- 06 Nov 20
14 years ago today, U2 and Green Day's cover of Skids' 'The Saint Are Coming' hit shops – raising funds for Music Rising, a charity co-founded by the Edge, to help bring music programmes and instruments back to New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina. The single was a chart-topping hit, and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. To mark the occasion, we're revisiting the story behind the single.
It all began when the members of U2 and Green Day sat down together for what was later described as a boozy dinner, at Hollywood’s infamous Chateau Marmont, the night before the Grammys in February 2006.
“We just felt that these were some great people – the way their values were wired was so similar to ours,” U2 guitarist the Edge told Rolling Stone. “We resolved to keep an open mind about things that we might do together that have some kind of significance.”
Edge already had something of that kind on his radar. In September 2005, the U2 guitarist had launched Music Rising, with top producer Bob Ezrin – a charity aimed at raising money to support the musicians of New Orleans, many of whom had lost everything when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Big Easy at the tail end of August, that same year.
“My recent visit to New Orleans gave me a first-hand look at the devastation which tragically destroyed the lives of thousands,” Edge said at the time. “The area’s rich and spirited culture must be restored and can be, by assisting those musicians affected by the disaster. Providing replacement instruments through Music Rising will not only help the professional musicians to regain a foothold on their future, but will also ensure that one of the Gulf Coast’s greatest assets, its music, will rise again.”
It was to support that objective that U2 and Green Day crammed into Abbey Road Studios in London in September. They approached the session like a punk rock recording. “There was a lot of talking about who was going to play what, and then we just pretty much banged it out,” Billy Joe Armstrong recounted. It was the right approach for what they had in mind. With two drummers pounding out the beat, and Adam Clayton and Michael Dirnt laying down a monumental foundation on twin bass guitars, they thrashed a few Buzzcocks songs and a Stiff Little Fingers cover before getting down to the big one. What they had in mind was a football anthem, to honour the New Orleans Saints and to mark the re-opening of the New Orleans Superdome. They knew the perfect song, one that had already been sung on the terraces of Dunfermline Athletic FC, a team in the Scottish premiership.
The Hungarian writer Michka Assayas recounts that he encouraged Bono to work with producer Rick Rubin on U2’s next album. Whatever the inspiration, Rubin came to London too, and handled production duties. Looking for a song that would capture the spirit of the occasion, The band recalled the uncanny resonance of ‘The Saints Are Coming’, a relatively obscure one-time single by The Skids that also featured on Scared To Dance, the the Scottish neo-punk rockers’ debut album, released back in 1979. Written by Richard Jobson and Stuart Adamson, it told how “A drowning sorrow floods the deepest grief/ How long now? / Until the weather change condemns belief/ How long now?”. All that on the meteorological front – and a title that namechecked The Saints too? It was the one. The unusual sevensome whacked it down, with Billy Joe and Bono trading vocals, and Edge and the Green Day main-man swapping licks. Having customised the opening with a snatch of the old New Orleans classic, ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, they inserted a new bridge, written for the occasion, to complete the picture: “New birth, to the re-birth / New Orleans / Living like birds in the magnolia trees/ Child on a rooftop, mother on her knees/ Her sign reads ‘Please, I am an American...” The collaboration was unveiled live at the pre-game show of the New Orleans Saints .v. Atlanta Falcons game, on September 25 – as it happens, the 30th anniversary of the formation of U2. The single debuted at No.1 in Ireland.
With two anniversaries rolled into one, 2020 is an important moment for U2 – marking 40 years since their extraordinary debut album Boy, and 20 years since their marvellously resonant All That You Can’t Leave Behind. To celebrate, we released the Hot Press U2: 80-00-20 Special – out now!