The lyrics were inspired by Bono's trip to Central America in 1985 with Amnesty International. He visited El Salvador, where he stayed with a group of guerillas in the middle of the mountains in the north of the country, which is where he got the idea for this song. "Mothers Of The Disappeared" also came out of that trip.
Suggestion credit: Alexis - San Salvador, El Salvador
Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, and The Edge came up with the music, and Bono wrote the lyrics around the track. For the guitar solo, Bono did his best to convey his feelings to The Edge. "When I explained to Edge what I'd been through in El Salvador, he was able to, with nod to Jimi Hendrix, try and put some of that fear and loathing into his guitar solo," Bono said. "We strapped my feelings to the song 'Bullets the Blue Sky.'"
This is a political song that condemns US foreign policy for promoting unrest in Central America. Bono wanted to draw attention to the damage the US was doing in other countries, which he felt most Americans did not know the extent of. Criticism of America did not hurt record sales there, as The Joshua Tree was the #1 album its first week of release. It also didn't hurt Bono's status with American politicians, many of whom invited him to speak on behalf of various causes. Far from being seen as an enemy of the state, Bono was celebrated by most government officials, and he used his celebrity and access to advance a variety of causes.
Bono spoke about this song in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit "Louder Than Words: Rock, Power and Politics." Said Bono:
"I wanted to go and see things for myself. It's why I ended up in the famine in Ethiopia, It's why I ended up in Central America. I just want to see it for myself.
There were wonderful people offering solace to refugees from the war in El Salvador. I was with one of those groups visiting. We went out into the hills - maybe that was irresponsible because we were in the middle of a war zone. In the hillside across the way, they were firebombing these villages to get the paramilitaries out of there. I remember the ground shaking and I remember the smell of being near a war zone. I don't think we were in danger, but I knew there were lives in danger or being lost close to us, and I felt for them. It upset me as a person who read the Scriptures, to think that Christians in America were supporting this kind of thing, this kind of proxy war because of these Communists.
It did bother me that this was being sanctioned by religious people. I was not a Communist, but I felt it was wrong, so I used the language of the Scripture to describe the situation:
In the howling wind comes a stinging rain See it driving nails Into the souls in the tree of pain From a firefly, a red orange glow See the face of fear Running scared on the valley below Bullet the blue sky
In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum Jacob wrestled the angel And the angel was overcome"
This was one of the first U2 songs to condemn US politics. They would sometimes call the president from the stage during their US shows.
The line, "In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum" provided the title for their next album and its companion movie, Rattle And Hum.
In the section where Bono sings about a man with a "face red like a rose in a thorn bush," he had someone specific in mind. At this Rock Hall exhibit, Bono said: "He's peeling off those dollar bills, slapping them down - paying for the war. He in my head was Ronald Reagan. I had not a sophisticated understanding of what was going down, but as a student of nonviolence I had a violent reaction to what I was witnessing. I was interested at the time in liberation theology, which is people reinterpreting Scriptures to their own specific situations. So you go into a liberation theology church and you see the flight from Egypt will be painted and portrayed, but instead of pharaohs it would be Ronald Reagan."
The last line about the man who is afraid to leave his house was almost changed to "Because outside is the world" from "Because outside is America." They were not sure they wanted to name the US directly.
This was issued as the B-side of the "In God's Country" single.
Some of the Biblical references in this song include "nailed to a tree" (reference to Christ) and "Jacob wrestled the angel" (a reference to Jacob's struggle with God at Bethel).
At a 2001 show in Philadelphia, Bono shined a spotlight into the crowd toward the end of this and said, "On a closed-circuit TV, before an invitation-only audience, we watch as Timothy runs into the arms of America." He was referring to Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for the Oklahoma City bombing.
On their Elevation tour, U2 showed footage of the actor and NRA spokesman Charlton Heston speaking in support of firearms followed by video of a child playing with a gun and images from the Vietnam War as an introduction to this song.
Thrash Metal band Sepultura covered this on their Revolusongs EP. P.O.D. recorded it on their album The Fundamental Elements Of Southtown.
Michael from Cincinnati, OhHuman's cover is buried about 4:52 into the track "Hand Me Down", starting about 20 or 30 seconds after that song actually ends.
Michael from Cincinnati, OhThis song was covered by Christian rock band Human on their 1998 album Out Of The Dust.
Rob from Stanwood, Antigua And BarbudaThis riff has been around for a LONG time. Those of you who think that U2 ripped off Ted Nugent should listen to Savoy Brown's "Hellbound train". No matter where the riff originated it is still a great song.
Rob from Stanwood, Antigua And BarbudaThis riff has been around for ever. Those of you that think that U2 ripped of Ted Nugent should listen to Savoy Brown's "Hellbound Train". So what. BTBS is still a great song no matter the riff.
Jim from Toronto, On(28/05/08) I just heard Ted Nugent's 'Stranglehold' for the first time ever, but only from halfway through on the radio; so I wasn't sure who was singing or when the song was released. Because U2 is one of my favourite bands, my first thought was 'Oh, who's this covering Bullet The Blue Sky?'. But as I listenened, I realized the lyrics were different and then thought, 'Oh!... who is this stealing a U2 classic?' Then the DJ came on and gave the name of the song and the year it was released; now I've read the reviews here and I have to say, BTBS doesn't just sound 'something' like the Nugent song... the similarities are blatant and disappointing. I would love to know what the band has ever had to say about this topic.
Mel from Riverbank, CaWhether or not you agree with their message, at least U2 has a message. So many of the songs in every generation are nothing but fluff, random or cheesy lyrics, they mean nothing. They make you feel nothing. That is what makes U2 one of The Great Bands, they can inspire passion, sadness, anger, and, sadly, confusion, for those of the human race who have no idea that the world is not a great wonderful rosy place.. I just bought Rattle and Hum for the second time, still gets me. And please, let's not confuse U2 with Christian Rock.. That's like comparing The Beatles with Oasis (a sad, pathetic attempt at greatness.)
Doris from Wilmington, DeActually, so many of you are wrong about U2. They almost didn't survive as a band because they DID and DO consider themselves Christians. They don't like to put themselves into any particular denomination, but they believe in the Bible and as young men, believed in the Bible so much, that they struggled about whether to keep the band together. Adam was always the one who didn't believe as the others, although in later years, I think, even Adam has come to develop some sort of spiritual belief. People who aren't Christians, seem to have a hard time admitting there fans of U2, when they know very well that the boys of U2 believe in Christ and the teachings of the Bible. "Bullet" is a dark song..because it's a dark message. It hits the nail on the head. I think it's one of their best ever! From the greatest album ever!
Heather from Los Angeles, CaActually at first I didn't like this song. Too hard, I guess. But after visiting El Salvador myself in 1997 the song became clearer...and the harsh sound fit. El Salvador is a haunted place....that's the way it feels. It is also a beautiful place.
Brad from Knoxville, Tnthis song will give you sort of a bad sinister feeling,and for not being a christian they sure do have alot of christian background in thier music ,but the song is actually talking about the bombing in el' salvador,so you are sort of right.not all of the songs are neccesarily christian . . . you do know that bono did claim to be christ though dont you ?
Mark from Austin, TxFirst off, U2 is not necessarily a "Christian band." They are a band with mostly Christians in it (at least one of them is not, I think) and Christianity informs their music a lot of the time. But the fact that U2 are GOOD means that they aren't a Christian band. (Heh heh.) As for the Mark David Chapman reference, I haven't heard the Boston show yet, but I can't imagine that Bono, a big John Lennon fan, would actually be telling him to "pull the trigger on the rock and roll n------." Not in a disparaging way, anyway. If he uses that word, it's a reference to "Woman Is The N------ Of The World." (I put the dashes because I don't know if I'll get cut off for using that word even in a quote, by the way.) I dunno. I'll have to listen to it for myself. But I do know that U2 (and Bono in particular) are huge Beatles' fans, no matter what John said about being bigger than Jesus. (Which was WAY blown out of proportion by our lovely Bible Belt in the 60s. Sigh.)
David from San Salvador, CaThis song is written about El Salvador,in fact 'Rattle and hum' was the how bono would describre the experience he lived there when the the bombs drop...'you first fell a rattle then comes the hum' it's obious, the song says it and you can find them in every u2 biography.The Edge also said that this song needed to be hard,that's how bono felt when he came back from El Salvador...
Mark from Worcester, MiRoger, please you can't rip anything off Led Zep. Cripes they didn't write when the levee breaks. That song is a thousand years old.
David from Youngstown, OhThis is a pretty lame bit of trivia, but the father of the teen actor Corbin Blue (High School Musical) wanted to name him Bullet Blue after this song. See what watching the Disney Channel with your kids teaches you.
Ryan from Windsor, CanadaGreen Day's Novacaine, off on American Idiot sounds a lot like this song beat wise.
Dawson from Draper, UtI went to a U2 concert yestarday, and they played this song, and the lighting was amazing.
Willie from Omaha, NeI am interested in U2's comments about this song and then POD's comments. has anyone heard them specifically explain the song?
Shehryar from Islamabad, Pakistanthe comments Bono makes at the end of the song on the boston DVD end up with him repeating mark chapman's name... and i think it actually goes 'pull the trigger (on) the rock and roll n***er...'
lennon did actually infamously say that the beatles were bigger than jesus...
Darrell from Cottage Grove, Mnwhat is up with the comments at the end of the song in the boston dvd? 'pull the trigger on a rock n roll 'n' bigger that jesus on bumper sticker.' not sure what the signifigance is?
Roger from Los Angeles, CaI always thought Edge, Clayton, and Mullen Jr. ripped off the music for this song from Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks". It sounds too similar for them not to have been influenced by it. It doesnt sound identical by any means, just similar enough to make you think they got the idea from that song.
Mark from Phoenix, AzI believe that the Nugent song that this may sound like is called "Stranglehold." There are portions of the songs that do indeed sound similar.....also many contemporary Christian bands not only cover U2, but also cite them as a huge influence.
Richard from Newport, Isle Of Wight, EnglandPeter - U2 are a Christian band! I think their songs "40" and Gloria are pretty clear testament to that, if you'll pardon the pun.
Marcelo from Campinas, BrazilTheir best and most passionate song, no doubt about it. Bono wrote it right after witnessing a bombing raid at El Salvador, so the verses describe a bit of what he saw then. Wonder what he thinks about the current US foreign policy...
Ryan from Albion, Nymy friend's dad said this sounded alot like a ted nugent song..i dont remember what song it was,but he showed me the ted nugent song, and it KIND of sounds like it...nothing like plagiarism..you have to be thinking of bullet the blue sky when you hear this song, and you can kind of make it out
Rob from Santa Monica, CaThis song is pretty unique not just among rock songs but among U2 songs. The beat is heavier and slower than their other stuff. It presages the heavy, more electronic sound they would visit on Achtung Baby, particularly in the way the solo builds up with addtional layers of guitar continually added in.
Steven from Congers, NyOn stage Bono sings "Outside is America." This is on the Slane Castle DVD.
Peter from Fort Worth, Txmaybe they covered it because of the religious refeerences or something, they're a christian band( p.o.d., not u2)
Darian from Farmington, MiIt's actually on The Fundamental Elements of Southtown, not P.O.D.'s debut album. They had a few albums before that one. I was at the CD release party for Southtown, and saw them perform Bullet The Blue Sky live, but I'm not sure if that was the first time they did or not.
Erik from Crazy Town, CtP.O.D. has a tremendous cover of this song on their debut album. What inspired them to cover this song?