U2101 – Shadows and Tall Trees

Last week, I wrote about “An Cat Dubh / Into the Heart” and how this song doesn’t really fit in with much of the other material on Boy, the album that it is from. Another song from that same record that feels separate from the rest of the album is the closer, “Shadows and Tall Trees”.

One difference is obvious – “Shadows and Tall Trees” is much less rockin’ than anything else from Boy. There’s lots of acoustic guitar and Larry’s drums are not as driving or dynamic as they are in the rest of the songs from this album. I also feel that the song is lyrically not up to the same level as the rest of the album that its from. Even though Boy was recorded before any of the band members were legally allowed to buy alcohol in the United States, it’s a surprisingly mature set. One exception to this is “Shadows and Tall Trees”, which feels to me like a teenager trying to sound “deep”. Perhaps this is due to the fact that “Shadows and Tall Trees” is one of the earliest original songs that U2 wrote together. In fact, it was one of the songs played at the very first U2 gig ever, way back in March of 1978, just after they changed their name from “The Hype”. A studio version was cut in a demo session later that same year.


The most advanced lyric in the song, the one piece of writing that actually grabs my guts and moves me – “Do you feel in me anything redeeming? Any worthwhile feeling? Is love like a tightrope, hanging from the ceiling?” – shows the vulnerability and willingness to expose himself that has made Bono such a great writer and singer throughout his career. Here we find the singer questioning his own self worth, and, I believe, his worthiness in the eyes of God. He’s seeking love and acceptance – as we all are, especially in our teens – but not just love of the romantic variety. I think that this might be the first instance of Bono writing an intentionally vague lyric – one that could be interpreted as being directed to an earthly romantic interest, or to a higher power.


“Shadows and Tall Trees” was performed regularly in many of U2’s earliest concerts, but oddly enough it was not performed at all on the tour that supported the album that it was from. In fact, it is the lone song from Boy to not be performed on the Boy Tour. I imagine that the band members saw the same weaknesses in the song that I do, or perhaps it just didn’t fit in with their high-energy live shows of that time. Whatever the case, “Shadows and Tall Trees” hasn’t been performed at all since 1980, just before the Boy Tour began. Maybe some day they’ll revisit the song and give it another airing. It would be kind of neat to hear this rarity given another chance to shine, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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Ever since I realized as a kid, while poring over the liner notes of the Bob Marley - Songs of Freedom boxed set, that writing about music was a viable career choice, one of my greatest desires has been to write about U2. The band has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to contribute a little something to the fantastic online community that's been built around the band.

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