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25 Years Ago: U2 Debut ‘Rattle and Hum’ Film

Island Records

During the last week of October 1988, U2‘s anticipated concert movie ‘Rattle and Hum’ was released in their native Ireland. It would premiere in the U.S. on Nov. 4. The feature-length film, which was preceded by a double album, captured the band on tour across America during their breakthrough run for 1987’s ‘The Joshua Tree.’

Like with the album, reaction to the film was at best mixed. But this reflects the ambitious nature of the project, which was alternately described as a frill-free “scrapbook” by guitarist the Edge and an attempt to see “how big this thing could get” by the band’s manager, Paul McGuinness.

So it’s no surprise that polarized opinions still reign over ‘Rattle and Hum’ a quarter-century after its release, especially since the passage of time has not helped maintain context around U2’s schizophrenic blend of studio and concert recordings, original and cover material — not to mention collaborating with B.B. King and inserting Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock rendition of the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ into the proceedings.

On the upside, the ‘Rattle and Hum’ home-video release brought U2’s era-defining concert experience to thousands of viewers who, for whatever reason, had yet to make it to one of the band’s shows. On the downside, it pushed Bono and company dangerously close to total overexposure while nearly working them to death.

But U2 would successfully navigate these choppy waters and triumphantly return to land three years later, armed with another blockbuster album, ‘Achtung Baby,’ in which they defiantly and brilliantly reinvented themselves for further success.

That reinvention of both sound and image belatedly shed new light on their foresight to capture ‘Rattle and Hum’ in the first place, solidifying its place as a symbolic, and partly creative, climax of the foursome’s inexorable rise to global stardom.

Next: 10 Best U2 Songs

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