U2101 – Rise Up

This week, we’re back on track after last week’s quick divergence away from our series on Joshua Tree related tracks. Our topic today is one of those songs that didn’t make the cut when The Joshua Tree was initially released, but was included on the twentieth anniversary edition as a bonus track. The song is titled “Rise Up”, and I believe that it would have been a great addition to the second half of U2’s 1987 album.


According to Edge, “Rise Up” was recorded near the beginning of the recording sessions for what would become The Joshua Tree, and he states that the song’s optimism is a result of the time and circumstances it was recorded under. Indeed, “optimistic” is a great word to describe “Rise Up”, as it’s easy to hear a band in high spirits in this song. The drums are strong and spirited, the guitar jangles cheerfully and at the center of it all is a jaunty, bouncy bass part that sounds as if it was equally inspired by Parliament-Funkadelic and The Beatles – Adam’s effort here is as groovy and unpredictable as anything ever laid down by Bootsy Collins, but yet it still retains a masterful pop sensibility that irresistibly induces head bobbing and toe tapping in any listener. Also present in the mix are some background vocals that sound to me like Brian Eno, but very little else that isn’t the band itself – there aren’t any keyboards that I can hear.  A young man that I once introduced to U2 once told me that he liked that they knew “how much was enough”, and I think that “Rise Up” is a perfect example of this.


While most of the lyrics sung by Bono in this song are actual words, I’d still be tempted to call it Bongolese because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. The singer seems concerned about a doorway, and a dark night, but honestly, I don’t think that these words were ever meant to be heard by the general public, much less picked apart as great art. I think that Bono was simply doing his thing, focusing on getting a melody line and a cadence down on tape, and was not concerned about the actual words that were coming out of his mouth. It is interesting to me to note that there are several mentions of “her” or “she”, and a couple instances of the word “love”. It’s clear to me that Bono’s constant muse, Ali, was not far from his thoughts on the day that this song was recorded.


Not surprisingly, “Rise Up” has never been performed live in front of an audience. With the lyrics as they are, I suppose that it’s questionable whether or not the song deserves a precious spot in a U2 set-list – to be honest, there are other rarely- or never-performed songs that I’d rather hear, at least once, but that doesn’t mean that I’d never want to hear “Rise Up” in concert. Maybe Bono and Edge could rewrite the lyrics, a la “Mercy” and give the hardcore fans in the audience a thrill at a concert on the Joshua Tree 2017 Tour.

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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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