U2 receive something of a mixed reception to their concert film Rattle and Hum. Cynical observers suggest they are presumptuously and deliberately attempting to place themselves in the Pantheon of Rock Greats alongside The Beatles, BB King and Jimi Hendrix. The band protest they are paying homage as fans, and are misunderstood.
Smarting from the criticism, but having sold seven million copies of the album regardless, U2 esconse themselves at Hansa Studios in Berlin, the epicentre of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, and now at the centre of the political world, just months after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Initially struggling to redefine their sound, they call in Brian Eno. The band unite with a song called “Mysterious Ways” which goes nowhere initially, but when Bono improvises a line “We’re one, but we’re not the same – we get to carry each other, carry each other” it begins to gel, and within a few hours the song “One” is born, becomes the centrepiece of the new album and brings with it some confidence that all are on the right track.
The album comes together, but the record company want something – a release date, a title perhaps, even an image for the cover…
Album titles are considered.
“Cruise Down Main Street”, a reference to the missiles used in the Iraq conflict combined with a classic Stones LP, is rejected.
“Fear of Women” which perhaps reflects the lyrical content of the album more accurately is also spurned for being too pretentious.
Then a new concept is considered: call the album “Man” – a nod to debut album “Boy”. Perhaps even call the album “Adam” – the first man, and the name of U2’s bass player…
Get Anton Corbijn to take a decent photo for the cover, of course.
But what should he take a picture of…?
It is at this point that the band thinks a naked picture of Adam Clayton would make a good concept.
It all seems like a good idea. All they have to do is tell the record company.
You can imagine how the conversation went….
Record Company Person: “Er, hey Bono – just wanted to know how you are doing with the new record?”
Bono: “Er, yeah. It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s aaaalright”…. hey, Edge, write that down. Sounds good.”
The Edge: “Sure. Heh, you’re coming up with lyrics while talking to the record company, eh? The Lord truly works in mysterious ways….”
Bono: “Hey, that’s brilliant! Write that down too!”
Record Company Person: “Er, Bono – we need to give something to the press office. They’ve been pestering us for weeks. They’re starting to panic they won’t have enough time to get the marketing campaign for the new album set up in time. We need to have something! The name of the album maybe? Perhaps some cover art submissions?”
Bono: “Oh. Already? Erm, well we did get a bit drunk last night and came up with an idea, but you’re not going to like it…”
RCP: “I’m sure it will be fine, Bono – all your previous artwork has been great – as long as Anton Corbijn is involved and is taking pictures – like the Joshua Tree – something moody and magnificent. You know, like an big tree or bush….
Bono: “Well, he’ll certainly be moody…not sure how magnificent…and there’s definitely bush…more a branch or twig than a tree trunk mind you….”
RCP: “Eh? Just send it over, Bono, there’s a good chap, and leave the rest to us.”
Bono: “ Okay, But remember, you asked for it…”
They take the photo, and send it to the record company.
They are serious. This is, as far as they are concerned, happening. Clayton’s little man is going to be a cover star.
It also has the added bonus that (I’ll make the joke before you do) Bono will no longer be described as the biggest d—- in U2…
Not unsurprisingly Polygram get the willies. Literally and figuratively.
With Joshua Tree having sold 14 million copies to date, and with Polygram having spent £300m on buying Island, U2’s record company, the idea of losing out on millions of sales of the new album because the cover has a picture of Adam Clayton’s dangly bits on it goes down quite poorly.
It does, on reflection, seem quite an odd thing for the world’s biggest band to want to do.
Instead, as the band have suggested a number of different concepts, they decide to use them all, in a style reminiscent of The Stones’ Exile on Main Street. The album cover is a mish mash of all of Anton Corbijn’s cover concepts, but still cheekily includes the photo of Adam Clayton’s appendage on the reverse. Corbijn isn’t delighted at the distillation of his work, but the band is happy and the record company breathes a sight of relief, (but apparently fail to notice the image remains hidden away).
And thus did Adam Clayton’s penis appear on the back cover of the vinyl version of Achtung Baby!
The CD and cassette versions were quickly spotted by sharp-eyed retail chains in the US, who refused to stock them for fear of corrupting the nation’s children, leading to CDs featuring a fig-leaf or an “x” over the offending appendage.
But because the vinyl was a limited run and not repressed, Clayton’s picture remains on the records in all it’s (ahem) glory. Collectors of records (and indeed collectors of naked pictures) can still pick up original copies of the album (albeit they appear to be increasing in price) and there is a new 2018 reissue.
But here’s the thing. The new reissue is not going to satisfy Adam Clayton’s most ardent fans: that infamous picture on the reverse of new copies is the censored version….