A long time ago, in a record store far away, a great debut album was released. This album was titled Boy, and it was the first LP from an Irish band called U2. Some few copies of this album, early pressings of the vinyl, for instance, have a short snippet of music at the end of the album, following the last proper song. The snippet sounds a lot like “Fire,” the song that would end up being the first single from the second album. It wasn’t until 2008, when the deluxe edition of the Boy remaster hit record store shelves that we all learned that it was, in fact, a clip from an early version of “Fire.” That early version carries the title “Saturday Night,” and if you ask me, it is superior to the later version of the song that was put out as “Fire.”
I’m not sure exactly why U2 decided that “Saturday Night” wasn’t good enough, but that “Fire” was. “Saturday Night” has several things going for it, such as nice crisp sounding drums, dynamic guitar chords, and some interesting textures sprinkled throughout. “Fire,” on the other hand feels slightly…overwrought. Like the band is trying too hard. You might disagree with me, and you are welcome to your own opinion — certainly, “Fire” has some elements that are stronger than the former version. What I think is really special about this pair of songs is the opportunity to hear how the song changed to get to the point that U2 felt was ready to release, and strong enough to be the album’s first single.
One element of “Fire” that I feel is stronger than in “Saturday Night” is the lyrics. “Saturday Night” feels like Bono is describing just another weekend evening that he experienced or observed. The lyrics to “Saturday Night’ aren’t bad, per se, but they are indicative that Bono still had a way to go to become the amazing, heartfelt, revelatory lyricist that he is today. “Fire,” on the other hand…it feels like the singer really has something to say here. He is singing about the feeling that burns inside him that made him want to be a singer in a band in the first place. Heck, I think that all four members of U2 have this fire burning inside them. Call it ambition, drive, or pure emotion, this feeling still drives the guys today to new and greater artistic heights with each release.
“Saturday Night” has never been performed live…that isn’t too surprising, really. “Fire,” on the other hand, has seen its fair share of live performances, from a handful of gigs on the Boy tour, a majority of the October Tour, and even a baker’s dozen of spots on the War Tour. Unfortunately, the song was dropped in 1983, never to be heard again from a U2 stage. Would it be too much to hope for, that U2 would perform a medley of the two songs live in concert for us? I doubt that it would ever happen, since neither iteration of the song is really strong enough to win over casual fans. I can think of several songs, even from the same time period, that I would prefer to see and hear U2 resurrect. Still, it would be interesting to hear them together like that. Maybe we could finally settle the debate about which version is superior.