Song of the Day #191: ‘City of Blinding Lights’ – U2

u22I’m not a U2 fanatic by any means, but I completely understand why they’ve been dubbed the world’s greatest rock band. They exude unparalleled star power and their music is grand and powerful in a way that belongs totally to them. You always hear about other bands mimicking U2 but you never catch them being anything but themselves.

They are also the masters of the song intro. The best example is ‘Where the Streets Have No Name,’ which kicks off The Joshua Tree so effectively that the rest of the album seems almost like an afterthought. ‘Zooropa,’ the opening track of the underrated album of the same name, is another great one.

‘City of Blinding Lights’ isn’t the first song on How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb but it probably should have been. It’s another splendid demonstration of escalating drama… the beginning is so good you don’t really want the song to start. The rest of the song turns out to be quite good as well but it’s the intro that makes it.

The song is about New York City, written after 9/11 as a tribute to the town, the lyrics recalling the band’s first trip to the Big Apple in 1980. It’s a hopeful and inspirational tune, an assessment with which our new president seems to agree — Barack Obama chose this tune as his campaign theme song, playing it both when he announced his candidacy in Springfield and when he accepted the Democratic nomination in Denver.

The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then than I do now

Neon heart, day-glow eyes
A city lit by fireflies
They’re advertising in the skies
For people like us

And I miss you when you’re not around
I’m getting ready to leave the ground

Oh you look so beautiful tonight
In the city of blinding lights

Don’t look before you laugh
Look ugly in a photograph
Flash bulbs purple irises
The camera can’t see

I’ve seen you walk unafraid
I’ve seen you in the clothes you made
Can you see the beauty inside of me?
What happened to the beauty I had inside of me?

And I miss you when you’re not around
I’m getting ready to leave the ground

Oh you look so beautiful tonight
In the city of blinding lights

Won’t leave me as I am
But time won’t take the boy out of this man

Oh you look so beautiful tonight
Oh you look so beautiful tonight
Oh you look so beautiful tonight
In the city of blinding lights

The more you know the less you feel
Some pray for others steal
Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel… luckily

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #191: ‘City of Blinding Lights’ – U2

  1. Dana says:

    I have simply never been a big fan of U2, though I know they are critics’ darlings and are also very popular. For me, it really comes down to the fact that it’s just not a sound I enjoy hearing all that much. I find Bono’s voice grating more often than not and I’m not a huge fan of the Edge’s guitar work with the constant rythmic jangle. That guitar is often what is credited for creating the band’s “full” sound, but I always graviate to songs that are more nuanced, where the instrumentation and arrangement is crisp and the production allows pauses and moments to breathe. Often, U2’s sound is a bit like being on one of those spinning carnival rides that you might enjoy once in a while, enough to go for the spin, but about 1/2 way through, you are wondering why you got on in the first place and are ready for the ride to end.

    Now, I know that U2 has more diverse music than I am describing, and songs like With or Without You or Angel of Harlem show off different sides to the band, and sides I enjoy far better. And, certainly, when I am in the right sort of mood, I can enjoy Pride (In the Name of Love) , Sunday Bloody Sunday or Where the Streets Have No Name. But that mood just doesn’t come around for me all that often.

  2. Amy says:

    Obama just used the intro, right? I’ve never heard this song or even known that U2 had a 9/11 song of their own (perhaps September’s theme week will see a repeat of this entry). Reading the lyrics before I started playing it, I found myself very moved by some of the images. While I also would not call myself a U2 fan, not because I don’t like their music but because I don’t listen to it, I do think Bono’s voice is amazing. Grating? That I don’t get at all.

  3. Clay says:

    Yes, Obama used the intro at the start of some of his speeches. I like the song but the intro just kicks ass.

    I also don’t get the criticism of Bono’s voice as ‘grating.’ I could understand an accusation that he over-sings some songs, but I find his voice pretty wonderful.

  4. Dana says:

    well, it’s precisely that oversinging that I find grating.:)

  5. Kerrie says:

    I don’t know how big a fan of U2 I can be called since I don’t really own much of their music (which can be said of many artists I sincerely enjoy), but what I hear, I always love.
    Some artists have a sound that is uniquely theirs and it boils down to the same damn song with different lyrics. U2 has a SOUND that is uniquely theirs but I never feel like I’m listening to the same tune with different words. And I agree that the intro on this one is particularly good. I also really like the “lilt” (for lack of a better word) of the guitar around the chorus.
    Great song, great group!

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