"The Unforgettable Fire" - U2

Album (Original Release)

Track Listing:

Alternative Tracks:

Background Information

“The Unforgettable Fire” was the fourth studio album released by U2. After doing three albums with U2, Lillywhite was adamant that he was not producing a fourth U2 album. In April of 1984, U2 announced that Brian Eno would be producing the album instead. Eno had been approached in 1983 about working with the band, when they were seeking a producer for the “War” album, but he turned down the invitation. The band continued to request his services, and he finally said yes, revealing later that he planned to have his partner, Danny Lanois do most of the work on the release. Conny Plank, who had produced Kraftwerk, had also been considered but ruled out as a producer. The title of the album, “The Unforgettable Fire” is a reference to an art exhibit about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima Japan during World War II, that the band had seen while on the War tour.

It was May 5, 1984 that the band started to record at Slane Castle. The band took up residence in the castle until June 5th to work on ideas, and to start roughing out material for the album. Slane Castle is located in the town of Slane and has been the family home for the Conyngham family since the 18th Century. Bono entered these sessions having composed a number of songs including “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, “The Unforgettable Fire” and “A Sort of Homecoming”. The band and crew, and producers all stayed in the castle, and recording took place around the clock when inspiration hit. The recording sessions at the Castle were filmed by Barry Devlin for an eventual documentary that aired on RTÉ-TV about the recording sessions. The 30-minute program was also released in 1985 on VHS as “The Unforgettable Fire Collection” along with videos from the album.

On June 6th, after a month of work in the castle the band and Eno and Lanois would return to the studio at Windmill Lane to continue work on the album. The band struggled to finish up songs in the studio, and some songs today still sound incomplete. Recording finished at Windmill on August 5th, 1984. The album was released just eight weeks later on October 1, 1984 in Europe, and the following day in North America. After the album recording was finished, the band travelled through Ireland with photographer Anton Corbijn over a couple of days looking for photo opportunities. The front cover shows Moydrum Castle, just outside of Athlone. The castle shown on the back cover and the label of the release was Carrigogunnell Castle, located near the village of Clarina.

The cover of “The Unforgettable Fire” was designed by Steve Averill, who had worked on all of the previous album covers. The story has been told that the band met with an art director at Island Records contemplating using their services for the design of the cover. After seeing the suggestions, Paul McGuinness immediately reached out to Averill to design the cover instead using the photographs by Corbijn as a starting point. There are two widely used covers which are used for the album. The version used on the vinyl and CD features the castle in the background with members of the band seen in front of the castle in the distance. On the cassette in some regions, the same castle is seen in the background from almost the same angle, yet now the band are seen in the foreground of the image all looking to the left.

The album was released on October 1, 1984 in a variety of formats. Initial releases included cassette and 12-inch vinyl formats. Also among the earliest formats was an 8-track cassette release through the RCA Record Club in North America. Although phased out commercially in the early 1980s, record clubs such as Columbia House and RCA still offered selections on eight-track up until 1988. A special release on vinyl from Australia has the vinyl produced in yellow vinyl. There has only been one known copy of this vinyl, apparantly produced by Festival Records in Australia to be sold with a 12-inch single, but the project was scrapped and perhaps only one copy was ever pressed. Festival was known to play with these different coloured releases, and they exist in quite limited numbers. It is not known how many of these coloured vinyl “schemes” were known about and approved by U2, and how many were done on the side by the production facility.

Before too long “The Unforgettable Fire” would also be released on 5-inch CD worldwide as CDs started to replace other formats. And in the early 90s, “The Unforgettable Fire” was also pressed on DCC (Digital Compact Cassette), a format which never really took off. Philips, the company behind the DCC, was involved in the broadcast of the Outside Broadcast special in November 1991 and used this broadcast to introduce the new music system. “The Unforgettable Fire” was one of 5 U2 albums released in this format, and was indeed one of the first offerings in this format.

Three commercial singles were released from “The Unforgettable Fire”. The first single off of the album was “Pride (In the Name of Love)” which was issued worldwide. The second single was “The Unforgettable Fire” and was released worldwide, but not in the United States. In the US (and Canada as well) an EP was released containing some of the material from “The Unforgettable Fire” single with additional tracks, called “Wide Awake in America”. Eventually that release would be issued worldwide, but for a number of years was only available in North America. A third single was released, but only in South Africa, a 7-inch vinyl pressing of “Bad”.

A number of tracks from “The Unforgettable Fire” have never been performed live, including “Promenade”, “4th of July” and “Elvis Presley & America”. The track “Elvis Presley & America” was included as a snippet only once during “The Unforgettable Fire Tour”. “4th of July” was the song that played last before U2 would take the stage during most nights of The Unforgettable Fire tour, but was pre-recorded, and not live. The Unforgettable Fire tour started on August 29, 1984 in Christchurch NZ, prior to the release of the album. The tour would conclude with a series of festivals, ending in Werchter Belgium on July 7, 1985. There has been no live video release documenting a full show from The Unforgettable Fire show. After ending the tour, U2 would next play at Live Aid the following week.

The album was released to good reviews, and strong sales. The album peaked at number 1 in both the UK and in Ireland. In the USA the album reached number 12 in the billboard charts.

The album has been remastered twice. The first remaster was released by a company called Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab or MFSL. They were specialized in releasing high quality reissues of popular albums, and remained in business until 1999. They would release gold-plated discs, instead of the aluminum discs, and this was done to extend the life of the CD. MFSL would release three U2 albums, “War” in 1993, “The Unforgettable Fire” in 1995, and “The Joshua Tree” in 1996. Instead of using the current circulated master of each CD, MFSL would instead go back to the original master tapes and recreate the master using those. With the release of “The Unforgettable Fire” this return to the masters, resulted in one difference from the regular commercial release of the album. This is a longer version of “4th of July” coming in at 2:39 in length, approximately 25 seconds longer than the version on the original release. Mobile Fidelity also issued the remaster of “The Unforgettable Fire” in 12-inch vinyl. It was the only U2 release done in vinyl.

The second remastering came in 2009, when U2 re-released “The Unforgettable Fire” for it’s 25th anniversary. Plans for the re-release were announced very low key through advertising on merchandise bags when fans bought merch at the U2360° shows in Barcelona. Mastering of this release was overseen by The Edge. “The Unforgettable Fire” was released in four formats, a 12-inch vinyl release in 180 gram vinyl, a standard format single 5-inch CD, a deluxe format 5-inch CD which came packaged with a second bonus disc of material, and finally a three-disc box set including both CDs, and a DVD of extras. The second disc packaged with “The Unforgettable Fire” release contained a number of previously unreleased items, including new remixes, and a couple of previously unreleased songs. “Disappearing Act”, one of these unreleased songs, was finished in 2009 with added vocals added to the track 25 years later. The DVD in the box set included footage from the “A Conspiracy of Hope” tour, U2’s appearance at “Live Aid”, the video for “Pride (in the Name of Love)” and a video of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” performed at The Unforgettable Fire Tour stop at Croke Park in Dublin. More information on this deluxe set can be found in the discography entry for the “War” remastered release.

Liner Notes

Published by Blue Mountain Music Ltd. Produced and Engineered by: Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois. Additional Engineering: Kevin Killen. Assistant Engineer: Randy Ezratty.
All tracks recorded in Ireland at Slane Castle, Co. Meath and Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin.

Bono: vocals. The Edge: guitar, keyboards, vocals. Adam Clayton: bass. Larry Mullen Junior: drums. Additional vocals, instruments and treatments: Eno / Lanois. Music U2, Words Bono. String Arrangement: Noel Kelehan. Fairlight: Paul Barret.

Managment: Paul McGuinness. Anne-Louise Kelly – Principle Management – Dublin. Ellen Darst – Principle Management – New York

U2 Crew: Dennis Sheehan, Joe O’Herlihy, Steve Iredale, Tom Mullally, Steve Rainford, Peter Williams, Tim Buckley, Lord Henry Moutcharles. Sleeve – Conception by Anton Corbijn / Steve Averill. Realisation: Anton Corbijn / The Creative Dept Ltd.

Thanks to Mrs Christine Kerr. Drums: Yamaha. Strings: James Howe Industries

Recognition and Awards

  • Certified Gold (RIAA, USA, December 3, 1984)
  • Certified Platinum (RIAA, USA, February 7, 1985)
  • Certified 2x Multi-Platinum (RIAA, USA, May 23, 1994)
  • Certified 3x Multi-Platinum (RIAA, USA, September 11, 1995) [Last certification to date, as of 2017]
  • #13, Top 100 Albums of All Time (2FM Radio, Listeners Poll, October 1995)
  • #16, Greatest Irish Albums of All Time (Hot Press Magazine Poll, February 2005)
  • #68, Top 100 Albums of 1984 (Rolling Stone, December 1984)
  • #54, Top 100 Albums of 1985 (Rolling Stone, December 1985)
  • #1 Album, Best Album Award (Hot Press Magazine Awards for 1984)
  • #1 Sleeve, Best Album Sleeve Award (Hot Press Magazine Awards for 1984)
  • #48, Top 100 Albums (BBC Radio 2, Listener Vote, August 2006)
  • #53, Top 100 Albums (Rolling Stone Magazine Readers Poll, October 2002)

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