In this song, Bono is looking for something outside his bubble. He was inspired to write the lyric after watching an atmospheric performance by the rockabilly/punk band The Cramps. "This was the peak of Goth and the gig was filled with candles," he recalled in the book U2 by U2. "Voodoo was the order of the day, there was the atmosphere of Black Mass, and I was thinking it was the night of the tragically hip. There was a lostness in the looks on their faces. It was that sepulchral make-up, white face, dark eyes, stuff my mates in the Virgin Prunes were up to their painted eyebrows in. But it felt like the end of the world. To a very young boy, 19 years old, from the suburbs of Dublin, it seemed there was no life here at all. There might have been more humor than I was capable of spotting at the time."
U2 had released some material in their native Ireland, but "Eleven O'Clock Tick Tock" was their first single released outside that country and their first on Island Records. They did a series of shows in England to support it.
The title doesn't appear in the lyric. It came from a note Bono's friend Gavin Friday (from The Virgin Prunes) left on his door when he came to visit and Bono was not home. At one point the song was called "Silver Lining," which also isn't in the lyric.
An influence on this song was inspired by the fragmented punk scene Bono saw when they opened a show in 1979 for The Talking Heads and Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark.
U2 would need separate wings in their mansions to hold all their awards, but one they probably remember well is the nod for Best Single this song won in the 1980 readers' poll from the Irish magazine Hot Press.
The Edge ran his guitar through a cheap echo unit he bought called a Memory Man, which gave him a distinctive sound that evolved into his signature.
U2 recorded this in Dublin with producer Martin Hannett, who also worked with Joy Division. Along with the B-side, "Touch," it's one of two songs Hannett produced for the band. Steve Lillywhite came in to produce their debut album, Boy.
The studio version didn't appear on an album until it was included on the 2008 remastered edition of Boy, but live versions show up on various compilations and live albums, most notably Under A Blood Red Sky. On that album, it's the only track taken from a performance at The Orpheum in Boston on May 6, 1983.