U2 – Angel of Harlem

Rattle and Hum
Year :
The Police / The Stone Roses / Coldplay

Christmas is just days away. If you are already worn out by Christmas music, Steel your mind, Holmes. It’s going to be long 72 hours.

Let me offer this simple salve. When it’s your turn to spin a holiday classic, mix it up with U2′s “Angel of Harlem.” Though not technically a Holiday tune, “Angel of Harlem” participates in a pop-culture tradition of taking place during Christmas. The movie equivalent of this is Love Actually (a film which I most definitely have not seen more than, like, 10 times). It’s a cheap, but effective, trick for the storyteller: appropriate all the good feeling associated with with holiday and graft it onto your work, no commentary necessary–an easy way to infuse some unearned cheer into your work without having to actually buy into it.

Cynical? Maybe. I certainly wouldn’t put it past Bono.

Oddly enough, “Angel of Harlem” is actually pretty good, or at least very interesting. It’s maybe even one of the best U2 songs (coming from totally non-committal, begrudging U2 fan). Lyrically, Bono paints a picture instantly familiar to anyone who’s lived in (heck, visited) New York during the Christmas season.

It was a cold and wet December day
When we touched the ground at J.F.K
The snow was melting on the ground
On B.L.S. I heard the sound (Of an angel)
New York like a Christmas tree
Tonight, this city belongs to me (Angel)

Soul love
Well this love won’t let me go
So long
Angel of Harlem

Using New York in December as a setting is a key technique in the holiday-appropriation toolkit. No place in America is more associated with Christmas than the Big Apple. Home Alone 2, people. Sure enough, Bono reminds us that we’re in the home of The Christmas Tree. And of course, there is the “Angel.”

The titular angel here is, as legend has it, Billie Holiday. What does that have to do with Christmas? Not a freaking thing. This is why an association anyone might have with “Angel of Harlem” and the, ahem, Holiday season is purely coincidental. “Angel of Harlem” is not even a kind-of Christmas song, but it strangely fits into a holiday rotation. Sonically, it’s warm and jangley. What else do you need from a holiday tune? It’s certainly a musical upgrade from anything directly concerned with Christmas.

Of course, there is an entire level of appropriation that is far more complex and murky than the one I’ve described happening on “Angel of Harlem.” But, that’s par for the course with U2. Even non-political songs have a way of being super political. If I am being too oblique here, ask yourself this: If “Angel of Harlem” is already draped in a soul-sound, why are these Irish guys singing about a Jazz singer and referencing in one of the epicenters of the black experience in America?

Point being: If anyone knows how to appropriate the hell of out something it’s U2. It makes “Angel of Harlem” the most thought-provoking non-Christmas Christmas song out there. Consider it a little holiday present from Bono to you.

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(@YahSureMan) is the Founder of The Daily Soundtrack and Bark Attack Media. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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