- 07 Feb 22
17 years ago today, U2 released 'Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own' – the second single from their 11th studio album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. The track went on to win two Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year. To mark the occasion, we're revisiting Niall Stokes' insights into the story behind the iconic song...
As far back as the recording of All That You Can’t Leave Behind, Bono had known that his father was dying of cancer. And so he wrote a song for Bob called ‘Tough’ because that was what his father had always seemed to him.
“A tough old boot of a guy,” in Bono’s own words, “Irish, Dub, north side Dubliner, very cynical about the world and the people in it, but very charming and funny with it.”
Bob died the week of the band’s first Slane Castle appearance in 2001. Bono took the song out and dusted it down and sang it at the funeral, a portrait of the artist as an old man – a working class guy who loved opera, and who had bequeathed something of his beautiful tenor voice to his son…
“My voice is the best it’s ever been on this record,” Bono said around the time of the Atomic Bomb album. “And I believe that it’s my father’s gift to me. He was a great tenor and when he died he passed that on to me.”
“He never talked about any of the music,” Bono recalled of his father, talking to Stuart Clark of Hot Press. “Oh, I do remember he liked ‘The Unforgettable Fire’. Not the album but the song. He thought we were getting quite good around the time of Rattle And Hum – ‘When Love Comes To Town’ was a bit of a favourite. But he didn’t know where we were going in the ‘90s!”
They came back to the song for How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and it felt good – but when Steve Lilywhite came in, he gave it a critical appraisal that was to prove, well, critical.
“My contribution to that song is that I was listening to it with Edge – and Bono was there as well – and I said ‘Edge, this song doesn’t have a chorus’. And they said ‘What do you mean?’ And I said, well, it just finishes the verse and then goes ‘Sometimes you can’t make it on your own’. And Bono immediately went ‘Give me a guitar’. So he picked up a guitar and went ‘And it’s you when I look na na na na’ – he didn’t have the lyrics yet – ‘And it’s you du du du du du du du/ Sometimes you can’t make it on your own’. And all of a sudden the song was finished. That song had been around for the best part of five years and no one had ever said to them that it didn’t have a chorus.”
Browse the extensive Hot Press U2 Collection here.