Red Hill Mining Town
||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (November 2010)|
|"Red Hill Mining Town"|
|Song by U2 from the album The Joshua Tree|
|Released||9 March 1987|
|Producer||Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois|
|The Joshua Tree track listing|
Background and recording
In 1984, the National Union of Mineworkers led a strike in response to the National Coal Board's campaign to close uneconomic mines. The dispute was one of the most divisive and bitter in British history and its effect on families and communities was severe.
In 1984, Bob Dylan played at Slane Castle in Dublin. U2 singer Bono interviewed him for Hot Press magazine and Dylan invited Bono to sing on stage with him. The meeting confirmed for Bono, whose "record collection started in 1976", how much he still had to learn about the traditions of singing, songwriting, and musicianship. A friendship developed between Bono and Dylan with Bono delving into Dylan's back catalogue and retracing the connections between Irish and American folk music. He was also listening to the blue-collar labour songs of Bruce Springsteen. U2's growing awareness of folk traditions was reflected in their performance at a 25th anniversary tribute on the Late Late Show to folk veterans The Dubliners. U2 performed Luke Kelly's "Springhill Mining Disaster" which tells the story of a mining disaster in Nova Scotia.
During recording, Bono was displeased with an early vocal take and wondered why his voice made him sound "like a rich man with pound notes stuffed in his pockets when it's a song about unemployment". The audio engineer determined that the stereo plate reverb effect that had been added to the vocals was contributing to this feeling, and as a result, it was removed.
These strands came together in "Red Hill Mining Town", a rough version of which was worked up during the early Joshua Tree album writing sessions in late 1985. Bono's lyrics focussed on the stress the dispute had on families and their relationships, many of which broke down. In particular, inspiration was drawn from the Tony Parker book Red Hill: A Mining Community. Bono was criticised in some quarters for not being politically specific enough. However, Bono said he felt he was more interested in the relationships and that others were more qualified to comment on the strike itself.
A music video for the song was produced in February 1987 in London and directed by Neil Jordan. It was filmed on a set representing an underground mine. The video was included on the bonus DVD of the 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Box reissue of The Joshua Tree.
The song was initially planned for release as The Joshua Tree's second single, but U2 were unhappy with the video and Bono was unable to sing the high notes during pre-Joshua Tree Tour rehearsals. The song was dropped as a single and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" became a late choice for the second single. U2 drummer, Larry Mullen, Jr., later described it as "one of the lost songs" and that while he thought it had had great potential, it was "over-produced and under-written". While Bono had clear ideas on how he wanted it to sound during The Joshua Tree sessions, Mullen recalls that the rest of the band and production crew were "[not] sure where he was going with it."
Bill Graham of Hot Press contrasted the song with two of the album's other ballads, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "Running to Stand Still", describing it as the album's "most cluttered and literal, least mysterious and open-ended track". He said the blocked harmonies show the band "striving too ambitiously and conventionally for effect" and likened the song to a "scarf-waving variant of 'Sailing' written for the National Union of Mineworkers". He described the melody, however, as "undeniably potent and infectious", and he praised the band's good intentions in writing about the mining strikes. Niall Stokes said that the song "capture[ed] eloquently [...] the sense of doom that surrounded the death of the small close-knit mining communities".
- Stokes, Niall (1996). Into The Heart: The Stories Behind Every U2 Song. London: HarperCollins Publishers. p. 71. ISBN 0-00-719668-7.
- Everett, Walter (1999). "Music, Contexts, and Meaning in U2". Expression in Pop-Rock Music: A Collection of Critical and Analytical Essays (Studies in Contemporary Music and Culture). Routledge. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-8153-3160-5.
- McCormick (2006), p. 172
- Graham, Bill; van Oosten de Boer, Caroline (2004). U2: The Complete Guide to their Music. London: Omnibus Press. pp. 33–34. ISBN 0-7119-9886-8.
- McGee (2008), p. 100
- McGee (2008), p. 103
- McCormick (2006), p. 184
- O'Hare, Colm (21 November 2007). "The Secret History of 'The Joshua Tree'". Hot Press. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
- U2gigs.com, U2 live on 28 November 1987, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, USA.
- McGee, Matt (2008). U2: A Diary. Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-1-84772-108-2.
- U2 (2006). McCormick, Neil, ed. U2 by U2. London: HarperCollins Publisher. ISBN 0-00-719668-7.