Angel Of Harlem
by U2

Album: Rattle And Hum (1988)
Charted: 9 14
  • songfacts ®
  • Artistfacts ®
  • Lyrics
  • Songplace
  • The "Angel of Harlem" is Billie Holiday, a Jazz singer who moved to Harlem as a teenager in 1928. She played a variety of nightclubs and became famous for her spectacular voice and ability to move her audience to tears. She dealt with racism, drug problems, and bad relationships for most of her life, and her sadness was often revealed in her songs. She died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1959 at age 44.
  • Billie Holiday's nickname was "Lady Day." That's where they got the line, "Lady Day got diamond eyes, she sees the truth behind the lies."
  • This is a tribute to the blues, jazz and gospel music U2 heard while touring America.
  • U2 recorded this at Sun Studios in Memphis while the band was touring the US in 1987. It features the Memphis Horns, who recorded on many of the blues and soul classics recorded there.
  • This was produced by "Cowboy" Jack Clement, who worked with Sam Phillips at Sun Studios in the '50s before moving to Nashville and working with a variety of Country singers. When U2 asked him to work on this album, he had never even heard of them, but fortunately some of his friends were familiar with U2 and made it clear to Clement that working with them would be a good career move. By using Clement, U2 was able to recreate the famous Sun Studios' sound they were looking for.
  • The line "On BLS I heard the sound..." refers to New York radio station WBLS, where U2 heard the blues and soul music that influenced this track.
  • This was used in the U2 documentary Rattle And Hum, which followed the band on their 1987-1988 tour of North America.
  • U2 played this live for the first time at the Smile Jamaica concert on October 16, 1988 in London, a benefit for the victims of Hurricane Gilbert. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • The band was inspired by their first trip to New York City. "I wrote about it in a song. 'Angel of Harlem,'" Bono explains in the book U2 by U2. "We landed in JFK and we were picked up in a limousine. We had never been in a limousine before, and with the din of punk rock not yet faded from our ears, there was a sort of guilty pleasure as we stepped into the limousine. Followed by a sly grin, as you admit to yourself this is fun. We crossed Triborough Bridge and saw the Manhattan skyline. The limo driver was black and he had the radio tuned to WBLS, a black music station. Billie Holiday was singing. And there it was, city of blinding lights, neon hearts. They were advertising in the skies for people like us, as London had the year before."
  • During the recording session, Bono learned the important lesson that alcohol and horn players do not mix. "I thought I would lighten the session up, so I sent out for a case of Absolut Vodka. I was giving it to the horn players and we were all having a little laugh and Cowboy came up to me. Cowboy was a guy who knew how to get into trouble but he also knew when not to get into trouble. He said, 'Bono, how long you been doing this?' I said, 'Ten years, nearly.' He said, 'Ten years and you don't know not to give the horn section Absolut Vodka? You can give it to anybody else but you can't give a horn section Absolut.' I asked, 'Why, particularly, the horn section?' Cowboy said, 'Listen, stupid, you try playing a horn when your lips won't work.'"
Please sign in or register to post comments.

Comments: 12

  • Chaosz from Amsterdam, Netherlands"Like a star exploding in the night
    Falling to the city in broad daylight
    An angel in Devil's shoes"

    So true!
  • Nora from N/a, FlWOW ! This site is great !! I thought they were talking about a hooker...not a legend ! i feel dumb !
  • Pytlak from Bakersfield, CaAt the risk of being obvious, A Love Supreme was a 1964 John Coltrane album and "Miles" is almost certinly Miles Davis, another legendary jazz musician.
  • Acrobat from Adelaide, AustraliaU2 dedicated this to Kylie Minogue on their Australian Vertigo Tour Leg. The Aussie Pop Princess had just managed to beat breast cancer. Bono also popped up at one of Kylie's concerts and sang Kids with her
  • Mark from Worcester, MiJude, from Thomasville, GA-You were right. Billie Holiday doing 'Strange Fruit' is capable of making a grown man cry. I looked up the song on Wikipedia and I think there's an audio link. The photo that inspired the song 'Strange Fruit' will make a grown man cry too. Lord see us through...all of us please.
  • Homzd from O-town, NvOn "Rattle And Hum" blues great, B.B. King is very impressed with the powerful the lyrics of this song. If I remember correctly he tells Bono something to the effect, "Those are powerful lyrics from someone so young."
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaSomehow reminds me of "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan. And no, I am not using drugs.
  • Jude from Thomasville, GaI'm glad U2 paid tribute to the great Lady Day, If you ever want to know what a shivering fit feels like, listen to Billie Holiday sing "Strange Fruit." It near'bout makes me cry every time.
  • Nessie from Sapporo, JapanOne of the few good songs on Rattle and Hum. Hey, I just call it like it is, fellers.
  • Ryan from Albion, Nyi like the part in the rattle and hum dvd where they play this in the barbershop...pretty cool stuff
  • Josef from Corpus Christi, TxImmediate portrayal of U2's sudden downfall and sellout to the whimsical music industry. Although they have come back strong against the industry now with their latest album as well as Bono and Edge being known Free Music Activists for the fileshare industry. A Bono-Fide tale I must say...
  • Zach from ..., PaI love this song; I think that this is one of my favorite U2 songs... I also find this song to be very catchy.
see more comments

Jimmy WebbSongwriter Interviews

Webb talks about his classic songs "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman" and "MacArthur Park."

The FratellisSongwriter Interviews

Jon Fratelli talks about the band's third album, and the five-year break leading up to it.

Little Big TownSongwriter Interviews

"When seeds that you sow grow by the wicked moon/Be sure your sins will find you out/Your past will hunt you down and turn to tell on you."

Graduation SongsFact or Fiction

Have you got the smarts to know which of these graduation song stories are real?

Maria MuldaurSongwriter Interviews

The "Midnight At The Oasis" singer is an Old Time gal. She talks about her jug band beginnings and shares a Dylan story.

The Girl in That SongFact or Fiction

Billie Jean, Delilah, Sara, Laura and Sharona - do you know who the girls in the songs really are?