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Songs / Lyrics FAQ

  1. What is the meaning behind the title "An Cat Dubh"?
  2. What does "In Te Domine" mean in the song "Gloria"?
  3. Why did they call the song "40"?
  4. What's being said in the middle of the song "Seconds" when the band stops playing?
  5. Why does Bono sing 'Early morning, April Four' in "Pride", when MLK was shot in the early evening?
  6. What's the deal with the song "Elvis Presley & America"?
  7. When and where were the live versions of "Bad" and "A Sort of Homecoming" on Wide Awake in America recorded?
  8. What are the "seven towers" in "Running to Stand Still"?
  9. Why haven't I seen the video for "Red Hill Mining Town"?
  10. Who are Greg Carroll and Jara in "One Tree Hill"? Is there an actual place called "One Tree Hill"?
  11. Who are the "Mothers of the Disappeared"?
  12. What does "Hawkmoon 269" mean?
  13. In "Angel of Harlem," what is "BLS"?
  14. What does Bono sing in "Love Rescue Me" at the 3:55 mark, right after the "sha-la-la"s?
  15. Who is Goldman in "God Part II"?
  16. Who dies at the end of the "All I Want Is You" video?
  17. What does "Vorsprung durch Technik" mean in "Zooropa"?
  18. What's the English translation of Pavarotti's lines in "Miss Sarajevo"?
  19. What's the story with the "stuck together with God's glue" lyric in "Staring at the Sun"?
  20. What's Bono singing/mumbling at the beginning of "Last Night On Earth"?
  21. I heard Mick Jagger helped sing backing vocals on All That You Can't Leave Behind. Which song?
  22. Who is Aung San Suu Kyi and why is "Walk On" dedicated to him/her?
  23. Who are the people listed in "Peace On Earth"?
  24. What's the "Alphaville" mentioned in "New York"?
  25. Do Adam and Larry ever sing on any U2 songs?
  26. Has U2 ever allowed any of their songs to be used in TV commercials?
  27. Who sings the opera-like backing vocal on "The Hands That Built America"?
  28. What's the name of the Gaelic song Bono sings in the film The Gangs of New York?

1. What is the meaning behind the title "An Cat Dubh"?

It's Gaelic for "The Black Cat." Sort of makes sense if you listen to the words, I think. [AL]

2. What does "In Te Domine" mean in the song "Gloria"?

It is a Latin phrase meaning "In You, Lord". In = In, Te = You, Domine = Lord. Also of note is that "Gloria", the title of the song, is the Latin word for "Glory". [AC]

In Latin, the beginning of Psalm 31 is "In te Domine speravi..." "In you, O Lord; I take refuge." As for the other Latin bits in "Gloria," "exultate" and "miserere" -- these are the beginnings of Psalms 33 and 51, respectively: "Exultate iusti in Domino..." "Exult, you just, in the Lord." And "Miserere mei Deus..." is "Have mercy on me, O God..." [AP]

3. Why did they call the song "40"?

Bono had this to say at the Chicago show on April 29, 1987:

"This is a song that when we were being thrown out of the studio... we spent ten minutes writing this next song, ten minutes recording it, ten minutes mixing it, ten minutes playing it back, and that's nothing to do with why it's called '40'."

The lyrics are based on Psalm 40 from the Bible, the most plausible reasoning behind the title of the song. [AC]

4. What's being said in the middle of the song "Seconds" when the band stops playing?

This is what I hear on the Gold Disc version [of War]. The album version is the same speech but the part between "hold it" and "I wanna be an airborne..." is edited out. Same basic idea on the the right channel.

Left Channel: [normal is drill instructor. In () is the girl's speech]
hold it
all right this time how about put on a smile and say sex (sex) alright, now, into the movement, let's go (go, go, did you get it, did you get it, you sure) I wanna be an airborne ranger (I wanna be an airborne ranger)
I wanna live a life of danger (I wanna live a life of danger)
Gun (Gun)
Gun (Gun)
Gun (Gun)
Gun (Gun)
Kill (Kill)
Kill (Kill)

Right Channel: Oh Dear God
It's getting to be that [??]
And you don't know it
Until it's taken I can't give it to anybody anymore
I can't, it's not in me
I just can't do it
This is all I've got
I can't give nothing to anybody else anymore
It's been stripped, it's been taken [C]

5. Why does Bono sing 'Early morning, April Four' in "Pride", when MLK was shot in the early evening?

Bono says he screwed up. He sometimes sings 'Early evening, April 4.' The song's origins came during the War Tour in a sound check in Hawaii. The original lyrics were anti-Reagan with 'What more in the name of love' also being a featured lyric according to The Edge. The song evolved into one about martyrs and those who create them. [GM]

6. What's the deal with the song "Elvis Presley & America"?

Originally, "Elvis Presley & America" was a different song but it changed when Daniel Lanois, bored by mixing and listening to U2's progress, slowed down the backing track of "A Sort of Homecoming" and started to mix it that way. Bono said he was given a microphone by Brian Eno and was asked to improvise over a track that was slowed down or reversed. While singing, Bono had an image of Elvis in his mind, the Elvis from the time when he ate and drank too much, the Elvis who took drugs and who was on the verge of collapsing, but who despite all that kept his credibility as a rock'n'roller. It was this inability to articulate Bono recognised in his own singing. The 'lyrics' on the album are more or less a continous wave of images evoked in Bono's mind while thinking about Elvis. When Bono listened to the recording of the song he was buzzing with enthusiasm to finish the song, to which Brian Eno said: "What do you mean by 'finish the song'? It is finished!" (NME, October 1984) [RVD]

7. When and where were the live versions of "Bad" and "A Sort of Homecoming" on Wide Awake in America recorded?

"A Sort of Homecoming" was not actually recorded live, but during a sound check prior to U2's show at London's Wembley Arena on November 15, 1984. The sound of the crowd was added later. "Bad" was recorded at U2's show November 12, 1984 in Birmingham, England. During this live version, Edge misplayed the very last guitar note of the song but the band decided to use the song anyway. The last note was "fixed" during mixing of the EP. [M2]

8. What are the "seven towers" in "Running to Stand Still"?

The Seven Towers are in reference to the Towers of Ballymun. Ballymun is a landmark of sorts in the northern part of Dublin near where Bono and the others grew up and / or hung out. They've become seriously rundown over the years and are home to the destitute and is often associated with Dublin's drug problems. Current plans call for the towers and all 2,820 flats to be demolished by 2010. [JP, SC, M2]

9. Why haven't I seen the video for "Red Hill Mining Town"?

The song was slated to be the second single off of The Joshua Tree. While the band was rehearsing for the tour, they discovered that the song was too high for Bono to sing every night and would not be in the set list for the tour. And as logic says: What's the good of touring if you can't use it to promote your latest record/single? The video was shot in London and directed by Neil Jordan. The original copy of the video remains in storage at Principle Management's offices in Dublin. Rumors have circulated that MTV showed this video once on-air, and that they also have a copy of it in their "library." These rumors are just that, and they are false. [PC, M2]

10. Who are Greg Carroll and Jara in "One Tree Hill"? Is there an actual place called "One Tree Hill"?

Although there is a place of the same name in England, the actual One Tree Hill that the song was written about is located in the city of Auckland, towards the top of New Zealand's North Island. It was given its current name in 1840, by John Logan Campbell. Known as the "Father of Auckland", he served terms in parliament and played an important part in the city's early development.

John Logan Campbell died a Knight of the British Empire at the age of 95, and was buried on the summit of One Tree Hill, as he had wished. In his will, Campbell had provided for the construction of an obelisk on the hill to commemorate his admiration for the Maori people.

Greg Carroll was a New Zealand Maori who U2 met in Auckland in 1984, while they were in New Zealand for the Unforgettable Fire tour. Greg had been involved in the New Zealand music industry since 1980, and worked for U2's promoter during the Auckland shows. He had a reputation for being an extremely hard worker and a valuable asset to the local industry.

On the 3rd of July, 1986, on a bleak and rainy Dublin night, Greg was out riding a motorbike when he collided with a drunk driver and was killed. Greg's death devastated the entire U2 organisation. During the two years that Greg had been working for U2, he'd formed many close friendships - but his bond with Bono was said to be especially unique.

Bono and Larry, along with many of Greg's friends and U2 associates, accompanied his body back to New Zealand. The group attended Greg's tangi (a traditional Maori wake, lasting three days) at Kai-iwi Marae, close to his hometown of Wanganui.

On his return to Dublin, Bono wrote the song "One Tree Hill" and later dedicated the album on which it appeared, The Joshua Tree, to Greg. [MV]

Victor Jara was a Chilean folk singer/songwriter who was very famous at the beginning of the 70s in Chile. His songs were full of social criticism and called for uprising. He was respected among the intellectual leaders of the socialist Chilean government. Alas, Augusto Pinochet overthrew the government in a military coup. Part of the associated repression included torturing Victor Jara and later abandoning his bullet-ridden body in the streets. Popular myth had his torturers cutting both his hands and making him sing and play the guitar afterwards. Thus, "Jara sang, his song a weapon in the hands of love, his blood still cries from the ground". [SL]

11. Who are the "Mothers of the Disappeared"?

In 1976, a military coup brought Argentina under the violence and terror of a dictatorship. Approximately 30,000 citizens were kidnapped by military death squads and disappeared. The mothers of those kidnapped united in a search for their missing children, and courageously stood up in a lone resistance against the dictatorship. They demanded the "re-appearance alive" of their families then and to this very day, in which Argentina is again democratic, but those responsible for the genocide go unpunished.

At U2's first PopMart show in Buenos Aires on February 5, 1998, the Mothers of the Disappeared came on stage holding signs and pictures of their missing loved ones, and after the performance of the song put their white scarves around Bono's neck. The crowd began to sing their national anthem. [AC]

12. What does "Hawkmoon 269" mean?

There have been many theories about the origin of the song title "Hawkmoon 269". The three main theories that have floated around the U2 fan community since the late 80's are:

THEORY A) The "269" in the title is a reference to the number of times the band had to mix the song to get it right.

THEORY B) "Hawkmoon 269" is a reference to a sign Bono saw showing the town of Hawkmoon was 269 miles ahead while traveling through America on the Joshua Tree tour.

THEORY C) "Hawkmoon 269" is a reference to one of Bono's favorite authors, Sam Shepard.

Of the three theories, the ONLY theory to have substantial, credible evidence to back it up is THEORY C... that "Hawkmoon 269" is a reference to Sam Shepard. I would suggest that THEORY A is a joke that Bono made during a radio interview to avoid sounding too "serious" as he often can, THEORY B is simply a U2 fan "urban myth" with little if any evidence (in fact, there is no town named "Hawkmoon" or "Hawk Moon" in the entire US according to mapquest.com), and THEORY C is in fact the truth behind the song's title.

Evidence that backs up THEORY C includes two books written by Sam Shepard. First and foremost, is Shepard's book of prose, poetry, and monologues called Hawk Moon. Second, is his book Motel Chronicles which was written after Hawk Moon and is probably responsible for the "269" (motel room number) part of the song's title. Both books, interestingly, discuss and are infused with images of the desert southwest of America and are somewhat autobiographical for Sam Shepard. The desert southwest of these Shepard books is the very same theme which infuses The Joshua Tree and to a lesser extent Rattle And Hum.

Just before Bono began the song cycle that would become Joshua Tree / Rattle And Hum (in 1985), a UK publisher (Faber and Faber) released a two volume set which contained both Hawk Moon and Motel Chronicles. This set was widely available throughout the UK and Ireland, and may have been how Bono acquired these important Shepard works.

The most powerful, yet confusing piece of evidence toward the Shepard link are Bono's own words! The problem with quoting Bono is that he often chooses to contradict himself, in this case moment to moment, during interviews. During a 1988 US Rattle And Hum radio broadcast, Bono says:

"The other side of U2 is Hawkmoon. I'd like to say that, uh... I mean I called it Hawkmoon 269 because... It seems to me... Well, it's a reference to a few people, like one of my favorite writers Sam Shepard, but also to... It's a motel room in my imagination somewhere..."

This quote should have closed the book on this issue once and for all... if Bono had stopped talking at that point! Unfortunately Bono didn't stop talking. It is the second part of his answer, which has obscured the truth behind the title Hawkmoon 269 since 1988:

"But the 269 isn't actually a motel room, it's the fact that we mixed it two hundred and sixty-nine times before we got it right [Larry, Adam, and Edge start laughing], and, uh [Bono begins to laugh] we're that professional MAN."

I think this second part of the quote is nothing more than a joke on Bono's part to liven the mood of his previously serious and direct answer to the question. Indeed, if you listen carefully to the show, the band can be heard laughing and Bono's voice noticeably changes when he utters the second part of his answer. In fact, even Bono is heard laughing near the end. What should have been interpreted as dry Irish wit has instead been wrongly taken by fans as THE reason for the "269" part of the song's title. [DE]

13. In "Angel of Harlem," what is "BLS"?

As a lifelong New Yorker, I can tell you that BLS in the line "On BLS I heard the sound (of an Angel)" refers the New York City radio station WBLS-FM, which has been playing Rhythm & Blues/Soul music for 20+ years. [MPZ]

14. What does Bono sing in "Love Rescue Me" at the 3:55 mark, right after the "sha-la-la"s?

I said love
Climb up the mountains, said love
I said love, oh my love on the hill
On the hill of the son
I'm on the eve of a storm
And my word you must believe in love
Oh, I said love, rescue me
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah... [C]

15. Who is Goldman in "God Part II"?

Albert Goldman, the author of controversial biographies of John Lennon and Elvis Presley, both of dubious
validity. The old joke was "What's the only good news a rock star can hear after his death? That Arthur Goldman died five minutes before he did." [MJS]

16. Who dies at the end of the "All I Want Is You" video?

This question truly is frequently asked. I think it's the woman. [MJS]

I believe it is the midget who is in love with her. Earlier in the video he threw himself off the high trapeze swing, and when we see him at the funeral, it is really his ghost, and only his friend the strong man even senses that he is there. Then he throws in the ring, to be buried along with himself. [DAC]

One widely accepted interpretation is that what's being buried on the funeral is the love from the midget for the woman - Thus he throws the ring in the grave. This also explains that "flying" camera effect - that's the midget's love leaving him. [CG]

Although it eventually veers off course, the "All I Want Is You" video is clearly based on the 1932 movie Freaks, which is considered a horror movie classic. The Edge apparently acknowledged the video's link to Freaks in an online chat in June, 2001, but he forgot the title of the movie:

Jean : What's the deal with the midget plot in the 'All I Want Is You' video?

The Edge : It's the classic midget meets girl, girl meets midget, they fall in love but the girl really loves other guy, scenario. That old plot. It's based on a movie, but I can't remember the name of it.

The Internet Movie Database has a brief overview of the movie's plot. [WJ]

17. What does "Vorsprung durch Technik" mean in "Zooropa"?

It is a German phrase meaning roughly "lead by / through technology." A more elegant translation is "a step ahead through technology" or "progress through technology." It is an advertising slogan used by the German car company Audi. Many of the other phrases in the song lyrics are advertising slogans.

Be All That You Can Be - US Army
Be A Winner - English Lottery
Eat To Get Slimmer - Slimfast (diet plan)
A Bluer Kind Of White - Daz (laundry detergent)
We're Mild And Green And Squeaky Clean - Fairy Liquid (stain remover)
Better By Design - Toshiba (home electronics)
Fly The Friendly Skies - United Airlines
Through Applience Of Science - Zanussi (home electronics)
We've Got That Ring Of Confidence - Colgate (toothpaste) [MJS]

18. What's the English translation of Pavarotti's lines in "Miss Sarajevo"?

It is said that a river
Finds its way to the sea
And as the river
You'll come back to me
Beyond the borders
And the thirsty lands
You say that as the river
As the river
Love will come back
Love
And I cannot pray anymore
And I cannot hope for love anymore
And I cannot wait for that love anymore [CG]

19. What's the story with the "stuck together with God's glue" lyric in "Staring at the Sun"?

That lyric is the title of a 1991 album by another Dublin band called Something Happens, a band which was often called "the next U2" in their late 80s, early 90s heyday. Something Happens built a very popular following in Ireland and other portions of Europe, but found only limited success in the U.S. Bono has claimed innocence when asked if he specifically stole the lyric from the Something Happens album, but the truth is that the U2ers and the guys in the Happens all know each other very well and Bono is certainly well aware of the success of Something Happens, and that album ... which was the Happens' most popular release. [M2]

20. What's Bono singing/mumbling at the beginning of "Last Night On Earth"?

"What the fear caused died / she stops the car / feels like when she was back on the street again / with the sweet saffron". [TVT]

I am pretty sure it is this: "What the fear cause died, stops cars. It feels like a bridge. She's back on the street. Bittersweet so far." [MOD]

21. I heard Mick Jagger helped sing backing vocals on All That You Can't Leave Behind. Which song?

Jagger and his 16-year-old daughter Elizabeth sang backup vocals on a version of "Stuck In A Moment That You Can't Get Out Of" which they recorded while in Dublin one day to visit U2. Edge later said that the song "took a different direction" so they chose a version for the album without the two Jaggers singing backup. Both Jaggers are thanked in the album's liner notes. [M2]

22. Who is Aung San Suu Kyi and why is "Walk On" dedicated to him/her?

She is a leader of the nonviolent movement for human rights and the restoration of democracy in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). Her father is widely acknowledged as the founder of modern Myanmar. After living abroad for most of her life, Aung San Suu Kyi returned to Myanmar in 1988 and started speaking out against the harsh rule of the Myanmar military government. She won democratic elections which were subverted by the military. She's been placed under house arrest at least twice since then, most recently receiving her freedom in May, 2002. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, and was awarded the Freedom of Dublin award at the same time as U2 on March 18, 2000. As she was still under house arrest at that time, her son was present at the ceremony in Dublin to accept the award for her. [M2, R]

23. Who are the people listed in "Peace On Earth"?

The lyric is:

They're reading names out over the radio
All the folks the rest of us won't get to know
Sean and Julia, Gareth, Anne, and Breda,
Their lives are bigger than any big idea

These people are victims of the Omagh bombing in Northern Ireland. They died Saturday, August 15, 1998. Some background on the individuals referenced:

  • Sean McLaughlin (12), from Buncrana, County Donegal, Republic of Ireland. Sean was an altar boy at the local church, St Michael's Oratory. The McLaughlin family live just a few doors away from the Doherty family, who also lost a son in the explosion. Sean was one of three boys from Buncrana to die in the explosion.
  • Julia Hughes (21), Omagh, County Tyrone. Julia was studying at Dundee University but had returned to Omagh for the summer to find temporary employment. She was working in Image Xpress, a photo shop in the High Street in Omagh, and as she left the shop she was met by the full force of the blast.
  • Gareth Conway (18), from Carrickmore. Gareth was about to enroll in an engineering course at the University of Ulster when he was killed. His father Mickey plays handball at the All-Ireland level.
  • Anne McCombe (45), from Omagh, County Tyrone. Anne was a close friend of Geraldine Breslin, who also died in the explosion. They both worked together in Watterson's clothes shop. They were having a tea break when the bomb exploded outside the shop. Anne was a Protestant and Geraldine a Catholic but their friendship bridged the sectarian divide. Ann was married with two sons.
  • Breda Devine (20 months), from Donemana, County Tyrone. Breda was taken by her mother Tracey (27) into Omagh to shop for a wedding gift. Tracey Devine was seriously injured, suffering burns over 60 percent of her body.

(Info. thanks to the CAIN project.) [TS]

On a related note, there's factual inspiration for these lyrics from "Peace On Earth":

She never got to say goodbye
To see the colour in his eyes
Now he's in the dirt

The inspiration comes from an article in the Irish Times, dated August 18, in which profiles / tributes to the victims were printed. One victim, James Barker, was remembered this way in the article:

Donna Maria Barker said she never realised how green her son's eyes were until she saw him lying on a mortuary slab. "To see him lying there with half of his head gone and those beautiful green eyes looking out at me as if he was waiting for me was devastating," she said.

"I never realised how green his eyes were. That image will stay with me for the rest of my life." [M2]

24. What's the "Alphaville" mentioned in "New York"?

I'm betting that Alphaville is representing "Alphabet City." The East Village is known as Alphabet City, that's where Avenues A,B,C, and D are located, along with the lower numbers of streets. [DGH]

I think "Alphaville" is a reference to a movie of the same name. On p. 153 of the book Into the Heart by Niall Stokes, it says:

"One of the films that influenced [U2] greatly was Jean Luc Godard's Alphaville. 'It's a look at modern architecture,' Bono states. 'One of the subtexts of that film was buildings'" [DL]

25. Do Adam and Larry ever sing on any U2 songs?

Larry is listed as a backup singer on "Numb" and does the "I feel numb" part that repeats throughout the song. He can also be heard singing on some old Joshua Tree Tour and Zoo TV bootlegs. On those tours he occasionally sang some traditional Irish songs during a few shows.

As for Adam, they used to put a mic in front of him during live shows many years ago, but it was never plugged in. Adam does recite the final verse of "Your Blue Room" from the Passengers: OS1 album:

Zooming in,
Zooming out,
Nothing I can do without,
A lens to see it all up close,
Magnifying what everyone knows,
Never in company,
Never alone,
No car alarm, no cellular phone

You can also hear Adam on Rattle and Hum where he can be heard saying "Oh, I don't know..." in response to an interview bit at the end of "Van Diemen's Land." Prior to that, Adam can be heard on the B-sides "Boomerang II" (1984) and "Endless Deep" (1983). [M2, IR]

26. Has U2 ever allowed any of their songs to be used in TV commercials?

Yes and no. U2 has not allowed any company to purchase the use of a song solely for the purpose of product promotion in a commercial. But ...

  • "Beautiful Day" has been used by the CBS television network as the theme song for its 2002 Fall promotions, which was likely allowed as part of the deal in which CBS agreed to air U2's Slane Concert TV special.
  • FOX TV and the NFL used U2 songs in various commercials in conjunction with U2 being chosen to perform at Super Bowl 36 in February, 2002.
  • In 1997, the ABC television network used U2 songs in its own promotions as part of the "ABC is POP" campaign which included showing U2's A Year in POP documentary.
  • "Beautiful Day" has also been used as the theme song for the ITV (UK) football show The Premiership and for a Danish program called Onside which shows highlights from Denmark's top soccer league.
  • "Beautiful Day" has also been used in Chicago-area commercials promoting organ donation.
  • "Electrical Storm" was used by TVNZ (New Zealand) for its Louis Vuitton Challenger series (America's Cup yacht racing) promotions in October, 2002. Larry Mullen gave personal approval to the promotional spots.
  • WorldVision, a charity which promotes sponsorship of under-privileged children in Africa, used "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" in TV commercials which aired in Australia in 2002. [MJo]

27. Who sings the opera-like backing vocal on "The Hands That Built America"?

That's Bono's voice. [M2]

28. What's the name of the Gaelic song Bono sings in the film The Gangs of New York?

The song is called "Báidín Fheidhlimí." Baidin is a Gaelic word for a small boat, and Fheidhlimi is a version of a boy's name -- Phelim or Felim. So the song title means Phelim's small boat. It's a popular sing-a-long song and is taught in school to Irish children. Sinead O'Connor sings this song on her 2002 album, Sean-Nos Nua. Bono was asked about the song by The Hollywood Reporter and he explained:

I sing actually in the middle of the picture, though you'd never know. There's a street scene, and I sing an ancient Gaelic melody -- he [Martin Scorsese] wanted me to do it so (that) when my voice came up at the end of the film, it wasn't strange. [M2]