As part of one of the questions in last week’s on-line quiz, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s Souvenir was a taped loop of a choir rehearsing, U2’s intro to New Year’s Day also came about by accident when bass player Adam Clayton was trying to figure out the chord structure of Visage’s hit Fade To Grey.
They began in 1976 as Feedback after drummer Larry Mullen Jnr posted a note on a school notice board for musicians wanted to form a new band. Only six people replied. They were originally a seven piece band which included The Edge’s brother Dik, but the following year, and a name change to The Hype and then U2, they were whittled down to the quartet we now know.
In 1978 they won a talent show in Limerick and the prize was £500 and an hour’s studio time to record a demo. They recorded two songs, one of which was a cover of Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 hit Baker Street. It was enough to get them a Deal with Island records in Ireland in March 1980. Their first single, 11 O’clock Tick Tock was released but received little response.
Fire, Gloria and A Celebration were all UK hits but failed to make the top 30. It took until January 1983 for them to attain their first UK top 10 hit – New Year’s Day. After Adam had come up with the initial tune, The Edge developed it on the piano, they had nearly completed the music but Bono still hadn’t come up with any lyrics. He finally got round to it and was initially a love song from Bono to his new wife Ali, but with the emergence of the Solidarity movement in Poland from 1980 this seemed to be more appropriate. Adam recalled, “It was an unsettled time because you looked around and there were conflicts everywhere. We saw a lot of unrest on TV and in the media so we focused on these but turning some of those themes into song was another matter altogether.”
Eventually Bono began to make up lyrics on the spot, Adam remembered, “He’d sing and whatever came out would be the starting point.” The late Kirsty MacColl’s ex-husband, Steve Lillywhite, was the producer and he recalled, “Bono had a set of images in his head that he felt would fit the mood of the piece, doing different versions and refining them as he went along. Everyone was under strain, there were arguments about the vocals and at one stage the track was in danger of being left off the album. In the pressure to get the record finished, some of the lyrical seams were left showing.” Nevertheless, the song zoomed into the top ten and was their first of 33 songs to do so.
Solidarity became a proscribed organisation and its leader were arrested, among them Lech Walesa. “Subconsciously I must have been thinking about Lech Walesa”, suggested Bono, “Then when we’d recorded the song, they announced that marital law would be lifted in Poland, on New Year’s Day. credible!”
The video, which debuted on The Tube in 1982, was one of their first to receive heavy rotation on MTV. It was filmed in Sälen, Sweden and directed by Meiert Avis. The band only appeared in the performance scenes of the video as it was filmed in the harsh Swedish winter. The Edge revealed in the official U2 biography that the four people riding on horseback were in fact four Swedish teenage girls disguised as the members of U2 with masks over their faces. This was done because the band were completely frozen in sub-freezing temperatures the day before. Their biography states that Bono refused to wear any headgear despite the cold weather and had a lot of trouble mouthing the lyrics.
U2 allowed this song to be used free of charge in a spot prepared by the European Commission. The clip on YouTube shows a transformation of Poland in last 20 years mixed with short scenes from today’s Warsaw seen from a perspective of a 20-year-old woman.