“40” by U2

As the story goes, “40” is a song which U2 composed and recorded on the spot. More specifically, they had significantly exceeded the studio time allotted to them to record the album War yet were still one song short. So the band was basically tasked with coming up with a track out of nowhere. And under this pressure Bono reached for the Good Book and came upon Psalm 40, thus the title of this song. And said Old Testament chapter also very much served as the lyrical basis of this piece.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for U2's 40 at Lyrics.org.

That said, the lyrics are not a verbatim reciting of Psalm 40. As such, apparently some people feel that the wording loses its spiritual efficacy as a result.

However, from the onset of the first verse it is made abundantly clear that the intended addressee is in fact “the Lord”. And it is He whom the vocalist is praising for not only delivering him out of trouble when requested to do so but also putting him in a position where he is no longer in danger. In fact this turnaround in the singer’s life has been so miraculously that Bono is convinced others who bear witness to it will have no choice but to respect the power of God. 

The said transformation would also be why the vocalist is now compelled to “sing a new song”, one of positivity as opposed to the lamentations which previously dominated his disposition. But at the same time he seemingly questions how long this joy will last, thus implying that there is still some pessimism extant in his soul.


So maybe some hardcore Biblical purists will have issues with this translation, if you will, of Psalm 40. But one thing you have to give U2 credit for is being a mainstream rock act who is still bold enough to not only drop but also regularly perform a song which, most simply put, is a spiritual.

Lyrics of U2's "40"

Facts about “40”

“40” is a song which Island Records issued as a single on 26 February 1983, solely in Germany. And it is from U2’s “War“, an album which, as its name implies, sports a political undertone.

Other notable singles that emerged from this critically acclaimed album are:

According to Bono, one of the co-writers of this song, U2 put “40” together, under intense pressure and mixing and all, in less than an hour. And the other co-writer is his U2 bandmate, The Edge.

As a result of this track being an impromptu, last-second recording, U2’s Adam Clayton was not around to participate. Therefore The Edge not only played guitar but also bass on this track. And besides for him and Bono the other member of U2, drummer Larry Mullen Jr., also participated.

This song, in one form or another, has remained a regular feature on U2’s live setlists.

This track was produced by highly-decorated British musician Steve Lillywhite.


1 Response

  1. JB says:

    One of my all time favorite U2 songs! Thank you for writing this article.

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