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The Fly (song)

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"The Fly" is a song by Irish rock band U2. It is the seventh track from their 1991 album Achtung Baby and it was released as the album's first single on 12 October 1991. "The Fly" introduced a more abrasive sounding U2, as the song featured hip-hop and industrial beats, distorted vocals, and an elaborate guitar solo. Lead vocalist Bono described the single as "the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree,"[2] due to its departure from the traditional sound that had characterised the band in the 1980s.

Bono described the song's subject as that of a phone call from someone in Hell who enjoys being there and telling the person on the other end of the line what he has learned.[3] The song and its video were also a showcase for "The Fly", a persona that Bono took on for the Zoo TV Tour, in which he played the part of a stereotypical leather-clad rock star known for wearing large wrap-around sunglasses and strutting around the stage. The song became the band's second number-one single in the UK and was successful among alternative rock radio audiences.

Recording and production

The writing of "The Fly" began during recording sessions for Achtung Baby at Berlin's Hansa Studios in 1990.[4] The song's origins can be traced to a demo recorded there, which eventually evolved into the B-side "Lady With the Spinning Head". The demo was among the material that was bootlegged from the Berlin sessions and released as Salome: The Axtung Beibi Sessions. In 1991, the album's recording sessions moved to the seaside mansion "Elsinore" in Dalkey, where the group continued to work on the demo.[5] It was troublesome, but it inspired portions of three separate songs, "The Fly" being one of them, and "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" and "Zoo Station" the other two.[5] Lead vocalist Bono stated, "One day, [engineer] Flood had a different look in his eye. It started to feel good. We recorded 'The Fly'. Edge's guitar sound was literally like a fly had broken into your brain and was buzzing around."[5]

While recording the song, Bono devised a persona he called "The Fly", and it is from this character's perspective that Bono wrote the lyrics. He recalls that during the recording sessions, Fintan Fitzgerald, in charge of the band's wardrobe, found a 1970s pair of wraparound blaxploitation sunglasses.[5] Bono would put them on and make everyone laugh whenever they faced a problem or disagreement.[5] He recalls, "I became very interested in these single-line aphorisms. I had been writing them, so I got this character who could say them all, from 'A liar won't believe anybody else' to 'A friend is someone who lets you down,' and that's where 'The Fly' was coming from."[6]

Towards the end of the sessions, the band decided that they were unhappy with the mix to "The Fly", which was selected well in advance of the album's release to be the first single.[5] The band ended up taking the song's mix, placing it on a two-inch multi-track tape, and adding additional vocals and guitars. The Edge and producer Daniel Lanois mixed on top of the previous mix live in the studio, an unusual practice.[5] The Edge says the technique would "make studio professionals laugh" and believes "part of the reason why [the song] sounds so dynamic is because it was a real hands-on performance mix."[5] The guitar sounds in the opening were created by mixing additional guitar on top of the existing guitar, creating a "really crazy natural phasing effect".[5]

Bassist Adam Clayton mentioned that "at that time, it was impossible to know whether U2 fans would follow Bono down this particular path, so [the song] was a real leap of faith. The whole track is a high-energy sonic barrage but with an angelic chorus. It's a classic example of U2 and Eno interfacing."[5]


"The Fly" is played at a tempo of 108 beats per minute in a 4/4 time signature in the key of E major.[7] The verses follow a chord progression of EA–A sus4–E.[8] The chorus follows a chord progression of C#m-E-A. When played live, however, the song is usually played a semitone lower, with the guitar in E♭ tuning, a common technique used by U2 when playing live.[citation needed]

"The Fly" shows a heavier, more abrasive side of U2. The song features hip-hop beats, distorted vocals, an elaborate guitar solo, and hard industrial edge.[9] Allmusic called the song a "whooshing, industrial, beat-driven" piece".[10]

Lyrically, Bono described the song as "a crank call from Hell... but [the caller] likes it there."[5] The caller is Bono's eponymous character, telling the listener what he learned in Hell.[3] Bono sings part of the chorus in a falsetto, utilizing what he calls the "Fat Lady" voice, which he also uses on the songs "Lemon" and "Numb".[5]

Single release

Underlined by this new direction, "The Fly" became successful among alternative rock audiences, though it struggled to find airtime on pop radio. The song became U2's second #1 single in the UK, following "Desire". It was notable for ending the record breaking 16 week run at the top of the UK Singles Chart for Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You," by entering the Top 75 'straight-in' at number one in late October 1991,[11][12] but it quickly slid down the chart, as the band's label had intended for the single to be available for a three-week period only and were keen to release two singles (the follow-up being "Mysterious Ways") before Christmas.

In the United States, it only managed #61 on the Hot 100, a position later surpassed by all the other Achtung Baby singles. Nevertheless, the song was very successful on modern rock radio, reaching the top of the Modern Rock Tracks chart and #2 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. It debuted at #1 in Australia. It also made #4 on the Dutch Top 40. When the covers to the "The Fly", and the album's other singles, "Even Better Than the Real Thing", "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses", and "Mysterious Ways", are arranged, a picture of the band members driving a Trabant is formed. On a main street (Queen Street) of Auckland City - New Zealand, the cassette single was given away (as a promotional event) to anyone who donned a velcro suit and jumped from a trampoline onto a high velcro wall, thereby becoming a 'human fly'.


Upon the release of Achtung Baby, "The Fly" received generally positive remarks from critics. Elysa Gardner of Rolling Stone commented that "The Fly" was one of many songs on which The Edge was "crafting harder textures and flashing a new arsenal of effects" and that the song features "grinding riffs that bounce off Adam Clayton's thick bass line and echo and embellish Larry Mullen Jr.'s drumming".[13] Furthermore, she noted that Bono was "acknowledging his own potential for hypocrisy and inadequacy" with lyrics such as "Every artist is a cannibal / Every poet is a thief" and that he sounded humbler and more vulnerable.[13] The New York Times praised the song's danceable beat, citing "The Fly" as one example of how it "sounds as if [the band] has taken Bo Diddley and James Brown lessons for its new syncopated dance songs".[14] The publication also highlighted Bono's dynamic range of vocals in the song, pointing out that he "juxtaposes a whisper, a chant and a sweet falsetto to contrast cynicism and glimmers of hope".[14] The Austin Chronicle called the song an "exhilarating rush",[15] while Steve Morse of The Boston Globe said the album "follows the lead" of "The Fly" with a heavier, more industrial-influenced sound.[16] Entertainment Weekly was less receptive to the song, asserting that it "rocks out but goes overboard with the psychedelic foofooraw".[17]

When The Edge was named the 24th greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone in 2003, "The Fly" was dubbed his essential recording.[citation needed] In 1997, readers of Mojo named the song the 38th-best track of the 1990s.[18]

Live performances

File:Bono as The Fly Cleveland 1992.jpg
Bono as "The Fly" on the Zoo TV Tour in 1992

"The Fly" made its live debut on 29 February 1992 in Lakeland, Florida on the opening night of the Zoo TV Tour,[19] and it was subsequently played at every show on the tour.[20] For Zoo TV performances, Bono portrayed his "Fly" alter-ego, which he had developed into a leather-clad egomaniac. He described the character's outfit as having Lou Reed's glasses, Elvis Presley's jacket, and Jim Morrison's leather pants.[21] To match the character's dark fashion, Bono dyed his naturally brown hair black.[22] Bono began each concert as The Fly and would continue to play the character for most of the first half of the concert. In contrast to the earnest Bono of the 1980s, the character strutted around the stage with "swagger and style", exhibiting mannerisms of an egotistical rock star.[23] Bono often stayed in character away from the tour stage, including for public appearances and when staying in hotels.[24][25]

The song was not played on the PopMart Tour, although it was snippetted several times on versions of "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "Discothèque".[26]

The version from the Elevation Tour, featured just The Edge on a Gibson Les Paul Custom playing in a higher key with less wah-wah. Bono did not play guitar on these versions, as he usually performed on the heart-shaped stage in the audience. This version is also notable for its added introduction with Bono singing new lyrics over only The Edge's arpeggiated chords. His new lyrics would then involve him reciting parts of the chorus of the song. The Edge did not sing in falsetto during the chorus as he has done on the versions from other tours. This tour also included the first extended ending of the song. The band felt that although the song was good, they hadn't gotten it exactly right. David Bowie told them, upon hearing it, that it needed to be re-recorded. Bono has also said, "It took us fifteen years to really get it right live," implying that the intended product is the version played on the Vertigo Tour.

For the Vertigo Tour, "The Fly" was played during the Zoo TV-themed encore, and was often re-paired with "Zoo Station" as on Zoo TV. Edge used a Line 6 Variax 700 Acoustic (custom painted to match the tour's red and black color scheme) and Bono used his signature guitar, the Gretsch Irish Falcon. Larry Mullen also changed the drum beat to the song on this tour, involving more use of the hi-hat cymbal and snare as opposed to the heavy use of the tom rack on past versions. The Edge again used the extended outro to the song, and Bono often snippeted the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" as well as other songs over the outro. The subliminal messages played on the LEDs (though using new, original messages) invoked nostalgia of the Zoo TV Tour.

The song was soundchecked at multiple concerts during the U2 360 Tour and was debuted on 18 June 2011 in Anaheim, California. It was also played at the Glastonbury Festival 2011 with Zoo TV visuals. It was a mainstay on the last leg of the U2 360 Tour.

The song is featured on the Zoo TV: Live from Sydney, Elevation 2001: Live from Boston, and Vertigo 2005: Live from Chicago live DVDs. It is also featured on the fan club compilation U22.

Music video

File:U2 - The Fly video still.png
The music video for "The Fly" shows the band's image change since Rattle and Hum

Parts of the song's video were shot in Dublin in mid-September 1991 by directors Jon Klein and Ritchie Smyth. The rest of the video was shot in London a few weeks later. The promotional video was the first appearance of The Fly character and displayed the band's "new look".

Klein explained "The last three albums have been of a piece in some ways, what we want to do here is start a new chapter. 'The Fly' feels different to me."[27] The video appears on the DVD for The Best of 1990-2000, along with the directors' commentaries.

Alternative versions

There are several released versions of this song:

  • The album version, which appears on Achtung Baby and some editions of The Best of 1990-2000.
  • "The Lounge Fly Mix", which appears as a B-side on the single. This is an alternate take of "The Fly", featuring different lyrics and a more dance-oriented, trip-hop sound. A snippet of this version is played over the intro of the music video to "The Fly".
  • A live performance from Manchester, England in 19 June 1992 for the Stop Sellafield concert. This was released as a B-Side on the "City of Blinding Lights" single. It is also available on the second disc of the Zoo TV: Live from Sydney DVD as a bonus track.
  • Another live performance from the Vertigo Tour, recorded in Chicago in May 2005, which appears on the U2.COMmunication fan club album. This performance is also available in the Vertigo 2005: Live from Chicago concert film.
  • A live version of "The Fly" performed during the Elevation Tour which has a minute and a half intro of Bono singing a new verse and the first part of the chorus, with The Edge playing a different guitar riff. This version of the song appears on the concert film Elevation 2001: Live from Boston.
  • "'Baby' The Fly", an early version of the song, was released as part of a "kindergarten" disc for the premium editions of the 20th anniversary reissue of Achtung Baby.


The single was backed with the following B-sides:

  • "Alex Descends into Hell for a Bottle of Milk / Korova 1" - a music piece by Bono and The Edge, taken from the score for the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of "A Clockwork Orange".[28] This was the only part of the score which was officially released. The author of the original book, Anthony Burgess was reportedly very unsatisfied with the soundtrack.[citation needed] This song was also featured on the soundtrack to the movie Johnny Mnemonic.
  • "The Lounge Fly Mix"

Track listings

"The Lounge Fly Mix" was featured on the 12-inch and CD singles only.

"The Fly"
Single by U2
from the album Achtung Baby
B-side "Alex Descends into Hell for a Bottle of Milk/Korova 1"
Released 12 October 1991
Format CD maxi, cassette,
7" single, 12" maxi
Genre Alternative rock, funk rock, industrial rock, alternative dance
Length 4:29
Label Island
Writer(s) U2
Producer(s) Daniel Lanois
Certification Silver (BPI)[1]
U2 singles chronology

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Music video
"The Fly" at
Music sample</td>
No. TitleWriter(s)Producer Length
1. "The Fly"  U2Daniel Lanois 4:29
2. "Alex Descends into Hell for a Bottle of Milk"/"Korova 1"  Bono and The EdgePaul Barrett 3:37
3. "The Lounge Fly Mix"  U2Daniel Lanois 6:28

Charts and sales

See also


  1. ^ a b UK certifications (Retrieved 16 January 2009)
  2. ^ "The Fly". Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  3. ^ a b Flanagan, Bill (1995). U2 At the End of the World. Bantam Press. p. 57. ISBN 0-593-03626-3. 
  4. ^ Doyle, Tom (10 October 2002). "10 Years of Turmoil Inside U2". Q. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l U2 (2006). McCormick, Neil, ed. U2 by U2. HarperCollins Publishers. pp. 224–225, 232. ISBN 0-00-719668-7. 
  6. ^ Kutner, Jon and Spencer Leigh (2005). 1000 UK Number One Hits. Omnibus Press. ISBN 1-84449-283-4. 
  7. ^ "U2 - The Fly Guitar Tab". Musicnotes. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  8. ^ "U2 - The Fly Sheet Music". Musicnotes. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  9. ^ Flanagan (1995), page 30; Graham (2004), page 49; Stokes, Niall (1996). Into The Heart: The Story Behind Every U2 Song. Australia: HarperCollins Publishers. p. 102. ISBN 0-7322-6036-1. 
  10. ^ Sullivan, Denise. [[[:Template:Allmusic]] "Song Review: 'The Fly'"]. Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  11. ^ [1][dead link]
  12. ^ [2][dead link]
  13. ^ a b Gardner, Elysa. "U2: Achtung Baby: Music Reviews". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2009-03-06. 
  14. ^ a b Pareles, Jon (17 November 1991). "U2 Takes a Turn From the Universal To the Domestic". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-13. 
  15. ^ Gray, Christopher (30 March 2001). "Review - U2: Achtung Baby". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-10-13. 
  16. ^ Morse, Steve (15 November 1991). "U2 bounces back". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-10-13. 
  17. ^ Wyman, Bill (19 November 1991). "Achtung Baby". Entertainment Weekly (94). Retrieved 2009-03-06. 
  18. ^ "Mojo Readership Top 100 Tracks of the '90's". Mojo (40). March 1997. 
  19. ^ "U2 The Fly". U2Gigs. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  20. ^ "U2 ZOO TV Tour". U2Gigs. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  21. ^ "U2". Legends. Season 1. Episode 6. 1998-12-11. VH1. 
  22. ^ Flanagan (1996), p. 97, 521
  23. ^ McGee (2008), p. 143
  24. ^ Belcher, David (25 April 2002). "Tell Me Our Kids Are Safe". The Glasgow Herald. 
  25. ^ Light, Alan (4 March 1993). "Bono: The Rolling Stone Interview". Rolling Stone. 
  26. ^ "U2 The Fly - U2 on tour". Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  27. ^ McGee, Matt (2008). U2: A Diary. Omnibus Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-1-84772-108-2. 
  28. ^ Sams, Aaron. "U2 Discography - The Fly single". U2 Wanderer. Retrieved 2007-09-15. 
  29. ^ a b c d e f g "U2 – The Fly". Hung Medien. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  30. ^ "Search Results: The Fly U2". RPM. 30 November 1991. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  31. ^ a b "Single top 100 over 1991" (PDF) (in Dutch). Top40. Retrieved 13 April 2010. 
  32. ^ Nyman, Jake (2005). Suomi soi 4: Suuri suomalainen listakirja (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Tammi. ISBN 951-31-2503-3. 
  33. ^ German Singles Chart (Retrieved 16 January 2009)
  34. ^ "Irish Singles Chart". The Irish Charts. Retrieved 2009-11-23.  Note: U2 must be searched manually.
  35. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. 
  36. ^ " search results: U2". Retrieved 2009-11-22.  Note: U2 must be searched manually.
  37. ^ a b c d Billboard [[[:Template:Allmusic]]] (Retrieved 16 January 2009)
  38. ^ "1991 Australian Singles Chart". aria. Retrieved 14 April 2010. 


External links

Preceded by
"(Everything I Do) I Do It for You"
by Bryan Adams
UK number-one single
2 November 1991
(one week)
Succeeded by
by Vic Reeves and The Wonder Stuff