U2101 – Race Against Time & Drunk Chicken

Since nearly the start of 2017, U2 fandom, collectively, has been counting down to the start of the Joshua Tree 2017 Tour. As my part of that countdown, I’ve been focusing each week on tracks that have some connection, however loose, to the album whose thirtieth anniversary is being celebrated this year. Well, the countdown is nearly at an end, as the first show of the tour happens on this coming Friday, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. That timing suits me just fine, for several reasons. First of all, of course, the start of the tour means that “my” show – the one that I get to attend – is all that much nearer, and I can’t freaking wait! Secondly, and more germane to the topic of these weekly articles, I’ve only got two more tracks to cover, and they’re both so minor that I’m not sure that I could fill up a complete article with either one. I’ve decided to combine those last two songs into one U2101 article to start off our final few days of looking forward to the Joshua Tree Tour 2017.


First on my list this week is a song that would have fit comfortably in with Edge’s soundtrack to the 1986 film Captive. If you’ve never heard it, I’ll let you know that the soundtrack in question, is avant-garde (a good word to use, I think, since the film was partially filmed in France)  and a little new age-y and ethereal, with very little of the echo-laden guitar that Edge commonly provides to U2 records. Following on from that, the “Where the Streets Have No Name” B-side “Race Against Time” is experimental, definitely, with some oddly discordant sounds, light piano work, and very few vocals. Somehow, though, and I attribute this to Adam’s bass riff, the song remains grounded in the world of accessible pop music. It’s an interesting little piece that showcases strongly the innovation that Edge enjoys so much.


The second song that I wanted to discuss today was not released until 2007, as part of the deluxe edition of the twentieth anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree. “Drunk Chicken – America” is a collaboration between U2 and beat poet Allen Ginsberg, with the lyrics coming from the latter’s poem titled “America”. “America” was written in 1956 and is, in it’s original form, much longer than what was included in the U2 piece. The poem is all about life in the titular country and is not entirely complimentary, speaking about racism, social inequality, and America’s relationship with the media, among other things. I imagine that that’s at least some of what attracted the band to the piece – remember that a working title for The Joshua Tree was The Two Americas, and Ginsberg’s poem does a good job of contrasting the two sides of the United States. The band also showed their respect for the poet by recruiting Ginsberg to recite the poem for their song. Musically, “Drunk Chicken” is funky and loose and upbeat. There’s a lot of keyboard and a quick, tricky drum rhythm, and the song sounds very much like the late 1980’s, which is probably responsible, in whole or in part, for the fact that it was not released in 1987.


I have intentionally not been following the rehearsals that have been going on over the past week or so in Vancouver, because I want to be surprised by what the band choose to play on tour this time around – in my mind, at least, there’s still a chance that these songs or some other obscure piece of history might get played in 2017. That said, I think that the chances of “Race Against Time” getting performed are pretty slim. I just don’t think that the band will have much interest in performing a piece that mostly leaves out their charismatic, passionate front-man. “Drunk Chicken – America” has a slightly higher chance of being performed on stage, and I can see it serving as an intro or transition between some other songs – with Bono reciting, of course. That would make for an interesting evening, I think, but whatever the band decide to play, I can’t wait. Bring on the shows!

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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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