A Sort of Homecoming: U2 Rework Older Demos for Release

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2019-07-09)

From 2007 – 2011, a number of U2 albums were reissued in deluxe formats with additional content, and a variety of formats. These collections were done under the watchful eye of Nick Stewart Associates. These sets included a number of tracks that had not previously been released, however a few of these unreleased tracks included additional new recording done in the same period of the release. U2 actually went back and worked on older tracks, sometimes decades old, for these releases. The tracks released were not the same tracks that existed back in the original recording sessions. These additions include new instrumentation and vocals on many of the songs.

The first of these new recordings released was “Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)” on the 20th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree. The song as it existed in 1987 when the band abandoned it was a demo called “Birdland” and was little more than the instrumentation that you hear on the tracks. For the reissue of the album, U2 recorded additional material for the song, including newly-written lyrics for the song by Bono. The recording work was done with Carl Glanville.

AUDIO: U2’s “Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland)”

In an interview Bono described the origins of the song: “It is one of the songs from The Joshua Tree sessions that we never finished. It was a song which was trying to describe experiences that I had, myself and Ali, when we were working in Ethiopia during the famine. We saw these sights that you really shouldn’t have to see.” Some of the lyrics existed from 1987, but additional lyrics are added. “Well the band played on it, but they never actually heard the final, because I never got to sing it fully in 1987 – so 20 years later, it’s strange. Although I got a message from Edge last night, we posted it to him last night, he said I had a future in the music business.”

Glanville was also involved in the final track on the bonus disc, “Drunk Chicken / America.” Again the original had updates done to it. We don’t know what the original track was like, but Glanville is listed with additional recording and mixing of the track. It may be Glanville that mixed the previously existing reading of “America” with the U2 track from 1987.

AUDIO: Ginsberg’s reading of “America”

The Edge describes the track in the liner notes: “The track used for the Allen Ginsberg poem ‘America’ was one of the first recordings we made in Danesmote. It was given the working title ‘Drunk Chicken.’ It’s all Eno in truth, Brian started the improvisation and although we were all willing it never quite got past its Eno-esque origins. It’s clear from this track that we were still searching for clues, looking for the end of the thread.”

The recording of Ginsberg reading “America” comes from 1959, recorded at a reading in Chicago. So it was certainly available in 1987, but it does sound like it was married to the track “Drunk Chicken” later in life.

AUDIO: U2’s “Drunk Chicken / America”

The next batch of releases in the series included the albums Boy, October and War. While the bonus tracks from the first two are taken from the era of the albums, one song on the War release has been updated. The song is “Angels Too Tied to the Ground,” and the credits for the album list that additional recording on the song were done in May 2008.

AUDIO: U2’s “Angels Too Tied to the Ground”

In the case of “Angels Too Tied to the Ground” Bono’s vocals are new on the song, recorded in 2008. He scat sings over the original recording of the song. Like the vocals on “Wave of Sorrow” he is doing a whispered singing on the track, and it sounds quite unfinished still.

The 2009 release of The Unforgettable Fire also includes one of these newly finished songs. On this one the vocal is not 100% new, but new vocals have been recorded for the song, keyboards have been added by Declan Gaffney, as well as additional piano by The Edge. The song is a meld of music and some backing vocals from 1984 and newly recorded vocals and instrumentation done in 2009.

AUDIO: U2’s “Disappearing Act”

The Edge spoke about the song, and the new additions, recorded in France in early 2009: “Well, it was originally called “White City”, and it was a track we started with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois back in 1983 when we were recording The Unforgettable Fire. And we discovered it about six months ago, and we dug it out and did some work on it in France a few weeks ago, and it’s now finished.” Bono confirmed that the drums, bass and guitar were from the original track, but the voices are new.

Edge expands on the track in the liner notes including on the new release: “‘Disappearing Act,’ formerly known as ‘White City,’ was recorded at the beginning of the Slane sessions before we had set up our multi-track recording equipment, hence it only existed as a stereo instrumental recording. We did multi-track tape recordings of a simplified version later on, but for whatever reason, it never inspired a compelling vocal melody idea; maybe because when we came to re-cut the track, we omitted the section before the chorus, which in ‘Disappearing Act’ turned out to be a crucial section. So after 25 years and a few weeks, while in France on a break between shows on the 360 tour, ‘White City’ was completed and became ‘Disappearing Act.‘”

AUDIO: U2’s “Blow Your House Down”

The final release in the Nick Stewart Associates lead releases was the 20th anniversary edition of Achtung Baby. A number of the bonus tracks are new from this recording, and are still in their original format. But a number of tracks have been updated and “finished” with the addition of new vocals and instrumentals.

The booklet lists additional production and recording on the tracks by Declan Gaffney so they are easy to spot. “Blow Your House Down” has new recorded pieces incorporated into the original tracks. The song even saw a limited promotional issue to radio to promote the release. Some of the vocal parts are new, but the music was mostly finished for this track in 1991. A variety of versions of the original can be heard on the bootlegs of U2’s stolen tapes from the Hansa Ton studio sessions, and the released version doesn’t sound too different from some of the original takes.

“Oh Berlin” is another song on which updates have been done. The music is from the development of the album, but the lyrics are newly added to the song. The vocals sound more like a modern Bono vocal, and some of Bono’s lines echo lines used in the documentary From the Sky Down, which was filmed in 2011, and released as part of the box set. And the lyrics certainly feel like a man looking back at Berlin, instead of a contemporary piece about the city.

AUDIO: U2’s “Oh Berlin”

Two other songs have had new work done on them. “Heaven and Hell”, and the baby version of “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World” both have new recorded pieces added to the original tracks. On “Heaven and Hell” Gaffney is credited with backing vocals and keyboards on the track. Additionally Gaffney did some mixing work on the baby versions of “One” and “Love is Blindness” but neither list that new recording has been done for these tracks.

AUDIO: U2’s “Lucifer’s Hands”

The work done on these sets was done between 2007 and 2011, and during that time U2 would finish No Line on the Horizon and had begun work on Songs of Ascent which would later be shelved in favour of Songs of Innocence. At least one of these forays back to look at old tracks lead to a new song along the way. A cast off from The Unforgettable Fire called “The Return of the Stingray Guitar” was mentioned in recording notes for the album. When revisiting that album in early 2009, U2 found the song, dusted it off, and used an instrumental version of the song to open the 2010 shows of the U2360 tour. They would return to develop the song in studio, and it would eventually become “Lucifer’s Hands,” released as an extra song on 2014’s Songs of Innocence — that’s one long time between starting a song and releasing it.

AUDIO: U2’s “Red Hill Mining Town (2017 Lillywhite Mix)”

Nick Stewart’s group worked on projects through to 2011, and although they had started researching several of their next projects, it was decided that sales of CDs had declined to the point that further work on the back catalog would cease. The 2017 release of The Joshua Tree was put together under the direction of Gavin Friday, and although it featured no new songs, it did include some of the versions worked on in 2007 such a “Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland)” and “Drunk Chicken / America” and also featured a number of new remixes produced in 2017 by producers associated with the band including St Francis Hotel, Jacknife Lee, Daniel Lanois, Steve Lillywhite, Daniel Lanois and Flood. The remix of “Red Hill Mining Town” went back to the original recording stems for the track, and used that for the instrumentals on the new version, but Bono did go back in and re-record vocals on the verses. Lillywhite commented: “I actually had to match a 56-year-old Bono with a 26-year-old Bono and they mixed well. I was very happy. It’s quite powerful sounding.” The new mix of “Red Hill Mining Town” is the only recording with new vocals, but some of the other 2017 mixes featured additional instruments and vocals added by the remixing producers, as well as some alternate recordings from 1987 such as this 2017 remix of “Where the Streets Have No Name” remixed by Flood that we will leave you with.

AUDIO: U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name (2017 Flood Mix)”

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