"Beautiful Day" is a song by Irish rock band U2. It is the first track on their tenth studio album, All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000), and was released as the album's lead single on 9 October 2000. The song was a commercial success, helping launch the album to multi-platinum status, and is one of U2's biggest hits to date.
|Single by U2|
|from the album All That You Can't Leave Behind|
|Released||9 October 2000|
|Studio||HQ (Dublin, Ireland)|
|Label||Island / Interscope|
|U2 singles chronology|
|"Beautiful Day" on YouTube|
Like many tracks from All That You Can't Leave Behind, "Beautiful Day" harkens back to the group's past sound. The tone of the Edge's guitar was a subject of debate amongst the band members, as they disagreed on whether he should use a sound similar to that from their early career in the 1980s. The band's lead vocalist Bono explained that the upbeat track is about losing everything but still finding joy in what one has.
The song received positive reviews, and it became the band's 14th number-one single in their native Ireland, fourth number-one in the United Kingdom, and their first number-one in the Netherlands. It also topped the charts in Australia, Canada, Finland, Italy, Norway, Scotland and Spain, and reached the top 10 in Austria, Belgium, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland. The song peaked at number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, the band's highest position since "Discothèque" in 1997.
In 2001, the song won three Grammy Awards for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal at the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards ceremony. The group has played "Beautiful Day" at every one of their concerts since the song's live debut on the Elevation Tour in 2001.
Writing and recording
"Beautiful Day" was written in several stages, originating from a composition called "Always" (later released as a B-side) that the band created in a small room at Hanover Quay Studio. However, they were initially unimpressed with it, as guitarist the Edge said, "As a straight rock song, it was pretty ho-hum." After lead vocalist Bono came up with the "beautiful day" lyric, the song went in a different direction. The Edge's backing vocals for the chorus were improvised one night with co producer Daniel Lanois, an addition he called "the key" to the chorus and its new lyrics.
During the recording process for the All That You Can't Leave Behind album, the band decided to distance themselves from their 1990s experimentation with electronic dance music in favour of a "return to the traditional U2 sound". At the same time, the band was looking for a more forward looking sound.
This led to debate amongst the band when the Edge was playing the song on his Gibson Explorer guitar with a tone used in much of their early material up to their 1983 album War. Bono was particularly resistant to the guitar tone the Edge was playing with, but the Edge ultimately won the disagreement. As he explains, "It was because we were coming up with some innovative music that I felt a license to use some signature guitar sounds."
Although the group wished to establish a more stripped-down, conventional sound, one of the song's breakthroughs came after co producer Brian Eno provided "electronification of the chords with a beat box" and a synthesised string part to the beginning. The Edge believes the contrast between these more electronic qualities of the track and his backing vocals with Lanois benefited the song.
The mixing process proved difficult, lasting two weeks. Several changes were made during this period; Bono added a guitar part that played the song's chord progression to double the bass, an addition that "solidified everything", according to the Edge. The Edge also changed the bass line in the chorus and converted a keyboard idea of Bono's into a guitar part that added a "sour quality" to balance the track's positivity. Lanois described the completed song as "one of those little gifts where you think, my god, we've got it!"
"Beautiful Day" is played at a tempo of 136 beats per minute in a 4/4 time signature. The song opens with a reverberating electric piano playing over a string synthesiser, introducing the chord progression of A–Bm7–D–G–D9–A. This progression continues throughout the verses and chorus, the changes not always one to a bar. After the opening line, "The heart is a bloom", the rhythm enters, comprising repeated eighth notes on bass guitar and a drum machine. In the first verse, Bono's vocals are in the front in the mix and their production is dry. At 0:29, a guitar arpeggio pattern by the Edge first appears, echoing across channels. The verses are relatively quiet until the chorus, when the Edge begins playing the song's guitar riff and Mullen's drums enter. During the chorus, Bono sings in a restrained manner, contrasting with the Edge's "loud, bellowing" background vocals, a sustained cry of "day".
After the second chorus, a bridge section begins at 1:55, playing the chord progression F♯m–G–D–A, heightening the track's emotion as Bono sings "Touch me / Take me to that other place". The bridge links to the middle eight with a section in which the Edge repeats a modulated two note phrase on guitar, beginning at 2:08. After seven seconds, the rhythm breaks and the middle eight begins. The chords in this section follow a progression of Em–D–Em–G–D–Em–G–D–A, implying a key of D major. The bass plays a G note beneath the Em chord, implying a chord change does not occur. The lyrics for this section are set in space above Earth and describe the sights that one witnesses, including China, the Grand Canyon, tuna fleets, and Bedouin fires. After the third chorus and a return of the bridge section, the song suddenly ends in a "low-key" fashion; most of the instrumentation stops and a regeneration of a guitar signal drifts back and forth between channels before fading out.
According to Bono, "Beautiful Day" is about "a man who has lost everything, but finds joy in what he still has." Blender interpreted the song and the line "it's a beautiful day" as "a vision of abandoning material things and finding grace in the world itself". In his 2001 book Inside Classic Rock Tracks, Rikki Rooksby described the lyrics as having a "fuzzy" quality and covering an "ambiguous subject area between religion and romance". He found "grace and salvation" in the verses' lyrics and believed that despite not explicitly explaining how to emotionally persevere, the song has "so many suggestive images that it's enough".
In an episode of the Sundance Channel's Iconoclast, R.E.M.'s lead singer Michael Stipe said, "I love that song. I wish I'd written it, and they know I wish I'd written it. It makes me dance; it makes me angry that I didn't write it."
"Beautiful Day" was the first single released from the album All That You Can't Leave Behind. The song reached number one on the singles charts in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and also boosted sales of All That You Can't Leave Behind. "Beautiful Day" is included on the compilations The Best of 1990-2000 and U218 Singles. A version of the song known as the Quincy and Sonance Mix appears on U2's EP 7.
The song's video, directed by Jonas Åkerlund, shows the band walking around in Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport (where the photographs for All That You Can't Leave Behind were taken), with scenes of the band playing in a hangar, at the terminal, and on a runway interspliced with large jets taking off and landing overhead. Middle East Airlines and Air France make cameo appearances in the video.
An alternative video for the song, shot in Èze, France, was featured on U2 Exclusive CD!, the bonus DVD from The Best of 1990–2000, and the U218 Videos DVD. A month before the album release, a live version of the song was filmed in Dublin on the rooftop of The Clarence Hotel. It is featured on the extra features of the Elevation 2001: Live from Boston DVD (although it is marked on the DVD as "Toronto, Canada").
Ever since its tour debut at the first date of the Elevation Tour on 24 March 2001 in Miami, "Beautiful Day" has been played at every single full tour concert as well as a number of promotional appearances and concerts not connected with a tour. On the Elevation Tour, "Beautiful Day" was normally the second song played, though it did open one show, and was played late in the set list at two concerts. During the Vertigo Tour, it appeared in the first half of the main set.
On the U2 360° Tour, it typically appeared early in the main set, it also opened some concerts in the early 2011 shows. For the final leg of the tour it was moved back to the midpoint of the show and featured a video of astronaut Mark Kelly. On the Innocence + Experience Tour it has either appeared late in the main set or during the encore.
It is featured on the live films Elevation 2001: Live from Boston, U2 Go Home: Live from Slane Castle, and Vertigo 2005: Live From Chicago. The song was also performed on stage during U2's set at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park in London. with slightly different lyrics in the bridge that mentioned the different cities where the Live 8 concerts took place.
It was performed live in New Orleans for Super Bowl XXXVI and for the New Orleans Saints first game in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. During the band's five-night stand on the Late Show with David Letterman to promote their album No Line on the Horizon in March 2009, "Beautiful Day" was the only song not from that album that was played.
The song was also played during every show of the 360° Tour. During the final leg of the tour in 2011, a recorded video from NASA astronaut Mark Kelly was used as a lead-in to the song. Kelly had previously chosen the song for a wake up call on Space Shuttle flight STS-134.
"Beautiful Day" received mostly positive reviews from critics. Olaf Tyaransen of Hot Press called the song "surprisingly straightforward but still infectiously catchy", while the magazine's Peter Murphy said the track broke the band's trend of releasing lead singles that broke new sonic ground but were not the best songs from their respective albums. Murphy called the song a "patented U2 cavalry charge from U2 3 through The Joshua Tree to Jubilee 2000". The Guardian said the song "strikes an appropriate note of putting the past behind you and getting on with the rest of your life". The review praised the track for its "bustling beat", "contagious chorus and vintage guitar chimes from Edge". Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times called the track proof that the band's music had once again been "graced by the glorious textures of Edge's guitar, and [that] Bono has dropped the masks". Rolling Stone called the song "poised, then pouncing" and said it was one of many from the album that has a "resonance that doesn't fade with repeated listening". The Philadelphia Inquirer was critical of the song, saying it was not "driven by the fire of true believers", but rather by the band's need for a hit, and that it was "a move to solidify a base that may already have slipped away".
David Browne of Entertainment Weekly was very receptive to "Beautiful Day", noting that the chorus "erupts into a euphoric bellow so uplifting" that it was played during a television broadcast of the 2000 Summer Olympics. Browne called the "classic U2 arrangement" of the song "corny", but said, "damn if it isn't effective". He said the song made him reminiscent of the band's glory days in the late 1980s when so much popular music sought to be "sonically and emotionally uplifting". Edna Gundersen of USA Today was enthusiastic about the song, calling it "euphoric" and suggesting it was "breathing fresh air into playlists choking on synthetic pop and seething rap-rock". The Detroit Free Press was critical of the album for being pedestrian but called "Beautiful Day" one of the album's "flashes of triumph", describing it as "a gloriously busy, layered song that recalls Bono's lyrically astute Achtung Baby days". NME published a negative review of the song after its single release that suggested John Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman, should be released from prison to shoot Bono, a statement that Hot Press called "poisonous" and "tasteless". The publication was more receptive to the song after the release of All That You Can't Leave Behind, saying the album "eas[es] in with the heat-hazy optimism" of the track.
Accolades and legacy
"Beautiful Day" finished in fourth place on the "Best Singles" list from The Village Voice's 2000 Pazz & Jop critics' poll. The song won three Grammy Awards in 2001—Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. In 2003, a special edition issue of Q, titled "1001 Best Songs Ever", placed "Beautiful Day" at number 747 on its list of the greatest songs. In 2005, Blender ranked the song at number 63 on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born". The Labour Party subsequently made extensive use of the song during its successful re election campaign in 2005, though an unresolved dispute with and within the band prevented it being used in party political broadcasts. In 2009, in an end of decade rankings list, Rolling Stone listed "Beautiful Day" as the ninth-best song and readers ranked it as the third-best single for the decade of the 2000s. In 2010, Rolling Stone updated its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" and placed "Beautiful Day" at number 345, making it one of eight U2 songs on the list. In 2011, VH1 listed "Beautiful Day" at number 15 on its list of The 100 Greatest Songs of '00s. Rolling Stone's 2018 list of the "100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far" ranked the song 40th.
A version of the song was used as the theme tune to the ITV football highlights television show The Premiership, broadcast from 2001 to 2004. Kurt Nilsen, the Norwegian Idol winner sang it during the World Idol competition on 25 December 2003 and won the competition with the song. This was the only World Idol title and was not repeated in consequent years.
In 2004, Sanctus Real recorded a version on the album In the Name of Love: Artists United for Africa. In 2007, the German guitarist Axel Rudi Pell recorded his version on his album Diamonds Unlocked. In 2008, the song was chosen to play over the end titles of the children's film Nim's Island, starring Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster and Gerard Butler. The song was also played after John Kerry gave his acceptance speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in July 2004.
In 2010, a cover of "Beautiful Day" was released by Lee DeWyze as his first single following his victory in the ninth season of American Idol. DeWyze commented "I like that song a lot (...) Is it something that is necessarily in my genre? No. There were songs on the table, and I went with the one I thought would represent the moment the best." The cover reached number 24 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 13 on the Canadian Hot 100. "Beautiful Day" was also covered by 2010 X Factor Australia winner Altiyan Childs for his self-titled debut album.
Formats and track listings
All music is composed by U2.
|2.||"Discothèque" (Live in Foro Sol, Mexico City, Mexico, 3 December 1997)||5:10|
|3.||"If You Wear That Velvet Dress" (Live in Foro Sol, Mexico City, Mexico, 3 December 1997)||2:43|
|Australian CD 1|
|4.||"Last Night on Earth" (Live in Foro Sol, Mexico City, Mexico, 3 December 1997 – video version)||6:30|
Charts and certifications
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- List of RPM Rock/Alternative number-one singles (Canada)
- Dutch Top 40 number-one hits of 2000
- List of number-one singles of 2000 (Ireland)
- List of number-one hits of 2000 (Italy)
- List of number-one singles of 2000 (Spain)
- List of number-one singles from the 2000s (UK)
- List of number-one dance singles of 2001 (U.S.)
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