"Three" - U2

Single

Side A

Side B

Background Information

“Three” was U2’s first ever released music. The three track EP was released in Ireland on September 26, 1979, and was initially released on both 7-Inch and 12-Inch formats. The first 12-Inch pressing was a limited edition of 1000 copies in a generic CBS Records sleeve. To entice customers to buy copies, each sleeve was stickered and hand-numbered in either blue or black ink. The 7-Inch single was released in a picture sleeve. Both formats featured “Out of Control” on Side A, with “Stories for Boys” and “Boy/Girl” on Side B. A cassette version of the EP was issued by CBS in 1985. A digital version was released as part of The Complete U2 on iTunes in 2004, and the EP was issued on the deluxe version of the 2008 remaster of Boy as well.

The songs on “Three” were recorded with CBS Records producer Chas de Whalley. They were recorded in Dublin Ireland on August 4 and 5, 1979. The sleeve itself lists that the tracks were recorded at Windmill Lane Studio, but they were mixed at Windmill, with the recording session at Keystone according to U2 by U2. de Whalley claims the tracks were both recorded and mixed at Windmill. Also part of that recording session was an alternate recording of “Stories for Boys” which appeared on the compilation Just for Kicks, released in December 1979. It is the alternate version of the song which was used on Just for Kicks, which appears on the iTunes release of this EP as part of The Complete U2 and on the 2008 remaster of Boy.

de Whalley spoke about the recording sessions with Record Collector magazine in 2004:

As this was by far the best song they had — and it needed to sound as coherent as possible — so I made them do it again and again until they finally got it right. Poor Larry was almost in tears and, if Bill Graham’s excellent book on these days, Another Time Another Place, is to be believed, Bono was ready to stick one on me too. Only he was too polite. All I remember is him saying incredulously: “But Larry has lessons from one of the best drummers in Dublin! How can he be out of time?” We mixed the songs the following night, with Paul passing me joints which I gratefully accepted. Whether his plan was to help me pull down great ideas out of the ether or to get me so out of it I’d let him and the rest of the band call the shots, I don’t know. Either way we all agreed that the songs had to be as tough as possible and, in a bid to copy the Ruts’ superbly throaty “Babylon’s Burning,” we slapped vast amounts of flanger all over the Edge’s guitar tracks.

But even as I sat with Bono at the airport the next day, drinking coffee with the master tape on the table between us, I knew that the flanger hadn’t done any good. And that I’d failed them (not to mention my own audition as a producer) by coming up with nothing more than a set of so-so demos. Certainly not the stuff of which big hits were made. At least not by London standards. And probably not by Paul McGuinness’ standards either, since he had all three songs remixed by the Boomtown Rats’ sound man Robbie McGrath, before CBS Ireland put “U2 3” out four weeks later. Whether it made any difference is questionable, since by then U2 were so hot at home that the first 1,000 copies sold out in a day and the EP shot to No. 1 in the Irish charts. Rough Trade imported a handful into the U.K. and suddenly the British music press began to pick up a pulse.

The songs were taken by U2 to radio programmer Dave Fanning. Fanning had the band appear on his show, “The Rock Show” on August 21, 1979. The show featured Bono being interviewed, and all three songs were played. Fanning then invited fans to vote for their favourite song by sending in a vote for their favourite of the three songs. The winning song would appear as the A-Side to the EP, and “Out of Control” was chosen by U2 to be that song. Fanning would spend a week promoting all three songs, and the contest closed after a week. To encourage people to vote there was a contest as well, where the winner would get two albums by other bands, and the U2 single, runner up would get one album by another band, and the U2 single, and there were 10 copies of the single given out as additional prizes. The vinyl was quickly pressed and appeared in stores on September 26, 1979. Both “Out of Control” and “Stories for Boys” would be re-recorded for the debut album, Boy. “Stories for Boys” was also considered at one point as a second single for the UK, following “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” but that did not happen.

Asked by Fanning what he would do with the single when he had a copy in hand, Bono replied, “Well with the single, I’m just going to keep it, I’m going to stick it on my wall. That’s really all I’m going to do. No doubt my manager, Paul McGuinness of fame and fortune, will take the single around and show it to all the people who want to watch it as well as listen to it. With any luck, if there’s anyone out there who wants to spend an awful lot of money to have the talents of the band U2 on record, then they’ll offer us a certain amount of money, and we’ll sign our signatures on it, and we’ll be very happy, and they’ll be very happy, and we’ll all be rich. And no doubt I’ll make an appearance on the Dave Fanning show in a years time except this time I’ll have wine instead of water. This demo now signifies U2 that has matured. I’m not going to disguise the fact that we had troubles at the outset, in the embryonic stage of the band, we grew up like any band. We didn’t try and hide our song-writing difficulties. We went out and we played. whatever people thought of us, now we’ve gone through, we’ve overcome all our mistakes, we’re ready. I think that demo shows that. It’s up to people to write in and say whether it does or not.”

The EP sold well. It managed to chart on the strength of sales driven by the limited edition nature of the first pressing on 12-Inch. The EP spent two weeks on the Top 30 chart in Ireland. The song first appeared on the November 4, 1979 chart at #28. On the November 11, 1979 chart it rose to #19 where it peaked.

The 12-Inch single has been re-pressed a number of times over the years. All of the later pressings were done in generic sleeves and none of these were numbered. The first versions appeared in CBS sleeves like the original, but without the sticker. Later copies appeared in plain black sleeves instead. There were differences in the releases as well, with numerous subtle changes spread across each release. Most of the differences can be found on the center label of the record, or where the band members’ names are etched into the run-off area of the vinyl. On the original 12-Inch pressing, “Ireland” is spelled correctly and “Made in England” appears at the bottom of the label; “U2” is in a bold typeface; “stereo” is fully capitalized; and there is no “CBS inc.” on the bottom of the label. In addition, the band members’ names appear on both sides of the vinyl in the deadwax. These changed in later pressings.

The second pressing introduced a misspelling, with “Ireland” becoming “Irelnad.” In addition, the font used for “U2” is less bold and “stereo” is no longer in all caps. These changes would persist on all subsequent re-pressings. The third and fourth pressings both change one additional item from the second pressing. The third pressing has the band members’ names on only one side of the vinyl (the b-side) in the deadwax. The fourth pressing once again has the band members’ names on both sides of the vinyl, but removes “Made in England” from the bottom of the center label. The fifth pressing saw the return of “Made in England” to the center label, but it was moved to the side, while the “CBS inc.” text was removed altogether. The sixth and seventh pressings switched from the generic CBS Records sleeve to simple black generic sleeves, while the center labels on the vinyl continued to see changes. The sixth pressing keeps “Made in England” on the side of the label but returns “CBS inc.” to the bottom of the label. And finally, “Made in England” is removed again on the seventh pressing, while “CBS inc.” stays on the bottom of the label.

The 7-inch vinyl has also been reissued multiple times, including as part of the “4 U2 Play Pac,” which collected re-pressings of four of U2’s 7-inch singles in one package. These sets were released in 1982 and 1983. The vinyl included in these reissues came not only in black, but also yellow, orange, and white. Brown vinyl has also been identified, but this may be the result of a poor mix of colours for the white vinyl, or some bleed from another colour. The set contained the singles for “Three,” “11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” “Another Day,” and “I Will Follow.” Some later sets substituted “New Years Day” for one of the other singles when quantities ran short.

In 1985 a cassette version of “Three” was also released by CBS records in Ireland, although it featured the name “Out of Control” on the spine. These tracks were also released in digital form in 2004 with The Complete U2 on iTunes. They appeared on CD for the first time in 2008 on the bonus disc accompanying the remastered release of Boy. However, the 2008 release of Boy includes a demo version of “Stories for Boys”—from the Irish compilation Just for Kicks—instead of the version from “Three.”

The cover of the EP features Peter Rowen, the little brother of Bono’s friend and neighbor Guggi. Peter would also later be featured on the album covers for Boy, War, and the compilation The Best of 1980-1990. His photograph would also appear on the covers for the singles “I Will Follow,” “Two Hearts Beat as One,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and “The Sweetest Thing,”

Liner Notes

Produced by U2 and Chas De Whalley. Remixed by Robbie McGrath. Recorded at Windmill Lane Studio. Photography – Hugo. Glue-Art On My Sleeve. Men – Burgunday, Jackie Polo, Father Devlin. Boys – Teddy, Eric, The Village. Management – Paul McGuinness – Dublin 687952

Artwork

Photography – Hugo.

Recognition and Awards

  • Out of Control is #6 on Favorite Songs, Worldwide Poll of U2 fans (U2 Magazine, Issue 12, 1984)
  • “Three” listed at 89th / 100 on Sounds Magazine list of Singles of 1979

Related Promotional Videos

Related News

Catalog of Releases