U2 Three: A Look Back
Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2022-09-26)
U2’s “Three” is the single that kicked off the band’s career. It featured three songs, “Out of Control”, “Stories for Boys” and “Boy/Girl”, and was initially released on 12-inch and 7-inch formats. The 12-inch was released in a generic company sleeve, and a picture sleeve was used for the 7-inch featuring the younger brother of Bono’s longtime friend Guggi.
The single was recorded with CBS A&R man, Chas de Whalley, who travelled to Dublin to work with the band. The band worked with de Whalley in studio on August 4 and 5th. The sleeve lists the tracks were recorded and mixed at Windmill, de Whalley says the same, but U2 by U2 say the songs were recorded at Keystone studios, and only mixed at Windmill.
U2 appeared on Dave Fanning’s The Rock Show on local radio on August 21, 1979 with Bono being interviewed by Fanning and all three songs played in full. Fans were invited to vote on which song was the A-Side of the album, with a contest to win a copy of the single. Voting for the single was open for a week only.
First copies of the artwork were sent to the band for review on September 15, 1979, and there are photographs of U2 reviewing the printed sleeve for the record at their afternoon show at the Dandelion Car Park that day.
The single was intially announced in Hot Press Magazine with an article dated Septmber 14, 1979, announcing the single:
U-2, ‘The Dublin four-piece” of growing promise bring out their first release on 26th September on CBS. Entitled “U-2 Three”, the EP features “Out Of Control” as A-side with “Boy/Girl” and “Stories for Boys” on the flip. Such is CBS (Ireland)‘s involvement in the single that the first 1,000 copies will be in 12” and following 7” records will be in a pic sleeve.
The A-side was chosen after the three tracks had been played on the Dave Fanning Rock Show and Fanning’s listeners were asked to write in with their preference and plumped for “Out of Control”. The three tracks which were recorded at Windmill under the supervision of Chas De Whalley of CBS England were remixed for release last Tuesday by Robbie McGrath, the Boomtown Rats sound engineer.
Chas de Whalley spoke to us about this early recording session and how it came about, “the story clearly got to a point where I then went to Muff Winwood, who was head of A&R for CBS at the time. And I said, basically speaking, what we do, we routinely put a band into CBS Studios in London to demo them if we think they’ve got any legs, or might be of interest. We could just as easily do the same in Ireland. This band is making some noise. Why don’t we essentially do a sophisticated demo with them and see what they are like. I think Paul [McGuinness] thought he had me in his pocket by that point. Because together we’d hatched a plan, he said he could get downtime in Windmill Studios, and it wouldn’t cost CBS any more than it would cost to put the band into our studios, to put any band into our studio in London.”
Prior to the recording session de Whalley had seen U2 perform a number of times including shows at the Dandelion and at the Community Centre in Howth. He shares with U2Songs.com, “I had seen them live three times by the time we went into the studio. Entirely possible we didn’t know what the final three would be when we went into record in the studio. Clearly there were some songs that sounded more commercial, more marketable, more likely to appeal to a conservative CBS Manager in London. Who knows what the criteria was. Basically speaking, they would have been the three tracks deemed to be most likely to be succesful.”
The session was recorded by de Whalley but the band and McGuinness weren’t happy with the final results. McGuinness took the recordings to Boomtown Rats’ soundman Robbie McGrath to be polished further, and it was those remixed songs that eventually made it onto the single. de Whalley himself questions if the remixing made any big difference from the original tracks, saying the differences were questionable.
Multiple versions have been pressed and sold throughout the years. The first one in shops was a 12-inch copy on vinyl, which was hand numbered by CBS Ireland’s, Jackie Hayden. These sold quickly, and lead to the single reaching the Irish charts. The song first appeared on the November 4, 1979 chart at #28. On the November 11, 1979 chart it rose to #19 where it peaked.
The 12-Inch was released in a generic CBS sleeve in Ireland. The sleeve, red and yellow, featured the CBS logo. CBS was only allowed to distribute the single in Ireland, and copies sent for export, such as those sent to Rough Trade in London were sold in a generic black sleeve instead.
The 7-Inch was released in a picture sleeve, and was also a popular seller. The initial version was in black vinyl. In November 1982 the single was also released as part of a 4-pack of singles, released in black vinyl, as well as in different coloured vinyl. The single was released in yellow, orange and white vinyl. Pressings in “brown vinyl” were likely a result of manufacturing errors, and some copies are white vinyl pressings that have browned with age.
In 1985 before the contract to release all of U2’s Irish work ended, CBS also issued a cassette version of “Three” which is labeled “Out of Control” on the spine. It used an alternate cover and was only issued in Ireland.
In more recent years U2 have reissued the single, first on digital in 2004 with The Complete U2 via iTunes, and then including it in 2008 on the deluxe version of Boy and in 2019 issuing a standalone 12-Inch with a new cover. One twist though, the tracks included on these digital releases are not the same as on the original EP. The version of “Stories for Boys” is the version used on the Just for Kicks album instead, and the version of “Out of Control” is an alternate version as well. On the original single version of “Out of Control” the drums start different, and at 2:21 they drop out for a few bars. Here, the drums start with hi hats, sounding different when they come in, and the drop out at 2:21 is no longer present.
For more detailed breakdowns, and scans of the individual pressings of each version of the single, you can view our discography entry for original pressings of “U2 Three” here, and for the re-issue in 2019 here.