While playing their song, “Always,” U2 producer Daniel Lanois took a liking to a lyric Bono was improvising. Over the band, Bono repeated the line, “It’s a Beautiful Day.” Lanois suggested the band turn it into a chorus for a new song.
The song, with a message of grace and transcendence beyond materialism, and inspired by Bono’s debt relief work with Jubilee 2000, was recorded as part of the album, “All That You Can't Leave Behind.” And while the band debated whether its sonic qualities were too derivative of their already established sound (i.e. they weren’t innovating enough), the song went on to set the overall tone of the new album, and led to the its wide commercial success.
In a 2000 interview with Rolling Stone’s Bill Crandall, The Edge said, “Like it or not, the first single is often used as a way of judging the whole record, or certainly people view it as like an introduction or explanation for where the album’s going. For us, it’s often an impossible task to find one song that can do that effectively. I feel ‘Beautiful Day’ is a song that has been able to do that for this record. Maybe the last two records we just didn’t have a song like that.”
Winning three Grammy awards in 2001 (including Song of the Year), “Beautiful Day” became a setlist regular for the band’s live performances throughout the various tours. In 2011, the song was moved to the midway point in the show and NASA Astronaut Mark Kelly introduced the song via video from the International Space Station.
The band had dedicated the song to Kelly’s wife, former US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The video ends with Captain Kelly reciting a familiar quote from a fitting David Bowie song, “Tell my wife I love her very much... she knows.”