"Fire / R.O.K." - U2


Track Listing:

Background Information

“Fire” was released as a single in July 1981, eight months after the Boy album but well in advance of October, the LP on which it would eventually appear. It was intended as a new song to tide fans over until the next full-length U2 release. The single would give the band its first chart success outside of Ireland, reaching #35 in the UK on August 29, 1981. “Fire” originally took shape as a song called “Saturday Night” during the recording sessions for Boy. Although it remained unfinished at the time, listeners got a brief glimpse of the song in the form of a short instrumental piece that appeared after “Shadows and Tall Trees,” the final track on Boy, on early pressings of that LP. The band later re-recorded the song, and it became U2’s sixth single, “Fire.”

Despite the attention gained by “I Will Follow” in North America, there was no release of “Fire” in that market. In the UK and Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South America, “Fire” was released in 7-inch format. In Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, however, the single was released on 12-inch vinyl instead, under the title “U2 R.O.K.”—a play on both “U2 Rock” and “U2 Are OK.” The sleeve for the “U2 R.O.K.” release was quite different from the 7-inch sleeve found in other territories, featuring a photo of Bono in concert surrounded by a bright yellow border. Much later, in 1991, the Austrian branch of Island Records reissued several U2 12-inch singles on CD for the first time, including “U2 R.O.K.” It was the earliest U2 single made available on CD.

The 7-inch release of “Fire” featured the track “J. Swallo” (also known as “Johnny Swallo” or “J. Swallow”) as the B-side. This song was the result of a studio experiment in which U2 took the drums from another song, slowed them down, and then played a new song over the top. In the UK and Ireland the single was released in a 7-inch double-pack as well, featuring a second 7-inch containing live tracks taken from a concert in Boston, MA on March 6, 1981: “11 O’Clock Tick Tock/The Ocean” and “Cry/The Electric Co.” The 12-inch and CD versions of this single, released under the “U2 R.O.K.” name, contained the album version of “Fire,” “J. Swallo,” and the live version of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock/The Ocean.” The live version of “Cry/The Electric Co.” was exclusive to the 7-inch double-pack at the time.

The appearance of “Fire” on the UK charts earned U2 an invitation to perform the song on Top of the Pops. This was recorded on August 29, 1981. (As was typical for Top of the Pops, the band did not play live, but rather mimed/lip-synced to the album version of the song.) “Fire” was performed throughout The October Tour, and on early stops of The War Tour prior to the release of that album. It has not been played live since. There is no record of “J. Swallo” ever having been performed in concert. A live performance of “Fire” recorded on July 4, 1982 was released on some versions of the “New Year’s Day“ single, and later on the remastered deluxe edition of War. A live version recorded in London on December 6, 1982, was released for the first time as part of the remastered deluxe edition of October, which also included “J. Swallo” and the live tracks from Boston.

“Fire” has not been collected on any of U2’s compilation albums. The full version of “Saturday Night” (the early version of “Fire”) was first released in 2008 on the remastered deluxe edition of Boy. The brief instrumental snippet of “Saturday Night”—previously heard only on early pressings of the original LP—was also restored for the 2008 Boy reissue. An alternate edit of “Fire” was released on a promotional single. The album version of “Fire” appeared as a b-side to “A Celebration“ in Japan, and on the compilation promos “2 Date,” “Previous Day,” and “Sampler Cassette 1987.”

On April 7, 2021, a special 40th anniversary edition of “Fire” was announced which was being published for Record Store Day. That release is a 12-Inch picture disc, and has it’s own discography entry.

Liner Notes

Produced by Steve Lillywhite. Live tracks from the Paradise Theatre Boston – Mass. USA, March 1981.

Although not listed on the original release, the 2008 remaster of October lists Paul Thomas as the engineer on these studio tracks, and Bob DeMuth as the engineer on the live recordings.

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