Ever wondered how the U2 EP ‘Wide Awake in America’ got made? Here’s the story from Tony Visconti’s autobiography, Bowie, Bolan & The Brooklyn Boy…
“One day I had a phone call from Bono. Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois have been trying to edit A Sort Of Homecoming from our Unforgettable Fire album into a shortened single format, but can’t quite get it. Besides which we’ve been playing it on tour and now do a much more powerful version of it. Would you like to try another edit of the album version or, failing that could you record us live in front of an audience?”
After I listened to the song several times I called Bono back. “There’s a strong chorus in the song that you use too infrequently and it’s recorded with a too spacey backing to have an impact on radio. Besides which the long instrumentals are superfluous for a single. I think it would be better to rerecord it.”
We had a meeting in a London rehearsal studio to work on the ideas for a single format arrangement of the song that I had written out; the band tried my suggestions. I had dissected the song and analyzed what were the verses (V) and choruses (C) and converted them to a blatant V-C-V-C-MIDDLE-C-C, but with a steady beat throughout. After a couple of plays, they agreed that they loved the new version. A few days later I was on the tour bus with U2, catching their shows in Manchester and Birmingham. We recorded the shows every night with a mobile recording studio with their trusted engineer Kevin Killan. We didn’t get a satisfactory, steadily played, version in Manchester or Birmingham and I was a little worried.
I suggested that we record a backing track right on the stage at Wembley Arena prior to the show and then if we didn’t get a better version that night we would take the backing track, plus the enormous reverb of the arena into the studio and overdub from there. I had told them about the many overdubs on Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous album, which convinced them still further as they worshipped them. I was able to overdub their audience from that evening – the recording studio is a magical place. Bono thanked me and told me that I had given him a great lesson in songwriting, which I found hard to believe, but he was sincere. I had hoped to work with them again, but it never happened. The EP Wide Awake In America that featured the single was a big seller.
For years I would often bump into their manager, Paul McGuiness, who would always comment, “We made a lot of money for you.” Well, I thought we both did pretty well out of it – but it still wasn’t enough to retire on.