“Fire” [1981] | English Version

IN THE HEADING IMAGE: Bono and Adam [1982] | VIA: U2Start.com

Fire - Singolo  Fire - ROK

Release : July 27, 1981
Productor: Steve Lillywhite
Record label: Island Records
Format: Vinyl 7″, 12″ and CD

01. “Fire” – 3:52
02. “J. Swallow” – 2:20
03. “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” (Live from Boston, MA, Mar. 6, 1981) – 4:53 [12″ R.O.K Version]
04. “The Ocean” (Live from Boston, MA, Mar. 6, 1981) – 2:12 [12″ R.O.K Version]
05. “Cry/The Electric Co.” (Live from Boston, MA, Mar. 6, 1981) – 4:54 [7″x 2 Version]


Boy had burst on the music scene as a solemn promise: that band, U2, would have become great. But the hard thing for each artist, as you know, is to replicate the compositional purity of the debut work: unlike the first album – free from external pressures and deadlines – the second album must be within a certain time period, the ideas must be realized more artificially and often they lack the necessary development to mature.

In the case of October, however, there was also the case of a serious theft on March 22, 1981: after a concert in Portland, U2 received some guests in their dressing; only later, Bono noticed that his brown briefcase – where he kept all notes and drafts of texts for the future album – had been stolen. This had a strong impact on the recordings, with the singer forced for most of the songs to improvise on the spot.

Fire – the first single from October and published in July 1981 – is affected by all this.

Born during the sessions of Boy, it had a different title – Saturday Night – and it even had a different background theme, approaching more to the adolescent torment, the thread of all the first album of the band from Dublin. The solo of Saturday Night – in a very rough version – was entered as ghost track on some versions of Boy, increasing, at the time, the mystery around this track.

With the arrival of October – in October 1981 – the song totally changed the text and the title being adapted to the religious theme, the backbone in the second LP by U2. Fire became a song on the Apocalypse.

Bono during a concert in Turku, Finland [August 7, 1982] | Photo By: Anna-Kristina Örtengren/Lehtikuva ©PRESSENS BILD | VIA: U2Start.com

It is of the songs that, within the punk-rock period of U2, most extensively alters the sound chosen by the band. The introduction is entrusted to The Edge’s voice, modulated with a dreamlike delay that makes us fall immediately in a dark and unsettling atmosphere. Unlike its primordial version – where Edge’s dramatic notes were opposed to a text so much immature as cryptic – the six strings of Fire perfectly joins to the words of Bono, following the twilight mood, making us sink slowly into the dark mystery of faith.

The bass has a solemn pace, I dare say inevitable listening to the harshness with which it decides to make its debut: it is the instrument that opens us the doors of the song, which places us in this world of faded colors. Adam maintains a broken rhythm of tension that, along with the dynamic battery of Larry, builds a very dark sound carpet. This last is the real power of Fire. If you listen carefully to the song, paying more attention to the work done by Adam and Larry, you realize how they have the reins of the song: they fit perfectly in Edge’s rhythm full of delay and follow its trend, displacing the listener with deadlifts, shootings, pauses and accelerations.

Bono’s way of singing is here full of pathos, penetrating slowly in the mysticism of his words. The text speaks of the Apocalypse – the biblical meaning and not the catastrophic modern one – that is The Revelation of the Mysteries by God: the latter explains to some chosen prophets, concepts that are beyond human conception as the creation, the natural phenomena, the last judgment, the end of the world, characteristics of Eden, Man’s destiny.

The Irish singer adopts this concept and adapts it to the deeply spiritual period he was going through – let’s not forget that Bono, The Edge and Larry were part of the Shalom Catholic fundamentalist group – seeing in his profound religious crisis the rediscovery of God, of the inner Fire, of his revelation indeed. The Bible, for U2, became the primary source of inspiration, and Fire – released three months before the album – was a clear message on the intentions of October.

Looking to the future of the band, exactly three years later, Fire can be inserted into that dreamlike vision that will be the song The Unforgettable Fire, where this latter also borrows the Apocalypse and the Fire – but this time by the catastrophic point of view – molding it in a disenchanted context.

The single was a moderate commercial success that procured the band the entry in the UK charts. In hindsight, though, Bono reflects on the song by giving a negative judgment: “As far as I can remember, ‘Fire’ was merely the attempt to have a hit single. Only God knows where were our minds at the time. It had something good … but I can not remember what it was.

Ironically, the band attributes the failure to the recording sessions that took place in Nassau, Bahamas: “It was an extraordinary journey” – Bono recalls – “it was the first time that we went to the Caribbean and this made us go crazy. When you’re in a band of kids, it seems to always be on vacation. In short, when you’re in a place like Nassau, you do not want to put you to work, right? And finally you understand why all these great groups recording in such places produce bullshit! It is just because in the Bahamas they seems not even to work.

The Edge also moves on the same sentiment: “I do not absolutely remember sessions. But I remember the Bahamas, then probably the two things are connected. ‘Fire’ was a song in which we had placed great hopes; we considered it innovative and original because of the echoes used in that new way. The problem was that it had so much potential but a poor content. However, once back in Britain, it was thanks to that song that we went for the first time on Top of the Pops.

Yes, Top of the Pops. The Anglo-Saxon program called the U2 to promote their new single. But a song about the Catholic Apocalypse – moreover in those difficult times like the early ’80s – how could fit into a television program dominated by dance, by synthpop and new wave? The band from Dublin already owned the evocative physical drama, typical of their live shows, and their expressive force was now matured into a granite stage presence.

They were seen as aliens. On August 28th 1981, in a study flooded with colored lights – with an improbable fire effect on the screen and an absolutely misplaced hopping public – the band from Dublin made one of their worst television appearances … also because of the unfamiliarity with the playback.

We went for the first time on Top of The Pops and the record company were over the moon because we were about to break through with a hit. […]“Says Bono. “The playback was a disaster and the performance too melodramatic for a TV program. I was wearing a black shirt who looked like a military sleeping bag, and I had a terrific haircut.

We failed spectacularly,” – admits The Edge – “we were the only band that had ever participated in Top of the Pops whose single fell in the rankings the week after.

Fire has been played 68 times during the concerts – the first time was on May 27th, 1981 in New Haven and the last execution took place on February 26th, 1983 in Dundee.

One of the most beautiful and powerfull performances was the one documented on July 4th, 1982, during the music festival in Werchter, Belgium.


Calling, calling
The sun is burning black
Calling, calling
It’s beating on my back
With a fire
With a fire.

Calling, calling
The moon is running red
Calling, calling
It’s pulling me instead
With a fire, fire

But there’s a fire inside
And I’m falling over
There’s a fire in me
When I call out
I built a fire, fire
I’m going home.

Calling, calling
The stars are falling down
Calling, calling
They knock me to the ground
With a fire, fire.

But there’s a fire inside
And I’m falling over
There’s a fire inside
When I call out
There’s a fire inside
When I’m falling over
You built a fire, fire
I’m going home.

J. Swallo was the b-side of the single – also know as Johnny Swallo or J. Swallow – a song without too many pretences which only served as a filler for the record release. “We made it in total panic,” – remembers The Edge – “we were like: ‘Oh my…two hours left, let’s hurry!’. Johnny Swallow was one of our friends, a certain Reggie Manuel.


Johnny Swallow
Stop watching
I take you by the hand

Stop inside
Paul and me
We walk by

Walking silent
I saw
It was burning

On fire
Was a village on fire

Words by: Bono
Music by: U2

Thanks to BARBARA MARINELLO for the traslation.


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