The History Mix: Hidden Messages

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2017-01-20)


IMAGE: The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 Trailer

Blink and you miss it.

At the start of U2’s recent video to announce The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, a number flashes up across the screen as the video starts. ‘5589’ – it looks hand drawn. And then the tour video starts. But as we all know, things rarely happen by chance in U2’s media. And the strange 5589 is probably no exception.

What does it mean? We aren’t sure. But it got us looking at other hidden messages the band have used throughout the years. And we will come back to the 5589 in the end.

Rattle and Hum (1988)

One of the first hidden messages from the band can only be found on the vinyl pressings of the album Rattle and Hum. If you look very carefully in the black vinyl just outside the label on certain records you will see the hidden message “We Love You A.L.K.” as part of the larger matrix for the album. It varies where it is located:

  • UK, Europe, Canada, Italy, Spain: Side A
  • USA: Side D
  • Australia and New Zealand: Side A and D

Usually in each case its part of a bigger line of text, for instance in the USA pressings it says “ST-IL-887168 M 1-4 WE LOVE YOU A.L.K.”

But what does it mean? A.L.K is a reference to Anne-Louise Kelly, who worked as director of the Dublin office of Principle Management, U2’s management company. Kelly at the time would be working with U2 and this note was a shout out to her hidden in the vinyl of an album.

Zooropa Cover


Image: Zooropa Cover Image (Click to Enlarge)

A rather noticeable one here but one that still many don’t see. This time there are messages hidden in the cover of the album itself. The album was designed by Works Associates of Dublin, under the direction of Steve Averill and Shaughn McGrath. On the cover, layered over backing image is some large purple text, which is difficult to read. In among the words you can see “Wake Up De”, “et Dress”, and “iss Me Kill M” which would all appear at a later date as “Wake Up Dead Man” and “If You Wear that Velvet Dress” from “Pop” and “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” which would be released on the Batman Forever soundtrack. These songs were worked on during the recording of Zooropa, but most never made the album only seeing release later.

Original Soundtracks 1 (1995)

The liner notes for the Passengers album include a series of notes about fake films that the tracks on the album are from. The notes were written by Eno, one of the passengers who helped record the album. But the author of these notes in the booklet is Ben O’Rian (an anagram of Brian Eno) and C.S.J. Bofop (each letter when substituted for the one prior in the alphabet spells Brian Eno as well.)

Other hidden messages included in the booklet? “Peter von Heineken” is a joke on U2’s manager at the time, Paul McGuinness, substituting one beer for another. “Venda Davis” is an anagram for David Evans (the Edge), “Tanya McLoad” becomes Adam Clayton, “Barry Boedders” becomes Des Broadbery (played sequencer on “Always Forever Now”), “Joseph Mamat” becomes James Topham (thanked in the liner notes) and “Kiley Sue LaLonne” becomes Anne-Louise Kelly (as mentioned above, an employee at Principle Management). “Pi Hoo Sun” is a phonetic spelling of Bono’s real name “Paul Hewson”. And “Tony Corbin” is likely a reference to Anton Corbijn. It’s also been suggested that the line “The face of a child drawn on a melon” is a reference to Cosmo, the baby who is on the CD “Achtung Baby” and the front cover of “Zooropa”. And finally the name “Kobayashi” is actually the last name of the singer Holi who appears on the album, her full name being Akiko Kobayashi.

Pop (1997)


Image: Front Cover of Pop (Click to Enlarge)

The hidden message on 1997’s Pop? Two jump to mind. For the first you need to take the album cover and look at Larry Mullen. Now turn the album 90 degrees clock wise and look at his eye. It appears to be the Playboy bunny. For many years Playboy would often feature a hidden bunny logo in their covers and many who noticed this logo thought the same was being done here as a nod to the magazine, which featured in the song “The Playboy Mansion”.

However, Steve Averill, interviewed in Hot Press claimed it was more an accident:

After the Pop album came out we had a fax from the Playboy people who wanted to know why we’d used their logo and what we were trying to say. We weren’t aware that we’d used it at all but when we examined the cover it just happened that if you looked at a shot of Larry’s eye and turned the picture sideways the shadows make it look as if we’ve placed the Playboy logo over one eye. But we hadn’t!

But even if the bunny wasn’t intended there is another hidden message on Pop. Like Rattle and Hum it is hidden in the matrix. Unlike vinyl where the matrix is on each side near the label, on a CD it is on the underside of the disc near the center, and usually features information about the pressing of the CD, catalog information etc.


Image: Underside of the CD Pop (Click to Enlarge)

If you look on the underside of many CD pressings of Pop you will see a strange line of text: 4UALKXXXX. It breaks down this way “4U” means “For You”, “ALK” means “Anne-Louise Kelly”, and “XXXX” is a representation of four kisses. It’s a dedication of the album to Anne Louise Kelly who was running the Dublin operations for Principle Management but who would resign from this position in 1997. It was also Anne Louise Kelly who was thanked in the matrix area of Rattle and Hum.

The message does appear in many pressings of the CD worldwide, including German, Canadian, American and Japanese pressings, but not necessarily on all pressings from these regions.

All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)


Image: Front Cover of All That You Can’t Leave Behind (Click to Enlarge)

The cover of the album is a photograph of the band taken at Charles De Gaulle International Airport in Paris, France at the entrance to gates F21-36. The gate label “F21-36” has been edited out of the Anton Corbijn photograph used for the cover, and has been replaced with “J33-3” a reference to the bible verse Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and hidden things which you have not known”. Steve Averill of AmpVisual, who helped create the cover, has confirmed that it is the verse from Jeremiah that is being referenced.

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)


Image: Underside of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb CD (Click to Enlarge)

Another CD with a dedication in the matrix area. On almost all pressings worldwide of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, if you flip the CD over and look at the center you will see the words “MISS YOU SUGAR”. Unlike Pop however, in this case it is also present on the matrix in the center of the vinyl version of the album as well, on Side A.

What does it mean? It’s never been clarified what it means by the band so fans have been left to guess over the years. As the album deals with Bono’s loss of his father, and at one point the title How to Dismantle an Atomic Bob was almost used, fans can’t help but wonder if Sugar was some sort of nickname for Bono’s father. Maybe something Iris once called him? The album dedication inside the booklet reads “Dedicated to the continuing memory of Brendan Robert Hewson, “Bob”, 1925 – 2001” so it would certainly be fitting if it was a reference to Bob in some way although it easily could refer to someone else.

No Line on the Horizon (2009)

For No Line on the Horizon the team at Amp Visual were having some fun with the deluxe version of the album. The equals sign chosen for the front cover lead the team to play with numbers and mathematics in the final design of the booklet. This one is only found in the deluxe version of the album but it shows how sometimes the little things are very intentional on a U2 release.

The first pages you see when you open the booklet is a dark photograph with a series of vertical lines. At first the spacing may seem to be random but indeed, it is not. The numbers add. So you get one line by itself, and then another line by itself. 1+1 = 2 and the next lines are two spaced together. The next set of lines is three spaced together. This is the sum of the two and the one blocks that come before it.


Image: The Fibonacci sequence in No Line on the Horizon (Click to Enlarge)

The whole series is 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21. In mathematics this is called the Fibonacci sequence. Each number is the sum of the two numbers that come before it. So 8 + 13 = 21. The next number in the sequence would be 34. This is not printed in the booklet as a series of lines, however, on the page for the lyrics for “Cedars of Lebanon” that number pops up as well.

The booklet also features some latitude and longitude coordinates:

  • 48°51’30“N 2°17’40“E – The Eiffel Tower in Paris France (Front Cover)
  • 36°32’0“N 6°18’0“E – Outside A Supermarket in Cadiz, Spain (Back Cover)

The above only come out that way if you reverse the E in the second set of coordinates for a W. But it makes sense as we’ve been told the story on Linear is a biker who travels from Paris to Cadiz.


Image: Paris co-ordinates in No Line on the Horizon (Click to Enlarge)

Later in the booklet there is also a “map” which show several connected co-ordinates:

First Path:

  • 42°53’0“N 8°24’0“E – In the Mediterranean just North of Corsica
  • 42°36’0“N 5°34’0“W – In the Mediterranean South of Marseilles
  • 42°21’0“N 83°42’0“W – North of Ann Arbor MI, USA
  • 43°9’43“N 1°14’14“W – Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France
  • 42°47’37“N 0°32’45“W – On the border of France and Spain near Candanchu

Second Path:

  • 25°0’0“N 45°0’0“E – To the West of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Repeats)
  • 21°26’31“N 39°51’28“E – Northside of Mecca, Saudi Arabia
  • 21°24’33“N 39°54’11“E – Eastside of Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Songs of Innocence (2014)


Image: Songs of Innocence Digital Cover (Click to Enlarge)

Songs of Innocence isn’t without some small touches. The album debuted on iTunes with a cover image that looked like an old promotional pressing. The label of the vinyl could be seen and it contained an odd symbol that fans were quick to identify. The symbol is the same that Larry Mullen has tattooed on his arm, and would later be displayed on the main album cover when released. Bono in Hot Press revealed the following about the tattoo, “Actually, you know Larry’s tattoo? He didn’t say anything on the day, didn’t say anything until we did the download and it was in the artwork, that this tattoo is based on Native American mythology. It’s the Pawnee tribe and it’s a symbol of protecting the innocence.”


Image: Cover of the commercial release Songs of Innocence (Click to Enlarge)

A second message comes in the title sticker used on the commercial version of the album. The stickers affixed to the outside are spaced differently so they read “Son gs of Innocence.” This makes “Son” jump out somewhat, which is fitting in some ways, as the album cover features Larry holding a younger man who turns out to be his son. The title has a hint of who the younger man is who many would not have known if he hadn’t been identified in interviews around the reveal of the cover.

Back to that 5589?


IMAGE: The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 Trailer (Click to Enlarge)

So do we know what the 5589 means? No. We probably do not at this point. But there are some pieces of the puzzle that have been examined.

  • The number 5589 does crop up on a pressing of The Joshua Tree – the Matrix of one USA pressing lists “L384 5589 I242298 B60819-15.” The 5589 stands out here as it is different and distinct from the other numbers around it. But it is a pressing for a record club, which traditionally hasn’t included hidden messages in the past, even the ones mentioned above don’t show up in those releases. And it’s only one pressing of many that contains the number.
  • 55 and 89 could be linked. 55 miles is equal to 89km. So it could be a reference to a distance. Using the tree as a starting point you find that it is 10.5mi from the ghost town of Darwin where some of the photos were done for the album, it is 82mi to Zabriskie Point where other photos were taken, and indeed the only thing that would be close to being 55 miles from the tree is a small town named Aberdeen.
  • It could be some sort of reference number to where the footage was taken from. It appears at the start of the video where films and videos often have an introductory piece which identify footage.
  • Highways 55 and 89 used to exist in Nevada, and exist in California, but none of these seem to take us anywhere near a location that was important to The Joshua Tree.
  • In Strong’s Concordance, an index of every word in the King James Version of the bible, the Hebrew word (סְעַפָּה) listed as H5589 translates to bough or branch. Could this be the reference?
  • In the Zoo TV Live from Sydney video, at the end of the performance of “Where the Streets Have No Name” you can see a brief clip of the same footage used for the tour promo. It is followed by the same handwritten style numbers, first 11232, and then 5589 as well. (Thanks to @geoffvrosmalen for pointing this one out to us)

If you have any idea what the 5589 means at the start of the video, or any theories you would like to share we would love to hear from you.

(Many thanks to Chris Jenkins for his help with this article.)

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