235. U2, “Gloria”
What hardly at risk of being relegated to the stations on the left end of the dial that stick with songs that praise Jesus, U2 tapped into their shared religious devotion significantly when working on their sophomore album, October. Really, it’s more accurate to describe it as largely shared devotion, since one quarter of the band’s roster wasn’t nearly as sanguine about filling their grooves with spiritually inclined material. Bassist Adam Clayton was reportedly uncomfortable with the new tack the group was taking, holding up “Gloria” as the prime example of the undesirable artistic drift. By some accounts, the dispute was fraught enough that it nearly broke up the band, leading Bono in particular to pull back from those themes in his lyrics, at least in an especially direct fashion. “Gloria,” released as the second single from October, definitely made the religious connection overt. Its chorus is built around Latin language extracted from the hymn “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” largely inspired by an album of Gregorian chants that Paul McGuinness gave to Bono. The U2 lead singer says the song is partially about the difficulty of describing something beyond words, further adding, “It is a love song. In a sense it’s an attempt to write about a woman in a spiritual sense and about God in a sexual sense. But there certainly is a strong sexual pulse in there.” Though it might be reasonably expected that a godly song given such a erotically charged description by its chief creator might be frowned upon by the papal powers that be, Bono speculated, somewhat jokingly, this was the track Pope John Paul II must have heard to trigger his interest in meeting the band, a possibility first broached in 1987. Nothing came of it at the time, but Bono did finally meet the pontiff, in 1999.
In 1981, Ian Hunter had a strong enough professional background to inspire college deejay interest all on his own. Even if his tenure in Mott the Hoople or his previous solo albums didn’t immediately stir attention, surely his place as a vaunted collaborator of David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust years was enough to gain entry to any station’s music library. I suspect, though, that the person listed as co-producer helped immeasurably in earning “Central Park N’ West” airplay from student programmers. The Clash’s London Calling was already viewed as a modern classic, and the band’s 1981 follow-up release, the three LP set Sandinista!, garnered effusive praise. It was that band’s guitarist, Mick Jones, who Hunter invited into the studio to play on a track or two and generally offer some advice on what was being laid down, in part because Hunter was intrigue by the was the young group incorporated reggae influences. It undoubtedly meant the world to Jones, since Mott the Hoople was a band he’d followed on tour years earlier, in much the same way Deadheads stuck to Jerry Garcia like a hazy shadow. If there was any amount of hero worship on Jones’s part, it didn’t put a damper on his sense of creative authority when given an entryway. Jones basically took over production on the album, which officially listed co-producer Mick Ronson later conceded wasn’t that difficult to do, since there was a lack of focus from he and Hunter as they worked through the material. The influence of Jones was so wide-ranging that he even replaced the album’s working title Theatre of the Absurd with the nickname “Haircut,” because Hunter had trimmed his distinctive bushy locks. Hunter transformed that title to the more playful Short Back N’ Sides. In conceding how significantly Jones redirected the record, Hunter said, “Couldn’t argue with him. Very strong personality in the studio, very, very strong. Stronger than me.” “Central Park N’ West,” one of the singles from the album, stemmed directly from Jones’s involvement, as it was one of two of Hunter’s poems (along with “Noises”) that the Clash guitarist suggested be set to music for the record.
For the second straight week, I need to write about a Love and Rockets song that exists in multiple iterations. “Mirror People” is the opening track to Earth, Sun, Moon, the third album by the band, released in 1987. It also closed the album, albeit only on versions released on CD, still a relatively new technology at the time. The take on the song that stands as the album’s final track on those releases was officially billed as the “Slow Version.” Then, when “Mirror People” was chosen as the follow up single to “No New Tale To Tell,” by far the band’s biggest hit to that point, Love and Rockets chose a slightly different version of the song, which was subjected to further tinkering on subsequent compilations, which usually found it billed as “Mirror People ’88.” There are also multiple remix versions that buff it up in yet more different ways. Interestingly, the modifications downplay the very shift in sound that delivered the group’s chart success. As guitarist Daniel Ash explained, Earth, Sun, Moon was an attempt by Love and Rockets to pivot away from expectations. “We did an electric album on Express,” Ash noted. “So then we said, ‘Let’s do a strumming-guitars-in-the-country album.'” That’s precisely the sound of “No New Tale to Tell,” but “Mirror People” skews more to the electric propulsion of Express and even anticipates the buzzy aggression of their self-titled album, which arrived in 1989 and contained the biggest hit the band would ever enjoy.
As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown. The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.