May 2, 2009

U2: “Jesus Christ” (Woody Guthrie)


For a bunch of Irishmen, U2 has always been capable of throwing down a pretty darn soulful gospel jaunt in my book. Rattle and Hum is one of my favorite U2 eras (along with Achtung Baby. And maybe, oddly, Pop. I like Pop).

My friend John just brought this 20-year-old U2 cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Jesus Christ” to my attention, an mp3 I had in my iTunes library but had let settle to the bottom of the unlistened pile. Today is a grey and drizzly Saturday in Colorado, after a very long and difficult week, and this bit of handclapping, foot-stomping folk gospel is just the right medicine.

U2 originally recorded this in 1988 for the Woody Guthrie tribute album Folkways: A Vision Shared along with a pretty formidable collection of other artists. If this jubilant cut sounds reminiscent of Rattle and Hum, it’s for good reason — it was recorded during the same sessions.

The vinyl single of “Jesus Christ” was released as a promotional single in the Netherlands only.

Jesus Christ (Woody Guthrie cover) – U2


The original Woody Guthrie recording of this song was first captured on tape as part of the 1940 Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax — the first recordings of Woody Guthrie ever, that I am aware of. When I was trawling around in the Library of Congress audio archives last May (talkin’ to rad people) I remember seeing these in the  American Folklife Listening Room. I could have gotten permanently lost there, happily.

Jesus Christ (ripped from vinyl) – Woody Guthrie

[release info via U2wanderer]

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  • Oh man, people look at me crazy when I tell them that Pop is underrated and then if they were to listen to it now, without the baggage that accompanied it back in 97, they would feel differently about it.

    Still, it’s all Achtung all the time when it comes to U2 for me.

    James — May 2, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

  • Absolutely: In a magnificent career, U2 never shone brighter for me than on Achtung, Baby.

    Chris — May 3, 2009 @ 7:12 am

  • I don’t know which came first (i.e. the Guthrie or the Seeger), but this song is the very same (apart from the lyrics) as a Pete Seeger song called “Jesse James.” The most readily available example of the Jesse James song would be to find Springsteen’s album We Shall Overcome and listen to his cover of Seeger’s “Jesse James”.

    A bit of a trip to hear this sung about Jesus, to be honest. The lyrics have been changed to pertain to James, but not as much as one might think! “They laid poor Jesse in his grave.”

    Greetings, from Canada.

    Jack — May 3, 2009 @ 7:32 am

  • It’s cool to be able to hear the original version of this, thanks Heather!

    Neil — May 3, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

  • This is a great cover, from a great compilation lp for a good cause. Pop, however, sucks. W.

    W — May 3, 2009 @ 3:04 pm

  • Pop – my favorite U2 record. seriously. late nights on Mofo to the climax in Miami. pure bliss.

    Kyle Meredith — May 4, 2009 @ 6:56 am

  • The best thing about this era of U2 was the ridiculously hot guy who used to be their lead vocalist, as seen in this interview about the song Jesus Christ:

    c — May 13, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

  • ho-ly moley, cara.

    browneheather — May 13, 2009 @ 7:37 pm

  • I know this thread is ancient, but I just wanted to share that this cut was done at Sun Studios in Memphis. Bono used the same microphone that WHBQ DJ Dewey Phillips used in the ’40s.

    Mike Farrace — August 2, 2010 @ 8:51 pm

  • nice! what a cool backstory. when i was in nashville, i also loved seeing Studio B where i believe there’s some connection with U2′s Rattle and Hum? maybe equipment, or production…. i forget now -

    browneheather — August 3, 2010 @ 12:30 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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