Friday, February 11, 2022

"Angel of Harlem" by U2

Song#:  3751
Date:  12/17/1988
Debut:  74
Peak:  14
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Rock, Soul

Pop Bits:  U2 kicked off their hybrid live/studio double-LP Rattle and Hum with the single "Desire." The gold selling Grammy winner would make it to #3 on the Pop chart. To follow it up, this next track was issued out. It would end up topping the Rock chart while getting to #3 Modern Rock and #38 AC. On the Pop chart, the tune got near the Top 10, but halted a few rungs short. By the time this single debuted on the chart, the LP had already been certified for sales of 2 million. The hit would help push the album to the 3 million mark in January of '89.

ReduxReview:  Recorded at the famous Sun Studio in Memphis with the Memphis Horns, U2 was trying to capture the root sounds of American jazz, blues, and soul with this tune and for the most part they succeed. It was a nice rollicking tune replete with references to Billie Holiday and big blaring horn lines. U2 were sort of documenting their fascination with American music via the new studio tunes on Rattle and Hum and that is what this track sounded like - a tribute to a time, a place, and a sound. Therefore, it didn't really sound like U2 song. It came off as something more akin to a side project. In that respect, it was a nice tune that was well done. The confection certainly wouldn't make it on a list of U2's greatest song, but it is a fun little oddity in their catalog.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This song was written as a sort homage to jazz singer Billie Holiday and the roots music of America. Bono was inspired to write the song when arriving in New York for the first time. When crossing a bridge into the city, the driver of the limo they were in turned on a radio station that was playing a Billie Holiday song. The tune along with the New York skyline set Bono's mind in motion and eventually "Angel of Harlem" came out. Billie Holiday, nicknamed Lady Day, began singing in Harlem night clubs in the 30s. Revered as one of the best vocalists of the era and beyond, Holiday had a successful career with several hits to her name including the 1939 classic "Strange Fruit." Unfortunately, along the way Holiday became dependent on drugs and alcohol. When at the peak of her career in 1947, she would be arrested for possession of narcotics. She served time in a federal prison camp and was released in the spring of '48. That case was called "The United States of America versus. Billie Holiday." The incident would be captured in the 2021 film The United States vs. Billie Holiday with R&B singer/songwriter Andra Day as Holiday. The role would win her a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Drama. She would earn an Oscar nod for the role as well. Another singer would also play Holiday to acclaim. In 1972, Diana Ross would portray Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues. Like Andra Day, the role would earn Ross a Golden Globe (for Most Promising Newcomer, although she would also be nominated for Best Actress in a Drama) and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Billie Holiday's career and personal life would be tumultuous in the 50s and ultimately she would succumb to cirrhosis of the liver in 1959.


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