The Edge on “The Unforgettable Fire”

Propaganda Magazine, August 1986 Issue (1986-08-xx)

EDGE: “The Unforgettable Fire” started off as a short piano piece, which was written when we were doing some very rough demos with Jimmy Destri from Blondie. (One was called “Be There” and another eventually became “Endless Deep,” the B-side of “Two Hearts Beat As One.) Nothing really came of that, but during this period I wrote the piano piece, which just hung around being kicked about.

Eventually at the end of 1983, after U2 had been to Japan, myself and Bono were messing around with some material at his house. We had a drum machine, and I had got hold of a DX7 (synthesizer). We put in a few more chords and suddenly a whole new identity was emerging, which was really nothing to do with our original piece. We hit upon a new approach to the chord structure, and immediately had the feeling we were on to something good. Adam and Larry came round and pushed it on another ten steps, and we knew we had something, but there was still no guitar part, as I was playing the DX7, and Bono had about two dozen melody possibilities to sing over it. When it was recorded, the basic track went down first, the drums, bass and keyboards, and we had a structure worked out. The melodic structure was coming, but it was all so intricate and complicated that it was almost ridiculous. So Bono did a guide vocal, which sounded great, and we started throwing out some of the clutter. Then came the problems of the guitar. I just couldn’t get anything. What I ended up doing, out of sheer frustration, was just de-tuning all the strings and re-tuning them to what felt like good notes by ear. I started playing harmonics over the track, so all the guitar is atmospheric — none of it really has any form. There’s just that textural quality of guitar, without it having any structure whatsoever. On the record, it was a track that needed a real “performance” mix, and Danny (Lanois) and Eno did a great job. We got to a point where it sounded so good it seemed a shame to eliminate any more of the complexity and variations, so we left it as it was. At one point, towards the end of the recording, it seemed like we would have been better advised to be very harsh, and do some savage editing, but now, 18 months or two years on, I’m delighted that we decided not to. The funny thing is that despite its complexity, “Unforgettable Fire” is a very strong dance track — it’s our best dance track — it’s just got one of those beats. Maybe it’s because it was originally composed on a drum machine, therefore it was “Idiot Edge” trying to get this thing working. I set up the simplest backbeat imaginable, so when it came for Larry to play on top, he was very limited in what he could change. The basic backbeat was already set up, and though he improved it immediately, it was so simple to begin with, that the simplicity was maintained, and I think that’s what makes the best dance music anyway.

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