U2 don’t do a huge amount of covers, so usually when they do one, it’s of a song that’s pretty special. “Unchained Melody” and “Paint it Black” come to mind, as those two songs are stone cold classics which U2 made their own. Now, we all know that Bono, especially, is a big John Lennon fan, so it should come as no surprise that at some point the band would cover a Lennon song in-studio (U2 has performed several Beatles/Lennon songs live in concert). That studio song happens to be a song that Lennon wrote while he was still with The Beatles, a song that both Paul McCartney and George Harrison professed to be among their favorites. It’s also a song that I think the original version of which is pure crap. Still, I get why U2 would be interested in it, with lyrics full of double entendres, and a title which ties in with the trash that the band were exploring with the Pop album at the time this cover was recorded. I’m talking, of course, about “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, which was originally released in 1968 as the last song on side A of The Beatles self-titled album, and which U2 released as a B-side on the “Last Night on Earth” singles in 1997.
U2 released two versions of this cover, “The Gun Mix” and “The Danny Saber Mix”. A close look at the liner notes in question will reveal that “The Gun Mix”, produced by Flood, is the original version, and the “Danny Saber Mix” is a remix. Of the two versions, I myself prefer the original, as it contains more guitar from Edge, more organic sounding drums from Larry, a bouncy bass groove from Adam, and accordingly feels more like an actual U2 song, whereas Danny Saber’s version could almost be a Bono solo version, as it includes very few noticeable contributions from the rest of the band. One thing that I noticed right away when listening to U2’s version is that they rearranged the song to make it more accessible. Unlike The Beatles’ version, which jumps all over the place, U2’s version follows a more basic verse-chorus-verse format, and uses the “Mother Superior jumped the gun” section as a bridge.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, U2 has never performed “Happiness is a Warm Gun” live in concert. Although I enjoy their cover of the song, I can’t say that it’s something that I’m dying to hear the band do live, either. When I’m at a U2 show, or listening to one, I want to hear U2 do their own songs, not covers. There are enough actual U2 songs that don’t get played enough to worry about adding covers into the mix. Still, if U2 one day decide to pay homage to the Pop album, or on the next John Lennon related anniversary (such as his birthday or the commemoration of the day of his tragic death), it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if they pulled this rabbit out of their hat.