25 Years Ago: U2 Kills Bryan Adams’s Record-Breaking Streak
In the summer and fall of 1991, you pretty much had to be living in a bunker to avoid hearing Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.” The Canadian rocker’s megahit seemed to exist everywhere: radio, MTV, even your local movieplex, because it was the theme song to that year’s blockbuster Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But its reign came to an end on Oct. 27, 1991, thanks to U2's return after a long layoff with a new sound.
In its omnipresence, “I Do It for You” notched some impressive streaks on the pop charts – seven weeks at No. 1 in the U.S., 10 weeks at No. 1 in Canada and a record-breaking 16 weeks atop the U.K. singles chart. Yes, for about four months (the bulk of July, August, September and October of 1991), Adams and his ballad claimed the top spot, holding off challengers from Heavy D and Extreme to Salt-N-Pepa and Scorpions. Even Right Said Fred wasn’t sexy enough to stop the ballad’s epic dominance.
However, for the past year, U2 had been working on music that would exemplify its new direction. American roots music was out; European dance music was in. U2’s new material would include tinges of industrial rock, hip-hop beats and jagged guitars, all paired with a sense of post-modern detachment in Bono’s lyrics.
While recording what would become Achtung Baby, U2 decided that “The Fly” was the best way to introduce the band’s new direction. The single would precede the release of the album, giving listeners their first taste of U2’s propulsive rhythms, the Edge’s buzzing attack and Bono’s ironic, new rock star persona. The frontman called “The Fly,” released on Oct. 22, “the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree.”
In mere days, the single debuted at the top of the charts, ending Adams’s historic run. However, some music insiders claimed industry shenanigans helped U2 score its second U.K. No. 1 single. Before its release, the band announced that “The Fly” would only be available for a few weeks, a ploy that critics assumed would drum up extra sales. U2 denied the accusation.
“They only did it because they want to release two singles and their new album before Christmas,” a band spokesman said. U2 was good to its word, following “The Fly” with the unveiling of Achtung Baby in mid-November and the “Mysterious Ways” single shortly thereafter.
U2 would eventually release six successful singles from its transformative album, although none but “The Fly” would top the British charts. In the U.S. – where “The Fly” stalled at No. 61 and Bryan Adams had long ago been knocked from his perch – the other songs would be more successful, with “One” and “Mysterious Ways” both becoming Top 10 hits.
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