From their beginnings in Ireland, U2 has become one of the best selling bands in history. Four decades have passed since its release but what was their first song?
U2’s released a couple of songs that could be considered their first. “Out of Control” was the A-side of their 1979 EP “Three”, which was released exclusively in Ireland. “11 O’Clock Tick-Tock” was their first song released as a single and the first available outside Ireland but failed to chart.
For more on U2 and their first songs, read on.
Before they were known as U2, the band were teenagers at Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin, Ireland. 14-year-old Larry Mullen Jr. posted a note on a school notice board in the hope of finding fellow musicians to form a band.
The first meeting was on September 25, 1976, with Mullen playing drums, Paul Hewson (later known as Bono) performing vocals, David Evans (later “the Edge”), and his brother Dik Evans playing guitar, Adam Clayton on bass. Two other friends of Mullen, Ivan McCormick, and Peter Martin, were also in attendance but left shortly after the first practice.
Mullen has said that he was prepared to be the leader of the band until Bono arrived at the house and immediately took over with his strength of personality. The new band, who had limited skill and little knowledge of music terminology, chose one of the few musical terms they knew, “Feedback”, as their name.
The band was influenced by punk rock bands including the Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, The Clash, and The Jam, and felt that it was possible to find success in the genre without great ability. They performed their first-ever gig at St Fintan’s High School, also in Dublin, in April 1977, and changed their name to “The Hype” shortly after.
A year later, the band chose their third and final name, “U2”, from a list of six, appreciating its ambiguity. In March 1978, without Dik Evans in the lineup, won a talent contest and a prize of £500 and studio time that would be used to record a demo for CBS Ireland.
Dik Evans, who was older than the other members and already in college, had already felt as though he didn’t truly belong in the group and left the band a few days later. They performed one final concert as The Hype, with the four U2 members continuing the show after Dik’s ceremonial exit.
Though they had won studio time, U2 were still inexperienced teenagers, and their first demo tape produced little of note. Bill Graham, a journalist for “Hot Press” magazine was an ally of the band and introduced them to Paul McGuinness, who began managing them.
They recorded new demos in August 1979 with Chas de Whalley, a talent scout for the CBS record label in attendance. The result of this session was “Three” an EP that was only released in Ireland.
A radio listener poll was held, with “Out of Control” selected as the EP’s A-side, making it the first song commercially released by the band. “Three” was released as a 12-inch vinyl and all 1000 copies rapidly sold out. A 7-inch version was also released and reached number 19 on Ireland’s singles chart.
The following year, re-recorded versions “Out of Control” and “Stories for Boys” were included on the band’s studio debut album, “Boy”.
On May 16, 1980, after signing with Island Records, the band released their first single available outside Ireland, “11 O’Clock Tick-Tock”. The name was inspired by a note left by a friend of Bono, Gavin Friday, with lyrics inspired by Bono’s experience at a Cramps concert.
The band had not enjoyed recording the single, feeling that the producing of Martin Hannett had negatively impacted their sound. The single failed to chart, a far cry from the astronomical success they would later enjoy.