This week we pay a visit to the video for U2’s first bona fide hit, “New Year’s Day,” although it only qualified as a hit in certain parts of the world…not so much in the United States, where I live. Then again, U2 has rarely enjoyed the chart success here that they have in other countries, so the fact that they were slower to achieve stardom here should come as no surprise. At any rate, I think the song’s success was due in no small part to the music video, which showcased the band kind of pseudo-performing the song in the snow in Sweden.
Apparently, it was extremely cold there on the day of the video shoot, as the freezing temperatures seem to be a recurring theme in the recollections of those involved in the making of this video. One can clearly see that the band members are uncomfortable in the cold, but as the saying goes, from great suffering comes great art. Actually, I don’t consider this a great video.
There are elements of it that I enjoy, especially Bono and Edge’s pantomiming–Bono looks particularly messianic as he sings the first verse, looking off into the distance while the white flag waves behind the band–but the sight of Larry with a single drum trying to give the impression that he is making the sounds heard on the record has always appeared a little silly to me, and the whole video suffers from that flaw in the concept. I do like the images of soldiers and cannons firing that are interspersed between the shots of the band playing, I also appreciate the special effect with the piano keyboard…the horses and riders appear on the white keys, while the landscape appears above and below the keyboard, spilling over onto the black keys.
If I had to guess, I would surmise that these elements were director Meiert Avis’ idea and that the video is stronger for his input. I would be remiss if I did not mention at some point that there are actually two edits of this video. The longer one, which seems to be the rarer of the two, includes some footage of the band playing at night around a campfire. I guess it had been a long day because, in this shot, Larry is no longer carrying his drum, but is kneeling in the snow hitting the drum with two sticks instead of the single one he used earlier in the video. In the shorter video, which comes in at around 4:10, about seven seconds shorter, the scenes of the lads playing around the fire have been excised.
Personally, I think that the longer version is superior, but then again I am the type that tends to think that more is always better, especially when it comes to U2. The footage that replaces the campfire scenes, which you might believe to be the band on horseback, is actually four local girls who filmed their parts on the day after the members of U2 filmed theirs. The video for “New Year’s Day” saw heavy rotation on MTV, and, as I stated earlier, I believe that that helped the song to become the hit that it was. Next week, we will discuss the other promo video from the War album, “Two Hearts Beat as One.”