"[I]n the early '80s . . . there was this rather ridiculous idea . . . that if it was big, it was bad. Which of course rules out Elvis."
30 Years of October: October Releases Through The Years
October 20, 2011
"There's one band standing between you and assembly-line rock. U2."
That was the tag line used to announce the release of the October album in Billboard magazine. The album promised a bang, but did not really deliver in North America. It spent 15 weeks on the Billboard "Top LPs and Tapes" chart, entering at No. 181, and climbing to No. 104 before dropping again. In the U.K. the album fared much better, entering the charts at No. 11, but never climbing any higher, spending 11 weeks on the chart before dropping out of sight.
Two singles were released from October, "Fire" and "Gloria." "Fire" was released in July 1981, three months in advance of the album, and provided U2 with their earliest chart success in the U.K. "Fire" spent six weeks on the U.K. singles chart, and reached No. 35. "Gloria" followed as a single in October 1981. "Gloria" spent four weeks on the U.K. charts, reaching as high as No. 55. Both singles were released with additional tracks from a live performance, and "Fire" also included a new song, called "Johnny Swallow". Live tracks on "Fire" included "11 O'Clock Tick Tock," "The Ocean," "Cry" and "The Electric Co.," all taken from the March 6, 1981 concert in Boston. The "Gloria" single contained "I Will Follow" from the same show. All of these extra tracks have been released as part of the remastered October album. This entire show from the Paradise Theatre in Boston was released as part of The Complete U2 set sold on iTunes, but the entire show has never been released on CD.
Other related releases from the time have not been collected on the remastered October album. Released in 1982 was a soundtrack for the movie They Call It An Accident that featured two mixes of "October" by U2. The first mix was a shortened version of the album recording, which cuts the vocals out of the mix. The second mix featured additional keyboards by Wally Badarou over the familiar album version of the track.
In November 1981, NME magazine released the Dancin' Master cassette, sent free to readers who returned a card to the magazine. The cassette included U2 performing "An Cat Dubh" and "Into The Heart" from the Boston performance used for the b-sides of "Fire" and "Gloria." Edits of both "Gloria" and "Fire" were both also released on 7-inch vinyl promotional singles. None of these tracks appear on the remastered October album.
Not much promotional merchandise exists for October, but a few things of note were released. There was a calendar that played into the "October" name by starting in October 1981 and ending in October 1982.
The publishing company published a set of lyrics for each of the first four albums, and those included a lyric booklet for October.
One of the more interesting commercial items is the October 1+1 cassette, which had the album on one side and was blank on the other, suggesting listeners make their own mixes. These 1+1 tapes created quite a stir in a record industry that was trying to fight people taping their own music from radio or other sources. There have also been October T-shirts for sale, including one most recently sold through U2.com.
October has been re-released several times over the years, including two different remasters. In 1989, Island Records was sold to Polygram, and Polygram started to re-release the back catalog under the name "Island Masters." These re-releases included higher print-quality sleeves, better paper and often an increase in the volume of the tracks. Some pressings of the "Island Masters" edition of October even come with a very different back cover, which appears to be a photograph that was taken a few years after 1981.
The "Island Masters" version and the more recent remaster are the only two releases externally labeled as being different, but if you look at individual CDs from different countries, you can determine that individual countries all mastered the CD release in a different manner.
The CDs released in the U.S. tend to be mastered the most quiet, while early releases in Japan and the U.K. are mastered louder, and many collectors feel have a better sound. Canadian and German releases also show their own individual mastering in some cases, coming somewhere in between. As an example, looking at the peak volume levels, "Gloria" comes in at 88 percent on most U.S. pressings, 100 percent on early Japan, German and U.K. releases, 91.4 percent on Canadian pressings, and 95.5 percent on the Island Masters release. Louder doesn't necessarily mean better, as too loud can result in music being lost due to "clipping," but in this case, the sound of the early U.K. release remains a favorite for me.
The recent remastered version in 2008 came with a second CD that collected the b-sides from the Paradise Theatre concert, and also included "A Celebration" and "I Will Follow (Live From Hattem)," both of which had been released as singles in 1982. The second disc also included five tracks from a live show, Dec. 6, 1982, recorded by BBC Radio 1. It also included three tracks from another BBC session, recorded Sept. 3, 1981. Finally, the track listing of this bonus disc was rounded out by a track called "Tomorrow (Common Ground Remix)," which is anything but a remix. This version of the song was actually re-recorded by Bono and Adam Clayton in 1996. This version was released on the compilation Common Ground in May 1996. It is the only track on this second disc that was not recorded in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, this second disc missed the remainder of the tracks recorded in March 6, 1981, and only contained those released as the b-sides of "Gloria" and "Fire."
The remaster of the October album also spawned a few collectibles. Universal produced a press kit for several of their 2008 releases, including a two-CD set that contained "Sunday Bloody Sunday" from the remaster of War. Included in that press pack was a credit card-sized plastic card, on which you could see four album covers with a note below them saying "Remastered 2008." Each cover was cut so you could push it out of the card and they would be a guitar pick with the album cover on the front. The album covers were War, Under A Blood Red Sky, October and the stretched-faces cover from North America of Boy.
Also released was a series of four buttons, to independent record stores, that were made available when you bought the remastered version of any of the remastered CDs in store. The buttons featured the three remastered album covers, including October, plus a "U2 logo."
The final portion of that ad announcing October in Billboard mentioned "U2. Featuring the Green Tornado, Bono, on vocals. The Edge, the man of a thousand guitars. Adam Clayton, Bass. Larry, Drums." No explanation was ever given in the ad as to what "Green Tornado" referred to -- one little fascinating question you are left with when you dig back through the days surrounding the release of U2's October.
© @U2/Sams, 2011.