The History Mix: Other Voices

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2017-10-22)

Yesterday it was revealed in a Q Magazine article that both Haim and Kendrick Lamar will be featured on the new U2 album Songs of Experience when it is released on December 1, 2017. As you’ll see below, we expect there may be other voices on the album as well. We’ve wanted to take a look back at other voices on U2 albums for a while, and now seems like a good time to do just that.

For Kendrick Lamar it is the other side of the favour that U2 did for him, appearing on his album back in April of this year. On Lamar’s album Damn. track 11 is titled “XXX (featuring U2),” but it is only Bono that features on the track. On the song, Bono sings “It’s not a place, This country is to be a sound of drum and bass, You close your eyes to look around.” So why did U2 get a credit? Because the lyrics are a snippet from a U2 song which will feature on Songs of Experience called “American Soul.” And that’s not the only thing that ties Lamar to that track. He is also going to appear on the introduction to “American Soul” in a role that Bono called a “lunatic preacher”. On the interview with Bill Flanagan on “Written in My Soul”, Bono revealed the lyrics that Lamar is set to be reciting: “Blessed are the superstars, in their luminescence we discover our own inadequacy. Blessed are the filthy rich, for you can only truly own what you give away, like your pain. Blessed are the arrogant, for theirs is the kingdom of their own company. Blessed are the bullies, for one day they will have to stand up to themselves. Blessed are the liars. Because the truth can be awkward.”

Haim is an American pop band, made up of three sisters, from California. They have been together as a musical group since 2007, and released their first album Days Are Gone in 2013. The Q article states:

Haim lend their voices to the gospel chorus of The Lights Of Home – not least since the track’s main riff is based on a bass breakdown from their 2014 single My Song 5. “I said to the Edge, ‘Well, sample stuff if you want. Why not?’” Bono recalls. “Sampling stuff is great freedom. Freedom to have fun. To make it a playground again where you have access to a wider palette of colours.”

The following is the Haim song that is referenced:

Haim’s “My Song 5”, who will feature on “The Lights Of Home”

I was lucky enough to hear U2’s “The Lights Of Home” and although my memories of it have faded since July, hearing the track from Haim yesterday brought the memories of that song rushing back. You can hear it in the bass and drums. After hearing U2’s “The Lights of Home” I found I was recalling another U2 song, “Breathe” and saying it was like “Breathe” but taken further. Listening to the Haim track, I hear the same idea. If you want some clues to what “The Lights of Home” will sound like, it’s a good place to start.

But for all the songs that U2 have released over the years, few voices are heard on U2 tracks beyond those of the band members themselves, and occasionally their producers (Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois provide backing vocals on a handful of songs, for example). But there have been a number of cases where a special guest does make an appearance. We will look at some, but not all, of the guests who have lent their voices to U2’s recordings over the years.

Original Soundtracks 1

Right off the bat we should mention Original Soundtracks 1 which was released under the group name Passengers. The whole project was an effort in collaboration, and throughout the album other voices can be heard. Producers Brian Eno and Howie B. both lend vocals to the album. Most notably, Luciano Pavarotti brings some additional beauty to “Miss Sarajevo,” the album’s lead single. The voice of Holi can be heard on “Ito Okashi”. Holi is Akiko Kobayashi. She released seven albums in Japan between 1985 and 2001, and two additional albums under the name Holi in 1994 and 2005, and singles throughout her career up to 2009.

The Troubles

On U2’s most recent album, Songs of Innocence, Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li contributes vocals to the song “The Troubles”.

A beautiful video was released on the deluxe version of the Innocence and Experience home video.

An alternate version of “The Troubles” was released on the second disc in deluxe packages of Songs of Innocence. In that recording, the female voice is not Lykke Li but Angel Deradoorian. In addition to “The Troubles (Alternative Version),” Deradoorian worked on three other songs with U2.

Ordinary Love

Derardoorian is mostly known by her last name these days. She is best known for her work with Dirty Projectors up until she left in 2012. She’s been busy making appearance on albums including U2, The Roots, Flying Lotus, and Brandon Flowers.

I was in New York and I got a call from Patrick Carney, who has worked quite a bit with Danger Mouse. I took a break while I was rehearsing to take the call and he said ‘Hey, do you want to sing for Danger Mouse?‘ and I was like ‘Sure, cool, what’s the project?‘ ‘It’s for U2.‘ How often does that kind of thing happen to a person? I went into the studio there, they were recording at Electric Lady in New York. I did a couple of sessions with them, I recorded on four songs but only one song came out on the album. The other I sang on was in the Nelson Mandela movie, who I have the same birthday as, so I thought that was really cool.

Deradoorian’s vocals were present in the background of “Ordinary Love”, and also in the alternate recording of “The Troubles” where they were much more in the background than the version eventually released with Lykke Li. That leaves two other songs that she worked on, that have not yet appeared. One of these may be the opening track to the new U2 album Songs of Experience. That song, “Love is All We Have Left” had a voice that sounded like Deradoorian’s in early mixes. If so, she’d be yet another guest on vocals on the new album if she’s made it through to the final mix of the song.

The Wanderer

“The Wanderer” is perhaps my favorite guest vocal; it even inspired the name of U2Songs previous incarnation, U2Wanderer. The song features Johnny Cash on lead vocals, with Bono coming in only at the end for some vocal color. Johnny recorded the song with U2, and to hear Bono speak about it, the song was always written with Johnny in mind. “The Wanderer” was the final song on the Zooropa album released in 1993. We’ve been told that somewhere in a vault exists a studio recording from 1993 with Bono on vocals that was used to share the song with Cash when he recorded his vocals.

What might U2’s version have sounded like? During the Vertigo tour U2 participated in a tribute to Johnny Cash, and they recorded multiple live takes for that tribute. Have a listen:

Red Light and Surrender

So who were the first guest voices to be heard on a U2 album? War featured backing vocals on “Surrender” and “Red Light” by Cheryl Poirier, Adriana Kaegi, Taryn Hagey and Jessica Felton. Three of the ladies, Poirier, Kaegi, and Hagey were known as The Coconuts, and were the backing vocalists for Kid Creole for years. The Coconuts have had a revolving membership over the years but it was this lineup that was together when U2 recorded War. Felton was likely a friend of The Coconuts, but was never a member of that group.

Lillywhite discussed the inclusion of The Coconuts on the album:

One of the strange things about that album is that we used Kid Creole’s backing singers, the Coconuts. They just happened to be in Dublin on tour, so we hung out with them and they came in and sang on Surrender. So it was sort of random – this serious Irish rock band having the Coconuts on their album. But there’s nothing U2 like better than a pretty woman.

Other Voices Still

Although rare, there have been other vocals on U2 songs over the years. “The Saints Are Coming”, released as a single in 2006, featured U2 and Green Day. Another single, from 1988’s Rattle and Hum, “When Love Comes to Town” featured B.B.King on the album version and added sermonizing by Little Richard on the “Live from the Kingdom Mix.” Sinead O’Connor shared vocals on 1997’s “I’m Not Your Baby,” released on a soundtrack, but the “Skysplitter Dub” version released on various formats of the “Please” single did not include any vocals. And credited as Mrs Christine Kerr, Chrissie Hynde features on the backing vocals for “Pride (In the Name of Love)” although she’s pretty far back in the mix if she’s there at all. A number of backing vocalists can be heard on Rattle and Hum most famously including Bob Dylan on “Love Rescue Me” and the New Voices of Freedom on “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Gavin Friday has backed U2 up on “Satellite of Love” in studio while Lou Reed featured on live recordings.

A couple of additional appearances are rumoured. Chris Martin of Coldplay is said to have contributed to the vocals on “Iris” on Songs of Innocence, and publicists for the boy band Boyzone once sent out a press release saying Boyzone were featured on vocals on the 1998 version of “Sweetest Thing.” Later reports clarified that the band only appeared in the video, although the band had recorded their own version of the song that had not been released. “We recorded the song and matched it up with the other songs on the album,” Boyzone’s Ronan Keating told MTV News’ John Norris, “and it just didn’t flow, sadly enough, because we would’ve loved to do it.”

Rumours swirl around other possible guests on the new U2 album. NME magazine in covering Songs of Experience reported that Royal Blood would feature on the album, but spokespersons for Royal Blood announced that report was incorrect. The Chainsmokers have also commented that they have worked with U2 in the lead up to this album, with member Drew Taggart saying, “I don’t know if he’ll use the stuff we’ve worked on together but we’ve been in the studio working on some stuff with them.”

Despite the names listed here, the list of guest vocalists working with U2 remains relatively short over a career that has spanned forty years. These days, some artists use a different guest vocalist on every track on an album. Let us know which of the guest appearances are your favorites, and who you would like to see U2 work with in the future, on Facebook, Twitter, or in our forums.

< Next News Entry | Previous News Entry > was formerly known as Follow us on Twitter | Facebook