignorance, Bono returned to his hotel room and immediately knocked out a couple of songs, inspired by the blues that had made such an impression on him. One tune called 'This I've Got To Stop' was never released, but the other was 'Silver And Gold' - Bono's "desperate attempt to write a song that belonged to a tradition". He wrote it in less than two hours while the sun came up, despite not having slept in days! (I know what that's like, when you can't sleep because your head's full of lyric ideas, and you have to write it all down before you forget...) Early next morning he excitedly called Peter Wolf to tell him about the song, and asked if it was possible to contact Keith Richards and record it with him. Wolf thought it would be good for Keith to be involved in the Sun City project, so he put them in touch and they arranged a collaboration, with Ronnie Wood also on board. Bono says "I brought it to Keith Richards because I knew he would understand it - and he did." They were accompanied on the track by the Rolling Stones' session drummer Steve Jordan, and Robert Palmer (the American writer and musician, not the British singer!) on clarinet.

Hearing this original version for the first time, it's certainly not the energetic rocker that I'm used to, and the "blues" element is a lot easier to hear than when Bono tells Edge to play it in Rattle & Hum. *g* It features a very sparse acoustic arrangement, with foot-stomping and finger-clicking; Ronnie Wood reportedly used Keith's switchblade as a slide! As Bono explained: "It's also the first blues-influenced song that I've written. I play my guitar with my foot miked up, the way that old bluesmen like Robert Johnson do. And I'm banging the sides of my guitar with my knuckles to keep the rhythm. As the song goes on, the tempo keeps getting faster and the mood more and more intense." His vocals are the most striking part, summarised by Carter Alan as "breathy whispers and bluesy hollering", which doesn't cover the half of it. He's all over the place - at times he's trying to sing like Elvis, at other times he sounds like he's having some kind of fit. He slurs his words, he grunts, he screams, he makes noises that are hard to describe. It's not really my cup of tea, although some fans apparently find it sexy! My favourite bit is "You can stop the world from turnin' round - just gotta pay your penny in the pound", with a treated vocal that sounds more like something from the '90s. Little Steven liked the song, which became a last-minute addition to the Sun City compilation (finished just in time as the master tapes were being shipped off to the pressing plant). It was also released separately as a promotional single.

The more familiar U2 version was recorded at Dublin's STS Studios in May 1987, during a break between the US and European legs of the Joshua Tree Tour. It was released that summer as a B-side to 'Streets'. (You can listen here on proper crackly vinyl!!) With the whole band now involved, as Niall Stokes put it "the result is inevitably heavier" - Carter Alan describes how it had been "updated from its smoldering folk-blues treatment into a full-fledged rocker". An article in Musician magazine said: "It's tough and raw, with Bono in husky and confident voice, underpinned by a sinuous bass line, and with Edge demonstrating his newfound prowess in blues-based guitar." Edge himself said that Silver And Gold is "where you'll find some of the rawest rock 'n' roll that you can hear", while Bono explained: "I've listened to Jerry Lee Lewis's 'Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On' a hundred times today. That's sort of what we're interested in at the moment. Silver And Gold is rock and roll - U2 style."

It's an awesome track, isn't it? You can't possibly listen without wanting to tap your foot and sing along. I love the intro with its dark, menacing build-up, and the throb of the bass coming in after "tin can town". Then a moment of calm for the chorus, before the song explodes into life with a great shriek from Bono! The whole thing has a really catchy tune and wonderful impassioned vocals ("Brooooken back to the ceiling!"); I like the way he pronounces certain words, e.g. sharply emphasising the T on the word "collect". Another very cool thing is the kind of rattlesnake sound effect that punctuates the line "Silver and gold", which appears in both of the studio versions but not in the live cut. The instrumental break serves as another "calm before the storm" moment (I like Bono's falsetto Oooohhh's in the Rattle & Hum performance), and then my absolute favourite part would have to be "See them navy blue uniforms / See them bright shiny things, BRIGHT SHINY THIIIIINGS YEAH!" :D  This is followed by a fabulous Bono scream as he begins the line "The temperature is a-risin'!" - in fact that whole last verse is particularly good. The track appears to fade out after the final chorus, but it's a false ending and it comes back in with a furious flurry of drumbeats, just to kick your arse one more time. :)  Overall I like the studio and live versions about equally - both have good bits that the other is missing.

Silver And Gold is described in the official Rattle & Hum book as "a chilling hard-edged song of ropes, guns, shackles and chains, written from the perspective of an unjustly imprisoned South African black". Bono's speech in the movie provides a clear summary of this character's mindset: "It's a song written about a man in a shanty town outside of Johannesburg. A man who's sick of looking down the barrel of white South Africa. A man who is at the point where he is ready to take up arms against his oppressor. A man who has lost faith in the peacemakers of the West, while they argue, and while they fail to support a man like Bishop Tutu and his request for economic sanctions against South Africa." I think the song definitely succeeds in capturing all of that frustration, desperation, dignity in the face of brutal repression, and the sense that things are about to boil over. Bono said elsewhere: "It's set in a prison in South Africa. A guy is just at the point of violence. My heart breaks when I think of the situation in South Africa. The idea that you are less because of the colour of your skin sickens me. It's an angry song written as a result of that." The Rattle & Hum book observes that "There is a side to Irish people which relates to the pain of slavery, racism and oppression", while Bono himself told Propaganda: "I've always been fascinated by borders, by conflict - and I write about it all the time, because out of it comes real human values." says "It's an anti-apartheid song, but the lyrics make a broad political statement about how money seems to be more important than personal freedoms in the eyes of many world leaders." Niall Stokes points out how the song was influenced by Bono's recent stay in Ethiopia: "He had seen first-hand the impact of Western economic policies on the African continent and his sense of outrage is palpable in Silver And Gold".

Bono's use of words in this song is brilliant. Eamon Dunphy agrees, opining: "It was the most lyrically accomplished piece of work he'd ever achieved. Describing the view from a South African prison cell, 'Silver and Gold' shows the distance the lyric writer has travelled since the days of stream-of-consciousness at the studio microphone. Graphic, restrained, yet powerful, 'Silver and Gold' is the work of a maturing writer." There are several hidden literary references, which is pretty impressive considering he wrote it off the top of his head in a hotel room! The line "I am someone" was apparently borrowed from the black civil rights leader Rev Jesse Jackson; I assume this refers to his 1971 poem 'I Am - Somebody', which appeared on Sesame Street to promote cultural tolerance. Bono's lyric about "the Captains and the Kings" is a nod to Brendan Behan - it's the name of a song satirising the English upper class, taken from his play 'The Hostage' which deals with the Irish people's struggle for freedom. (There are several versions up on YouTube - Brendan's own recording, a more exaggerated version by his brother Dominic Behan, and a cover by The Dubliners.) It's actually a second-hand line he's pinching, as Behan himself lifted the phrase "the Captains and the Kings" from Rudyard Kipling's poem 'Recessional' (and "the white man's burden" from his poem of the same name). It's true what they say, every poet is a thief!

In the 1986 edition of Propaganda, Bono said that the most important verse was "These chains no longer bind me, nor the shackles at my feet. Outside are the prisoners, inside the free." It was inspired by Laurens van der Post's 1970 memoir The Night Of The New Moon, about his experiences in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp: "The only way he survived was by seeing the insanity of his captors, and seeing the sanity of love. He saw them as being captive, captive to that insanity, captive to that oppression - [the] possession of hatred. He saw himself, the prisoner, as a free man of love." It appears that Bono writes his songs in no particular order (like me!), as he came up with the last verse first: "The line that started it for me was one about a boxer, the idea of a prize fighter in his corner being egged on by his trainer. It's a sport that I've found increasingly interesting over the past year. I find a lot of aspects of it very sordid, a bit like cock-fighting or something, but the image was very powerful for the song." He also said that 'Silver And Gold' marked the first time he had written a song "which comes from somebody else's point of view. U2 songs are always from my own point of view, but this is a departure into the third person." Sound familiar from various interviews about the writing of No Line On The Horizon?! Funny how these things seem to go in cycles...


In the shithouse a shotgun
Prayin' hands hold me down
If only the hunter was hunted
In this... tin can town
Tin can town

No stars in the black night
Looks like the sky fall down
No sun in the daylight
Looks like it... chained to the ground
Chained to the ground

The warden says, the exit is sold
If you want a way out...
Silver and gold
Silver and gold

Broken back to the ceiling
Broken nose to the floor
I scream at the silence, it's crawlin'
Crawls under the door

There's a rope around my neck, and
There's a trigger in your gun
Jesus! I say somethin'
I am someone
I am someone

Captains and Kings, in the ship's hold
They came to collect...
Silver and gold
Silver and gold

Seen the comin' and the goin'
Seen the Captains and the Kings
See them navy blue uniforms
See them bright shiny things
Bright shiny things, yeah

The temperature is a-risin', mm-hmm
The fever white hot
Mister, I ain't got nothing
But it's more than you got

Chains no longer bind me
Not the shackles at my feet
Outside are the prisoners
Inside the free
Set them free
Set them free

Prize fighter in a corner is told
Hit where it hurts...
For silver and gold
For silver and gold

Sorry I kinda rambled again. "I don't mean to bug ya..." ;p
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