When it came time to record their third album, U2 knew they had to make a creative leap. Boy, their debut, attracted some attention but was originally little more than a big cult hit. October, a darker and more spiritual record, hinted at new things, but wasn’t the mainstream breakthrough the band needed.
Then came War. The album managed to combine the youthful energy of the first album with the spirituality of the second, showing that the two approaches could not only co-exist but reinforce and support each other.
U2Songs.com has come up with this super-comprehensive look at War on the 35th anniversary of its release.
Soon after October was released, work started on new songs to be featured on the next album. For War U2 wanted to use a novel approach. They were interested in using different producers for each song, and to have a varied sound throughout the album. They felt that a mix of producers would help them get the best sound out of the band as they put together their third collection of songs. It is an idea that the band ended up shelving in the end, going back to Boy and October producer Steve Lillywhite instead. But if you look at recent albums like Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, or even How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, it looks like the multiple-producer idea hadn’t firmly been put to bed. U2 merely saved it for later in their career.
Bono explained the concept to Geoff Parkyn, saying “The idea of War was to possibly use different producers for each song or group of songs so the approach would vary throughout, but in the end it didn’t happen and we sorted it out with Steve. We understand each other and it works well for us. He has helped us grow and mature, to understand recording techniques, and translate our sound and ideas into reality.” The Edge in conversation with Dave Fanning also discussed the idea of multiple producers, telling Fanning “we’ve decided on a few producers, but we’re not sure which one of the many we will pick. I think Steve’s still interested. We’d love to do an album with Steve, but maybe not this one. We’re just looking around.” Bono’s quote came from early in the album development, whereas Edge’s came almost a year later when they were moving closer to a full session to record the album.
Steve Lillywhite, who had worked on the first two albums with U2, had told them of his preference that after two albums with a single band he preferred to move on to keep the work fresh. This had necessitated the search for a new producer or producers to handle the band’s third album. Not everything that the band was working on in 1982 was specifically for a new album. Bono told Dave Fanning in June 1982 “we are working at the moment, on a few projects, we are working on some sountracks to music, music for films, films that we’ve been offered in the next six months. We’re also working on songs, pieces of music for our next LP, and we’re also working on songs for other people.”
How different an album might War have been had the band followed up on the idea of a different producer for each song? It certainly explains a long list of people they worked with and had contact with in 1982. But in the end the album would be produced by Lillywhite, with the exception of one song, “The Refugee.” Below we’ll take a look at some of the others considered for the producer role along the way.