You can’t imagine Tony Visconti has too many regrets on his CV, having been involved in era-defining records by Bowie, Bolan, Thin Lizzy, Iggy Pop and many more. But the producer sees U2 as the ones who got away.
The year was 1984 and the Irish rockers were flying high off the back of huge success with their fourth album The Unforgettable Fire. They had just initiated what would become a career-defining partnership with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, but they’d hit a bump in the road and needed Visconti’s help. He explained the situation to Classic Rock’s Harry Doherty.
“That was a strange one. I got a call from Bono, saying that Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois were trying to edit A Sort Of Homecoming. They said it was going down well live and they thought it could be the next single, but every which way they cut it they couldn’t make a cohesive single out of it. The album version is about seven minutes long. So I told Bono: “The problem is that you don’t repeat something often enough to call it a chorus and your sections of the song aren’t well defined.””
The singer’s response was to ask Visconti to record U2 performing it live in concert, where he felt the track had a better energy, so Visconti came back with an idea of his own. “I suggested teaching them a new arrangement for it and he was totally open to that,” he recalled. “We went into a rehearsal studio and I reconstructed the song and the guys learned it that way. Then we recorded it live on the U2 1984 UK tour.”
Visconti thought that he’d earned himself an in when it came to the next U2 record (which just happened to become a little old thing called The Joshua Tree), but it never happened. “The sad thing was that I never got a job with them after that,” he sighed. “They went back to Lanois.”