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I remember the frustration of hearing a melody in my head but not being able to quite put it down. So you learn to rely on other people, the band, and you start thinking that's a weakness. But it's a strength to rely on others.-- Bono, 2004

What U2 Duals Could Have Been

@U2

Duals has started appearing in fans' mailboxes, and I can't help but look at the track listing and see it as a missed opportunity.

For those who are not aware, Duals is the annual fan club present from U2.com, and this year it is a compilation of collaborations between U2 and other artists. There has been some grumbling about the content of the disc, focused on the inclusion of several tracks that have been released on albums. Instead of choosing album cuts, many options are out there that might have enhanced the collection of tracks for fans.

It is one thing to say, "It could have been better," but another to sit and consider what the alternatives could have been. Where were some of those missed opportunities? What little gems could have seen the light with this disc? Even tied to the Duals format, that of U2 working with another artist on a song, I can think of some immediate substitutions that I would have preferred.

"The Wanderer" by Johnny Cash and U2 is one of those missed opportunities. We are all pretty familiar with the version on Duals, as it was taken from the Zooropa album that U2 released in 1993. But have you heard the version also released that year on the Faraway So Close soundtrack? That version is approximately 30 seconds longer, and includes an entire verse sung by Johnny Cash that wasn't featured on Zooropa. Can you imagine fans popping that CD into their computer to listen, and hearing a verse they have never heard before? A small change for sure, but one I think people would have appreciated. That soundtrack is not as easy to find as it once was, and this would have been an opportunity to showcase a piece of recording history that fans who own all the albums might not have noticed.

A similar change could have been made with track three, "Falling At Your Feet," by Bono and Danny Lanois. The version included on Duals is from the Million Dollar Hotel soundtrack, which many fans would have in their collections. But the song was re-recorded by Lanois and Bono, and that version appeared on Lanois' album Shine in 2003. It is a beautiful version of the song, but perhaps a little more Lanois and a little less Bono. Again, this was an opportunity to go with an alternate version that would have enhanced the feeling of Duals as a collection for fans.

Even "Miss Sarajevo" could have been replaced with another work featuring Pavarotti. Bono performed "Ave Maria" with Pavarotti in concert, and a remix of that performance was released as a b-side of "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own." Wouldn't it have been nice to hear the full version of the track, un-remixed, as performed that night in May 2003 in Modena, Italy? The un-remixed version has never been released.

How about "The Saints Are Coming" with Green Day? There was an alternate studio version, as well as a live version released through the Rhapsody music service back in September 2006. These were released only in a compressed format, and for a limited time. Would it not have been nice to include one of these alternate recordings instead of the more common album release?

Looking further at tracks on Duals, we find "When Love Comes To Town," the album cut. How about releasing the live version done just after 1989 ended at a concert in Dublin? BB King was part of that version recorded at the Point Depot. And at this point, that show has been released only through iTunes in a compressed format, if you bought The Complete U2, which is no longer available.

I can easily think of many other substitutions for the current tracks on Duals that might have left less of a feeling of having heard it all before. Instead of taking "One" from Mary J Blige's album, why not release the live version of the song that Mary J Blige performed live on stage with U2 at the Grammy Awards? Instead of "Amazing Grace" / "Streets" with the Soweto Gospel Choir which was just released at Christmas through the fan club in mp3 format, why not look to one of the other songs from that collaboration? Perhaps they could have released "Get On Your Boots," which was recently used to open the concerts in South Africa. Instead of the live version of "Stuck In A Moment" that was just released on CD this past fall, maybe the version recorded in-studio with Mick Jagger and his daughter on vocals could have been brought out of the archives?

None of these would have been big changes to what was included on the album. A little bit of thought in picking out the version released may have created a better product for those of us who already own most of the full length albums and compilations U2 have released. I know I would have been far happier with a CD that contained all of the above, instead of a CD that contains tracks I currently have, sometimes on multiple releases.

Going a little further afield, other collaborations could have been used on this album, rather than resorting to common album tracks. A few I feel would make the cut are the following:

  • Bono worked with Dave Stewart and Joe Strummer on a studio recording called "46664" that was released only in a compressed format and with a flaw in the file that results in a "blip" partway through the song. It is a song that deserves a higher quality release.
  • How about releasing the version of "North And South Of The River" that Bono and the Edge actually recorded with Christy Moore? Most fans know and love the version that appeared on the b-side to "Staring At The Sun," but how many know there is a version out there performed with the guy who co-wrote the song?
  • "Don't Come Knocking" by Bono and Andrea Corr has never been commercially released, and is a beautiful song used for the soundtrack of the movie of the same name.
  • Another song used only in movies, and never commercially released, is a duet between Bono and Stevie Wonder called "Love Is In Need Of Love Today."
  • The duet Bono did with Alicia Keys covering Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" is another song that has only ever been released commercially as a compressed file, and deserves a better quality release. The version they did was retitled "Don't Give Up (Africa)."

I found the Duals concept kind of restraining. I hope next year if they do a fan club release that they open it up to some wider ideas. A lot of material is out there that fans would probably enjoy and this would be an ideal way to release it. How about a CD version of Wide Awake In Europe expanded to include a few additional tracks from the 2010 European shows? I would love to have that, especially if "Glastonbury" and "Every Breaking Wave" made the cut. How about a full live show from one of the upcoming shows? Or a show from a tour gone by? We know they record almost everything and probably have a huge archive of this material. I can fill up a CD with rare remixes that haven't appeared on widely available commercial CDs, and in my opinion a lot of opportunities were also missed with Artificial Horizon. Help out the fans looking for the 3-inch single of "Mysterious Ways" from Japan so they can hear the "Solar Plexus Magic Hour Remix," which is my personal favorite version. Or hey, what about going out and commissioning some new mixes for such a release?

"Winter" and "Soon" are out there in audio format, but not released on CD. Fans have been listening to an early demo version of "Mercy" since 2004. Why not drop those on a release, and fill out the CD with some other demos from across the years? Can someone please go back into the studio tapes and find a copy of "Wild Irish Rose" and send it off to those mixing up these fan club CDs?! Now that would have made me smile.

© @U2/Sams, 2011.