Off the album October, the song that sold me on U2.
There didn’t seem to be a suitable pigeonhole. They weren’t punks, certainly, they weren’t members of the New Wave skinny tie brigade, and they sure as hell had nothing to do with the glammed-up synth-pop crooners of the New Romantic movement, spearheaded by Roxy Music, Spandau Ballet and that crew, which was then sweeping the U.K. Their style seemed to owe next to nothing to anything that was going on at the time, or anything that any of us had ever heard, for that matter, and they were so brash, so utterly, swaggeringly confident, as if they didn’t doubt for a second you’d be buying what they had to sell, so sure of themselves in the way perhaps only kids can be. They were just downy-faced kids! – upon revisiting the attached video, one’s first thought, inevitably, is My God, they were so young. But of course they were; the song and accompanying video were released in 1981, forty frickin’ years ago, back when records were pressed on vinyl.
Propelled along by the distinctive lead guitar work of David Evans, billing himself, boldly yet appropriately, as The Edge (and why not when the lead singer, Paul Hewson, insisted on being known as Bono Vox, for the love of Mike), Gloria arrived as a swift kick in the pants out of nowhere, sounding fresh, passionate, intense, hugely energetic, and a little bit mysterious. What was it all about, anyway? They were Irish, so it made sense that they were paying homage to countryman Van Morrison, whose own classic of the same name, released back in 1964, was all about lusting after a certain girl, yet this new Gloria seemed to be about God, of all things, its overtly religious sentiments expressed in a chorus sung in Latin phrases extracted by Bono from his memories of Catholic church services: Gloria in te Domine / Gloria exultate, which translates roughly to Glory in You, Lord / Glory, exalt Him, so there you go, it’s a sort of rock ‘n roll hymn praising the Almighty. Is it really, though? Or was this kid Bono finding the essence of the divine at a location somewhere south of the heavenly skies above? Said Bono, years later:
And of course Gloria is about a woman in the Van Morrison sense. Being an Irish band, you’re conscious of that. And I think that what happened at that moment was very interesting: people saw that you could actually write about a woman in the spiritual sense and that you could write about God in the sexual sense. And that was a moment. Because before that there had been a line. That you can actually sing to God, but it might be a woman? Now, you can pretend it’s about God, but not a woman!
So yeah, it’s about faith, and God, and the exalted plateau of cosmic understanding attained in moments of religious ecstasy, etc., as experienced particularly in moments of pained longing for the ethereal beings of the opposite sex, whose beauty and sheer capacity to move don’t just rival the power of the Divine, they’re actually the same thing.
Which sounds about right, doesn’t it?