U2101 – Silver and Gold

Today, I’m continuing my series of articles of songs from The Joshua Tree. The choice of song for this article is one that was initially written and recorded in 1985, a couple of years before The Joshua Tree was released in 1987, but a re-recorded version of “Silver and Gold” was released as a B-side to “Where the Streets Have No Name” and a similar arrangement was played at a handful of gigs on the original Joshua Tree Tour.

The original version of “Silver and Gold” was written solely by Bono and was performed by U2’s lead singer with some instrumentation from Keith Richards and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones. The song was written after a jam session with some of the artists involved in the anti-Apartheid compilation album Sun City, and was recorded for last-minute inclusion on that same album. The story goes that Bono was embarrassed to be unable to perform any of his own songs without the rest of U2 and so was inspired to write a solo composition. The original version of the song is extremely raw, with lots of gritty guitar, both acoustic and electric varieties, and wild articulation from Bono. The only percussion sounds like it was produced by one of the guitarists beating their hand against the body of the guitar, producing an unembellished sound that is reminiscent of early blues recordings, or even some forms of bluegrass. With a nod to those same blues stylings, the latter version, which was recorded by U2 as a solo unit, fits snugly into the genre of blues-rock. Adam’s simple, steadfast bass line anchors the proceedings, while Edge and Larry provide music that is straightforward and unadorned with effects or gimmickry. In the live version of U2’s arrangement that was included on Rattle and Hum, Bono famously ends one of his characteristic rants with the words “OK, Edge – play the blues!” after which Edge launches into a screaming guitar solo that is decidedly un-bluesy but no less great for that fact.

I actually believe that this song has a better chance than many other equally obscure songs of making an appearance on the Joshua Tree 2017 Tour. It’s subject matter is definitely relevant in today’s America, where a man has been elected president whose first and greatest priority is to fatten his own bank accounts and the accounts of his fellow billionaire businessmen. “Silver and Gold” is all about being poor and living in a world that is controlled by men with such pecuniary concerns. At the time of the song’s writing, the concerned parties lived mostly in South Africa and were held down by Apartheid, that country’s racist regime. Today, it could just as easily be refugees or poor immigrants who came to America to escape poverty and warfare and are under attack from Trump’s uncaring policies. I believe that U2 might be aware of this song’s pertinence and choose to resurrect it, and if they do it’s a song that I’ll look forward to hearing. U2 are, among many other things, a political band, and in the past they’ve never been ashamed of standing up for what they believe in. I don’t expect this tour to be any different.

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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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