The History Mix: Happy 21st Birthday u2songs!
Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2016-04-07)
I woke up this morning to a reminder on my phone. It has been 21 years this week since I uploaded my first U2 website, and I’ve been at it ever since. The year was 1995, and I took a Computer Science course about webpage design. These were in the early days of webpages, Netscape was everyone’s browser of choice and the course taught us advance design topics such as making text blink, embedding photos, and making coloured backgrounds. And our final project, due on the last day of classes, April 7, was a webpage about something that we enjoyed. It was to be handed in on a floppy disc. Me being a bit of a smart ass, handed in a post-it note instead that day. On the note was a web address at the University of Ohio State. I’d figured out how to find some free hosting space in the days before Geocities, and had uploaded my project. I got bonus points for that one.
The first site was a collection of links to U2 on the internet. There was not a lot of content out there at the time. A few websites, a link to a few gopher sites, and a link to Wire (u2-list) so that people could subscribe. The first site didn’t even have a picture, it was just a plain black background with red text.
I got the Computer Science credit. And I graduated that year, and left for another school. This time, my school gave us our own webspace for development of an online resume. But I found a summer job in the first week of school, and didn’t need to spend the time searching like others in my class. So I took the U2 page that had remained stagnant all summer and moved it to the University servers, and started building it new there. Inspired by “Lemon” the backgrounds were orange and yellow, and I started building a list of the U2 items I owned in my collection, as well as a wish list of things I didn’t own. I think you can see where this is going? It was the earliest start of the discography.
We bumped around for a bit to various servers, including Xoom, Geocities, and were hosted at u2.org and u2universe.com at times. In 1998 we started to incorporate lyrics into the site, and in 2000 we finally moved into our own home at u2wanderer.org. It was also in 2000, when Carl Uebelhart joined the site taking on the lyrics side of things, and starting to work on design and database element development to streamline and improve the entire site. In 2009, realizing that the old site was not flexible enough to make the next jump, Carl and I decided to step back from updates to u2wanderer.org and spent the next five years developing a new site, here at u2songs.com. Last year, on November 3, 2015, we finally went public with u2songs.com. This will be our home for the foreseeable future. As Carl has said, “find out where the songs of U2 live”.
Today we have a staff of eight. Aaron, Brad, Carl, Don, George, Harry and Mike have all joined me on this journey over the years. I do want to thank each of them for their help over the years. In some ways we are still figuring out who is doing what, but our biggest problem is dreaming big. And a thank you to Chris, Dan, and Tim who have all contributed to articles since we started over here at u2songs, and to everyone who has helped out over the years at the previous sites.
For those who haven’t had a chance to look around we invite you to have a look through our pages, a few of the areas are highlighted below.
The About u2songs.com page gives a bit of a history of the site, and brings over the old thank yous from the old site, and gives you a couple of avenues to contact us. We also maintain a list of Accomplishments and Media Mentions over the years. And we maintain some staff biographies there as well which you can access on the right side of the page.
We are working very seriously on the incorporation of news stories throughout the site. We want to make sure there are many options for looking at these. On the front page you will always find links to our most recent seven stories. But I would suggest that starting with the News page will provide far more information. The News page not only lists the last 12 story titles, but also will give a preview of each story if you want a quick peek into the content. All of our news stories can be reviewed by date as well on this page, on the right hand side of the page you can look up our stories by month and year.
Stories specific to the Discography are available on the front page of the Discography site. A new feature that excites us is the ability to tie stories to specific discography entries. If you look at our entry for “Elevation“ you will see that we have eight news stories linked in the actual discography itself. We hope this will help those searching for information on individual releases to quickly find related news stories. We have moved a lot of our historical content over to the new site, but there are a few things yet to be transferred. The site continues to be built.
We do have three dedicated news areas as well. Our Upcoming Releases page deals specifically with items that are coming in the future. Right now there is information there about Songs of Experience, Songs of Ascent, Zucchero’s Black Cat album with the song “Streets of Surrender (S.O.S.)” written by Bono, the movie Waiting for the Miracle to Come which will feature Willie Nelson on the Bono-written track “Where the Shadows Fall”, upcoming Record Store Day releases, and much more.
Our U2ieTour Coverage is located all in one location for quick reference. This includes articles written about the audio introduction to “Raised by Wolves”, the city-specific T-Shirts produced for this tour, a look at the confetti from Alice in Wonderland used throughout the tour, the books Bono threw from the stage in leg one, and the pre-show songs used throughout the recent tour. There is a wealth of content there that we haven’t mentioned, and if you are interested in looking around at all of our tour stories you just need to visit the one page.
Finally you are reading “The History Mix“. It’s a column that we post every couple of weeks dealing with the history of U2. We started it just before Christmas last year with a look at the Christmas songs that U2 has recorded, and since then have looked at the evolution of the #U2ieTour Book, did a list of favorite mixes, took a look at how U2 has done solo in the Irish Charts, looked at where the cover of the Passengers Album came from, and did a recent look at the projects Gavin Friday has done with the band among other columns. Like our tour coverage, you can see these stories as part of our news database, or you can find all of the columns in one location.
Still a back bone of the new site, the lyrics section is a work in progress, thanks to the efforts of Mike Long. To reflect our new name this area has been re-titled Songs. Mike transcribes what lyrics he hears, which in many cases differ from the written lyrics published elsewhere. The introduction page to this section lists the letters of the alphabet, and allows you to quickly find a song by title. For those missing our old “By Songs” feature of the discography, the functionality has been moved here. Clicking on a letter will bring up a list of each song U2 has worked on and the associated releases it can be found on. If you click on the name of the song you are taken to the lyrics. If you click on the name of the release you are taken to the discography entry itself for that release.
A look at the specific lyric page for “Song for Someone (Radio Mix)“ shows that we’ve added some new flexibility to the lyrics entries as well. The lyric entries now list where the song was first found, it also lists all releases in the discography with that particular mix of the song, and a new feature allows us to add notes about each song to allow us to give some background on the song, and why it is consider a different mix.
Lyrics for any song can also be reached through the discography by clicking on any song title in the track listing.
The lyric archive contains lyrics from all of the major releases by U2, but also songs that the band have participated in as solo projects. The section is up to date and relatively complete, and features close to 1750 unique entries.
The U2 Discography is the section where there is still some construction and a work underway. The good news is that most of the entries are complete for information and we’ve even managed to add a couple of new sections “Video Games“ (Rock Band 4 was not the first!) and a “List of Live Songs“ which lists all of the released versions of U2’s songs. We’ve also added a list of songs that have been confused for U2 songs over the years, “Not U2 Content“, no it is not Bono playing drums on that Cut to the Chase album, and no The Edge didn’t do the soundtrack for “Welcome to Godzilla Island”.
All of the entries have been researched fully going back to original sources where possible. If you look at the entry for “Beautiful Day“ you’ll see some of the features I mention. On the right you will see a list of release dates for a variety of territories. For these dates we’ve gone back to a number of sources, posters advertising the release, print ads, trade magazines listing new releases, news stories about each release, and dates appearing in the charts. Below that is a reference to a number of charts from around the world. Again we have gone back to the original charts where possible. The discography entries contain a wealth of background information on each release, and liner notes with credits for the songs. A new section called “Artwork” for each discography entry will feature information about the photography and cover art for each release. Another new section called recognition and awards will contain facts for each release such as “Beautiful Day“ being listed at #747 on the 1001 Best Songs Ever list by Q Magazine in 2003. And below that is the previously mentioned links to news stories about each release allowing you to investigate further the news about each particular release.
The final portion of each discography entry is the “Catalog of Releases”. This is the where the bulk of our current efforts is underway. Myself and Aaron G are rescanning each and every item in our collections using high resolution settings, and careful positioning and colour matching to keep the look of all the releases consistent throughout the site. This process, although underway for months now, is taking considerable time, and is expected to continue throughout 2016. For now we have worked our way through the single and many of the promotional releases, focused on the 5-Inch CD format and the 7-Inch single. We are working to finish off the 7-Inch singles, and have started working on the 3-Inch singles, and cassette singles. Once we have worked through our own collections we will put out a request for help for the remaining material. Feel free to contact us if you are interested.
We have a couple of new things in the pipeline for the upcoming months. We are excited to get those finished and to share those. We have a few other stories about the most recent tour in the works, and we will continue this column, “The History Mix” a couple times a month. We are active on Facebook and on Twitter, and regularly post updates to both. We are still building the site, adding more flexibility and features. It’s been 21 years now, and I want to thank each and every person who has contributed. We couldn’t have done any of it without you.