But You Can’t Grab It

Some of U2’s often bizarre and irrational stray releases, 1978-2008. Blame Island Records.

Million Dollar Hotel OST
Year: 2000
Rarity: quite common

From a purely U2 perspective, this is effectively three songs of varying availability. “The First Time” is already off Zooropa, so you’re not buying this for that (and if you haven’t got Zooropa – why? Why, damn you!). “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” is also available elsewhere, so long as you’re buying All That You Can’t Leave Behind in the UK or Japan – bribery for the expense of buying CDs in those countries. “Stateless”, though, is the one song that’s exclusive to here worldwide; what this boils down to, then, is whether you, the reader, happen to be completist enough to buy the whole thing for one (or two) actual U2 songs. Of course, you could buy it for the actual soundtrack, although film soundtracks are tricky things to get a handle on outside of their parent medium, and this means watching the good-in-parts but also often awkward Million Dollar Hotel itself.

Wide Awake In America EP
Year: 1985
Rarity: fairly common.

Live albums aren’t something I care for – live DVDs/videos making far more sense in adding the visual element. Yet U2 were strangely lacking in recorded live material of any kind up until the Rattle and Hum proliferation and beyond, and Wide Awake In America, providing two live tracks and two Unforgettable Fire rejects, was a bit of an odd solution. Especially considering that, despite that title, “Bad” was recorded in Birmingham’s NEC, and “A Sort of Homecoming” was taped in London; thus at no point during the recording of this were the band within 3,000 miles of New England, let alone actually in America. “The Three Sunrises” and “Love Comes Tumbling”, however, are both on the b-sides disc of the 2-disc Best Of 1980-1990, and that disc is useful for a whole range of other purposes. To be fair, this release would have been good in 1985; but it’s essentially been superseded by the aforementioned Best Of.

Numb [single]
Year: 1993
Rarity: fairly rare.

“Numb” is one of U2’s most extreme moments, and about as far away from their Joshua Tree days as they could get. Thus it was the first thing put out in the Zooropa era, and not on bog-standard CD or even (at the tail end of its era) vinyl. Prefacing DVD singles of the 2000s, it was put out on VHS. Of course, putting out an odd song as a single on an odd format would be a neat gimmick, but the band had one fucking brilliant video too, quite possibly the peak of what was a fantastic run of small-scale audiovisual fantasticness – “Stay” being pretty good, “Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me” having a video that was better than the film it was part-promoting, “Lemon” being brilliant, and so on. Still, with Youtube probably possessing 99% of all human history on it nowadays, and the song itself available on Zooropa, the actual VHS tape is on a functional level redundant. File under ‘collectors’ item’.

7 EP
Year: 2002
Rarity: common within US, rare anywhere else.

A look at any major band with a realistically global presence nowadays reveals a skewed discography; seemingly every such band nowadays has the Japan-only live album, or the single that only came out in Turkmenistan. Yet this release is an odder one, put out only in the US and sold for $7. The 7 EP, clearly a nod to the 3 EP, is a gathering of various ATYCLB b-sides. Yet again, then, this isn’t something you couldn’t track down legally on the Internet content-wise, and a chunk of it is alternate takes and remixes which are hardly essential. All the same, though, “Summer Rain”, “Always” and the mad Pop outtake “Big Girls Are Best” are all decent enough songs.

Year: 1995

Rarity: very rare, unless you subscribed to Propaganda in the mid-90s.

First and most critical thing about Melon: ‘twas a limited release in 1995, and thus is nowadays fairly valuable. The real thing was in a cardboard sleeve, as opposed to the fakes in jewel cases, and it was only Melon – not, as so many fakes have been named, Apple, Strawberry, Blueberry, Banana, Cranberry and suchlike. As for content, it depends on how much anyone likes remixes, but also as to whether anyone would be satisfied with the fewer, edited and shorter versions on The Best Of 1990-2000. “Numb”, for example, ends up ludicrously cut-up compared to the original, with pretty much only the first verse of it remaining on the wackily titled Gimme Some More Dignity Mix, although that particular rejig by Rob D and Rollo (of “Clubbed To Death” and Faithless fame respectively) smartly references the use of “The Star Spangled Banner” on Rattle and Hum and also tapes a bizarrely amusing phone message over the beginning. In any event, material-wise this is certainly for the hardcore fans only, which makes its release highly appropriate.

Three EP
Year: 1979

Rarity: super-rare, if you must have all the contents in original form.

i.e. the first thing U2 ever put out, which means it’s pricey to track down in original vinyl, even if you don’t gun for the 1,000-run special edition. The reason is quite simple: although successful, it was only a success in Ireland, where such a measure is possible by flogging copies cut-price to your manager, family, few friends and a random passerby. Platinum certification for albums is 15,000. So there weren’t many copies, and there’s been nearly 30 years for those few copies to break, disappear down sofas, gather dust in attics, be lent to friends and never return, and otherwise end up as work for archaeologists.

As for the material, that’s where things get less meaningful. “Out of Control” and “Stories for Boys” are both on Boy, and “Boy/Girl” is a ragged thing that was almost certainly eleventy squillion times better blasting out across the now-defunct Dandelion Market than it is through headphones. The obvious thing to do, unless you’re the sort of person who plots to break into studios to steal your favourite bands’ master tapes, is to get Boy and get Bittorrenting “Boy/Girl” – it’s not like you’re going to find it elsewhere.

Rattle and Hum flight case
Year: 1988
Rarity: rare like a steak still attached to the rest of a living cow – only 50 made.

Special editions don’t get much stranger than this. Seemingly for the person who has to listen to Rattle and Hum all the time in varying degrees of sound quality and practicality, it’s essentially the album on now-obsolete cassette, vinyl and CD, bound up in a big metal case. Like the “Numb” single, then, it’s useless on a functional level. So what do you do with it? Well…you possess it. For long periods of time. Without doing any significant damage. And then you can sell it for an absurd amount of money, an amount that, in 2008, is around $1,500. Very silly. That said, the weirdness of limited-edition releases goes further than this; see, for example, the Mysterious Ways Box, the Achtung Baby Solicitation Kit, and the Pop Cube. This region of things is like the U2 version of quantum physics; narrowing down to the smallest of possible scales, you find the weirdest shit going on.

Salome: Axtung Beibei Outtakes
Year: 1992

Rarity: bit tricky to track down with Google. Sheesh.

Even Bono has claimed to have bought a copy of this, which might be a twisted form of Creative Commons at work. All the same, this bootleg is effectively similar to The Beach Boys’ Smile or Prince’s Black Album in mythos, or rather it was until both those albums actually came out. It’s not a proper album, either; I cannot warn readers here enough that much of this stuff barely makes the status of demo. Owning it, or some of it, makes you officially hardcore, and liking every minute of it makes you the 1337iest of 1337 U2 fans. It’s not that there’s not much of value here, it’s more that there’s no coherent release – it’s essentially a “Making of” without any commentary or explanation. Some tracks, like the first “Salome” (of around eight attempts), both slightly different versions of “Where Did It All Go Wrong” and a piece called “I Feel Free” (essentially “Until The End of The World” in beta) are all actually fairly well formed. Much of the rest make for interesting jams, but this is mainly useful more for education than entertainment, showing how the band works instead of what they end up with. Still, it is actually useful, not simply something rich idiots outbid each other for. Hurrah.


One Response to “But You Can’t Grab It”

  1. I bought the “Salome” 3CD set back when it first hit the underground bootleg market in 1993-94 (?), and still come back to it often. Disc one has more repetition than I can personally stand, but the next two discs hold up well, and remind me of the 1965 Velvet Underground demos that have been bootlegged a million times. In both cases, not quite as pop-art and inimitably weird as the final products, but the overall tone, especially here, is already indication than Berlin is a million miles from Joshua Tree National Park.

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