Like many U2 fans (and like Bono himself, if the stories are to be believed), I own a copy of the CD set Salome: The (Axtung Beibi) Outtakes, a three CD bootleg set of early recordings from the Achtung Baby sessions. This set is essential for any hardcore U2 fan because it shows the evolution behind one of the greatest albums of the twentieth century, depicting the creative process of one of the era’s greatest bands. If Achtung Baby is the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree, then the Salome set shows the band learning how to swing the axe.
Among other gems contained in the set is several versions of a song called “Blow Your House Down”, which showcases some beefy, industrial sounding guitar from Edge and a muscular drum beat courtesy of Larry. Although “Blow Your House Down” would finally see an official release as part of the twentieth anniversary celebration of Achtung Baby, it’s interesting to note that the song actually originated during the sessions for Rattle and Hum. The earliest known version of “Blow Your House Down” is a recording of Bono and Edge playing acoustically (accompanied by producer Jimmy Iovine) along with a recording of the song that has the same cadence as the Salome version, but lacking that recording’s distinctive powerful guitar and drum combo. The song’s potential at this point is clear, as it’s hard to listen to the duo working without getting lost in the rhythm. I can’t help but nod my head and tap my foot every time I hear it.
By contrast, the early translations of the song from the Achtung Baby sessions sounds like a locomotive powering through the studio. For many years, U2 fans would listen to the Salome set and wonder why the band never finished the song, one of the most robust pieces captured on the set. U2 is good to its fans, so a completed official version of the song was eventually released in 2011. The finalized recording of the song is much poppier than the fan-favorite Salome track, containing hand claps over two beats of Larry’s drum and a toned-down guitar part. The 2011, official release also features brand new lyrics and vocals from Bono, making the song sound distinctive from any of its earlier counterparts, but still propulsive, catchy and urgent sounding. The band thought highly enough of the song that they released it as a promotional single to radio stations, but it failed to make much of an impact.
I would be surprised if U2 ever play “Blow Your House Down” in a live setting, simply because there’s only so much space in a given set-list and the song didn’t catch on at radio. U2 already has a hard enough time juggling their big hits with new material and other fan favorites that there simply isn’t room for this not-quite-forgotten gem from almost thirty years ago. The song still holds a special place in my heart, not only because of the documented development of the song over the years, but also because it’s a stand out track that didn’t quite make the cut for U2’s greatest album.
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