"Three" - U2

Single

Side A

Side B

Background Information

“Three” was U2’s first ever musical release. 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. Up until their U2 contract ran out in 1985, CBS Ireland did a number of pressings of “Three” in both formats, and we detail those differences below.

A cassette version of the EP was issued by CBS in 1985 with the name “Out of Control” on the spine. More recently a digital version was released as part of The Complete U2 on iTunes in 2004. The EP was issued on the deluxe version of the 2008 remaster of Boy. And in 2019, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the EP, U2 issued a new version of the EP on 12-Inch vinyl, featuring different artwork from the original, as they did not have rights to duplicate the original sleeve. All of these released from “The Complete U2” onward, contain a different version of “Stories for Boys” than is included on copies produced in 1985 and earlier. The alternate recording of “Stories for Boys” which appeared on the compilation Just for Kicks, released in December 1979, has been used in these newer versions of “Three”.

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. 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 charts likely saw U2 placing lower in the first week due to a visit of the Pope to Ireland the weekend after the EP was released, and lowered sales due to shops being closed. The charts provide some confirmation of the release date. Both “Tusk” by Fleetwood Mac, and “Heartache Tonight” by the Eagles appear on the Irish chart for the first time on October 28, the week prior to U2’s first appearance. The songs were both released on September 19, 1979, which suggests the September 26, 1979 date is correct. A report in Hot Press magazine, dated September 14, 1979 lists the following: “U-2, ‘The Dublin four-piece” of growing promise bring out their first release on 26th September on CBS. Entitled “U-2 Three”, the EP features “Out Of Control” as A-side with “Boy/Girl” and “Stories for Boys” on the flip.”

The 12-Inch single has been re-pressed a number of times over the years. All pressings were done in a generic sleeve. The first versions were done quickly to meet demand in Ireland, and were pressed in a generic CBS sleeve like the original, but without the sticker. Some later copies were also done in black generic sleeves as well which were exported for sale in the UK through Rough Trade starting in December of 1979.

A number of other differences on the labels can identify different pressings on vinyl. The initial pressing had the U-2 on the label in a bold font, with a short chunky dash between the U and 2. All of the later pressings saw U-2 in a lighter font with a longer dash. The first pressing had stereo listed in all capital letters, and later pressings saw that change to “Stereo”. The first pressing had Ireland spelled correctly on the label but all later copies features a misspelling. The earliest pressings all had a “Made in England” line at the bottom of the label. Then it was taken off. And later it was put back on the label, but this time at the end of the copyright text. And one of the last pressings saw a “CBS / CBS Inc” added at the bottom of the label.

There are three variations of the copyright text, listed in the above chart as 1 – 3. Version 1 reads “All rights of the manufacturer and of the owner of the recorded work reserved. Unauthorized public performance, broadcasting and copying of this record prohibited.” Version 2 reads “All rights of the manufacturer and of the owner of the recorded work reserved. Unauthorized public performance, broadcasting, copying and rental of this record prohibited.” and Version 3 reads “All rights of the producer and of the owner of the recorded work reserved. Unauthorized copying, public performance, broadcasting, hiring or rental of this recording prohibited.”

One final difference can be noticed. The earliest two pressings had the band members’ names appearing on both sides of the vinyl in the deadwax. This changed in later pressings, so that these names only appeared on side B. Photos of some of these variations can be found below in our catalog section. (There are a few other versions that may exist such as a version of the first pressing, without a numbered sticker, it isn’t confirmed if these are a result of over production or if the sticker may have been removed. There is also a known copy which has a mix of labels with copyright variations 2 on one side and 3 on the other. More information on some of these variations is available at U2-3.Com where you can also see photos of many of the original 1000 released.)

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 appears to be the result of a aging, and there have been many reports that a white vinyl copy left in contact with the PVC sleeve will brown quickly over time, leading to a variety of brown shades, and even some cases where one side browns and the other does not. 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.

The covers of the 7-inch vinyl and cassette feature 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

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