If you were to catch me off guard and ask me what the first single released from Boy was, I might answer without thinking and say “I Will Follow.” Of course, if I were to say that, I would be wrong. For some reason, I tend to forget that “A Day Without Me” was released as a single, let alone that it was the first single from U2’s debut album. Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise that I also tend to forget that the B-side to that single was U2’s first instrumental cut, and the last instrumental that the band has played live, (not counting “Return of the Stingray Guitar,” which I don’t think of as an instrumental for a variety of reasons) “Things to Make and Do.”
The reason that I forget about this song certainly has nothing to do with the quality of the piece, because “Things to Make and Do” is nothing if not memorable, mostly because it is so darn fun. I especially enjoy the bass grooves that Adam executes in the song, and Larry’s drumming is a joy, as always. It is also sort of neat, as a curiosity, to hear the melody resting almost solely on the guitar part in a U2 song, simply because it isn’t something that the band does very often. Normally, of course, we have Bono’s vocal carrying the main melody, but Adam also plays a melodic part quite frequently, while Edge normally plays a kind of hybrid melodic/rhythmic thing. In “Things to Make and Do,” Adam’s playing is definitely focused on rhythm, and the speedy little part that he employs to keep the song moving along is positively irresistible…I can’t help but tap my feet and nod my head when listening to this song.
I wonder if “Things to Make and Do” was always intended to be an instrumental, or if they had the thought as they were writing the piece that, at some later point, they would add vocals. If they did intend to add vocals, I wonder what changed their mind. Certainly, the song works just fine as an instrumental, but I can’t help but wonder what Bono’s melody line would have been like…something typically soaring, no doubt. Maybe that is the reason I tend to to dismiss “Things to Make and Do.” I feel like the song isn’t living up to its full potential. Its hard to fault the band for wanting to try something different, namely putting out an instrumental, but when you have a weapon like Bono’s voice in your arsenal, you should use it every chance you get!
As far as I can recall, “Things to Make and Do” is the only instrumental that U2 has ever performed live, probably for the reasons I discussed above. Once the band had enough songs to fill out a concert without the song, they dropped it. It might be interesting at some point to see how a modern audience would react if U2 were to play the song now, perhaps to open a show, for instance. One outcome is that I probably wouldn’t be so quick to forget about the song, but I also have to wonder how many others would be reminded of this gem in the rough, or would learn about it for the first time. It might be an experiment worth considering for our favorite band!