If I can only have one U2 album on the list, this is the one I'm picking. "New Year's Day," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "Two Hearts...," "40."

February 28, 1983. U2‘s War album is released. Which makes it 40 years old this year. So let’s put some fresh ears on it.


You don’t usually hear War referred to as U2’s “breakthrough” album; that distinction is usually reserved for 1987’s The Joshua Tree. But looking back at War 40 years on, it might be time to do a little retrofitting. The album has gone 4 times platinum in the United States alone. U2’s first two albums–Boy and October–are still at single-platinum status as of early 2023. So there’s a case to be made on numbers alone.


Of course, I’m making this case from a decidedly Boston-based perspective. I’ve been a radio DJ playing U2’s music for 25 years, all but 3 of those years spent in Boston. And I grew up north of the city, listening to Boston radio stations and DJs that were the first to bring U2’s music to the masses in America. What I’m getting at is this: U2 is an Irish band, of course. But they’re a Boston band, too, in a way. And that counts for something.


Take this, for instance. March 6, 1981: U2 plays the Paradise Rock Club. It’s only their second-ever Boston tour date; their first was December 6, 1980 at the Paradise. Originally broadcast on the legendary and now-defunct WBCN, the bootleg of the March ’81 show was then released as a radio show on vinyl. Many of the songs played that night ended up on future U2 singles as B-sides. So that U2-Boston connection has been strong from the very beginning. I wrote about the gig for the 40th anniversary here.


4 Thoughts on U2’s ‘War’ Album Turning 40

Back to War, I’d like to share four thoughts on four songs from the album and why I think it’s U2’s true breakthrough. Let me know what you think on our Facebook or Twitter.

  • 1) "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is more than just a protest song

    War‘s leadoff cut about The Troubles in Northern Island is one of the all-time greatest political works in popular music. That’s a known fact. But it’s also the song that cemented Larry Mullen Jr.’s status as a dynamo behind the drums. Producer Steve Lillywhite insisted that Mullen play along to a click track to really capture the militaristic energy of the drum part. Mullen pushed back at first, but finally came around and was so satisfied with the results that he used the click track on the entire album. His tight drumwork speaks for itself.

  • 2) "New Year's Day" wasn't supposed to be political

    Bono started penning the lyrics to “New Year’s Day” on his honeymoon in Jamaica. It started as a love song to his wife. It ended up as a song about the Polish solidarity movement. Why is this important? Because War was–and is–a political album, first and foremost. That theme still resonates 40 years later.

  • 3) "Two Hearts Beat As One" is a love song that rocks

    When I say: “name a U2 love song,” what’s the first song that comes to mind? “With Or Without You?” “One?” It’s probably not “Two Hearts Beat As One.” And that’s OK. Those first two songs are standard-issue U2 love ballads. But “Two Hearts…” proved early on that U2 could write a love song that rocked and grooved.

  • 4) "40" is proof that every song on a U2 album counts

    “40” is War‘s closing cut. It wasn’t released as a proper single, but did end up being treated as one in Germany. And if you ask a hardcore U2 fan to rattle off their favorite songs from the band, “40” comes up pretty often. All the way through, War is as strong, vital, and relevant as it was when it was released 40 years ago.

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