25 Years of U2Songs: Questions and Answers
Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2020-04-07)
Twenty-five years ago today we uploaded a website to the University of Ohio State servers. It was a final project, due in Aaron’s CS2772 course at University, the only brief was ‘pick something you love.’ And U2 it was.
It’s been 25 years. We’ve been published continuously ever since that time. We’ve switched homes a few times along the way. It’s 20 years this year since we found our first semi-permanent home at U2Wanderer.org, and it’s been five years this year since we moved to our current home at U2Songs.com.
To celebrate, we thought we’d ask for some questions, to let you into our lives a bit. A huge thank you to everyone who sent questions our way, and to everyone who we approached. After each question you’ll be able to see who is asking. The questions are answered by Aaron, Don, Harry and Brad, but Carl, Mike and George are still active around these parts. Mike recently came out of semi-retirement to help clean up some of the lyrics.
Questions, and who asked them are in red. Our answers follow.
About the Band
What are your top 3 U2 Songs?
(Daybreakers, remixed “Love is Bigger Than Anything in its Way”)
Harry: “Stories for Boys,” “With or Without You,” and any live version of “Until the End of the World.”
Don: Always in motion, but roughly: “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Mofo,” “Unknown Caller.”
Aaron: Guess you’ll know who picked U2Wanderer for a name after this one. “Running to Stand Still,” “The Wanderer,” and “Out of Control.”
What’s the most interesting U2 release you know of? Could be a rare music release, a promo item, something random like “Bubble & Gum.” I leave the interpretation of what is interesting up to each of you.
Brad: That would have to be the issue of Visionaire Magazine with the Mini Cooper record player.
Harry: I have a weakness for promo items, and coloured vinyl. “The Sweetest Thing” promo chocolate bar, the “Staring At The Sun” kaleidoscope, “The Fly” promo swatter, the spotted yellow 7-Inch of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” the green marble 12-Inch of “All I Want Is You,” the black and white eclipsed 12-Inch of “The Blackout,” the list goes on and on and on…
Aaron: I’m more likely to dig around in the weird corners of U2’s history. Like that 1986 single that Larry Mullen produced for Geoffrey’s First Affair…, promo singles from the Philippines like “Ultra Violet”, and special pressings of fan club gifts given to the U2 crew under the name of “It’s Showtime!” I like the odder things.
What are your fave remixes?
(Daybreakers, who remixed “Love is Bigger Than Anything in its Way”)
Don: “Lady with the Spinning Head” (Dance Mix), “Lemon” (The Perfecto Mix), “Staring at the Sun” (Brothers in Rhythm Ambient Mix) (For more see this column I wrote!)
Harry: “New Year’s Day” (US Remix), “Lemon” (The Perfecto Mix)”, “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” (Redanka 360 Remix)
Brad: Lemon (Perfecto Mix), Mofo (Phunk Phorce Mix), Magnificent (Fred Falke Club Mix)
Aaron: Let me just say I’m a huge fan of remixes. Thankfully, as that’s all the extras we seem to get these days. “Magnificent” (Dave Aude Remix) is one of my favorites. “Even Better Than the Real Thing” (Perfecto Remix) was something I listened to before every exam in university and I still use to psych myself up, the “Love is Bigger Than Anything in its Way” (Daybreakers Remix) seems to be stuck in my head ever since it was released. I love the stuff St Francis Hotel has been doing on tracks like “New Year’s Day” and “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” but my absolute favourite right now is the Jon Pleased Wimmen Euromantic Mix of “Love is All We Have Left” – something so good about that mix.
How about a round of U2 Desert Island Discs? If you were stranded alone on an island with a functioning record player what 8 individual tracks by U2 would you choose to take with you? Which U2 related book would you take with you? Which U2 related luxury item would you take with you?
(Alan, Longtime friend and supporter of the site)
Brad: “I Will Follow,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “ Bad,” “In God’s Country,” “Desire,” “The Fly,” “Please,” “The Blackout” and the book U2 by U2 and Adam for the U2 related luxury item.
Harry: I’d pick 8 tracks to form a setlist. And I would of course cheat, and pick medleys, snippets, the whole lot!
“11 O’Clock Tick Tock / I Will Follow,”
“The Cry / The Electric Co.,”
“The Unforgettable Fire / A Day Without Me / Wire,”
“Until the End of the World / New Year’s Day,”
“Lemon / With or Without You,”
“Please / Sunday Bloody Sunday / Streets,”
“Bad / All I Want is You,”
“Vertigo / Stories for Boys.”
I’d bring my acoustic guitar as my luxury item. I wouldn’t bring a U2 related book, cause it’s all about the tunes!
Don: Desert Island Disc: The Joshua Tree but 8 tracks? “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Mofo,” “Unknown Caller,” “Dirty Day,” “40,” “Until the End of the World,” “Lemon” (yes, really!), “Gloria” and for a book, U2 by U2.
Aaron: Luxury item? I’m taking Larry Mullen with me. Only to make sure the rest of you don’t get a new U2 album while I’m gone! As for a book? One of my proudest accomplishments in the U2 community was participating in the last version of Pimm Jal de la Parra’s book U2 Live: A Concert Documentary. The original was one of the inspirations for this website, and I still turn to it all the time for information.
U2Songs evolved from U2Wanderer which started out as a way to catalog your personal collection. What is your most prized item in your collection?
(Michelle, moderator, Zootopia)
Harry: The marble green 12-Inch Australian version of “All I Want Is You.” The number of copies that exist are rumoured to be able to count in one hand, so I naturally never thought I’d own one. It has always been my personal holy grail and the one thing I’d be hunting down constantly, for decades. Today, there is one copy in my collection, so listing anything else as my most prized item would simply be a lie!
Aaron: I prize the stuff that has some fun memories for me. I met Bono in 2017 on his birthday. It was also my birthday. I had a birthday card I had been given by a friend. He thought I was trying to give him a card with a bunch of sheep on the front. It was a fun moment, we ended up talking about birthdays and the cosmos, and he ended up signing the front of the card for me and it’s a memory of a really fun moment.
About the Site:
When/where did you guys meet and decide to work together?
(Michelle, moderator, Zootopia)
Don: Aaron asked for contributors in the forum way back in the day, and I answered the call. I was thrilled to get a chance to contribute to this amazing U2 resource. I still haven’t met anyone in person but I hope to rectify that some day.
Brad: In the U2Wanderer forums. I don’t think I actually met you and Harry in person until Vancouver on the I&E tour?
Aaron: Vancouver in 2015 was the first time most of us met. Carl and I had toured together in 2001 on the Elevation tour, but Vancouver saw four of us ending up together in one place at one time which was nice. We met waiting for shows to start, but a staff breakfast was one of my favourite memories of that trip. Carl and I were introduced by an old friend back in 2000 and he’s still around working in the background. Brad, Mike, George and Don all came via the forum at U2Wanderer.org. And Harry? Well that’s a story…This really energetic kid kept trying to get me to meet him in Hawaii. And for whatever reason our paths didn’t cross. But I remembered him. During 360, we crossed paths at least a dozen times but didn’t even know it. And then I got to know his wife online and it was only a few months after we connected that I realized she was married to that same guy. We’ve been bonding ever since. (And shout outs to Graham, Joshua and Wes, who joined us over the years but retired over time and the many others who contributed and took part in getting us to here!)
When the fan-run websites began 25 years ago, we were all much younger with less responsibilities and more energy. What challenges have you faced as the band has become busier in keeping up with it all? What sacrifices have you had to make because of the passion of running a website dedicated to U2?
Aaron: I’ve always told the team, if it feels like a sacrifice don’t do it because you feel you have to. Do it because you want to. When I go to shows, I’m there to enjoy the show and I do try not to get distracted by that. So happy to turn on something like Mixlr so people can listen, or sharing a photo or two from the show as it happens. But when I’m at a U2 show I’m there to enjoy it and whoever is tagging along is gonna have to listen to my out of tune singing if I feel like singing. The one sacrifice is probably seeing a little less of some of the cities I’ve traveled to because I’m always drawn to doing things with friends I don’t see enough of instead of exploring.
With the evolution of the Internet and social media over the past quarter century, how has your site needed to evolve to keep up with the times?
Aaron: We recognized in 2010 that we were falling behind and that things were becoming a struggle. It was feeling too much like work. We needed a break! So we went off and built the site you see today while continuing to run the old. Carl built the framework and did the bulk of design. Mike and I transferred the data over, and took the opportunity to re-listen to every lyric and re-research each discography entry. Brad kept things going at the old site, and we brought others in to help with the data entry and clean up. When we launched in 2015 things were much easier. And it’s responsive to growing and changing, and we’re able to build very quickly. So if anything it’s been easier to keep up with things, even if the band is busier.
Harry: We had to become better at identifying fakes: fake releases, fake rumours, fake people, fake friendships even.
It takes an insane amount of energy to keep up with U2. The work output, both as a band and in collaborations, is mindboggling. Do you ever feel exhausted from the constant workload this band produces? Is it hard to keep up with them?
Harry: I’ve never personally felt exhausted doing something I enjoy. With the site, and on a personal level, we focus on the music: the songs, the releases, the shows, the message. We don’t pay attention to gossip, we don’t care about Larry’s haircut, or Bono’s new shades. We don’t like producing content for the sake of just producing content. All of the above helps keep us focused, and protects us from getting overwhelmed.
Aaron: I do sometimes struggle. It’s easy to always want to be on top of everything and be everything to everyone. But it’s ok to not always be first to post something. It’s good to take a deep breath and research things and make sure you are getting it right. It gives you a breather when you realize that. A little break from trying to keep up. And as Harry mentions, prioritizing has helped, and I think we’re in a good spot when it comes to workload around these parts.
Do you think / know if the band or their management have ever used your site as a reference?
(Phil, Three Chords and the Truth)
Brad: See “The Complete U2” Digital Booklet. smiles
Aaron: One day in 2004 I got an email from Steve Averill asking if I was available for a phone call. A few minutes later I was getting a call from Principle Management where I was told that U2 were working on a project with Apple, and they’d like to use information from our site to help build out “The Complete U2” and thought they’d grab some of our scans as well. The images used in the digital booklet that Brad mentions, and attached to the individual songs, are all scans from our own collections. It was definitely a proud moment. I know we’ve been used as a reference a number of other times both on U2.Com and in other releases. It’s always a pleasure to be contacted, and always nice to know they value your work enough to come to the team here.
How much time would you say you dedicate to maintaining the site per week?
(Phil, Three Chords and the Truth)
Harry: We have one key element that makes all of this work, and that noone else has: AJ Sams!
Aaron: I like to spend a couple of hours a week on things. There’s a lot of work going on in the background that no one sees as we get new sections ready for launch. So a lot of the time right now is working on things like that.
What keeps you updating and building new sections of your website after 25 years?
Aaron: I was really happy with what we built 25 years ago. When we moved to U2Wanderer.org we had an opportunity to make it all better and we did. Again with the jump to U2Songs.com – so much new information is available that wasn’t available to us even 10 years ago. We really had an opportunity to go back in and research things using original sources like charts, original music industry publications, old advertisements for releases and so on. We aren’t just using what we find on the internet, behind every page there’s a lot of research back to the best sources we can find. And we’ll continue to go back and review what is there and challenge what we’ve got now. Really do want to create the best archive possible.
From your memory, what section at the site today is the one you struggled the most to build to what it is now?
Aaron: I think the discography is always a challenge. We originally built it before online services like iTunes exist, and we’ve had to go back a couple of times and totally rethink portions of the site because of new and emerging ways of releasing music. Currently we’re having a discussion as to whether the video “Sing For Life” that will.i.am posted has a place in the discography. If we add it, we’ll open the flood gates to want to include any full songs released through an official resource, which could be a lot. Originally when iTunes started we tracked those releases separate, and we had different entries for “Magnificent” on CD and “Magnificent” as a digital single. We’ve just finished combining that back together. So if we do add anything, we also have to consider how it may affect things down the road. It’s always a challenge when you are trying to document something that is continually changing.
Do you all have any unwritten (or written) rules when it comes to the website?
(Beth, U2 Tattoo Project)
Aaron: No written rules. But a number of unwritten ones. A few off the top of the head? The site is about U2, not about us. We aren’t going to intrude on U2’s non-working life. Vacations, family photos, no thanks. We’ll stick to the music and when they are ‘working’. And we don’t take money for anything we do, if fans want to spend their money on U2 stuff, they should be able to, we’re doing fine and don’t need it handed to us.
Harry: We don’t have any “set” rules. We all do have our own values though that I’m sure are similar, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing this together.
Only bug the band when they’re working, don’t intrude in people’s lives, whether that’s members of the band, crew, or people close to them. Don’t accept money for what we do. Just be a decent human being, and treat people the way you’d want to be treated.
How often does the team meet, call, or have online meetings to decide projects and what to post etc.?
Harry: We’re a distributed team, so meeting up physically only happens when we’re on tour, or visiting each other’s city with work, etc. We all chat online quite regularly though.
Aaron: We all have access to the site, and we all work on different things all the time. Mike goes in and out of lyrics at his own pace, Don goes in and works on the discography and other projects without me knowing, Brad’s been known to post news as it crops up etc. So we probably do a lot of it on our own without worrying about projects etc. If there’s something big coming up I’d like to focus on I’ll send out an email and ask for ideas. Or if there is something specific I want some help with. The recent interview with John Fisher about his time running the performance stage at the Dandelion Market started with me reaching out to John and realizing quickly that it would work better as an interview in person and hooking him up with Harry for instance, and I didn’t see it again until it was ready to go and Harry uploaded it. And I do know how to get their attention when we need something.
What do your fellow workers think of your U2 related activities? Specifically getting information out to a wider audience while still working has to take up a fair bit of a working day?
(Alan, a long time friend and contributor to U2Songs)
Harry: They think I’m nuts, and I tend to agree with them. Everyone needs a hobby though. I find following any kind of sports extremely boring for example, so that frees up my time to do other things. * smile *
Aaron: I have a great job with a lot of flexibility on time. I work a lot of extra hours and spend a lot of extra time at work, which makes it easier to take a few minutes during the day if I need to take my break at an odd time. And if I’m busy one of the other team members is usually ready to make an edit or put something together, as we’re all living in very different time zones.
How has the responsibility / opportunity of running the site motivated you to do more than you would have done if you did not run the site?
(Beth, U2 Tattoo Project)
Aaron: I think the conversations with people who have been part of U2’s story have been my favourite part of it all. And not sure some of those conversations would have happened if not for the site. Breakfast with Ivan McCormick and having some time to pick his brains about 40 years of U2. Getting to join the journalists at the bar in Seattle when they were covering The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 and hearing their stories from covering U2 across the years. Conversations with music producers when they’ve remixed U2, and gaining a bigger appreciation for what they do. But also the places the site has lead me to over the years. Researching the locations where videos were filmed, and then seeking out those sites in person has lead me to many interesting experiences. And the site has also driven the collecting bug in me, there’s so many artists and albums I might have missed out on if not for their work with U2. Wrecking Ball by Emmylou Harris is one of my all time favourite albums by any artist. I may not have found it on my own but tracking down information for the discography lead me right to it.
If you could work for U2 in an official capacity, what job would you want?
(Beth, U2 Tattoo Project)
Aaron: If that were to ever happen, I’ll wrestle Harry for the role of chief archivist…I’d love to have access to the material in their archives, to document it and to preserve it. I love that stuff.
Harry: AJ has probably already called dibs on archivist, so I’d settle for being Dallas Schoo’s understudy!
If U2 had never existed which band would you have made a site about?
(Phil, Three Chords and the Truth)
Brad: The Cure
Aaron: Back when I started things in 1995? Depeche Mode would have been a contender for sure. Still a favourite, and I’ve helped out at depmod.com a few times over the years. Along the way there have only been a few acts that have gotten me as interested in working on a project. Carl and I talked about doing a PJ Harvey site for a while. And I’ve toyed with doing a Bloc Party or an Arcade Fire discography along the way. But I think I picked the right one when I did. They’ve been the band that have most consistently given me joy.
Harry: I respect and appreciate many artists, but I don’t consider myself a dedicated “fan” of anything or anyone out there. It’s always been different with U2, however. U2 represents my childhood, growing up, my source of information on what was going on outside my own country, my art school, my substitute for religion. My answer to this question would therefore simply be “None”.
Aaron: By the way Harry I just registered a new domain while we were talking…wait till you see what’s next…madonnasongs.com heh!
If you met the band and had the chance to stay with them for an hour, what would you ask them that would make you even more curious?
Brad: What are their favorite records in their own collections?
Harry: I’d love to spend an hour in the studio, sitting quietly in a corner, while they create new music together.
Aaron: I’d ask them if they could call Gavin Friday over before my hour is up! That I know for sure. I know it’s Larry who is the archivist of the band, he’s the one who’s been collecting stuff all these years and has it all put away. So if I could do anything, I’d ask to have the opportunity to go through that archive with Larry and ask some stories about the history. Clear up some mysteries. Resolve some confusion about the past. Ok ok. Definitely need more than an hour.
How do you see the future of U2?
(Phil, Three Chords and the Truth)
Don: It’s hard to say, but I hope they make a graceful exit like R.E.M. did rather than carry on too long. They don’t owe us anything more at this point.
Harry: The future is now!
Aaron: I’m just glad we know they have plans for a future. They are talking albums and tours and more. At this point I’ll take what they want to give us. At some point they’ll slow down, but I’ll enjoy every minute until they do.
Are you guys doing ok?
(Beth, U2 Tattoo Project)
Don: Doing ok! Working from home, competing for Internet bandwidth with kids who are schooling from home.
Brad: Still working and doing great, thanks.
Aaron: Good here, working from home as well. And probably doing more work right now than I accomplish normally it seems! I’m hoping all those whose paths I’ve crossed over the years doing this U2 thing can say the same, hope you are all safe.
Harry: Graaaaaand! It’s just a moment, this too shall pass..!
Questions from the team at U2.Com
The team at U2.Com also popped in to ask us a few questions recently, and we’re happy to include those here. All of the questions below, and to the end of the page come from the team at U2.Com, and we want to thank them for sending these questions our way.
Why the name U2Songs ?
Aaron: I was sitting in a friend’s living room back in 2002. We were talking about what we would love to do with each of our sites some day. And during that conversation, I realized everything I wanted to do came back to the songs. The whole encyclopedia type thing I wanted to build had a common backbone. One day I wanted a site where you could click on a song title and find out where that song was released, information about who worked on the song, information about the development of the song, when it was played live, when the single came out. The songs tie it all together. I registered the domain back then. And it wasn’t for ten years that we actually got around to starting to build it, and another three years until we first shared it with the world. Had no idea at the time that Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience or Songs of Ascent were possibilities.
The first time you heard U2 ?
Aaron: The first time was hearing U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky. A friend had a copy and it was the first live album I ever heard. I can remember being amazed by the end as the crowd sang “40”. Goosebumps remembering that day.
Brad: “Pride” and then The Joshua Tree.
Harry: I was 5 years old when The Joshua Tree was released. My cousin, who was 16 at the time, had just bought it, in vinyl and cassette. He played “With Or Without You” for me, and taught me how to sing along to the words, in what can only be described as “Greek-lish”..!
Don: 1985, “Pride” on the radio! I got on board with The Joshua Tree. It was amazing to see a band “go viral” in America before going viral was a thing.
Brad: This changes all the time but…“I Will Follow,” “Bad,” “Please.”
Aaron: “Running to Stand Still.”
Don: “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Not just my favorite U2 song, but My Favorite Song.
Harry: “With Or Without You”
Favourite live song?
Aaron: “Where the Streets Have No Name” – there’s that moment where the lights come up. I always turn away from the band to see the audience at that moment. Can’t imagine what it’s like to see that joy every single night.
Don: I really like the versions of “40” that closed out shows during The Joshua Tree tour.
Harry: “Until The End Of The World”.
Don: “The Wanderer,” especially:
I went drifting through the capitals of tin
Where men can’t walk or freely talk
And sons turn their fathers in.
I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit.
They say they want the kingdom
But they don’t want God in it.
I went out riding down that old eight-lane
I passed a thousand signs looking for my own name.
I went with nothing but the thought you’d be there too,
Looking for you.
Aaron: This could change at any moment, but the one that popped out when I saw the question is the one I’m answering, from “Wake Up Dead Man”:
If there’s an order in all of this disorder
Is it like a tape recorder
Can we rewind it just once more?
What you thought was freedom is just greed.
Favourite bass line?
Aaron: “The Blackout” is one I’ll never forget. And watching Adam play that song from inches away is a highlight of my experiences for sure.
Favourite drum beat?
Aaron: My first set of shows in Edmonton during PopMart I ended up behind Larry at the B-Stage. And I realized I could hear his drumming a few seconds before I could hear it over the PA. Realized I was actually hearing them for the first time ever without anything electronic. “With or Without You” Really love the drums on that one. You’ll often see me join in when I’m hearing it in concert. All of the songs from that album are great.
Don: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”
Harry: “Bullet The Blue Sky”
Favourite guitar solo?
Don: “The Fly” / “Lady with the Spinning Head”
Aaron: That’s two for “The Fly.” I really love that song. Seeing it on the Elevation tour was a highlight for me.
Harry: “Until The End Of The World”
Favourite audience experience/participation you have seen at a u2 show ?
Aaron: I love the sing-alongs. “40” in Moncton was such a fitting end to the tour, and a great night surrounded by great friends ended with us all singing along. The more recent tours “Love is Bigger Than Anything in its Way” has had a nice moment as well, with the crowd sometimes picking it up after the band thinks we are done. Tokyo was a good example of that one last fall.
Harry: Every time “I Will Follow” comes up on the set. It’s a sea of floating people!
Which band member do you watch most on stage and why ?
Aaron: I gravitate towards Adam and Larry. Adam is so fun to watch and you know he’s watching you back. Larry is also fun.
Harry: It depends on the song really, but generally speaking:
Adam is amazing when it comes to interacting with the crowd, and most definitely the coolest person in the building. In any building!
Bono you couldn’t really miss if you tried, he will steal your attention whether you like it or not! I’m definitely not complaining though..!
Larry is just a head sticking out of a drum kit for most of the show, so when he gets the chance to move around a b-stage, a cage, or anywhere other than his usual safe space, he is an absolute joy to watch at work!
The Edge though… The Edge is what got me into U2, the reason I ever picked up a guitar, and where most of my attention usually is!
What is your favourite interaction with a band member, on stage or off ?
Aaron: During the shooting of the video for “The Blackout” Adam hopped off the stage, wandered down into the audience, and leaned back supporting himself on me. That was a moment I won’t ever forget. Sorry I got my face in your way and connected with the headstock of the bass…
Harry: Being the 5th member of U2, even if it was for about 5 minutes. They won’t remember this, but I even got a guitar off of them in Barcelona, back in 2015!
Thanks for joining us. For those who want even more, we had opened the door for questions back in 2017 as well for our anniversary. Many thanks to all of our readers, our contributors, and everyone who’s taken a few minutes with the site. It’s very much appreciated.