"War" - U2

Album (Original Release)

Track Listing:

Alternative Tracks:

Background Information

“War” was the third studio album released by U2. After working with U2 on “Boy” and “October”, Steve Lillywhite told the band he wasn’t interested in producing a third album for the band. This lead to a period where U2 tried out a number of producers. The first trial was with producer Sandy Perlman between November 22 and 24, 1981. These were the first recording sessions with a new album in mind. They worked on a single 3-minute track at Kingdom Sound on Long Island. The song was described as a psychotic rockabilly song by the band. The band would convince Lillywhite to return to work on some ideas in February 1982, which resulted in the single “A Celebration” and the b-Side “Trash Trampoline, and the Party Girl”. But he was still adamant about not working with the band on the next album. It is possible that “A Celebration” was a continuation of those earlier sessions with Perlman but there is no confirmation of this.

In March of 1982, further studio time was booked, this time with producer Jimmy Destri, probably best known for his work with Blondie. The sessions with Destri saw the band working with the piano, and one full length song was recorded, “Be There” which has never been released. These sessions also formed the start of ideas for the songs “Endless Deep” and “The Unforgettable Fire” which would be fleshed out later in life. Destri lists the title of the finished song as “Being There” so it’s quite possible it went through a number of iterations in the studio. Regardless the band were not happy with the results and the search continued. The band contacted others, such as Rhet Davies, and even reaching out to Brian Eno, who at the time just didn’t see himself working with a rock band.

U2 started work in earnest on the recordings for “War” just prior to Bono and Ali’s marriage in late August, 1982. These initial sessions were done with producer Bill Whelan, and yielded two songs, which were tipped to Hot Press as being the first single from the new album, and a B-side. We know one of those songs was “The Refugee” as it appeared on “War” and contains the producing credit to Whelan. Recording took a break while Bono and Ali honeymooned in Jamaica, although Bono continued to work on lyrics throughout the honeymoon. Once returned to Dublin, the band reentered the studio at Windmill Lane, and had convinced Steve Lillywhite to once again come on as producer. Recording of the album with Lillywhite continued through August, September and October. “40” was the last song recorded, and it was recorded as U2 was being thrown out of the studio on the last day they had booked. Lillywhite is the producer of the record, with the exception of “The Refugee” on which he is listed as mixing the track.

The cover of the album saw U2 return to working with designer Steve Averill. He had previously worked on the sleeves for “Boy” and “October” and a number of singles for the band. They would also return to an earlier idea, and once again asked Peter Rowen to be on the cover. Rowan was even shot in a similar pose for the cover, with his arms behind his head. One marked difference was a split lip that Rowen was sporting. Unlike “Boy” there is no hiding the titles or the name of the band, they appear quite strong on the title, in a bright red colour. Rowen would also be used in the video for “Two Hearts Beat as One” shot in Paris, and appears on the single covers for “New Year’s Day”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Two Hearts Beat as One”.

The album “War” was released on February 28, 1983 in Europe, and the following day, March 1, in North America. The album was released initially on 12-inch vinyl and cassette. In Ireland and the UK, the image with Peter Rowen’s arms behind his head was not use, and the cover for “New Year’s Day” was used instead with Rowen holding a flagpole. In the UK, a special 1+1 cassette released in a cardboard cigarette-style box with the flag pole photo. THe cassette had the album on one side and was left blank on the other for buyers to use for recording their own music. As well the UK also received a unique version of the 12-inch recording, issuing a 12-inch picture disc featuring the cover of the album on one side printed into the vinyl. The reverse side of the picture disc featured four photos of the band against a snowy background, the track listings and the track listing. The picture disc was released in a clear plastic sleeve. This was the first picture disc issued by the band, and is the only album which has been released as a picture disc. CD pressings of “War” started appearing in 1987. These were pretty consistant worldwide, but in Canada, one pressing on CD features an error which sees two minutes of “The Refugee” being included with “Two Hearts Beat as One” by mistake.

The back of the CD for “War” in North America lists a number of incorrect run times. “Seconds” is listed at 3:24 instead of 3:10, “Two Hearts Beat as One” is listed at 5:00 instead of 4:02, “Red Light” is listed at 4:09 instead of the actual 3:46, “Surrender” is listed as 6:01 instead of the actual 5:34, and “40” is listed at 2:08 instead of the actual 2:35. It is unknown where this error originated but it has lead to some confusion over the years about different pressings of the album.

Four singles were released from the album “War”. The first single, issued worldwide was “New Year’s Day”. The second and third singles were released at the same time, but in different countries. “Two Hearts Beat as One” was issued as the single in most regions, excluding The Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Brazil. In those four regions the second single was “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. The covers for both singles were pretty much identical and they contained the same b-sides in most regions. Only in Japan was there a commercial release of both “Two Hearts Beat as One” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and in that case a different image was used for the single, as well as using a different b-side. The fourth and final commercial single was “40 (How Long)” and was released as a single only in Germany. This release was done to capitalize on highly regarded performance that U2 had given at Rockpalast in late August.

Live in concert, the songs from “War” continue to be played. Three songs, however, have never been played live. “The Refugee”, “Red Light” and “Drowning Man” have never been played live in concert. “Drowning Man” has been included as a snippet as part of other songs over the years. In 1983, it was often included in “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”, in 2005 it made a brief appearance as part of “Beautiful Day”, and in 2009 it appeared as a snippet in “Moment of Surrender”. During the U2360° tour, the band soundchecked “Drowning Man” on a number of occasions, and as late as June 27, 2009 it was still in the setlist being rehearsed, but it never did appear. In the last rehersal it appeared in, it looked like “Drowning Man” would have followed “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. Over the years a number of songs have become standards at U2 concerts. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” has been played on every tour since being released, as has “New Year’s Day”. A concert film was produced documenting the “War” tour, in the form of “Live from Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky”. This was released on VHS in 1984, and on DVD in 2008. It was also the basis for a live album released in November 1983, “Under a Blood Red Sky”.

The album was released to mostly positive reviews, although there were some notable negative reviews in the UK, and it finished quite strong in the charts, giving U2 their first number 1 album in the UK, and although debuting at number 91 in the USA in its debut week, it would eventually peak at number 12 in the 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 “War” this return to the masters, resulted in several differences from the regular commercial release of the album. “Seconds” is longer, expanding the break section where you hear “Soldier Girls” by approximately 12 seconds. “Like a Song…” is also longer by about 14 seconds with an extended outro, and “New Year’s Day” is also slightly longer, including the full measure before Edge’s guitar solo, which is missing on other versions of the album.

The second remastering came in 2008, when U2 re-released three albums, “Boy”, “October” and “War”. Mastering of this release was overseen by The Edge. “War” was released in three formats, a 12-inch vinyl release in 180 gram vinyl, a standard format single 5-inch CD, and a deluxe format 5-inch CD which came packaged with a second bonus disc of material. A special release, through Amazon in the US saw all three deluxe format re-releases released in one boxed set. The second disc packaged with the “War” release contained mostly remixes from 1983, the studio and live b-sides from the singles released, and remixes completed in 1999 by Ferry Corsten. One outtake from the “War” session, “Angels Too Tied to the Ground” was finished with new vocals and included on the release. More information on this deluxe set can be found in the discography entry for the “War” remastered release.

Liner Notes

Bono: Vocal & Guitar. The Edge: Guitars, Piano, Lap Steel, Vocal (“Seconds”). Adam Clayton: Bass. Larry Mullen Jr: Drums and Percussion. Electric Violin: Steve Wickham (“Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “Drowning Man”) Trumpet: Kenny Fradley. Backing Vocals: Cheryl Poirier with Adriana Kaegi, Taryn Hagey, also Jessica Felton (“Surrender”, “Red Light”)
Produced by Steve Lillywhite, Except “The Refugee” produced by Bill Whelan (Mixed by Steve). Engineeered by Paul Thomas. Assisted by Kevin Killen. U2 Management: Paul McGuinness. Recorded at Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin Ireland.


Boy Photograph: Ian Finlay. Band Photograph: Anton Corbin. Design RX.

Recognition and Awards

  • Certified Gold (RIAA, USA, July 15, 1983)
  • Certified Platinum (RIAA, USA, February 25, 1985)
  • Certified 3x Multi-Platinum (RIAA, USA, June 12, 1995)
  • Certified 4x Multi-Platinum (RIAA, USA, September 11, 1995) [Last certification to date, as of 2017]
  • #56, Top 100 Albums of 1984 (Rolling Stone Magazine, December 1984)
  • #40, Top 100 Albums of the 1980s (Rolling Stone Magazine, November 1989)
  • #49, Rolling Stone Readers Top 100 Albums (Rolling Stone, October 2002)
  • Best Album of 1983, Critic’s Pick, Runner Up (In top 5 albums but not ranked) (Rolling Stone, 1983)
  • Best Album of 1983, Reader’s Pick, Runner Up (In top 5 albums but not ranked) (Rolling Stone, 1983)
  • #221, Top 500 Albums (Rolling Stone, December 2003)
  • Listed in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (2005 and 2008 ed.) by Robert Dimery
  • #68, Top 100 Albums [Listener Vote] (BBC Radio 2, UK, August 2006)
  • #1 Album Sleeve, Best LP Sleeve Award (Hot Press, 1983 Awards)
  • #1 Album, Best Album Award (Hot Press, 1983 Awards)
  • #3 Album Sleeve, Best LP Sleeve Award (NME Magazine Poll, 1983 Awards)
  • #3 Album, Best Album Award (NME Magazine Poll, 1983 Awards)
  • #223, Top 500 Albums (Rolling Stone, April 2012)
  • #15 Album, Best Album Award (Sounds Magazine Poll, 1983 Awards)
  • #1 Album, Best Album Award (Rip It Up Magazine Poll, 1983 Awards)
  • #23, Top 100 Albums of All Time (2FM Radio Listeners Poll, October 1995)

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