Rattle And Hum

Angel of Harlem

  1. This one is about Billie Holiday (1915-1959), a (black) jazzsinger from Harlem, New York, USA. Many think's she's the geatest jazzsinger ever. BLS, after what I have read, was (is?) a radiostation.

    Jonas Steverud (Maintainer of U2MoL) (contributed at an unknown date)

  2. I'd just like to expand on this song a little further. It is indeed about Billie Holiday who was also known as Lady Day in the "Jazz Royalty" tradition. Hence the line "Lady Day got diamond eyes". The opening lines speak of Bono hearing Billie's voice on BLS (referring to WBLS-FM, a New York radio station) as he comes in to land at JFK airport. It has often been considered that this actually occured on the third leg of Unforgettable Fire Tour as this saw the band play at Radio City Music Hall on 3/12/1984, but it is not confirmed. As with many U2 songs it has secondary meanings. In this case it is also a love song about the general Americana surrounding Harlem and the Jazz scene.

    Unlike many of Bono's lyrics, most of the AOH lines are quite self-explanetory with perhaps a few possible exceptions.

    "We got Birdland on 53". A little odd this one. Birdland refers to a very famous Jazz club called Birdland named after Jazz trumpeter Charlie "Bird" Parker. John Coltrane (1926-1967 also mentioned in a later lyric) and his quartet appeared there many times. However the 53 is a bit of a mystery. The club is in Manahattan and used to be located at Broadway and 52nd Street, not 53rd. It closed there in 1965 and reopened at its current location 315 West 44th Street.

    "We got John Coltrane and a love supreme Miles says she's got to be an angel". "A Love Supreme" is a famous album recorded by John Coltrane in 1964. Miles refers to Miles Davis (1926-1991), another Jazz trumpet legend.

    The remainder of the lyrics mostly highlight the dychotomy of Billie Holiday's angelic voice opposing her drink and drug addiction which often saw her get into trouble with the law. "Blue light on the avenue, God knows they got to you. An empty glass, the lady sings, eyes swollen like a bee sting".

    Jon Hunt jon@orbsol.com (25th of October 2006)