So, you know those hidden tracks…
Well, let’s just say that after having its birth with the Beatles in 1964, by the time Nirvana recorded their noisy “Endless, Nameless” as a hidden track following 10 minuets of silence at the end of Nevermind in 1991, it was…officially..a thing, shall we say. But what Nevermind did was bring it to the CD-age of Gen X, and make a heck of a lot more people know about it, and it inspired copycats, most notoriously was Weird Al Yankovic’s “Bite Me”, 6 seconds of shock that follow 10 minutes after the end of his Off the Deep End (1992), with the idea being that it scares people who forgot to turn off the CD player, rather than reward them.
And that’s more or less what U2 did with the BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP at the tail end of Zooropa (1993).
Zooropa, their underrated 1993 record, was their least U2 sounding yet, featuring influence from the likes of industrial, electronica/dance, sampling, and Europe. And Europe was very much the centre of the album, and each of its songs are set in the utopian “Zooropa”, a unified Europe. But sheesh… that beep beep beep!
What U2 had decided to do was follow in Weird Al’s footsteps by hiding a sound at the end of the album, rather than a random experimental throwaway (no matter how good a throwaway it might be). And so it was. When the final listed track, track 10, “The Wanderer” (track 10) finished fading out its deliberately kitschy electronic sound, we are left with silence from 4:41 – 5:13. So, only 32 seconds of silence then, rather than 10 minutes, but okay. But what then follows is a BEEP BEEP BEEP…okay, sorry, a repetitive siren or alarm sound. It fades in, but very fastly, and was well known to still shock listeners when the first heard it. It goes beep in an obnoxious, loud, WTF is going on way for 25 seconds, and then, at 5:38, it abruptly finishes with what sounds like a wire being pulled out an amp. Then that’s it then.
Want to hear it? Skip to 5:13 into this:
So now you’ve heard it too. And maybe you are wondering…why?
Why oh why indeed!
Its anyone’s guess, but…
Well obviously, being U2, and them having millions of fans, there are many theories on this siren sound. But first, lets establish what the sound is:
Well, the sound is apparently the alarm that radio disc jockeys hear after there has been too much dead air (which is when the radio is broadcasting but not playing anything, including voice) – so the DJ is “warned” he is committing radio crime. How would that fit into Zooropa? Well, the album takes cues from dance culture, but that’s not radio. I suppose there’s a lot of vocal samples on this album, and this siren is apparently what those radio DJs hear when they aren’t using their voices.
This theory that the sound is a dead air warning would work well, because it comes after 30 seconds of silence on the album, and 30 seconds sounds like a fair enough duration for it to appear on radio after dead air. Silence is dead air, after all.
Yet some people deny that it is a properly used dead air warning (apparently termed “emergency broadcast signals”).
But its also been suggested that the sound is the sound of a nuclear power station going into meltdown. A meltdown, hey? It sounds…nothing to do with Zooropa but yet, you should also know that on the album cover, a hazard symbol is hidden in the background – which is also on the back cover in the same location, except this time not hidden.
Well, now you can see it anyway.
But I’m struggling to see why its even on the artwork anyway. The woman’s face and lips appear to me to relate to track 2, “Babyface”, about a man obsessing over a celebrity to the point of manipulating her image on the TV, whilst the random world leaders are…well I’m not sure. This album does sample George Bush Sr’s “what do you want”, a Nazi Youth banging a bass drum from a propaganda film, a fanfare from the Lenin’s Favourite Songs album and the first track has advertising slogans, so for any political message past the apparent unified Europe, its a mess. But the hazard symbol could be on to something.
Or, y’know, maybe not, because another legitimate idea is that this is just a sound motif that evolved as part of one of the band’s tracks but was turned into the siren sound and dumped at the end. Its unlikely, but intriguing, because firstly, the end of the album’s first song (title track “Zooropa”) ends with a rapid rhythmic synthesiser squelching fast so much on its own that it dies, that fast squelching, if slowed out and pitch altered, could almost resemble the siren. Then there’s also the incorrect statement about the siren being from the album’s 6th track, “Daddy’s Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car”, which was raised by one fan, but if you listen to it, you’ll realise he’s wrong. Although this song does feature a squelchy sound at first, and the lyric “you’re a siren’s song”.
However, the band’s first major release after Zooropa (therefore after the alarm) was the 1995 single “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” which, although from the Batman Forever soundtrack, was actually developed in the Zooropa sessions, and the start of that track is basically the siren sound played on a glammy guitar, even with a bit of sireny distortion.
Now, I don’t think it can be argued that its a coincidence. They are identical, except played with different instruments in different keys and what not, and if that song came from the Zooropa sessions, its a bit more plausible, but also that this was the first major new sound of U2 heard after the siren (excluding B-sides).
To be honest, this might seem more believable if I were to tell you that U2 had pulled a similar stunt before. At the end of vinyl copies of their debut album Boy (1980) was a low-quality, instrumental, 30-second snippet of a song, which was not mentioned anywhere on the packaging. When the band released their track “Fire” the next year, it was clear that the snippet was an early version of that.
However, one of the most believable theories about the Zooropa siren is that it is like an alarm clock. The siren is not siren at all, just an alarm. Why? Because one of the tracks that was intended for the album was a track called “Wake Up Dead Man”, and part of the name of the track can be seen hidden as purple text on the cover. The alarm is telling you to wake up, dead man. And this might fit into the theme of the album, about Europe, and the whole Zoo TV thing they were doing. Being Bono, don’t rule out that he’s not prompting your ass in his pilgrim-y, cheeky way. Zoo TV was the tour that accompanied Zooropa and its predecessor, Achtung Baby. The tour, which featured countless television screens, which flashed all sorts of stuff including 10-frames-a-second word messages and live television (with Bono channel flicking), Bono dressing up as ironic personas, prank calling the President and taxi companies – all on stage – was intended to be a “sensory overload”, satirising the media oversaturation to which we had grown accustomed, and the likes of disparate television programming, morning zoo radio, and, as the media oversaturation tag would suggest, our desensitization from mass media. The whole thing was a thrill, and changed music touring forever.
Do you see the link closer now? The siren could be telling you to wake up, dead man, not as a sign of being brainwashed but because, as one of Bono’s on-stage alter egos would tell us, the people of Europe “were all hooked up to one machine”. Television! The theme was obviously TV on the tour, from the blatant “WATCH MORE TV” message that perfectly culminated the overload of media infatuation during “The Fly” and, as Mirror Ball Man, a parody of American car salesman, he has a vision. He HAAAAS a vision. Television!
There is also a theory that the siren is just a joke. I know that might not sound like U2, but this was 1993 U2, which was full of irony and humour. And actually, they said that the reason “The Wanderer” is the last proper song on the album is because the band wanted to end the album on a “musical joke” – as the song is intentionally a bit kitschy and easy listening (although Johnny Cash transforms it). But maybe this “musical joke” carries on to the very end of the album.
Oh, and some people think the sound is a spaceship. Like on Star Trek. And to be honest, there are probably more theories.
However! Some of the videos played on the TVs during the Zoo TV tour were manipulated clips (in some way or another) which had been stitched like so by the Emergency Broadcast Network. Maybe they have something to do with the siren? The Emergency Broadcast Network were a multimedia performance group, and they even did their own alternative music video to the famous video for “Numb”, Zooropa‘s first single and “video single” (it was released as a VHS, not a CD, or 7″, or cassette).
But anyway, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. But it didn’t end here for hiding the siren.
Because in 2001, a completely different era for the band, their concert DVD Elevation 2001: Live in Boston featured two DVD easter eggs (you know the ones, accessible via certain key combinations on certain screens). These eggs were tracks from the concert filmed from the perspective of Bono. However, at the very start of these eggs, is a strange signal sound, followed by literally 1 second of the Zooropa siren. What’s that about?
And if you think that was them just teasing fans, it would appear that I am the only one to notice. At least, no one else on the web has.
But anyway, that’s not just it. Because, as another DVD easter egg for the 2007 re-release of the 1994 concert video Zoo TV: Live from Sydney (that was the tour supporting Zooropa, remember) they hid yet another siren. Stop hiring these sirens, U2!
But what was it this time? A 75-second video of war-themed atomic bomb warning drills. I don’t know what its supposed to mean. My theory its something that the Emergency Broadcast Network put on one of the Zoo TV screens during the concert at some point. But again, open for theory.
It is found after accessing the “Extras” section on the DVD and highlighting the “DVD” credits. Press the down key, followed by the right key on your remote, and then a no-access symbol shows in the centre of the screen. Pressing “Enter” will show a screen with “Abort” written on it. Entering the numbers “1993” will make the clip play. It’s all a bit odd. But … Abort?
Maybe some fans might want to worm the word “abort” into their own, new theory about the Zooropa alarm…
But yeah, not much else to say, except you know that this is FAR, FAR, FAR from the only time U2 have hidden something on their albums. On the same album, Zooropa, parts of the names of some of the songs intended for the album appear in the electronic text on the album cover, and at the end of the thank you notes in the booklet is a cryptic message which awards “The Freedom of Zooropa” to two people we’ve never heard of. I don’t get it. Then there is also how the actual CD, which doesn’t mention U2 or Zooropa, shows some sort of electronic collage.
You’ll be more interested Pop (1997) and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004), which feature hidden dedications on the back of the CD (near the centre, where the matrix numbers usually are). Side 1 of the Rattle and Hum LP (1988) pulls the same trick, where instead the hidden dedication is presented as a dead-wax etching in the inner groove. Their 2009 album No Line of the Horizon features a hidden excerpt of the Fibonacci sequence in the artwork of the digipak special edition. The bonus DVD for the aforementioned Atomic Bomb features an easter egg of handwritten lyrics. Plus there’s plenty of hidden tracks, and what not. But we’ll leave all that for another day.