"Bullet the Blue Sky" is the fourth track from U2's 1987 album, The Joshua Tree. The song is one of the band's most overtly politically toned songs, with live performances often being heavily critical of war and guns. Today it receives regular airplay on rock radio stations.
The song was originally written about the United States' military intervention during the 1980s in the El Salvador Civil War. Bono told The Edge to "put El Salvador through an amplifier". The song is a combination of The Edge's guitar slides, Adam Clayton's laid back bassline, Larry Mullen Jr.'s cold drumming and Bono's aggressive and growly vocals during the verses, and a spoken word section during the bridge. Clayton played the song in a different key from the rest of the band: Clayton's bass riffs are in E flat minor while The Edge is playing D flat. Bono was thinking of American President Ronald Reagan as he sang "This guy comes up to me / His face red like a rose on a thorn bush / Like all the colors of a royal flush / And he's peeling off those dollar bills / Slapping them down."
Although it was never released as a single, "Bullet the Blue Sky" has been played at nearly every one of the band's live concerts since its first performance at the opening night of the Joshua Tree Tour on April 2, 1987. Its live performances have traditionally been paired with "Running to Stand Still"; this took place on the Joshua Tree Tour, Lovetown Tour, Zoo TV Tour, and the first 46 concerts of the Vertigo Tour. On the PopMart Tour, "Bullet" instead led into "Please"; Elevation Tour performances were followed by "With or Without You" or a cover of "What's Going On", and on the Vertigo Tour, "Miss Sarajevo" replaced "Running to Stand Still" for the remaining 85 concerts. It has yet to be played on the 360 tour.
During the Joshua Tree Tour, Bono would frequently grab a large spotlight and shine into peoples' faces in the audience, performances during which he also made numerous political references to figures such as Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell. U2's following album, Rattle and Hum, featured one such performance of this song, with a pre-recorded intro of Jimi Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner". "Bullet" then took on new meanings throughout the subsequent years. On the Zoo TV Tour, it was about Nazism; on the Elevation Tour, it became an indictment against handgun violence, illustrated by references to John Lennon's assassination and an ironic intro video clip featuring Charlton Heston, who was at that time the leader of the National Rifle Association. On the Vertigo Tour, it was about religious violence and the final lyrics were replaced by a snippet of "The Hands That Built America"
The Edge has always used his black Fender Stratocaster to play this song (with the exception of the PopMart Tour, during which he used a Gibson Les Paul). Since the Zoo TV Tour in the early 1990s, Edge has played a faster, more intricate blues-inspired solo after the second chorus instead of the distorted solo found on the album version near the end of the song.
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