Some songs like most things in life stem from a place of a happy accident. And so it was for U2, who stumbled upon one of their most enduring singles when bassist Adam Clayton attempted to play the riff to Visage’s ‘Fade to Grey’. Take a second to listen to the opening riff of ‘New Year’s Day’, and you might hear the similarity. But the band were bold enough to build on their influences to create something strikingly new and exciting, culminating in a song that is bolstered by Bono‘s fiery vocal.
The track benefits from The Edge’s jazz tinted keyboard parts, doubling as he does as a keyboardist and guitarist throughout. Improv is an integral part of jazz music, and improv also proved an integral part of U2´s songwriting process. A failed attempt to perform Visage’s ‘Fade To Grey’ concocted Clayton´s reverbed riff, as too did the words come directly from premeditated ingenuity.
The song featured on War, perhaps the band’s most overtly political album, a record that also contained the Irish anthem ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’. Bono was growing more confident in his work as a statesman:”It would be stupid to start drawing up battle lines, but I think the fact that ‘New Year’s Day’ made the Top Ten indicated a disillusionment among record buyers. I don’t think ‘New Year’s Day’ was a pop single, certainly not in the way that Mickie Most might define a pop single as something that lasts three minutes and three weeks in the chart. I don’t think we could have written that kind of song.”
Militaristic in backbeat, The Edge´s stylized guitar parts echoed the drones falling debris, screams and gunshots patter in the wake of a bloodied war. For anyone with an interest in Irish history, the title reminded them of the horrific 1972 shootings that cost fourteen people their lives in Derry. ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ was a track written about the Northern Irish Troubles and was fuelled by nationalist, as well as secular, beliefs, and though a tasty mixture of Protestant and Catholic backgrounds, all four members considered themselves components of an Irish band. It would have been forgivable for the Dublin rockers to write an elegy of unity, just as Paul McCartney´s 1972 opus ´’Give Ireland Back To The Irish‘´ had been.
The Edge performed his very first vocal on ‘Seconds’, and did so very nicely, too. Between the monstrous ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and the bass-heavy ‘New Years Day’ – seen by producer Steve Lillywhite as a Clayton highlight – ‘Seconds’ gave a more reflective tone to the album as a whole. It gave the album a more feminine quality, while the influence of Visage gave ‘New Year’s Day’ a more overtly European element to the album. And punching past the five-minute mark, the song had to be shortened for its inevitable single release.
The single might fade out quicker than some die-hard fans would like, but the intensity and power of the magnified bass part remain. If that was the only bass part Clayton had ever written, he´d still be welcomed into The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.