It acts as the soundtrack to the documentary film of the same name, which followed the band around is it toured America. A double album, Rattle and Hum is a mixture of live performances and newly recorded songs, continuing the blues and country sounds of The Joshua Tree. It's also U2's most fannish album, at least until Songs Of Innocence, as it includes tributes to and collaborations with such musical heroes as B.B. King, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Billie Holiday.
While the album was a commercial success, going quintuple-Platinum in the United States and quadruple-Platinum in the United Kingdom on worldwide sales of 14 million copies, critics and audiences alike responded to it with mockery. The consensus was that U2, by attempting to put out an album and documentary of this sort so early in their careers relative to the product's weight, were brashly attempting to put themselves among the ranks of the very legends they were paying tribute to; one Rolling Stone reviewer called Rattle and Hum "misguided and bombastic."
The poor reception of the album blindsided the band, who came to realize that they were starting to stagnate artistically, leading them to step away from their traditional sound in favor of hard-edged Alternative Dance starting with their next album. That said, this album would have a lasting effect on the band's reputation; even today, Rattle and Hum is considered proof of the band's image among non-fans as vapid and egotistical.
The album spawned four singles: "Desire," "Angel of Harlem," "When Love Comes to Town," and "All I Want Is You." While all four were Top 10 hits in the United Kingdom—with "Desire" being their first UK #1—only the first two were hits on the Billboard Hot 100, with "Desire" only peeking at #3 in the United States.
- Helter Skelter (live from Denver)
- Van Diemen's Land
- Hawkmoon 269
- All Along The Watchtower - (live from San Francisco)
- I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - (live from New York)
- Freedom For My People
- Silver And Gold - (live from Denver)
- Pride (In The Name Of Love) - (live from Denver)
- Angel of Harlem
- Love Rescue Me
- When Love Comes To Town
- God Part II
- The Star-Spangled Banner
- Bullet The Blue Sky - (live from Tempe)
- All I Want Is You
When Tropes Come To Town:
- Album Title Drop: The album's title comes from "Bullet the Blue Sky": "In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum."
- The Alcoholic: "Angel of Harlem" is a tribute to Billie Holiday that refers to her untimely demise from alcoholism and other drug abuse:Blue light on the avenueGod knows they got to youAn empty glass, the lady singsEyes swollen like a bee sting
- Answer Song: "God Part II", a sequel to John Lennon's "God".
- As the Good Book Says...: "Love Rescue Me" includes a slightly shortened version of the famous line from Psalm 23: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow (of death), I will fear no evil." The song subverts the next lines of the psalm though: "I have cursed thy rod and staff/They no longer comfort me."
- "When Love Comes to Town" summarizes the events of the Crucifixion in the third verse.
- Berserk Button: Clearly the Enniskillen bombing pressed Bono's.
- Bo Diddley Beat: In "Desire." The Edge borrowed it from The Stooges' "1969."
- Boléro Effect: "Hawkmoon 269" doesn't have a proper verse-chorus structure, it just builds and builds.
- Broken Messiah: "Love Rescue Me," as Bono put it, is "about a man people keep turning to as a saviour but his own life is getting messed up and he could use a bit of salvation himself."
- Cover Version: The first (and so far only) U2 studio album to include these, both of them recorded live: "Helter Skelter" by The Beatles, and "All Along the Watchtower" by Bob Dylan. The first is introduced with Bono cracking, "This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles. We're stealin' it back."
- Deliberately Monochrome: Some portions of the film were in black and white; a still from one such sequence is on the album cover.
- Epic Rocking: "Hawkmoon 269" goes on for nearly six and a half minutes, as does "Love Rescue Me," though the latter could hardly be called rocking. "All I Want Is You" is a normal-length song with an epic instrumental coda.
- Evolving Music: This was the third version of "Silver and Gold" to be released, and each sounded quite different from the last. Originally Bono wrote it himself and recorded it with Keith Richards and Ron Wood, with a couple of acoustic guitars and no drummer. U2 recorded its own version as a B-side to "Where the Streets Have No Name," but the live version considerably ramps up the energy level, with a blistering new guitar solo from The Edge. (This also explains Bono's somewhat baffling command to Edge to "play the blues" even though it doesn't sound very bluesy — the first recording definitely did.)
- God Is Love Song: Bono's habit of using "love" as a code word for "God" is in full force here, notably "Love Rescue Me," "God Part II"note and "When Love Comes to Town." The last one blows its own cover in the third verse though, by explicitly describing the Crucifixion.
- Gospel Choirs Are Just Better: While "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was already gospelish, for the New York performance an actual gospel choir, the New Voices of Freedom, sang backup.
- Heel Realization: The narrators of both "Love Rescue Me" and "When Love Comes to Town" realize that they're jerks in need of redemption (which they do receive).
- Homage: "God Part II" is Bono's homage to John Lennon's "God," imitating its List Song format with a catalog of things the singer doesn't believe in. Bono adapts it to suit his own beliefs and disbeliefs, however (not surprisingly, he doesn't deny believing in God like Lennon did).
- Hypocrisy Nod: In "God Part II": "I don't believe in riches/But you should see where I live."
- Let's Duet: U2 teamed with B.B. King on "When Love Comes to Town." Also Bob Dylan co-wrote and sang backing vocals on "Love Rescue Me," but you can barely hear him.
- List Song: "God Part II," like its predecessor, is a list of things the singer doesn't believe in. "Hawkmoon 269" is a list of similes for love or needing love.Like a rhythm unbrokenLike drums in the nightLike sweet soul musicLike sunlightI need your love
- Location Song:
- "Heartland," inspired by a visit to New Orleans, describes the Mississippi delta region.
- "Van Diemen's Land" refers to the 19th-century British penal colony of that name, now the Australian state of Tasmania. More specifically, it was about a man who led an unsuccessful Irish uprising and was sentenced to the penal colony.
- Miniscule Rocking: A 38-second clip of street musicians performing "Freedom For My People" leads into a live version of "Silver and Gold."
- Never My Fault: Despite the fact that "When Love Comes to Town" is an "Amazing Grace"-style tale of a redeemed sinner, at the end of the chorus he still seems to be evading responsibility: "Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down/But I did what I did before love came to town."
- Non-Appearing Title: "Hawkmoon 269" and "God Part II."
- One-Word Title: "Desire" and "Heartland."
- The Power of Love: Since love is identified with God in "Love Rescue Me" and "When Love Comes to Town," it has the power to change lives and save souls.
- The Power of Rock: God also seems to work through music in "When Love Comes to Town":I ran into a juke joint when I heard a guitar screamThe notes were turning blue, I was dazing in a dreamAs the music played I saw my life turn aroundThat was the day before love came to town
- A verse that was performed live but cut from the album also includes the line, "But my lord he played guitar the day love came to town."
- Protest Song: "Silver and Gold" was already a protest song, as it was written for the anti-apartheid album Sun City, but Bono really goes Anvilicious in this version by adding a mid-song rant against western leaders who aren't supporting sanctions. "Freedom For My People," by street musicians Satan and Adam, is a song that calls for — well, guess.
- Runaway Groom: The narrator of "When Love Comes To Town":Used to make love under a red sunsetI was making promises I was soon to forgetShe was pale as the lace of her wedding gownBut I left her standing before love came to town
- Sampling: A clipping of Jimi Hendrix playing "The Star Spangled Banner" is used in the intro to "Bullet the Blue Sky."
- Sentenced to Down Under: "Van Diemen's Land" is in the voice of 19th-century Irish rebel John Boyle O'Reilly, as he's about to be deported to an Australian penal colony.
- Shout-Out: "Angel of Harlem," an ode to Billie Holiday, also nods to John Coltrane and Miles Davis.
- Small Name, Big Ego: YMMV on this one, but it was a very common criticism of the documentary, especially from the band themselves, who were embarrassed by how self-aggrandizing they came off, from the audacious claim that they were stealing back "Helter Skelter" from Charles Manson at the beginning to associating themselves with legendary R&B musicians so early in their careers to Bono's monologues about social justice, especially a rather notorious shot of Martin Luther King Jr.'s superimposed over his. It didn't help that the cinematography framed Bono like a deity when on stage. There's a reason their next several projects were considerably more introspective.
- Step Up to the Microphone: The Edge sings "Van Diemen's Land," as he wrote the lyrics himself.
- Take That!: The album starts off with one as Bono introduces "Helter Skelter": "This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We're stealing it back."
I don't believe in GoldmanHis type like a curseInstant karma's gonna get himIf I don't get him first
- "God Part II" includes one to infamous John Lennon biographer Albert Goldman:
So I'm back in my hotel room with John Coltrane and A Love Supreme, and in the next room I hear a woman scream out. Her lover's turning off, turning on the television, and I can't tell the difference between ABC News, Hill Street Blues and a preacher on The Old Time Gospel Hour stealing money from the sick and the old. Well, the God I believe in isn't short of cash, mister.
- In his live performance of "Bullet the Blue Sky," Bono adds a peculiar coda:
- Three Chords and the Truth: This album's version of "All Along the Watchtower" is the Trope Namer because of a verse Bono threw in: "All I got is a red guitar/Three chords, and the truth." (Appropriately, the song does have only three chords.)
- Title-Only Chorus: "Helter Skelter" and "Desire."