“Beautiful Day is like many U2 songs in that they don’t follow what might be considered a standard song form. In this case, there are two bridges, and sometimes the chorus changes melody and arrangement-wise to almost seem like another section. The song form looks like this:
intro ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ bridge 1 ➞
intro ➞ bridge 2 ➞ chorus ➞ bridge 1 ➞ chorus/solo ➞ intro
This is one of the few songs that has all five arrangement elements (and sometimes even more) simultaneously playing. There are a lot of different sounds that sneak in and out of the verses, but the chorus and bridges are about as dense as can be.
The song starts with a keyboard pad, electric piano and bass outlining the chords, and what sounds like a drum machine kick drum. When the vocal enters after 4 bars, so does a snare drum doubled with a tambourine. After 4 more bars, a guitar enters on the right channel and a keyboard pedal note on the left. On the last 2 bars of the verse, a heavily reverbed background vocal enters on the right.
For the chorus the band cranks up the vocal with the drums entering in full with a power chord guitar on the left and the same reverbed background vocal on right.
The second verse changes in the bass is now playing 8th notes, driving the beat, with different guitar fills on the right and keyboard fills on the left drifting in and out of the mix. During the second chorus, a new background vocal enters on the right, this time lower in pitch and drier, so it’s more up front.
The same primary instrumentation continues for bridge 1, only drummer Larry Mullen switches his snare pattern to toms. The song then drops in intensity to another 4 bar intro, this time with a modulated guitar on left, and then it’s into bridge 2.
The first half of bridge 2 lowers in intensity with no drums, the bass playing whole notes, keyboard pads and the Edge playing a guitar arpeggio. The drums enter for the second half, building it up to a chorus, but it’s unusual in that it’s 4 bars of string and keyboard pads and background vocals.
Then we’re back to bridge 1 for a second time with exactly the same instrumentation as the first. It then goes back into a chorus, but only the first line is sung and a guitar solo enters on the right. The outro breaks down to only a tremolo guitar on the left and feedback that pans left to right.
The arrangement elements look like this:
- The Foundation: bass, drums, drum machine kick, tambourine doubling the snare
- The Rhythm: Edge’s signature arpeggiated guitar
- The Pad: various synthesizers
- The Lead: lead vocal
- The Fills: back ground vocals, various keyboards and guitars
“Beautiful Day” is a very dense mix with many different synth and guitar sounds appearing for short periods of time then disappearing, some never to be heard again. There’s a lot of sonic layering both with reverbs and delays. Edge has always been the master of delays on his guitars, but this song features deep dense reverbs on some of the synths and background vocals.
One of the cooler things is the panning during the song. The keyboards lean left and most of the guitars lean right except for the power chord guitar in the choruses, the arpeggiated guitar in the second bridge and the vibrato guitar at the very end, which is panned left. The background vocals are always on the right side (most unusually), and while Edge’s high vocal is bathed in reverb, Bono’s low vocal is drier and up front.
The drums are very small and tinny sounding (especially the snare), but this might be because that was the only way to fit everything together in such a dense mix with so many elements. The snare also has the tambourine doubling it on the verses, which makes it sound a little thinner than it really is.
Bono’s vocals are dry so he stays in front of the mix and the other song layers.
“Beautiful Day” has all the hallmarks of a song where overdub after overdub was tried in an effort to come up with something that works, then they decided to keep pieces of everything when it came to mixing. That’s the production trick here, where so many different tracks were able to blend together in the end and not fight one another.
That said, one of the best things about this record is the dynamics. While most records use different elements entering and exiting to build momentum and dynamic tension and release, “Beautiful Day” uses the plentiful dynamic skills of the band to go from a whisper to a roar. U2 has never been afraid to play quietly, and when you hear the transition from the first verse to the first chorus here, you understand how valuable an asset that is. Since it’s release, “Beautiful Day” has been one of the band’s concert staples, and it’s easy to see why.
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