As a fan, I always get excited when U2 releases a new single between albums. It’s as if the band is telling us, “this song is so amazing, burning with such intensity and modernity and relevance that we can’t even wait for the next album. We have to put this out NOW.” I felt that way when “Ordinary Love” was released, and I imagine that if I had been old enough to appreciate it, I would have felt the same way when “A Celebration” came out in 1982. A lot of critics, U2 fans included, kind of knock “A Celebration” around a bit, and I’ve never really understood why. I think that it is a fine song and a good middle-ground between the post-punk of October and the more straightforward rock of War. Indeed, the urgent guitar riff reminds me a bit of “I Will Follow,” in the sense that it seems eternal, as if it has always existed, yet very much of the moment at the same time. Whenever I hear “A Celebration, it makes me want to run or move or drive too fast for my own good. It is one of those songs that has that important sense of propulsion and momentum, like a rocket in flight. The chant of “Shake! Shake! Shake!” serves as a nice precursor to “Salome,” which would be released nearly a decade later, but it also serves notice that this isn’t just music with a message, it is also dance music, fun music, music to make the listener smile and think all at the same time.
Now that I write that above sentence, it occurs to me that “A Celebration” was a kind of tentative first step toward making the kind of music that matters that populated the War album. I once read a review, I don’t remember where, that stated that the lyrics “I believe in the powers that be, but they won’t overpower me,” was juvenile and silly, and maybe the line is a bit predictable, but I still like it. I think that it is a great rock n roll line, full of rebellion, giving a middle finger to the establishment. That’s what youth is all about, and “A Celebration” is a perfect example of a band growing out of its youth and into maturity. Maybe that’s why people have a hard time with the song…it is neither mature nor immature, neither punk nor rock, neither one thing nor the other, but a little bit of all of the above. I think that just adds nuance to the song, but maybe I’m in the minority.
“A Celebration” was played sporadically throughout the tours for both the October and War albums, but never since then. Every week, you read about me wishing that U2 would revive one of their old songs, but I really think that this is the one. If you held me down and made me choose one old song that hasn’t been played in a long long time that I think that the band should play again, I’d probably choose “A Celebration.” Now, I KNOW that I’m in the minority here, but I think that “A Celebration” would be great fun to hear performed once again. It would definitely be unexpected, and I think that it would be appreciated by both types of audience members — diehards and casual fans. If any member of U2 ever reads this, please take my suggestion to heart and bring back “A Celebration.” it is just enough of two worlds to be the perfect song for modern audiences.