It seems like many years ago that I seriously started collecting U2 memorabilia and records. One of the first items I acquired was a vinyl copy of U2 Three, and at the time, I thought I had something really special and rare because I had never before heard “Boy/Girl,” one of that record’s B-sides. “Boy/Girl” is the only track from Three, U2’s first single, to not be re-recorded for the album Boy. To be honest, I’ve never wondered, since the day I brought that record home and listened to it for the first time, why “Boy/Girl” was not chosen for inclusion on U2’s first LP. It isn’t that the song is bad, but it is…different. Different from, really, anything else in U2’s catalog, because of the feelings expressed in the song’s lyrics. I believe today that “Boy/Girl” is the least positive, least hopeful song in all of U2’s discography.
I imagine that Bono was having all kinds of problems when he wrote this song. Problems dealing with his father, problems coping with the loss of his mother, and, like many eighteen and nineteen year olds, problems with the opposite sex. It is easy to forget that the four guys in U2 were kids with the same insecurities and difficulties that the rest of us have while growing up. Bono has expressed frustration and other emotions that we tend to see as negative (anger, sadness, loneliness, hopelessness) in other songs, but there’s always a positive aspect to it. When he is angry in “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” it is anger at the injustice of Ireland’s troubles specifically and war in general. When he feels hopeless as he sings “With or Without You,” there is a beauty in the song’s melancholy that gives us hope even as it takes it away. But in “Boy/Girl,” Bono sounds so frustrated that he is near committing violence. We know if we have been paying attention in interviews and the like that Bono, as much as he respects men of peace like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus, is not himself a man of peace, naturally, although he would like to be one. When, in “Boy/Girl,” Bono sings “I open doors so I can shut your face — know your place” He sounds like he is on the verge of giving in to that inner darkness. It would be be another thirty-eight years until, in “The Little Things That Give You Away” before he would sound so close to defeat again. The differences in the moods of these two songs, though, perfectly illustrate the difference between innocence and experience. In “Boy/Girl,” the music is almost manic at times, bordering on chaos, reflecting the writer’s innermost tumult. “The Little Things…” on the other hand, sounds weary, like the singer is about to just give up.
“Boy/Girl” was performed at some of the earliest U2 shows that we have records for, going all the way back to June of 1979, and continued to be performed regularly up through the Boy tour, and even a couple times on the October Tour, but never since then. That really is not surprising…I think that U2 simply outgrew the song and its attendant emotions, and learned to channel that frustration in other, more creative and fulfilling ways. Still, it is fun to go back now and then and listen to “Boy/Girl,” maybe the punkiest thing that U2 ever recorded, and think about what might have been.