The Unforgettable Fire

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The Unforgettable Fire
A black-and-white photo of a castle with the album and artist name written in dark crimson banners above and below it
Studio album by U2
Released1 October 1984 (1984-10-01)
Recorded7 May – 5 August 1984
U2 chronology
U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky
The Unforgettable Fire
Wide Awake in America
Singles from The Unforgettable Fire
  1. "Pride (In the Name of Love)"
    Released: 3 September 1984
  2. "The Unforgettable Fire"
    Released: 22 April 1985

The Unforgettable Fire is the fourth studio album by Irish rock band U2. It was produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, and released on 1 October 1984 by Island Records. The band wanted to pursue a new musical direction following the harder-hitting rock of their previous album, War (1983). As a result, they employed Eno and Lanois to produce and assist in their experimentation with a more ambient and abstract sound. The resulting change in direction was at the time the band's most dramatic. The album's title is a reference to "The Unforgettable Fire"—an art exhibit about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The band saw the exhibit during the War Tour.

Recording began in May 1984 at Slane Castle, where the band lived, wrote, and recorded to find new inspiration. The album was completed in August 1984 at Windmill Lane Studios. It features atmospheric sounds and lyrics that lead vocalist Bono describes as "sketches". "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "MLK" are lyrical tributes to Martin Luther King Jr.[2][3]

The Unforgettable Fire received generally favourable reviews from critics and produced the band's biggest hit at the time, "Pride (In the Name of Love)", as well as the live favourite "Bad", a song about heroin addiction. A 25th anniversary edition of the album was released in October 2009.


"We knew the world was ready to receive the heirs to The Who. All we had to do was to keep doing what we were doing and we would become the biggest band since Led Zeppelin, without a doubt. But something just didn't feel right. We felt we had more dimension than just the next big anything, we had something unique to offer. The innovation was what would suffer if we went down the standard rock route. We were looking for another feeling."

 —Bono, on The Unforgettable Fire's new direction.[4]

U2 feared that following the overt rock of their 1983 War album and War Tour, they were in danger of becoming another "shrill", "sloganeering arena-rock band".[5] The success of the 1983 Under a Blood Red Sky live album and the Live at Red Rocks video, however, had given them artistic—and for the first time—financial room to move.[6] Following a show at Dublin's Phoenix Park Racecourse in August 1983, one of the final dates of the War Tour, lead vocalist Bono spoke in metaphors about the band breaking up and reforming with a different direction. In the 10th issue of U2 magazine, issued in February 1984, Bono hinted at radical changes on the next album saying that he couldn't "sleep at night with the thought of it all" and that they were "undertaking a real departure".[7] As bassist Adam Clayton recalls, "We were looking for something that was a bit more serious, more arty."[4]

The band had recorded their first three albums with producer Steve Lillywhite, and rather than create the "son of War", they sought experimentation.[8] Both Lillywhite and the band agreed that it was time for a change of producers and not to "repeat the same formula".[4] The band had considered using Jimmy Iovine to produce a new record. However, they found their early musical ideas for the album to be too "European" for an American producer.[8] They also considered approaching Conny Plank, whose previous credits included Can, Kraftwerk and Ultravox, and Roxy Music producer Rhett Davies.[9]

Guitarist The Edge had a long appreciation of musician Brian Eno's work,[10] and admired his ambient and "weird works".[4] The band were also fond of his work with Talking Heads. Having never worked with music such as U2's, Eno was also initially reluctant.[8] When the band played him Under a Blood Red Sky, his eyes "glazed over".[11] Eno had brought along his engineer Daniel Lanois to his meeting with U2 intending to recommend Lanois work with the band instead. Eno's earlier doubts were resolved by Bono's power of persuasion and his increasing perception of what he called "U2's lyrical soul in abundance", traits which had become less evident on the War album. Eno commented that the band were "constantly struggling against it as if they were frightened of being overpowered by some softness".[8] Eno was impressed by how they spoke, which was not in terms of music or playing, but in terms of their contributions to the "identity of the band as a whole".[7] Eno and Lanois eventually agreed to produce the record. Eno explained that he focused on the ideas and conceptual aspects, while Lanois handled the production aspects.[12] In Bill Graham's words, Eno's task was to "help them mature a new, more experimental and European musical vocabulary".[13] Island Records boss Chris Blackwell initially tried to talk them out of hiring Eno, believing that just when the band were about to achieve the highest levels of success, Eno would "bury them under a layer of avant-garde nonsense".[14] Nick Stewart, also of Island Records, said that at the time he thought they were "mad", but that the group's decision to stretch themselves and find an extra dimension became the "turning point in their career".[7]

Recording and production[edit]

The first phase of recording took place in Slane Castle.

The songs "Pride (In the Name of Love)", "The Unforgettable Fire", and "A Sort of Homecoming" were initially composed at Bono's house in a Martello Tower in Bray Co. Wicklow.[4] Recording for the album began in early May 1984 with a month-long session at Slane Castle, County Meath.[15] Windmill Lane Studios, where they had recorded their first three albums, had no live room, so Slane was chosen instead as a venue where they could record and play live in rooms with good sound quality.[15] The band and crew stayed in the castle, and living together during the sessions fostered a camaraderie.[16] They chose the castle's Gothic ballroom, which was specifically built for music with a 30-foot high domed ceiling, and it provided a relaxed and experimental atmosphere.[17][18][19] It proved so relaxed, that one day, the band went so far as to record naked. "We got into gaffer art", commented Bono.[6] Their approach at Slane was that rather than use effects and reverberation to revitalise usual studio sound, they would do the opposite and use a live room to "tame...[their]...wild sound".[19]

Randy Ezratty's company Effanel Music, who recorded U2 in Boston and Red Rocks the previous year, was hired with his (then unique) portable 24-track recording system. His equipment was set up in the castle's library with cables run into the adjacent ballroom where the band played.[15] The generator powering the studio often broke down and most of the Edge's guitar parts were recorded with the amplifier outside on the balcony with plastic over it to shelter it from the rain.[20] The ballroom turned out to be too large, so recording was moved to a library in the castle which was smaller, surrounded them by books, and provided improved sound quality.[16] Barry Devlin and his film crew visited the castle to make a documentary for RTÉ-TV about the sessions. The 30-minute programme, The Making of The Unforgettable Fire was released in 1985 on VHS as part of The Unforgettable Fire Collection.[15]

"With Steve [Lillywhite, producer of U2's first three albums], we were a lot more strict about a song and what it should be; if it did veer off to the left or the right, we would pull it back as opposed to chasing it. Brian and Danny were definitely interested in watching where a song went and then chasing it."

 —Adam Clayton, on how The Unforgettable Fire's producers approached the album[21]

According to the Edge, Eno was more interested in the more unconventional material and did not take much interest in "Pride (In the Name of Love)" or "The Unforgettable Fire". However, Lanois would "cover for him" such that the two balanced each other out.[14] Much of the album was later recast in Windmill Lane Studios,[18] where they recorded from 6 June to 5 August.[22] For the first time on a U2 album, a synthesizer was used; a Fairlight CMI was used to work up a number of songs, the textures of which were later filled out with strings and other orchestration.[23] At Windmill Lane, tension grew between the production team and the band, largely because the band "couldn't finish anything".[24] Twelve days before the official finishing date, Bono said he could not finish the lyrics, and the band worked 20-hour days for the final two weeks.[25] Bono later said he felt songs like "Bad" and "Pride (In the Name of Love)" were left as incomplete "sketches".[14]


A far more atmospheric album than the previous War, The Unforgettable Fire was at the time the band's most dramatic change in direction.[26][27] It has a rich and orchestrated sound and was the first U2 album with a cohesive sound.[27] Under Lanois' direction, Larry's drumming became looser, funkier and more subtle, and Adam's bass became more subliminal, such that the rhythm section no longer intruded, but flowed in support of the songs.[17]

The opening track, "A Sort of Homecoming" immediately shows the change in U2's sound. Like much of the album, the hard-hitting martial drum sound of War is replaced with a subtler polyrhythmic shuffle, and the guitar is no longer as prominent in the mix.[18] Typical of the album, the track "The Unforgettable Fire", with a string arrangement by Noel Kelehan, has a rich, symphonic sound built from ambient guitar and driving rhythm, along with a lyrical "sketch" that is an "emotional travelogue" with a "heartfelt sense of yearning".[28] The band cite a travelling Japanese art exhibit of the same name as inspiration for both the song and album title. The exhibition, which the band attended in Chicago, commemorated the victims of the bombing of Hiroshima.[29][30] However, the open-ended lyric, which Bono says "doesn't tell you anything", does not directly reference nuclear warfare.[31] Rather, the lyrics are about travelling to Tokyo.

The album's lyrics are open to many interpretations, which alongside its atmospheric sounds, provides what the band often called a "very visual feel".[27] Bono had recently been immersing himself in fiction, philosophy and poetry, and came to realise that his song writing mission—which up to that point had been a reluctant one on his behalf—was a poetic one. Bono felt songs like "Bad" and "Pride (In the Name of Love)" were best left as incomplete "sketches",[14] and he said that "The Unforgettable Fire was a beautifully out-of-focus record, blurred like an impressionist painting, very unlike a billboard or an advertising slogan."[32]

The melody and the chords to "Pride (In the Name of Love)" originally came out of a 1983 War Tour sound check in Hawaii. The song was originally intended to be about Ronald Reagan's pride in America's military power, but Bono was influenced by Stephen B. Oates's book about Martin Luther King Jr. titled Let The Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a biography of Malcolm X to ponder the different sides of the civil rights campaigns, the violent and the non-violent.[33] Bono would revise the lyrics to pay tribute to King. "Pride" went through many changes and re-recordings, as captured in a documentary included on The Unforgettable Fire Collection video. "Pride" is the most conventional song on the album—Tony Fletcher of Jamming! magazine said at the time it was most commercial song U2 had written—and it was chosen as the album's first single.[19]

On "Wire" Bono tried to convey his ambivalence to drugs. It is a fast-paced song built on a light funk drum groove.[34] The song shows the influence of Talking Heads, with whom Eno had worked.[35] Much of the song was improvised by Bono at the microphone.[34]

The ambient instrumental "4th of July" came about almost entirely through a moment of inspiration from Eno. At the end of a studio session, Eno overheard Clayton improvising a simple bass figure and recorded it "ad hoc" as it was being played. The Edge happened to join in, improvising a few guitar ideas over the top of Clayton's bass; neither knew they were being recorded. Eno added some treatments and then transferred the piece straight to two-track master tape — and that was the song finished, with no possibility of further overdubs.[36]

Bono tried to describe the rush and then come down of heroin use in the song "Bad".[24]

"Elvis Presley and America" is an improvisation, based on a slowed-down backing track from "A Sort of Homecoming", that takes the album's emphasis on feeling over clarity to its furthest extreme. Another song, "Indian Summer Sky", was a social commentary on the prison-like atmosphere of the city, rather than living in a world of natural forces.[citation needed]

The sparse, dreamlike "MLK" was written as an elegy to King.

Release and promotion[edit]

Moydrum Castle, the site depicted on the album cover

The Unforgettable Fire was released on 1 October 1984. The album took its name and much of its inspiration from a Japanese travelling exhibition of paintings and drawings at The Peace Museum in Chicago by survivors of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.[14][29] The band spent a few days driving around Ireland with photographer Anton Corbijn looking for potential locations. The castle depicted on the cover is Moydrum Castle.[37] The band liked the image's ambiguity and the Irish mysticism they saw in it. The photograph, however, was a virtual copy of a picture on the cover of a 1980 book In Ruins: The Once Great Houses of Ireland by Simon Marsden. It was taken from the same spot and used the same solarised filter technique, but with the addition of the four band members. For this copyright infringement, the band had to pay an unknown sum to the photographer.[38]

"Pride (In the Name of Love)" was released as the album's lead single in September 1984, and it was at that point the band's biggest hit. It cracked the UK Top 5 and the U.S. Top 40 and would ultimately become the group's most frequently played song in concerts.[39]

"The Unforgettable Fire" was released as the second single in April 1985. The song became the band's third Top 10 hit in the UK, reaching number six on the UK Singles Chart and number 8 on the Dutch singles chart, but did not perform as well in the U.S.

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4/5 stars[40]
The Austin Chronicle4.5/5 stars[41]
Chicago Tribune2.5/4 stars[42]
Entertainment WeeklyB+[43]
Hot Press12/12[44]
Q5/5 stars[46]
Rolling Stone3/5 stars[47]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4.5/5 stars[48]
The Village VoiceB+[49]

Upon its release, reviews were generally favorable. Paul Du Noyer of NME praised the album and the new Eno—Lanois production team. The review said: "The old four-square rock unit has been deconstructed. In its place there's a panoramic soundscape, multiple textures, subtle shifts in emphasis."[50] Tony Fletcher from Jamming! said it was not "an album full of hits. [It is however] a forceful collection of atmospheric ideas and themes, forgettable at first but strangely haunting and soon firmly implanted." Fletcher added that Eno's production removed some of the "heavy metal" from U2 and replaced "emotion [as] the driving force".[19] Hot Press hailed the arrival of producer Brian Eno as "a bold move". Reviewer Liam Mackey said that the album was "rich and rewarding".[44]

In Melody Maker, Adam Sweeting said "The Unforgettable Fire is the other side of the coin from War. Where the latter opened with the shattering paramilitary drumbeat of 'Sunday Bloody Sunday',... Fire launches into the long shimmer of 'A Sort Of Homecoming,' whose sort-of-mystical lyric adorns the romantic maroon-and-gold sleeve. The fact is, if you bring your established conception of U2 to this record, you'll be disappointed."[51] Kurt Loder was more critical in Rolling Stone: "U2 flickers and nearly fades, its fire banked by a misconceived production strategy and occasional interludes of soggy, songless self-indulgence. This is not a 'bad' album, but neither is it the irrefutable beauty the band's fans anticipated."[47] Village Voice critic Robert Christgau felt Bono's moralizing and "wild romantic idealism" proved careless, specifically on "Pride" and "Elvis Presley and America", but concluded that those qualities work well enough for him throughout the rest of the album "to make a skeptic believe temporarily in miracles".[49] At the end of 1984, it was voted the 29th best record of the year in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics published in The Village Voice.[52]

Retrospectively, Bill Graham of Hot Press wrote in 1996 that The Unforgettable Fire was U2's most pivotal album and that it was "their coming of age that saved their lives as a creative unit."[8] Niall Stokes, also of Hot Press, said that "one or two tracks were undercooked" due to the deadline crush but that it was the group's "first album with a cohesive sound" on which "U2 were reborn".[6] By contrast, it was also included in the 1991 book The Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time.[53] In 2009, reviewing the album's deluxe edition, Will Hermes of Rolling Stone dubbed the album a "transitional, hit-or-miss set", but noted, "When things click, it bridges [War]'s fight-the-power arena rock with the texture fetishism of... The Joshua Tree."[54] Ryan Dombal of Pitchfork praised The Unforgettable Fire as "a transitional album of the highest magnitude" which "ebbs and flows along the spectrum between the spiky, post-punk U2 of old and the impressionistic, Eno-assisted U2 they were yearning to become."[45]

The Unforgettable Fire Tour and Live Aid[edit]

U2 performing on the Unforgettable Fire Tour in Sydney in September 1984

In support of the album, the band embarked on a worldwide concert tour, the Unforgettable Fire Tour, which saw U2 shows moving into indoor arenas in the United States. Consisting of six legs and 112 shows, the tour commenced in New Zealand in August 1984 where translating the elaborate and complex textures of the new studio-recorded tracks to live performance proved to be a serious challenge.[27] One solution was programmed sequencers, which the band had previously been reluctant to use. Sequencers were prominently used on songs like "The Unforgettable Fire" and "Bad"; sequencers are now used on the majority of U2 songs in live performances.[27] Songs criticised as being "unfinished", "fuzzy" and "unfocused" on the album made more sense on stage. Rolling Stone magazine, for example, critical of the album version of "Bad", described its live performance as a "show stopper".[55]

U2 participated in the Live Aid benefit concert at Wembley Stadium for Ethiopian famine relief in July 1985.[56] U2's performance was one of the show's most memorable; during a 12-minute performance of the song "Bad", Bono leapt down off the stage to embrace and dance with a fan. The length of the song's performance cut their set short by a song. Initially thinking they'd "blown it", it was, in fact, a breakthrough moment for the band, showing a television audience of millions the personal connection that Bono could make with audiences.[57] All of U2's previous albums went back into the charts in the UK after their performance. In 1985, Rolling Stone magazine called U2 the "Band of the 80's," saying that "for a growing number of rock-and-roll fans, U2 have become the band that matters most, maybe even the only band that matters."[58]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by Bono; all music composed by U2.

Side one
1."A Sort of Homecoming"5:28
2."Pride (In the Name of Love)"3:48
4."The Unforgettable Fire"4:55
Side two
6."4th of July"2:12
8."Indian Summer Sky"4:17
9."Elvis Presley and America"6:23
Total length:42:38

In 1995, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab remastered the album and released it as a special gold CD. This edition has slightly different running times, most notably an extended 2:39 version of the instrumental "4th of July".

In 1985, the band also released the supplementary Wide Awake in America EP, which offers live performances of "Bad" and "A Sort of Homecoming" along with two B-sides (previously unavailable in North America).


The Unforgettable Fire Collection[edit]

The Unforgettable Fire Collection
The Unforgettable Fire VHS.png
Video by U2
Released1985 (1985)
GenreRock, post-punk
LabelIsland, PolyGram, Columbia
DirectorMeiert Avis, Barry Devlin, Donald Cammell
ProducerJames Morris
U2 chronology
Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky
The Unforgettable Fire Collection
Rattle and Hum

In 1985, The Unforgettable Fire Collection was released. The 51-min VHS compilation contained the album's music videos and a 30-minute making-of documentary of the album. James Morris is credited as Producer. The documentary was later included as a bonus feature on the band's live video release, U2 Go Home: Live from Slane Castle, as the site of the concert film—Slane Castle—was the same as the location of the documentary.

  1. "The Unforgettable Fire" – directed by Meiert Avis
  2. "Bad (Live Video)" – directed by Barry Devlin
  3. "Pride (In the Name of Love) (Sepia Version)" – directed by Donald Cammell
  4. "A Sort of Homecoming" (Live Video)  – directed by Barry Devlin
  5. The Making of the Unforgettable Fire documentary – directed by Barry Devlin
  6. "Pride (In the Name of Love) (Slane Castle Version)" - directed by Barry Devlin

25th anniversary edition[edit]

A remastered 25th Anniversary edition of the album was released on 27 October 2009 by Mercury Records.[60] The album's remastering was directed by The Edge, who also directed the remastering of the band's previous releases. Four physical editions of the album are available, two of which contain a bonus CD, and one with a DVD. The bonus CD features B-sides from the album, live tracks and two previously unreleased songs: "Disappearing Act" and "Yoshino Blossom." The DVD features the same material as the original VHS version.

The four editions are as follows:[61][62]

  • CD format – Remastered album on CD
  • Deluxe Edition – Remastered album on CD, bonus CD, and 36-page booklet
  • Limited Edition Box Set – Remastered album on CD, bonus CD, DVD, 56-page hardback book, and five photographs
  • 12" vinyl format – Remastered album on a gramophone record and 16-page booklet

Bonus CD[edit]

No.TitleOriginal releaseLength
1."Disappearing Act"Unreleased track from The Unforgettable Fire sessions, finished in 20094:35
2."A Sort of Homecoming" (live from Wembley Arena, London)B-side from "The Unforgettable Fire" single4:07
3."Bad" (live from NEC, Birmingham)From Wide Awake in America EP8:00
4."Love Comes Tumbling"B-side from "The Unforgettable Fire" single4:52
5."The Three Sunrises"B-side from "The Unforgettable Fire" single3:53
6."Yoshino Blossom"Unreleased instrumental track from The Unforgettable Fire sessions3:39
7."Wire" (Kevorkian 12" Vocal Remix)Previously unknown and unreleased remix5:12
8."Boomerang I"B-side from "Pride (In the Name of Love)" single2:48
9."Pride (In the Name of Love)" (extended single version)A-side from "Pride (In the Name of Love)" single4:43
10."A Sort of Homecoming" (Daniel Lanois Remix)Unreleased 1985 single version, featuring Peter Gabriel3:18
11."11 O'Clock Tick Tock" (long version)B-side from "Pride (In the Name of Love)" single4:13
12."Wire" (Celtic Dub Mix)From 1985 NME 7" vinyl promo4:36
13."Bass Trap"B-side from "The Unforgettable Fire" single5:15
14."Boomerang II"B-side from "Pride (In the Name of Love)" single4:50
15."4th of July" (single version)B-side from "Pride (In the Name of Love)" single2:26
16."Sixty Seconds in Kingdom Come"instrumental B-side from "The Unforgettable Fire" single3:15
Total length:69:42

Bonus DVD[edit]

In addition to the music videos and documentary from The Unforgettable Fire Collection, the DVD includes:

  1. "MLK"
  2. "Pride (In the Name of Love)"
  3. "Bad"
  1. "Sunday Bloody Sunday"
  2. "Bad"
  • "Pride (In the Name of Love)" Sepia music video, directed by Donald Cammell
  • 11 O'Clock Tick Tock – Bootleg version, live from Croke Park, 29 June 1985

Charts and certifications[edit]



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  • Graham, Bill; van Oosten de Boer, Caroline (2004). U2: The Complete Guide to their Music. London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-9886-8.
  • McCormick, Neil (2006). U2 by U2. London: HarperCollinsPublishers. ISBN 0-00-719668-7.
  • Parra, Pimm Jal de la U2 Live: A Concert Documentary, 1996, Harper Collins Publishers, ISBN 0-7322-6036-1
  • Stokes, Niall (1996). Into The Heart: The Story Behind Every U2 Song. Australia: HarperCollinsPublishers. ISBN 0-7322-6036-1.

External links[edit]