U2101 – Stranger in a Strange Land

I’m actually surprised that I haven’t already written about “Stranger in a Strange Land” before, as I like it quite a bit. It might be my favorite song on October…that’s hard to say, really, as a lot of that kind of thing depends on my current mood, but I am quite fond of this song. Bono’s wail near the beginning of the song is as good, in my opinion, as those at the beginning of “New Year’s Day” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” I also like the kind of raw and rocking beginning that segues via that wail into a more somber and thoughtful mood with a great echoey guitar, Adam’s deep bass, and some sparse percussion. I also enjoy the plaintive melody of the verses and the bridges, especially when Bono drops his voice to a lower register than he regularly used at the time, and the heartbreaking call of loneliness, “I wish you were here.”

“Stranger in a Strange Land” describes how Bono felt while the band was on tour backing the album Boy during the last part of 1980 and the first half of the following year. It was their first time visiting the majority of the places they went to during that trek, and I imagine that the boys were quite homesick. “Stranger in a Strange Land,” tells a tale of a specific encounter with a border guard during the band’s travels between East and West Germany. Even then, Bono was interested in meeting people and having new experiences everywhere he went, a personality trait that would serve him well decades later in his philanthropic work. The song tells the listener about how the members of U2 interacted with this border guard, who I imagine was young, maybe about the same age as the guys in the band. I can imagine Bono asking the guard all about his life, listening with empathy, relating to his new friend. I wonder whatever happened to the guard discussed in this song, and if he remembers his encounter with young U2.

“Stranger in a Strange Land,” with the exception of one night in 1984 when the song was snippeted in “Electric Co.,” has never been performed live. As much as I like the song, I can understand why. The verses are kind of slow and meandering, and I get that the song would not be one that would set the crowd ablaze. It is a relatively obscure album track from the band’s least popular studio record, and not very well known outside of the hardcore fan community. To be honest, “Stranger in a Strange Land” is a song that I have never heard anyone talk about in the forums or anyplace else, so I have no idea whether the song is even popular with fans or not. It seems to fall into limbo, neither loathed or loved, except by me. I think that “Stranger in a Strange Land” probably contains one of the best lyrics from either of U2’s first two records, and it is a great glimpse into what touring must have been like for the lads in the band. It is relatable, which is about the highest compliment that I can pay any piece of writing. Let me know in the comments section below what you think about “Stranger in a Strange Land.”

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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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