U2101 – Always

I’ve been on an All That You Can’t Leave Behind kick for the last few weeks, a fact that anyone reading these articles probably already knew. My last few articles have all been about songs that are connected to that album, after all. That trend continues today with what is one of my favorite B-sides ever…almost definitely my first choice for anything that’s backed a single since the turn of the millennium, U2’s “Always.” Some of you are probably wondering why I didn’t just cover this song when I wrote about “Beautiful Day,” since “Always” is clearly an early version of that other song. U2 thought enough of “Always” to release it, and I think that it is different enough (and special enough) to merit its own article.

“Always” contains the same momentous bass line in the chorus that makes “Beautiful Day” as amazing as it is, but really, there isn’t a lot of similarity between the two once we get past that point. Totally different lyrics, completely different melodies, mostly different instrumentation…you get my point. My favorite thing about “Always” is the lyrics, though. Here we find Bono in full sloganeering mode, (which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the song) but in this case, he is doing it as well as he ever has. The one-liners in “Always” are as poignant and effective and even humorous as those found in “The Fly,” which makes this a real high point in Bono’s career as a lyricist, if you ask me. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is in this song, in the line “be uncool, yes, be awkward.” Some of us, especially me in 2000, when this song was released, can be overcome with the desire to be hip and cool and forget to let our true feelings shine. I lost sight of who I really was in my attempts to fit in.  This song reminded me then, and does so still now, that there are so many more important things in life, and honesty, with myself and with others, is one of them. Another key point in the lyric to “Always” is Bono’s admonishment to some people to “Get down off [their] holy cloud.” If people who think themselves holy or above the rest of us would remember this advice, the world might be a much easier place to live in. I also love that Bono includes one piece of advice that is essential to the U2 experience, in “dream out loud,” and even a little piece of humor when the singer tells his listeners to “always wear a safety belt.”

“Always” has never been performed live, and that’s no real surprise. I think it would be fantastic if U2 would perform a medley of “Always” and “Beautiful Day,” but I don’t think that’s likely to happen either. The best I’m likely to get is a snippet of “Always” at the end of “Beautiful Day,” but if it was an extended snippet, that might satisfy me. It is a little surprising that this hasn’t happened already, with all of the snippets that have been included in live performances of “Beautiful Day,” now that I think about it, but, then again, the band obviously isn’t asking my advice on what they play on a nightly basis. Let me know what songs you wish they’d play, and how and where you’d work it into the set-list if it were up to you.

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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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