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@U2 QOM October 2011: Achtung Baby!

Do you remember the first time you heard Achtung Baby? Tell us about it!

(Each month, @U2 puts a spotlight on U2 fans with our "Question of the Month." We pose a question to our readers and invite answers of 200 words or less. If you're interested in taking part, check our home page to see if the current question is still open. If not, check back shortly after the beginning of next month and we'll have another question ready to be answered!)


@U2 Question of the MonthEarvin Batitang: At the tender age of 13 and being a new fan of U2, I often listened to The Joshua Tree, All That You Can't Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and it was just to hear the classics. So being used to the "classic" or "conventional" sounding U2, you can imagine my surprise when I came across a CD in my dad's collection named Achtung Baby. It had U2's name on it, but it didn't look like a U2 CD cover. It looked too colorful. And what was with the name? I pop it in, and immediately with "Zoo Station" I was shocked. I thought to myself, "Maybe this CD was in the wrong case..." But I couldn't mistake Edge's guitar, and certainly not Bono's voice. A part of me didn't like it; it was just too weird sounding. I did like "One" from the start, and that was only because it sounded way more like the U2 I knew and loved than the rest of the songs. But as a whole, I preferred the "safe," "familiar" U2. I would never have guessed that "weird," "out there" record would become my favorite album of all time.

Chuck: At first listen I was very disappointed. It was such a departure from the style I was used to. Much more "worldly" and sensual in the approach. I always preferred their evangelistic zeal and soaring anthems. "One" was my least favorite off the album and it probably still is! I was about 25 at the time. I just felt like "my" U2 was disappearing and being replaced with a pessimistic bunch of glam rockers! I did not see the need at all to "chop down The Joshua Tree". It took a while for any of the songs to grow on me. The irony was lost on me, and it's still not one of my favorite U2 albums. I guess I would slot it in about 5th place overall.

Only now can I listen to "One" and kinda like it. Would not faze me if I did not hear that song again, to be honest. On the other hand, as I've gotten older I have come to embrace "Ultraviolet", "Acrobat", "Zoo Station" and "The Fly". I really enjoy those tunes. I now realize that diversification of style and sound is essential for growth, and to prevent stagnation.

Patricia Guzmán: First time I listened to AB I had recently been a mum for the first time. A moving moment in a woman's life, painful, a breakthrough, a starting point, stressful, rewarding, huge responsibility … was I ready for my fave band's latest moves? What was I looking for when I turned on my CD player to find a bit of comfort after a long day with a cute demanding little baby? – Certainly not what I listened to through the loudspeakers. I found rawness; hard & insistent sounds; unhappiness; naivete & experience all at the same time; a cry, a demand; irony; a soulful voice, openness and darkness; a journey of discovery; madness; seriousness… Tales of life. Though my first intention was to stop and think that I didn't want to listen to this new album, there came "Mysterious Ways". The bass riff conquered my heart and the lyrics made me smile, "Come on, Bono," I said to myself, "we don't move in Mysterious Ways." And then I looked at my baby and wondered about the miracle that is set upon us, women. "Okay, B, you might be a bit right …" I was captured. The album could be difficult, dark at times, but it had a message: when you think you know it all, there's change around the corner. And AB was about change, U2 & mine too.

Brian Curran: Picked up Achtung Baby at a midnight record release in Centerville, Ohio. Grabbed a couple extra copies for friends, then went back to my apartment and went to bed (I wanted to play it LOUD at first listen, but didn't want to wake my roommate). At lunch the next day, came home and put it in the CD player. As "Zoo Station" began, I immediately thought "there's something wrong with my stereo" – Edge's guitar sounded all scratchy and over-loud, and Bono's voice sounded like he was WAY too close to the microphone. Checked the speaker cables, blew any dust out of the CD player, put the disc back in… "Huh, guess it's supposed to sound that way? Wow, not sure I like that…"

It was a dramatic shift in U2's sound, and it reflected a sweeping change in the sound of rock music – how could I possibly have been prepared for such grit? (Well, "God Part II" was a hint.) Interestingly, I don't think there has been another change like it since; listening to Joshua Tree now, it sounds quaint and dated to my ears; Achtung Baby could have been recorded yesterday. Still my all-time favorite, twenty years on.

Edward Benezra: I have to say that I was truly angry the first time that I heard Achtung Baby! I had grown up listening to U2 and was very disappointed (at the time) that the band had completely changed their sound and identity. I wanted my U2 that I had loved for years back! After a month or so of not really wanting to give the album a chance, I finally decided to listen to the album daily. Like everything else that I had listened to from U2 in the past, I grew to love the album as much if not more than their earlier albums. It remains one of their greatest achievements.

Dave Waltman: I had recently moved from Seattle, WA to Rochester, NY when Achtung, Baby was released. I quickly discovered a local independent record store, that is still thriving, by the name of Record Archive. This was back when one of favorite pasttimes was going to the store and browsing through CD's for an hour or so. I was looking forward to this release so it was an automatic purchase. I remember examining the packaging in my car before I even got out of the parking lot then in my apartment sitting with the liner notes and lyrics during my first listen. I was particularly interested in the single called "The Fly". Upon the first few listens I couldn't get into the song and I couldn't understand why it was the single. What I did like initially was "Zoo Station", "EBTTRT", and "Mysterious Ways".

I was unemployed at the time which brings a certain amount of freedom, so I took off for Albany NY to stand in line for tickets at the Box Office (remember when we had to do that for good tickets?) for the ZooTV tour. This overnight experience become interesting in the morning hours when a band of thugs, who gave all scalpers a bad name, crashed the party and the front of the line. Fortunately, officials at the arena had things under control and disbanded this group before tickets went on sale at 9am. I got seats in the 15th row, which ended up being right next to the B-stage. This would have been my second time seeing U2, the first being among 90,000 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia (the show where Bruce participated). It was at this show where my love for "The Fly" blossomed. It is amazing what a live version of a song can do for its emotional connectivity, especially the treatment "The Fly" received during ZooTV.

I later got a job at the Record Archive and would try to squeeze in plays of Achtung Baby between the other employee's eclectic mix of favorites that included anything from Nirvana to 808 State. I remember a fall weekend trip to the Berkshire Mountains where AB became the soundtrack for the weekend. Then in the summer of 1992, I was fortunate enough to have friends in central Pennsylvania pick me up tickets for the Outdoor Broadcast rehearsal show in Hershey, PA.

So these are the memories that will remain forever connected to the music of AB. A CD that I might have played as much as any CD I ever owned, back when it was still "cool" to be a U2 fan.

Greer Taylor: Well, I had never really heard much U2 before I listened to AB. It was the first album by them I owned (my dad gave it to me). I knew songs though, like, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", "Pride (In The Name Of Love)", "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Where The Streets Have No Name". So, when I first listen to "Zoo Station" I thought in my head "Oh my gosh! This band is incredible!" I had never heard anything like them, and something about the album just enthralled me. I wanted more and more of them. I listened to the rest of the album and it turned out that I loved every single song.

Jeff P.: I was studying abroad in London, England when my roommate brought me a cassette of Achtung Baby. I had never seen or heard the album before. My first listen to it left me confused about the music and frankly I didn't like it. Now I don't know what I was thinking. It's unreal the number of connections I have to U2 through my ex-roommate including him being friends with a famous photo journalist and director of the video "Even Better Than The Real Thing" (an Achtung Baby reference).

Spencer Miles: The first time I heard Achtung Baby was one of the pivotal moments in my life. The day was my 11th birthday. I had heard of U2 before, but never really heard much of their music. My Dad gave me several cassette tapes as my present, and among them was Achtung Baby. I was immediately drawn to it over the other tapes because of the awesome cover. The strange looking photographs and vague figures in them sparked my imagination. So I loaded the tape into my Walkman, unaware my life would never be the same. When the first distorted guitar notes on "Zoo Station" came in, my jaw hit the floor. 55 minutes later, I knew what my purpose in life was. I was gonna be in a rock and roll band.

Over the years that dream has only grown stronger. Now finally this year, 20 years after the release of Achtung Baby, my band Space Fight signed a deal, released our debut EP and went on our first UK tour. The dream continues, and it would have never happened if there had never been Achtung Baby.

Elsa Stockseth: I remember that I got it for Christmas in 2001 or 2002. At first I wasn't sure about it but after hearing it through a few times it grew on me. It is actually one of my favorite albums now =).

Esra Yagiz: I had just graduated from University in Illinois and had gone to Ankara, Turkey to do my master's degree in International Relations. The album was released in the US but would not have a world wide release till a few months later. This is of course before Internet and Amazon and way before iTunes. This was the time you relied on friends. Two of my closest friends from University sent me the CD to my dorm at the University in Ankara the day it was released in the US. They had sent it express mail so I got it very quickly.

I remember sitting in my dorm room, homesick, missing my friends and listening to the whole album from start to finish twice and then replaying "One", "So Cruel" and "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses".

But my greatest memory was the following day when I was in Istanbul at a small bar with some friends. I had the CD with me in my bag - by that time I had listened to it over and over again. Especially during my 6 hour bus ride from Ankara to Istanbul.

I was listening to it on my portable CD player. Remember those? At the bar I gave my CD to the DJ who was also the bartender (very small quaint pub/bar). He played the whole album. Everyone was shocked to hear the latest U2 album for the first time and were very excited.

Needless to say I was given a lot of free drinks that night from everyone at the bar.

(c) @U2/individual contributors above, 2011.