There are two versions of “Holy Joe”, a B-side from 1997’s Discotheque single, and although neither one purports to be the “main” or “original” mix, I tend to think of the “Garage mix” as being the original and the “Guilty mix” as being a remix. Listening to these two versions of the song bear this opinion out, as the “Garage” version is more of a straight-forward rock song with lots of crashing cymbals and guitar, while the “Guilty” version is more electronic sounding, with an artificial or heavily treated drum-beat and less guitar. It is interesting to note that the lyrics to two versions of the song are slightly different as well, so the two versions of the song end up feeling pretty individual. What’s similar is that both versions lay down great grooves that make me want to get up on my dancing feet. Additionally, both versions tell the same story with the words.
I read once online that “Holy Joe” was about a soldier or a group of soldiers. No offense to that reviewer, but I just don’t buy that explanation. It seems to me that “Holy Joe” is about a guy, most likely a rock star (note the reference to “heavy rotation”, a term used to describe a record that’s receiving lots of air-play), who is spoiled rotten by the lifestyle his success affords him. This guy is so used to having everything just how he wants it that he just can’t bear that his lover (or anyone else) might not want to obey his every whim. The chorus’s pleas of “Come on, be good to me” sound like the petulant whining of someone who is used to getting their way in all matters. Further supporting this interpretation of the lyrics is the singer’s contention that “champagne and ice cream” is “Not what (he) want(s)” but “what (he) need(s)”. This might not be totally autobiographical, but I think that Bono recognizes that he could easily become this way if he allowed it to happen.
“Holy Joe” has only ever been played live once, and that was at a promotional occurrence back in 1997, a little more than three weeks in advance of the Pop album. To promote their upcoming album and tour, U2 held an event at a K-Mart retail store in New York, which tied in perfectly with the consumerism theme of the Pop*Mart Tour. U2 opened the affair with a great performance of “Holy Joe” then sat down to answer questions from reporters. For me, at least, this goes down as one of the great attention-garnering spectacles of U2’s career, better even than the concert under the Brooklyn Bridge or the performance on top of the BBC Headquarters in London. “Holy Joe” is a relatively obscure song in U2’s catalog, so I’d be surprised if it ever gets a live airing again, but it’s upbeat enough that the band might just decide to shock us and throw into their set-list one day. Certainly that would be no more surprising than it was for them to play “Your Blue Room” on the 360 Tour.