Alternate Images: Covering U2

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2016-12-05)

Alternate History: 1980s

Throughout the 1980s U2 were prolific, releasing albums and singles throughout the world. In most cases the releases would have a singular look across all formats and in all regions. But at times U2 had a little fun with things and chose to alter the looks of releases depending on the format. At other times the decisions to make a product look different sat with the label.

This article delves into the releases during the 1980s, and looks at singles and albums that had very different covers. We aren’t just talking about a different colour, or a different border. These are instances where the photography and the design used on the covers was different. In some cases the cover differences are immediately apparent and other times even when looking at two images side by side it is difficult to see the differences.

The Joshua Tree is one of the best selling releases of U2s career. Released in 1987, it was one of the first releases to be issued in vinyl, CD and cassette all in one year. Throughout the design process it was decided to alter the cover slightly across the three different releases, and each uses a unique photograph of the band but in all four cases they are posed similarly.

The cassette and the vinyl both saw clear images of the band in use. For the 5-inch CD, a new format in 1987, U2 used a blurred photo of themselves. And while it may appear on first glance that it is the same photo in each format, it is not.

In the cassette version (left) Larry looks down, and the horizon of the rocks is above the band members’ heads. The Edge’s face is partially blocked by Bono and little space can be seen between Adam and Larry’s heads. On the vinyl version (center) the horizon of the rocks is below the bands’ heads, Larry’s head is more toward the camera, and there is much more space between his and Adam’s face in the cover. Bono still overlaps with Edge a bit but less so than on the cassette. On the 5-Inch CD version the blur is noticeable. The rocks are below the top of the bands’ heads, and there is very little space between Larry, Adam and The Edge in the photograph. Bono and The Edge do not overlap at all.

The 8-Track used the same version as the cassette. In the 1990s the CD booklet was redesigned and re-released throughout Europe with the vinyl cover image, while CDs continued to be issued in North America with the blurry cover. The vinyl format had started to die out and it was felt that the iconic cover should be moved to the CD pressings. The 2007 remaster of The Joshua Tree would finally see the vinyl cover used on CD formats worldwide.

Averill spoke to Soundbard about the use of the multiple images and the decision to change the cover for the 2007 remastered release:

The interesting thing about The Joshua Tree was that because the CD was a brand-new format, we tried to experiment, and it was the only cover where the cassette, CD, and vinyl album all have different pictures on them. For a long time, when vinyl disappeared, Anton was a bit upset because what he thought was the “main” cover, the vinyl cover, wasn’t available, and all that was available was the cassette with the slightly distorted version. So we reissued that with the original cover, trying to get it as close to the vinyl cover as we could. It’s so much stronger when you get to see the full image, and especially on the gatefold when you open it up.

The first album U2 released, Boy, was released in most areas of the world in 1980 featuring a photograph on the cover of a young friend of the band, Peter Rowen, with his shirt removed. When it came time to issue the album in North America in March 1981, the label bristled at the use of such an image, worried about possible questions about why a shirtless child would be on the cover of an album.

The label turned to its in-house designer Bruno Tilley, who turned to a photographer, Sandy Porter, to help design a new cover for the North American market. The new cover featured four stretched images of the band in black and white and was a departure from the original cover. The alternate cover was used for Boy in North America up until the remastering of the album in 2008. Copies issued since that time have been issued with the image of Peter Rowen instead. Earlier this year we interviewed Sandy Porter about the design of this alternate cover and other possible covers which were not used.

The Joshua Tree and Boy are two album covers that most think of when they think of altered cover images. But War in 1983 also featured two distinct images on the cover. For the 12-Inch vinyl, U2 once again returned to an image of Peter Rowen for the cover. Rowen now a bit older, was sporting a split lip, and poses as he did for the cover of Boy with his hands behind his head. This cover of Rowen was used on both the 12-inch vinyl and the later CD releases of the album.

Cassettes posed a unique issue as the dimensions of a cassette are quite different. Square artwork used on a vinyl pressing or for a CD would not show properly on a rectangular cassette cover. In some countries the vinyl cover of War was used. In these cases the square artwork was printed as-is on the front of the cassette, leaving a border, most often at the bottom where text could be added. But some countries, such as the UK received a different cover, designed exclusively for the cassette format. On these covers, instead of Rowen posing with his hands behind his head, he is posing holding onto a flagpole.

The different dimensions of the cassette would again play into decisions for 1984’s album release of The Unforgettable Fire. The 12-Inch vinyl and the later CD would both use a square image of a castle as the focus of the cover. The band is all but absent on the cover. For the cassette release in some countries a different image was used, which focused on U2 all lined up and facing in one direction, with the castle in the background. Both images were taken on the same day moments apart.

Not all countries used the alternate cover for the cassette, and like War, some countries would use a smaller image of the vinyl cover, with a border below the image with text for the title or other additional information. The DCC (Digital Compact Cassette) released in the 1990s would make use of this alternate cover with the band.

The alternate images are not just limited to the albums, if anything they are even more often found in the singles that were released throughout the 1980s. We start with the first EP “Three“ originally released in 1979. The 7-Inch single featured a picture sleeve, and on that sleeve U2 again were using Peter Rowen for the cover image. The original cover featured a close up of Rowen, as well as two smaller photos off to the left of the bigger image. The cover clearly labels the title of the EP as “Three“ over the larger image of Rowen.

In 1985 CBS would issue a cassette single of “Three“. Faced with the differences in geometry between a square vinyl single and a rectangular cassette, instead of using the whole image of the cover, they chose to just use one of the smaller images of Peter Rowen. The image of him wearing the hat became the cover for the cassette. Perhaps most interesting, the cassette also dropped the name “Three“ from the front cover, and also used “Out of Control” on the spine of the release.

A Day Without Me“ was U2’s fourth single. In most territories it featured an image of the Bootersdown train station in silver and black. It was also one of the first singles which was distributed outside of the UK and Ireland, and in The Netherlands the single was released with a cover that featured Peter Rowan, the same image from the Boy album cover. Instead of the characters “U2” being hidden in his hair, they are moved to the top left corner of the front cover. The back cover features four images of the band which were also used on the album, and again repeats the image of Rowen in the centre. The alternate cover was likely used to give extra visibility to the album in a country which was getting the release of their very first U2 single.

I Will Follow“ was U2’s fifth single. The single was released in the UK and Ireland with a cover that features Peter Rowan looking to one side. This was a different cover than the one used for the Boy album. A different cover was used in New Zealand, and like “A Day Without Me“ in The Netherlands they used the album cover for Boy. Here the “U2” can be seen in his hair as well as beside the image. A third cover was used in the US and Canada. There they used the same cover as the US cover for Boy. There was a concern about the use of a shirtless boy on the cover of the album in North America, and the stretched pictures of the band were developed instead. The same treatment was used for the single sleeve. For the story of how this treatment was developed please see our interview with one of the artists involved, Sandy Porter.

Alternate covers in different countries became the norm throughout the 1980s, as the band expanded releases into more territories.

Fire“ was the next single, and was released in two different formats.

In most regions a 7-inch single was issued, featuring a black cover with an image of the sun on the front cover. On the 7-inch only two songs were included, “Fire” and “J. Swallow.” However, the same cover was also used for a double pack of singles, which included a handful of live tracks on the second disc—“11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” “The Ocean” and “Cry-The Electric Co.”

But a 12-Inch was also issued in Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Spain and Germany. In each country the single included “Fire” and “J. Swallow” as well as “11 O’Clock Tick Tock (Live)” and “The Ocean (Live)”. The cover used on the 12-Inch calls the release “U2 R.O.K.“ on the front cover, which features a black and white photo of Bono performing. The border is a bright yellow, with black text for the title, and the track listings. “U2 R.O.K.” could be a play on “U2 ROCK” or it could be a form of saying “U2 Are OK”. When “Fire” was issued on CD in 1991 in Austria, it was the cover for the 12-Inch single that was used, so many fans today are more familiar with the yellow cover than the original cover with the sun.

Gloria“ featured three different covers in different regions. In the UK and Ireland, as well as Australia, an image of the band at the Grand Canal Docks was used (the same image from the front of the album cover) and it was mirrored in such a way that you see the cover image in four locations.

A very simple cover was produced in The Netherlands, featuring the front image from the cover of October printed in black and white, with two tones of red being used for the lettering and highlights on the sleeve.

The cover used in New Zealand was unique and featured a different photograph of the band completely. The photograph used featured U2 in London, and it was printed in black and white for a unique cover on this sleeve. The release in New Zealand was quite limited so this version has risen in price and is highly sought after by collectors. Perhaps of interest is that although both the New Zealand and Australian pressings were both handled by Festival Records, two different sleeves were used.

A Celebration“ was a one-off single released between October and War. At this point singles were being released in many regions around the world, but other than “I Will Follow“ none were being issued in North America. “A Celebration“ featured a unique design, a round logo featuring a sun rising over the name of the single and the band’s name. On singles in the UK and Europe this round logo was placed into the center of a white square and was surrounded by lines which make an interesting pattern on the sleeve. In some pressings these were gold and black lines, in others green and black, and still in others more of a brown and black. Also the black lines were sometimes under the coloured lines and sometimes over the coloured lines.

In France, the round logo was blown up in size and was printed by itself on the front cover of a white sleeve. It makes for a very different looking cover to the single.

The final variation pictured above comes from Japan. This is not a cover per se, but rather a lyrics insert packaged within the single. In most cases these would be similar to the cover elsewhere, so we use it as a cover here. For the Japan release we see the same round logo in a white square on the center of the sleeve. But they’ve also added a big U2 in the same font as the sleeve for the release of “Gloria“ in the Netherlands, suggesting these cover changes may have been due to someone in-house, and not just being left up to the label in each country. The Japanese ‘cover’ also features an image of the band below the logo on the front of the sleeve.

New Year’s Day“ was the end of the alternate photographs for a while. On the UK single and throughout most of Europe, the image of Peter Rowen holding a flag pole was seen. There were differences from region to region, including variations in the font colours in different countries, as well. In Portugal the image is zoomed out so you see far more of the full image.

In France however, the 12-Inch single featured a very different cover, with an image of U2 standing in the snow, and a large orange U2 logo in the top corner. These were the remixes of “New Year’s Day” and “Two Hearts Beat as One” so perhaps they should be compared to the cover for “Two Hearts Beat as One“ instead, but they are very different from that cover as well. This image is unique to the 12-Inch in France. In Japan, the lyric insert which functions as a ‘cover’ featured the same image used on the cover of the War album worldwide, with a large “New Year’s Day” printed down the right side in red.

From there some covers did have differences. “Two Hearts Beat as One“ featured a yellow cover in some regions, and a red cover in others, but used the same photograph. On the back cover of that single there were some variations in the photograph used, but on the front the photo was the same. “Pride“ saw the release of the same cover but in some regions it was a white background, and in others it was blue. And “The Unforgettable Fire“ would use one of four cover images for the cover of the double 7-inch, putting Larry Mullen front and center, but all four covers were included.

Not only did The Joshua Tree use three different images for the cover of the album (see above), but “With or Without You“ used two different images as well. Like the different photos used for the album, many would never notice the different photos unless looking at the images side by side. Both covers feature The Edge, sitting in the exact same location in the desert. But in one he has his fist up to his head and he’s looking to one side, and in the other his hands are crossed in front of him and he’s looking forward.

The image of The Edge looking forward is the image that was used on the 7-inch as well as the 12-inch vinyl. On the 7-inch there is a border on the top and bottom, and on the 12-inch, just a larger border at the bottom. This image of The Edge was also used on the cassette single.

On the 5-Inch CD the alternate cover of The Edge looking to one side was used. It was used on all CD pressings for the commercial single.

You have to dig deep to find this alternate cover. For the single “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For“ the same image of Larry Mullen was used across all formats except for one. The image we are used to seeing is an image of Larry looking straight ahead at the camera. It was used on the vinyl, and on the cassette single and the 5-inch CD. But there was an alternate image used. Back in 1987, cassettes sometimes came packed in long boxes. These boxes were there so the cassettes could be displayed alongside records in a record store. They typically were about 12 inches high, just like a vinyl record so the cassette would be displayed at the same height. On the outside of the long box for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” we see a different photo of Larry, this time looking toward one side, with less of his face in shadow. This is the only format we are aware of that this image was used on, and the cassette packed inside the box used the standard image used on all of the other releases.

Like the differences in The Joshua Tree and the singles from that album, this variation in covers for “When Love Comes to Town“ is a very similar but different photo of The Edge. In the version used for the 7-inch, cassette and 12-inch The Edge is holding on to his hat. But the version used on some versions of the 3-inch CD, The Edge instead has his arms stretched wide. It wasn’t even used on all versions of the 3-inch CD single, instead just appearing on the case cover for the USA version, while the Japan CD, the German CD, and the USA longbox for this CD pressing all featured the other image.

Perhaps this one doesn’t fit as well into the list, as it’s not a different photograph, but the cover used for the 12-inch box set for “All I Want is You“ was quite different than the cover of the single that was contained within. This unique box included four prints, one of each band member, as well as the 12-inch of “All I Want is You” and was issued in the UK. The cover is unique as it does not feature the image of Bono used on other pressings, instead using a stylized “U2” logo in two directions. Even the last single for the decade featured an alternate touch on the covers.

With the singles released for Achtung Baby, it became normal to issue two singles for each release. And usually with two different variations of the single came two different covers. Sometimes the covers have used tinting and other special effects to make them unique (the blue and white covers for “Beautiful Day“) and in other cases the covers are completely unique (the two covers for the “Stay (Faraway So Close!)“ single. Indeed in some cases, there were even two different singles completely such was the case with “Mofo“ and “If God Will Send His Angels“, but the two are tied together by release date and the cover images having similar elements. And the most recent album, Songs of Innocence, had two very different covers with the white label image being used for iTunes and a different cover being used for the physical release. We look forward to seeing what the future brings as U2’s design team explores how to convey the same ideas in different ways.

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