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Dancing Barefoot by U2 and Karen by The Go-Betweens: Great B-Sides

Patti Smith was one of the first punk artists to make a record. 1975’s Horses, produced by John Cale, was a confronting album. Musically it drew from 1960s garage-rock, while lyrically it was provocative. Smith was clearly influential on an upcoming generation of artists; young acts from the outposts of Brisbane (The Go-Betweens) and Dublin (U2) would pay tribute to her during their own recording careers.

Horses is Smith’s most acclaimed album, but some of her best known songs came later in the 1970s. Bruce Springsteen donated the hit ‘Because The Night’ in 1978, while 1979’s Wave was produced by Todd Rundgren and featured the single ‘Dancing Barefoot’. According to the sleeve of ‘Wave’, ‘Dancing Barefoot’ was dedicated to women such as Amedeo Modigliani’s mistress Jeanne Hébuterne.

Punk opened the doors for arty and less polished acts to gain a recording contract. Robert Forster and Grant McLennan formed the indie-pop band The Go-Betweens while studying in Brisbane in the late 1970s. Their first release was the ‘Lee Remick’ single in 1978, with the b-side ‘Karen’. ‘Karen’ tells the story of Forster’s infatuation with a librarian, with great lines like:

Standing there, behind the counter
Willing to help
With all the problems
That I encounter

Helps me find Hemingway
Helps me find Genet
Helps me find Brecht
Helps me find Chandler
Helps me find James Joyce
She always makes the right choice

Smith was clearly a reference point for The Go-Betweens – they both draw from literature, and they both favour a minimalist sound. Forster also paid tribute to Smith on 2000’s ‘When She Sang About Angels’. Smith was also an inspiration for U2 – with their stadium-filling antics, it’s easy to forget they started as an edgy post-punk outfit, in the wake of Joy Division.

In 1989 U2 paid tribute to Smith with a version of ‘Dancing Barefoot’ as the b-side to ‘When Love Comes To Town’. I always thought that The Go-Betweens’ ‘Karen’ borrowed its twitchy Em/D intro from Smith’s ‘Dancing Barefoot’ – the similarities between the songs is marked, and U2’s most relaxed version only accentuates the similarities. In fact, The Go-Betweens’ song was released before Smith’s, so it appears to be just a coincidence.

Surprisingly, U2’s version of ‘Dancing Barefoot’ topped the Iceland charts in early 1995 after appearing in the comedy Threesome. It suits Bono’s voice – he’s able to effortless reach Smith’s high notes – and it’s a more dignified choice than the Americana that U2 were emulating during the Rattle and Hum era. U2’s version of ‘Dancing Barefoot’ was also included on the bonus disc that came with The Best of 1980–1990. Patti Smith and U2 reunited on stage in 2017 to perform ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’.

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18 thoughts on “Dancing Barefoot by U2 and Karen by The Go-Betweens: Great B-Sides Leave a comment

  1. I’ve been listening to the The Go-Betweens…I really like them…they are quirky and I like that.
    I like that period of U2…I’m one of the few it seems who really liked Rattle and Hum.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like a bunch of tracks from Rattle and Hum, especially the studio cuts, but as a whole it’s a bit tough. Like a band believing too much in their own hype. Covering Patti Smith is truer to their roots than collaborating with BB King, even though the BB King track is kind of cool

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yea the studio tracks are what I listened to the most. Angel of Harlem, Love Rescue Me… What I was happy to hear was The Edge step away from the delay box a little more.
        He did some great things with it as far as sounds go… but it was nice to hear a change.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As for Rattle and Hum, I think it would have worked far better and ultimately been better received and conveyed their full-on tilt at Americana had it been a 10-track LP featuring just the 9 studio tracks plus the brilliant B-side A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel. Including the live stuff, the covers and the snippets made it far messier and a less focused record. They had 10 really strong studio tracks at that point – it was a no-brainer to release that as the follow-up to The Joshua Tree

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like the Rattle and Hum album and saw the movie at the time. That being said, I can see why some folks might view it as somewhat self-glorifying.

    I also dig U2’s cover of Dancing Barefoot. Bono just is a compelling vocalist. I also find The Edge’s guitar work on this tune a refreshing departure from his usual sound, which is great but can get repetitive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think self-glorifying is a good description. People like to single the part out where Bono yells “Okay, Edge….play the blues.” I think they were trying to shoot for something more grandiose than The Joshua Tree, which is difficult.

      Liked by 1 person

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