Tuesday, 4 December 2012

U2: 1991-1999

Earlier this year, I looked at U2’s earlier recordings, covering the late 70’s and the 80’s. As mentioned before, the period from 1980 to 2000 were covered a few years back by a pair of “Best Of” sets, and so this month, we look at the period more or less covered by the second one. A post 2000 look at U2 will follow in due course.


With the critical mauling of “Rattle And Hum” forcing a rethink in the U2 camp, it was Bono and The Edge who were most determined to reinvent the band as sessions for “Achtung Baby” got underway. Although the album was not a wholesale revamp of the band, it’s teutonic beats and dance infused rhythms resulted in a more futuristic sounding U2 come 1991.

“Achtung Baby” is a great record. Probably helped by the fact that it still sounds, most of the time, like old-school U2. But what elevates it above so many others, is that the songs are superb, the band’s love of pop music giving the likes of “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” or “Ultravoilet” a structure to hang the electronic bells and whistles onto. The opening crunch of “Zoo Station”, the chugger-chugger sound of The Edge on “Until The End Of The World”, the slow burn finale of “Love Is Blindness”, this was the album where I really started to sit up and take notice of this band.

The band’s “Zoo TV” tour kicked off in February 1992, and it was a new look U2 that hit the stage. Having previously struggled to work out how to deal with the concept of the stadium rock show, the band simply got round the ludicrousness of it by sending it all up - be it Bono in his “MacPhisto” stage outfit, or the bank of TV screens that filled up the stage. The tour was a satirical attack on mass media, the 24 hour rolling news channels, and the weird and not always wonderful world of Satellite TV. There were screens displaying, at hyper fast speed, words and phrases that might - or might not - mean something, there were crank calls to, amongst other places, The Whitehouse, and during each show, Bono would flick a remote control at the TV screens to see “what was on”, with live satellite link ups being conducted on several occasions, including some to war torn Sarajevo during the 1993 leg of the tour.

After finishing the first leg of the tour in November 1992, the band had a six month break before the tour was due to resume in May 1993. However, rather than just have a rest, the band decided to record an EP, with a view to playing the material on stage in order to revamp the setlist. However, at Bono’s insistence, the EP became an LP, and as the weeks passed, more and more material was being written. At one point, somewhere in the region of twenty songs were in various stages of completion. Of course, the concept of writing, recording, and then releasing an album in such a short space of time proved too much, and as the next leg of the tour kicked off, the new album was still not complete, and initially, the band had to commute back and forth to Dublin inbetween shows to try and complete the album.

“Zooropa” was eventually released in the summer, and a large chunk of the album was worked into the band’s set. Critical appraisal was generally good, but the band later admitted it was a flawed effort, with The Edge claiming the songs were not classics, but “experimental”. It still feels like a sort of side project album, a cousin of “Achtung Baby” rather than an LP in it’s own right, which probably explains why it was included inside the boxset edition of “Baby” that was issued last year. That said, it did spawn one of the band’s finest ever singles, “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)”, a tug-at-the-heartstrings ballad that matched virtually anything on “Achtung Baby”.

A stand alone single followed in 1995, when the band’s monumental contribution to the “Batman Forever” soundtrack, “Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me”, was issued as a 45. A glorious continuation of the electro-rock sound of “Achtung Baby”, it was home to one of the greatest ever key changes in the bridge between the verses and the choruses, and pretty much convinced me that I had totally underestimated this band. Although it came in a cartoon Batman-esque video, the song had not actually been written for the movie, but was actually an off cut from the “Zooropa” sessions.

Later that year, the band released what really was a proper side project album (unlike “Zooropa“) - “Original Soundtracks 1”, credited to the “Passengers”. A collaboration with Brian Eno (the first time an entire U2 album had a regular “fifth” member, hence the decision to not release it under the U2 banner), it was billed as a series of songs from imaginary movies. Larry Mullen Jr hates it, stating it was the sign of a band becoming too self indulgent. It’s a forgotten part of the band’s past, with only the sole single, the sublime “Miss Sarajevo”, having made it into the band’s live set in intervening years.

Work on “Pop” began in 1996, but was held up during the recording process thanks to a back injury obtained by Mullen Jr. The band did try to speed the process up by working on the album without him, helped in part by the fact that the record would be a continuation of the “electro” stylings of “Achtung Baby”, so you could stick a drum machine in here or there, but the drummer was not entirely happy about this, and eventually, sessions were halted in order to allow him time to recover.

In what seemed to be an attempt to hurry themselves along, the band announced tour dates for the spring of 1997, as this would give them a focus and deadline within which to complete the album. However, the plan slightly backfired, as the band later admitted to rushing the final stages of the album to get it ready in time, and like “Zooropa”, it has since been viewed with an element of dissatisfaction by some fans, and the band themselves. The recording time also cut into rehearsals for the tour, and eye witness reports from initial shows suggest the early gigs on the tour were far from perfect. Some detractors also claim that, far from being another ironic attempt at a rock show that the “Zoo TV” tour was, the appearance of a big lemon on the stage was the sign of a band veering close to self-parody once more.

The first of two career spanning best of sets turned up in 1998, with the first one concentrating on the “1980-1990” part of the band’s past. To help promote the album, an old Joshua Tree-era B-side, “Sweetest Thing”, was re-recorded, and released as a single in it’s own right. Archive live recordings from the earliest part of the band’s career were exhumed from the vaults for use as B-sides, a sign of the band now being seemingly quite happy and proud to revisit their past. The likes of “Out Of Control” had all but disappeared from the setlists circa “The Joshua Tree”. When the band toured their next LP, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” in 2001, a number of oldies were wheeled out for these shows for the first time in many years, a situation that has continued with each tour. More about latter period U2 will appear in a future article.


To my mind, the second greatest single ever released after “Born To Run”, “One” was issued as the third single from “Achtung Baby” in March 1992. It was the song that finally saw the album sessions start to produce something cohesive, following weeks of abortive attempts at song writing, and in-band fighting.

The lyrics have often been misinterpreted, with couples claiming it as their very own love-song, or having it as their first dance at their wedding - despite the fact that the song was a rather more melancholy look at the fractured relationships within the band at the time, as well as also being a comment on the 1990 German Reunification of East and West Germany.

The single was a bit of an odd one out, as the sleeve design bore no resemblance to the artwork used on either the preceding, or subsequent, singles from the LP. It was housed in a quite incredible, but unbearably heartbreaking cover, the now famous “Falling Buffaloes” photograph by David Wojnarowicz.

A number of promo videos were made, although each time one was made, the band had cold feet about using it. The two so-called “withdrawn” clips are probably the most famous ones - the first, a mix of the band sitting around in drag and then driving in Trabant cars around Berlin (both the car and the city were very much adopted as symbols of the whole “Achtung Baby“ promo campaign), was pulled after the band were worried that the “drag queen” element would cause conflict with the single itself, as it was being released as a benefit single for AIDS research. The second, mostly consisting of slo-mo footage of running buffaloes, tied in with the sleeve of the single, but the band didn’t think it did the trick. I personally think both these videos are wonderful. Rarely, very rarely, can a promo video bring you close to tears, and yet both of these are beautiful enough to do so. The former, which climaxes with two Trabants coming bumper to bumper, kissing almost, is a fantastic moment, whilst the second ends with a still of the single cover, a real lump in the throat moment.

As a lover of prog, and a fan of punk, why is it that I find “One”, essentially a ballad, to be so magnificent? Simply because it works. It builds slowly. The Edge’s guitar work is minimalist to start with, epic to finish. And perhaps, simply, the sheer sadness of the song brings out the closet miserablist in me. The lyrics are incredible - “did I disappoint you, or leave a bad taste in your mouth… did I ask too much, more than a lot, you gave me nothing, now it’s all I’ve got… you ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl, and I can‘t be holding on”. Bono gets more and more agitated as the song goes on, and by the time it hits the final stretch, the songs’ momentum has built up to a glorious, skyscraping finale. It is utterly incredible.

Everything about the single just hangs together brilliantly. The song, the words, the videos, the cover. “One” is the sort of single that goes beyond just being a good song, it is classic art. I might actually sound a bit like Bono here, claiming that it’s an audio “Mona Lisa”, or an aural “The Scream”, but it really is that good. On a lesser album, “One” would have been in danger of overshadowing the rest of the entire record, but on “Achtung Baby”, it’s simply the jewel in the crown. I state again - the second greatest single ever made after “Born To Run".

Formats And Releases

With the CD single becoming the format of choice in the 1990’s, it is no surprise to say that you could buy any U2 single from that decade on the format in the UK, and you would at least end up with an exclusive B-side, or an exclusive remix. The only odd one out was “Staring At The Sun”, which included on one of it’s editions, one of the songs from “Original Soundtracks” as it’s 'exclusive' b-side, presumably on the basis that the obscure nature of the album made the record company think nobody would already own it. The song, “Your Blue Room”, even turned up on the B-sides disc of the “Best Of 1990-2000” compilation.

The first single from “Achtung Baby”, “The Fly”, was issued as a limited single, a less than sly attempt to help hype the single into the upper reaches of the charts, with the 12“ and CD editions including a remix of the A-side as an exclusive bonus track. Both this and the follow up single, “Mysterious Ways”, were issued in rather abstract looking picture sleeves. “Mysterious Ways” was the subject of multiple remixing, and along with the standard 5-mix CD and 12” editions, various other - at the time - vinyl only mixes were released.

Following the release of “One”, two further singles were issued from the album. The sleeves of “Even Better Than The Real Thing” and “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”, when placed side by side, formed a larger single photo. The single of the former featured a side view shot of Adam Clayton and The Edge in the rear of a Trabant, the latter featured a side view of the front, featuring Bono and Larry Mullen Jr.

Both singles also went down the remix route. A number of dance mixes of “The Real Thing” were made and spread across a remix 12” and remix CD. These singles came housed in a simple black sleeve, with the titles and info printed in white text on the front. The “remix” version of “Wild Horses” used the same image as the standard CD, but in some rather psychedelically altered colouring.

In what was probably a nod to the visual nature of the “Zoo TV” tour, the first single from “Zooropa”, “Numb”, was only issued in the UK as a VHS Single, although audio promos exist. “Lemon” was the single that never was in the UK - a video was made, and overseas releases exist, but it was not until the release of “Stay” that a UK CD single from “Zooropa” was issued commercially.

“Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me” was issued on a red vinyl 7” as well as a CD edition, and was followed by the sole single from “Original Soundtracks”, “Miss Sarajevo”. It appeared on only one format of major interest, CD again, although the 7” edition came in a unique sleeve. The CD was housed in a quite remarkable cover, a genuine photo from a Beauty Pageant in Sarajevo, with the contestants holding up a banner bearing the legend “Don’t Let Them Kill Us”. It’s quite possibly the most striking sleeve of a single I have ever seen.

The singles from “Pop” went down the two-CD single route, although such was the number of remixes made of “Discotheque” and “Mofo”, that both were issued on 12” as well with exclusive material. Some of the recordings on these singles are on the double disc “Best Of”, but every single - excepting the CD1 “Staring At The Sun” - is still home to at least one exclusive rarity in the UK. Ditto the live tracks on both versions of the “Sweetest Thing” single. It is worth noting that even though the final single from “Pop” was a double A sided release of “Mofo” and “If God Will Send His Angels”, each format only listed one or the other title on the cover, so you wouldn’t immediately be aware that it even was a double A side release. Indeed the “Mofo” 12” includes no versions of “Angels” at all, and the CD1 version includes no versions of “Mofo“ either!

We have already mentioned the double disc “1980-1990” best of in my previous article, and up until last year, with the exception of that album, all of U2’s 1990 releases remained unchanged track listing wise since their original release. But the fall of 2011 saw the re-release of “Achtung Baby”. In addition to the usual 2-CD revamp, there was a “Super Deluxe” boxset, and an “Uber Deluxe” one.

The “Uber Deluxe” box retailed at a wallet emptying £250. Thing is, apart from some fancy packaging, there was nothing really music-wise inside that the cheaper (£80) “Super” box didn’t already have. You got all five of the singles repressed as coloured vinyl 7” singles, and the album on vinyl as well, but with most of these B-sides already included elsewhere in the same box, it did feel like it was simply aimed at people who worked in a bank and had received a bonus and didn’t know what to spend their cash on.

So let’s just look at what the “Super Deluxe” one has. Well, first up, none of the discs come in individual sleeves, so if you want a “Zooropa” in it’s original cover, you’ll have to go and buy the original. There was a disc devoted to alternate versions of the original “Achtung Baby”, and three CD’s full of rare and unreleased songs, B-sides and remixes from the period. There were four DVD’s - the “Zoo TV Live From Sydney” release, the “From The Sky Down” documentary (later released in it’s own right), a DVD of the promo videos, and a DVD of TV material. All in all, rather good VFM. It effectively made the original release rather defunct, although if you do fancy owning a 1991 original, it is worth pointing out that the Cassette edition came in a different sleeve - because the cover was made up of blocks of photos, the cassette - simply by being a different size - features less blocks. The boxset comes in a “4x4” arrangement, the tape a “3x2” one.


It is always quite awkward to try and show a discography that is both “pre” and “post” the release of a boxset, or a career spanning best-of, both of which U2 have done since these singles were released. But I have tried to make it simple.

For each single, I have included the original releases of interest (including the CD1 edition of “Staring At The Sun”, just because it makes sense to do so), with the CD Single being listed as the standard format, and thence any other formats including what were unique mixes/tracks thereafter.

I have then detailed, for the “Achtung Baby” singles, which bonus tracks have or haven’t reappeared since. Where relevant, I have then listed the formats that, if you have both the Super Deluxe box of “Achtung” and the 2-CD “Best Of 1990-2000” releases, you might wish to consider hunting down instead if you are missing any singles. Of course, it may be easier to find the CD version of “One” rather than the Cassette anyway, but you never know.

For the albums, again, I have opted to go for the original CD pressings to show the band’s own cataloguing system, and indeed, in the case of most, these are still the only versions of interest. The only exception to the rule is “Achtung Baby”, of course, with it’s fancy box set editions.


Achtung Baby (1991, CD, Island CIDU2 8)
Zooropa (1993, CD, Island CIDU2 9)
Melon (1993, CD, Island MELONCD 1, originally given free with “Propaganda” fan club magazine)
Original Soundtracks 1 (1995, CD, Island CID 8043)
Pop (1997, CD, Island CIDU2 10)
The Best Of 1980-1990 (1998, 2xCD, Island CIDDU2 11)

“Melon” is a remix album, and with several songs still exclusive to the album, retails for £50 even without the magazine. The band issued another fan club CD in 2000, “Hasta La Vista Baby”, which was simply an edited highlights set from the VHS release, “Popmart Live From Mexico City”.


The Fly/Alex Descends Into Hell For A Bottle Of Milk/Korova 1/The Lounge Fly Mix (CD, Island CID 500)
All b-sides appear on the super deluxe boxset edition of “Achtung Baby”. “The Fly” was also issued on 7”, 12” and Cassette.

Mysterious Ways (Album Version)/(Solar Plexus Magic Hour Remix) (7”, Island IS 509)
Mysterious Ways (The Perfecto Mix)/(Ultimatum Mix)/(Apollo 440 Magic Hour Remix)/(Solar Plexus Extended Club Mix) (Remix 12”, Island 12 ISX 509)
Mysterious Ways (Album Version)/(Solar Plexus Extended Club Mix)/(Apollo 440 Magic Hour Remix)/(Tabla Motown Remix)/(Solar Plexus Club Mix) (CD, Island CID 509)
All the remixes appear on the super deluxe boxset edition of “Achtung Baby”, with the exception of the “Solar Plexus Club Mix”, which appears on the 2-CD version of “The Best Of 1990-2000”. “Mysterious Ways” was also issued on a standard 12” and Cassette.

One/Lady With The Spinning Head (UVI)/Satellite Of Love/Night And Day (Steel String Remix) (CD, Island CID 515)
All b-sides appear on the super deluxe boxset edition of “Achtung Baby”. “One” was also issued on 7”, 12” and Cassette.

Even Better Than The Real Thing (Single Version)/Salome/Where Did It All Go Wrong?/Lady With The Spinning Head (Extended Dance Mix) (CD, Island CID 525)
Even Better Than The Real Thing (The Perfecto Mix)/(Trance Mix)/(Sexy Dub Mix) (Remix 12”, Island REAL U2)
Even Better Than The Real Thing (The Perfecto Mix)/(Sexy Dub Mix)/(Apollo 440 Stealth Sonic Remix)/(V16 Exit Wound Remix)/(A440 Vs U2 Instrumental Remix) (Remix CD, Island C REAL U2)
“Salome” and “Where Did It All Go Wrong?” appear on the super deluxe boxset edition of “Achtung Baby”, whilst the extended mix of “Lady With The Spinning Head” appears on the 2-CD version of “The Best Of 1990-2000”. A number of the remixes, including the “Trance Mix” of the a-side also appear on the boxset, but the “A440 Instrumental Remix” remains exclusive to this single.

Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses (The Temple Bar Edit)/Paint It Black/Fortunate Son/Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses (The Temple Bar Remix) (CD, Island CID 550)
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses (The Temple Bar Edit)/Paint It Black/Salome (Zooromancer Remix)/Can’t Help Falling In Love (Triple Peaks Remix) (Remix CD, Island CIDX 550)
All b-sides from both singles appear on the super deluxe boxset edition of “Achtung Baby”. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” was also issued on 7”, 12” and Cassette.

Numb (Video)/(Video Remix)/Love Is Blindness (Video) (VHS, Island 088 162 3)

Stay (Faraway, So Close!)/I’ve Got You Under My Skin/Lemon (Bard Yard Club Edit)/(Perfecto Mix) (CD1, Island CID 578)
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)/Slow Dancing/Bullet The Blue Sky (Live)/Love Is Blindness (Live) (CD2, Island CIDX 578)

Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me (Single Version) +2 (CD, Atlantic A 7131 CD)

Miss Sarajevo (Single Version)/One (Live Modena 12.9.1995)/Bottoms (Zoo Station Remix)/Viva Davidoff (CD, Island CID 625)

Discotheque/Holy Joe (Garage Mix)/(Guilty Mix) (CD1, Island CID 649)
Discotheque (DM Deep Club Mix)/(Howie B Hairy B Mix)/(Hexidecimal Mix)/(DM Tec Radio Mix) (CD2, Island CIDX 649)
Discotheque (DM Deep Extended Club Mix)/(DM Deep Beats Mix)/(DM Tec Radio Mix)/(DM Deep Instrumental Mix)/(12” Version)/(David Holmes Mix)/(Howie B Hairy B Mix)/(Hexidecimal Mix) (3x12”, Island 12 IST 649)

Staring At the Sun/North And South Of The River/Your Blue Room (CD1, Island CID 658)
Staring At the Sun (Monster Truck Mix)/(Sad Bastards Mix)/North And South Of The River/Staring At The Sun (Lab Rat Mix) (CD2, Island CIDX 658)

Last Night On Earth (Single Version)/Pop Muzik (Pop Mart Mix)/Happiness Is A Warm Gun (The Gun Mix) (CD1, Island CID 664)
Last Night On Earth (First Night In Hell Mix)/Numb (The Soul Assassins Mix)/Happiness Is A Warm Gun (The Danny Saber Mix)/Pop Muzik (Pop Mart Mix) (CD2, Island CIDX 664)

Please (Single Version)/Dirty Day (Junk Day)/(Bitter Kiss)/I’m Not Your Baby (Skysplitter Dub) (CD1, Island CID 673)
Please (Live In Rotterdam)/Where The Streets Have No Name (Live In Rotterdam)/With Or Without You (Live In Edmonton)/Staring At The Sun (Live In Rotterdam) (CD2, Island CIDX 673)

If God Will Send His Angels (Single Version)/Slow Dancing (1997 Version)/Two Shots Of Happy, One Shot Of Sad/Sunday Bloody Sunday (Live In Sarajevo) (CD1, Island CID 684)
Mofo (Phunk Phorce Mix)/(Mother’s Mix)/If God Will Send His Angels (The Grand Jury Mix) (CD2, Island CIDX 684)
Mofo (Phunk Phorce Mix)/(Black Hole Dub)/(Mother’s Mix)/(House Flavour Mix)/(Romin Remix) (12”, Island 12 IS 684)

Sweetest Thing (The Single Mix)/Twilight (Live From Red Rocks)/An Cat Dubh (Live From Red Rocks) (CD1, Island CID 727)
Sweetest Thing (The Single Mix)/Stories For Boys (Live From Boston)/Out Of Control (Live From Boston) (CD2, Island CIDX 727)

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