A special preview to the forthcoming documentary...
Jason Gregory
12:36 23rd September 2011

There's a fantastic moment in From The Sky Down, the new Davis Guggenheim-directed documentary about the making of U2's 1991 album 'Achtung Baby', when you get to see the Irish band in the process of creating the song 'One'.

It is, in my mind, the single most interesting example of the songwriting process caught on film.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's very easy to take a song like 'One' for granted, even though, as the band's manager Paul McGuinness noted at a Q&A about the movie I attended in London last night, it long ago earned the status of being a “classic”. It's one of those songs that's ingrained on the musical memory of every music fan, whether they like U2 or not.

But during footage in the film showing U2 at the Hansa Studios in Berlin at the end of 1990, we see it in its rawest, most unadulterated form, with a different second bridge to the one on the album and before Bono had even formulated the lyrics. Indeed, it's not even called 'One'.


U2, 'One'

The reasons it's so interesting are two-fold.

Firstly, it's genuinely thrilling and absorbing to be so closely exposed to the craft of songwriting. The process, in all honestly, looks painfully destructive and frustrating. But as a music journalist who has never held an ambition to be in a band (and believe me, that's quite a rare thing), to watch a song like 'One' being crafted as meticulously as an artist working on a painting, it's capitvating; as parts get taken out and then put back in, until the finished song we are all familiar with begins to emerge, as Bono says in the movie, “from the sky down”.

Secondly, 'One', it transpires in From The Sky Down, was integral in the creation of 'Achtung Baby'. Still tired from touring 1987's 'The Joshua Tree', which took U2 from arenas to stadiums, and rocked by the critical backlash thrown at their road movie, Rattle And Hum, the Irish band looked like a shadow of their former selves as they arrived in Berlin to start work on the album with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.


From The Sky Down trailer.

In the film, Guggenheim captures this turmoil – and McGuinness stressed last night that it was actual turmoil – beautifully. We see Bono unable to write lyrics, The Edge struggling to write his guitar parts through the break-up of his marriage, and Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr wondering whether they're even in the band any more.

And then they make 'One', and it's like a lighter fuel of creativity is sparked within all four members.

I don't want to reveal any more, because you can watch From The Sky Down when it airs on BBC on October 9 as part of the Imagine series. But If you take one thing away from From The Sky Down, it should be this: if it wasn't for 'Achtung Baby', you wouldn't have U2, and whatever you think of the band and their personal ideologies, that would be a tragedy.

 

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