"The Fly" - U2

Single

Track Listing:

Background Information

Issued a month in advance of the album, “The Fly” was the first single released to promote U2’s <em>Achtung Baby</em>. The song originated during the Hansa Ton Studio Sessions in Berlin, Germany as “Lady With the Spinning Head.” As the recording process progressed, “Lady with the Spinning Head” would provide the musical starting point for both “The Fly” and “Ultraviolet,” as well as contribute conceptually to “Zoo Station” and later, “Wake Up Dead Man”. Post-Berlin, the recording sessions moved to Elsinore in Ireland, where the song was refined and Bono began forming ideas about the persona he would adopt in concert called “The Fly.” Musically, the song was a significant departure from The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum—or anything U2 had attempted before, for that matter—providing listeners with a glimpse of the sonic reinvention to come on Achtung Baby. The single sleeve is a picture of the front door of a painted trabant car. The sleeve can be fit together with three subsequent Achtung Baby singles to form a larger image of the band members riding in the trabant. “The Fly” sleeve is the bottom right corner of the image, with “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses“ the top right, “Even Better Than the Real Thing“ the top left, and “Mysterious Ways“ the bottom left.

Two-track formats of the single included the album version of “The Fly” as the A-side with “Alex Descends Into Hell for a Bottle of Milk/Korova 1” as the B-side. This instrumental track was written by Bono and The Edge for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “A Clockwork Orange,” directed by Ron Daniels. (In September of 1989, Bono and The Edge spent five days in the studio in Dublin doing demos for the score while the band was rehearsing for The LoveTown Tour. They left the demos with producer Paul Barrett for additional work while they went on tour, and then returned to complete them after the tour was over. Although they wrote a full-length score for the production, “Alex Descends” is the only track to date to see an official release. The play opened in February 1990 at the Barbican Theatre in London.) A third song was added to the 12-inch vinyl and 5-inch CD formats of the single, “The Lounge Fly Mix.” This remix included a different vocal track than the album version of “The Fly,” including different lyrics, making it more of an alternate version than a straight remix.

The video for “The Fly” was directed by Jon Klein and Ritchie Smyth, produced by Ned O’Hanlon and Juliet Naylor, and edited by Maurice Linnane. It was filmed in both Dublin and London in September 1991, with Bono assuming an alter ego known as “The Fly.” The video opens with a brief scene, set to a snippet of “The Lounge Fly Mix,” of The Fly walking around the streets and then stopping in a store window filled with a bank of TVs. This segment fades out after 25 seconds, and then the video kicks into gear with footage of the band in-studio performing the song, intercut with scenes of Bono as The Fly. We see a bank of televisions, a scrolling sign saying “Watch More TV” and an early version of the famous Zoo TV “flashing words” in the background. The Zoo TV logo and the phrase “Everything You Know Is Wrong” are also seen, along with other early icons of The Zoo TV Tour. The video was included on the Achtung Baby: The Videos compilation, as well as on The Best of 1990-2000 video.

“The Fly” was performed nightly on The Zoo TV Tour, with Bono in character as the song’s namesake. It was not played in full on The PopMart Tour, although occasional snippets would appear in other songs. “The Fly” was reintroduced during the first concert on The Elevation Tour, with an extended intro and outro for the live arrangement. Played almost nightly during the first two legs of that tour, it was then retired at the end of the second leg and was not played at the Slane concerts or during the third leg. “The Fly” returned to the set for The Vertigo Tour and was performed at 68% of the shows. After being absent from the set during early legs, “The Fly” made it’s U2360° Tour debut at U2’s performance at the Glastonbury Festival in 2011. It would go on to be performed 13 more times during the final leg of that tour. In 2015, the song was not performed live, but the Gavin Friday recorded version was used as an intermission song, and was later re-recorded to contain Bono on vocals for the intermission. On a number of occasions including two shows in Glasgow and a show in Boston, Bono could be heard singing over top of the pre-recorded song. In 2018 the song debuted on tour, partway through the second leg in Europe. It was played at 13 shows on that leg. It would also be played each night at the band’s Las Vegas Residency, U2:UV at the Sphere.

Live performances have been released in audio format on the “City of Blinding Lights“ single (Live from Stop Sellafield, Manchester, June 19, 1992); Zoo TV Live (Sydney Australia, November 1993); and U2.Communication (Chicago Illinois, May 2005). U2.com also streamed the full performance of “The Fly” from the June 24th, 2011 Glastonbury Festival, along with two other performances, in a set of three tracks called “U23 – Exclusive Tracks Live from Glastonbury“. A performance from November 2018 was captured on the fan club only video release, “Experience + Innocence: Live in Berlin“. Also in 2011, members of the U2 fan club were given the opportunity to vote among 46 tracks performed during The U2360° Tour, with the 22 tracks receiving the most votes to be included on the fan club CD U22. A recording of “The Fly” from East Lansing, Michigan on June 26, 2011 was among the eligible tracks, and it did receive enough votes to be included on U22.

“The Fly” was included on the “Previous Day“ promotional CD, and also was used as a bonus track on versions of The Best of 1990-2000 released outside of North America. A short snippet of “The Fly” was also among the four tracks included on a promotional cassette issued in advance of the Achtung Baby album, known as the “Achtung Baby Solicitation Kit“. “Alex Descends into Hell for a Bottle of Milk/Korova 1” was used in the movie Johnny Mnemonic and features on the soundtrack album from that film.

In 2011, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Achtung Baby, the album was re-released in multiple formats, including a single CD, a 2-CD set, a vinyl box set, a “Super Deluxe” edition, and an “Über Deluxe” edition. Unlike previous U2 reissues, this project was not called a “remaster,” although some sonic tweaking, overseen by The Edge, had been done. The 2-CD set included a disc compiling single b-sides and remixes, including “The Lounge Fly Mix” and “Alex Descends Into Hell for a Bottle of Milk/Korova 1.” The 6-CD “Super Deluxe” and “Uber Deluxe” formats included “The Lounge Fly Mix” on the “Über Remixes” disc, and “Alex Descends into Hell for a Bottle of Milk/Korova 1” on the “B-Sides and Bonus Tracks” disc. The “Über Deluxe” version also included a repressing of the 7-inch vinyl “The Fly” single, which was backed with “Alex Descends into Hell for a Bottle of Milk/Korova 1.” Finally, the sixth CD in the “Super Deluxe” and “Über Deluxe” formats, Kindergarten-The Alternative Achtung Baby, contained demo or alternate versions of every track from the original album, including slightly a longer, rougher mix of “The Fly” with a few different lyrics. In 2021, to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the album, the album was again reissued on vinyl and digitally, but no new versions of “The Fly” were included at that time. In 2024 a new mix of Achtung Baby was completed in Dolby Atmos, including a new mix of “The Fly”.

Liner Notes

The Fly: Written by U2.
Produced by Daniel Lanois. Engineered by Flood. Additional engineering by Robbie Adams. Assisted by Shannon Strong. Mixed by Flood with Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite. Assisted by Robbie Adams. Special thanks to Brian Eno.

Alex Descends into Hell for a Bottle of Milk / Korova 1:
Written by Bono and the Edge. Produced and arranged by Paul Barrett. Assisted by Ian Bryan. Mixed by Ingmar Kiang. Programming by Dave Clayton. Percussion by Noel Eccles. Boy Sopranos: Noel and Jerry O’Gorman. Special thanks to Dr. Albert Bradshaw. From the RSC production of “A Clockwork Orange” directed by Ron Daniels.

The Lounge Fly Mix: Written by U2.
Produced by Daniel Lanois. Engineered by Flood. Additional engineering by Robbie Adams. Mixed by Flood. Assisted by Shannon Strong.

Artwork

Photography by Anton Corbijn. Design by Works Associates (Dublin). Car painted by Thierry Noir (Berlin).

Recognition and Awards

  • #875 on 1001 Best Songs Ever (Q Magazine, 2003)
  • #78 on Top 100 British Number 1 Singles (UK TV / Channel 4 Survey, 2010)

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