"The Unforgettable Fire" - U2


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Background Information

“The Unforgettable Fire” was the second and final single released from the album of the same name. The song was inspired by an exhibition of paintings by survivors of the atomic bombings in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, held at the Peace Museum in Chicago, IL. The single was released worldwide by Island Records or associated labels, such as Festival in Australia. The exception was Ireland, where it was issued by CBS Records under the contact the label had signed with U2 in 1979. “The Unforgettable Fire” was the final single released under the terms of this agreement, with Island Records taking over distribution in Ireland beginning with the singles associated with The Joshua Tree. “The Unforgettable Fire” was the first single U2 released that reached #1 in the Irish Charts. The previous three singles, “New Year’s Day,” “Two Hearts Beat as One,” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” had all peaked at #2.

The cover of the single features four sepia-toned portraits, one for each band member, arranged in a 2×2 grid. (U2 would revisit this design for the cover of the Pop album in 1997.) The double 7-inch version of “The Unforgettable Fire” would use each of these four photos as a full-sized image, with Larry on the front cover, Bono on the back, and Edge and Adam in the gatefold center. The images are grainy because they are reproductions of video portraits of each band member. The video footage was shot by Brian Eno, and then photographed by Declan Quinn for the single sleeve.

In most regions, the 7-inch single included the album version of “The Unforgettable Fire” on the a-side, with a live sound check performance of “A Sort of Homecoming” on the b-side. This was produced by Tony Visconti and recorded at Wembley Arena in London on November 15, 1984, with additional edits and tweaks, including the insertion of crowd noise, recorded and mixed later at Good Earth Studios. A picture 7-inch with these tracks, cut in the shape of a large “U2,” was also released in the UK. In Australia, the b-side on the 7-inch single was the album version of “MLK.” In New Zealand, two 7-inch singles were issued, one with the live version of “A Sort of Homecoming” and one with “MLK.” A double 7-inch was released in Ireland and the UK, with the second vinyl containing three previously unreleased tracks: “Love Comes Tumbling,” “The Three Sunrises,” and “Sixty Seconds in Kingdom Come.” A single for “The Unforgettable Fire” was not released commercially in the USA, but the live version of “A Sort of Homecoming,” along with “Love Comes Tumbling” and “The Three Sunrises,” would be released there on the “Wide Awake in America” EP the following month.

The 12-inch vinyl and maxi-cassette formats of “The Unforgettable Fire” are unique in that they function more as EPs showcasing outtakes from The Unforgettable Fire album than as singles promoting the song itself. Indeed, the lead track on these formats (and later CD versions pressed in Austria) is “The Three Sunrises,” with “The Unforgettable Fire” relegated to track 2! These 12-inch vinyl and cassette pressings also include “Love Comes Tumbling,” “A Sort of Homecoming (Live),” and an additional instrumental from the album sessions, “Bass Trap.” (The instrumental “Sixty Seconds in Kingdom Come,” from the double 7-inch release, is not included on 12-inch and cassette formats.) The 12-inch release of “The Unforgettable Fire” in Australia and New Zealand was somehow produced using the wrong master recordings, resulting in different mixes of “A Sort of Homecoming (Live)” and “Love Comes Tumbling” being issued in those countries. “A Sort of Homecoming (Live)” features Edge’s backing vocals prominently in the mix—something that is not present in releases outside of Australia and New Zealand. And “Love Comes Tumbling” uses a different vocal track altogether—including different lyrics—compared to the singles issued in other territories.

One further difference can be found in versions of “Love Comes Tumbling” released worldwide, in that some pressings, such as the Canadian cassette and vinyl, include a “false start” at the beginning of the song. This false start is not present on the 1991 CD release in Austria or on the “Wide Awake in America” EP.

A video was filmed for “The Unforgettable Fire,” with U2 returning to director Meiert Avis after being less-than-happy with the results of the various videos filmed for “Pride (In the Name of Love).” The band traveled to Sweden with Avis in January 1985, as they had for the New Year’s Day video two years earlier, knowing they would be guaranteed snow. The clip, produced by James Morris and Michael Hamlyn, uses photographic techniques to film light trails of objects in motion, including traffic and amusement park rides. This footage is intercut with images of the band walking through the snow, Larry and Adam walking in an industrial building in front of a wall of blue lights, and Bono and Larry performing in a darkened room. The video is featured on the VHS compilation The Best of 1980-1990 and also on The Unforgettable Fire Collection.

“The Unforgettable Fire” made its live debut during The Unforgettable Fire Tour, and was played on most of the dates of that trek. It was also a regular fixture during The Joshua Tree Tour. It was played at only 16 out of 47 shows on The LoveTown Tour, with a January 6, 1990 performance in Rotterdam being the last time it would be performed live for almost 20 years. In 2009, it reappeared during the very first concert of The U2360° tour, and would go on to be performed nightly throughout the first and second legs. It was dropped from the setlist on the third leg of the tour after just a handful of performances. A live recording from July 4, 1987 in Paris was released on the Live from Paris digital album (and the DVD included with the super deluxe reissue of The Joshua Tree). In 2011, members of U2’s fan club were allowed to vote on 46 songs from The U2360° tour, with the 22 songs receiving the most votes to be included on a double live album called U22. “The Unforgettable Fire” proved popular enough to make the final track list, and a recording from Gothenburg, Sweden on July 31, 2009 appeared on the eventual CD release.

“The Unforgettable Fire” was included on The Best of 1980-1990 compilation album, as well as on the promotional releases “Wire,” “Special Collection 1980-1987,” and “2 Date.” All of the associated b-sides would later appear on deluxe versions of The Unforgettable Fire reissue in 2009, with “Sixty Seconds in Kingdom Come” making its CD debut at that time. In addition, “The Three Sunrises” appeared on the “Wide Awake in America” EP, The Best of 1980-1990 & B-Sides (with a slightly longer fade-in compared to the original version), and the promotional release “Sampler Cassette 1985.” “Love Comes Tumbling” also appeared on the “Wide Awake in America” EP, as well as on The Best of 1980-1990 & B-Sides (including the false start). Finally, “Bass Trap” (edited from the original 5:13 running time down to 3:31) was included on The Best of 1980-1990 & B-Sides.

Liner Notes

The Unforgettable Fire:
Produced by Eno / Lanois. Additional engineering: Kevin Killen.
A Sort of Homecoming (Live):
Recorded live at Wembley and Good Earth Studios. Produced by Tony Visconti. Location engineer: Kevin Killen.
The Three Sunrises:
Produced by U2 / Eno / Lanois. Mixed by U2 / Kevin Moloney.
Love Comes Tumbling:
Produced by U2. Engineered by Paul Thomas. Mixed by U2 / Kevin Moloney.
Bass Trap:
Produced by Eno / Lanois. Mixed by Kevin Moloney.
Sixty Seconds in Kingdom Come: Produced by Eno / Lanois. Mixed by U2 / Kevin Moloney.


Photographs by Declan Quinn. Taken from video portraits by Brian Eno.
Design by Steve Averill / U2. Realization by The Creative Dept Ltd., Dublin

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