Noising Machine Singles Club: 12

U2 - 11 O'Clock Tick Tock (non-album single) [1980]



b/w “Touch”

Released 5/23/80


A lot of people reading this entry probably aren’t big U2 fans. Actually, some of you might actively hate them. But there was a time before all the grand gestures and posturing when U2 was just a band of Dublin high school-age Joy Division obsessives. That’s the time that this single, “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” hails from.

“11 O’ Clock” is certainly the U2 song most indebted to that Mancunian post-punk foursome. The single was produced by Joy Division and Factory Records house producer Martin Hannett, and even the sleeve was made by Factory Records house designer Peter Saville . The band first met Hannett during the recording sessions for Joy Division’s most famous song “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, which, for U2, must have been like if Ryan Meier could have watched Weezer record “Buddy Holly”, or if I could have watched Oasis record “Wonderwall”, etc.


Hannett was actually tapped not just to helm this non-album single but the entirety of the band’s debut Boy, an arrangement that fell apart upon the suicide of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis (an event that inspired the song “A Day Without Me”, found on the aforementioned album). Curtis’ death happened soon before U2 was due to record their album and the tragedy left Martin Hannett emotionally unable to begin the album at the neccessary time. Thus, producer Steve Lillywhite stepped behind the console and a long and fruitful relationship between he and the band began, one that continues to this day.

As for the song itself, it’s not a Joy Division xerox or anything…it definitely sounds like U2. Bono still sounds unmistakeably like Bono, albeit in his early, fake British accent phase. The Edge‘s guitar part is certainly reminiscent of Bernard Sumner‘s, but it also recalls the ringing tones of Keith Levene of Public Image Ltd. And the schoolboy choir vocal break is a technique that their heroes would be unlikely to utilize themselves. Its post-punk influence and muscular performance have made it one of my favorite U2 songs. Curiously, even though it ranks among the band’s top 20 most-performed songs (largely because it was including in almost all of the band’s sets from 1980-1984) and was included on their popular Under A Blood Red Sky live album, “11 O’Clock” remains relatively obscure. It’s never been included as part of a U2 best-of or singles collections, and until last year’s reissue of Boy (on which it was included as part of the supplements), it had never been widely available on compact disc.


While it’s unfortunate that “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” has become obscured by the likes of  “Beautiful Day”, ultimately its quality remains remarkably undiminished. If one is inclined enough to seek it out it provides a vision of U2 before the pomp and stadium circumstance, when the band were still an up-and-coming concern and willing acolytes to a more idiosyncratic sound.


Live at Red Rocks:

And a live version of b-side “Touch”, San Francisco circa ’81:


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