The Fly
by U2

Album: Achtung Baby (1991)
Charted: 1 61


  • This song was inspired by the work of Jenny Holzer, an artist who displays short, provocative statements using various media, which can be anything from T-shirts to projections on buildings. Here's an example:

    "I repeat, for the sake of a last, simple sweetness: the sun goes around the Earth, yes"

    Some are more pointed - the stuff that memes are made of:

    "Abuse of power comes as no surprise"

    After U2's wardrobe assistant Fintan Fitzgerald bought Bono a book of Holzer's statements, Bono started writing his own to form the basis of this song:

    "A liar won't believe anybody else"
    "A friend is someone who lets you down"

    Since these statements didn't reflect Bono's true beliefs, he created a character to say them, which is how The Fly was born.
  • On a French TV show called Rapido the band explained that they wanted to build a song "a la Pixies." Bono and The Edge were big fans of the band. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Nicolas - Grenoble, France
  • U2 chose this as the first single off Achtung Baby because of its innovative sound. The band felt that since they were in a position to experiment, they should. This helped them reestablish credibility as an "alternative" group.
  • Based on a combination of Jerry Lee Lewis, Jim Morrison and the televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, The Fly became a character Bono used on the group's Zoo TV tour. Wearing huge sunglasses and black leather, it was a parody of an egomaniacal rock star. Behind Bono, huge monitors flashed random words like "Sex," "Panic," "Death," etc. Bono attended some press conferences in the character of The Fly, complete with giant shades. He appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone as The Fly in their issue dated March 4, 1993.
  • Referring to this song's musical departure from U2's wildly successful 1987 album, Bono called it "The sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree."
  • This evolved out of the recording sessions for "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)."
  • The song is a look at fame and excess, a topic that intrigued Bono as he embraced his celebrity but was aware of its downside. Talking about the song in Rolling Stone, Bono said: "It was written like a phone call from Hell, but the guy liked it there. People thought we were just mocking rock'n'roll stardom and all that, but actually I was just owning up to it."
  • The vocals are heavily processed, adding to the feel that it was not really Bono singing, but a character he was performing.
  • The 1991 Gulf War started while the band was recording this song.
  • At the time after the Elevation tour of 2001, The Edge stated that "The song hasn't stood the test of time." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bill - Johnstown, PA
  • P.M. Dawn sampled this on their song "Fly Me To The Moon." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • A quarter of a century after the song's release, British singer-songwriter Paul Rose filed a lawsuit in a Manhattan federal court claiming that U2 used elements from his song "Nae Slappin" for "The Fly." He alleged in his 2017 suit that the band must heard his demo tape after they signed to Island Records in 1989 as it was "played and repeatedly listened to in the Island Records office", with U2 "often in the Island Records offices." Rose sought in his suit $5 million (£4 million) in damages and a songwriting credit.

    U.S. District Judge Denise Cote tossed out the lawsuit in January 2018, reasoning "The Fly" is not an infringing work.

    Listen to and compare "The Fly" with Paul Rose's "Nae Slappin" here.
  • Bono notes in the band bio U2 by U2: "The fly on the wall is a really insignificant image outside of voyeurism. 'A man will rise, a man will fall, on the sheer face of love like a fly from a wall.' It's saying: 'Scale this rock face at your peril. Lots have tried before you and have been left on the fly paper.' And the 'Shine like a burning star' part I sang in the Fat Lady voice, which is really a kind of Jaggeresque, campy falsetto."

Comments: 12

  • Chris from Germany Shock for fans in 1991. When they released it everything changed. Great video too.
  • Eddie from East Islip, NyBeing at the foot of the stage and watching Edge play the opening and the solo of The Fly was the greatest moment of any concert id ever been to.
  • Shawn from Frostburg, MdSomeone suggested that the Gulf War started while they were recording this. This is not true. I was in the Gulf War and remember listeing to this album constantly while in the Gulf.
  • Matt from Galway, IrelandI hate it when people think U2 suck. Of course, we all agree that some of their stuff is truly awful, and Bono is annoying. But Achtung Baby is an awesome album, and the guitar work in this is amazing! Plus, as I said, Bono is an annoying guy, but also happens to be one of the best singers in music all time!
  • Danleichty from Rochester, MnThis song is about the end of the world.
  • D from New York, NyBono said this song is about a man calling from hell on a pay phone about all of the things he's learned: "Hey I gotta go, yeah I'm running out of change . . ."
  • Ale from Necochea, ArgentinaWether Lou From NY is waay too good for guitar or Jack Lee is Lying: "first song I learned to play on guitar" vs. "The opening guitar riff proves how good The Edge can be"...
    :) :) :) :) :) :) :)
  • Jack Lee from Nottingham, EnglandThe opening guitar riff proves how good The Edge can be
  • Ryan from Albion, Nythis is a strange thing,i know; whenever i listen to that solo in the fly, tears come to my eyes..maybe because that solo is the next closest thing to being in Heaven..awesome song
  • Bethan from Bristol, England"The Fly" knocked off Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" from the #1 spot, after a consectutive run of 16 weeks at the top spot.

    "The Fly" single was only released for three weeks in the UK, before it was deleted.
  • Alejandro from Mexico D.f., Mexicothe live zootv version is quite better than the elevation tour version...
  • Lou from New York, NyThis song is awesome, first song I learned to play on guitar. Bono is also at his best, I think when he's the Fly, it's such a cool person he takes on.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Graduation SongsFact or Fiction

Have you got the smarts to know which of these graduation song stories are real?

Amy GrantSongwriter Interviews

The top Contemporary Christian artist of all time on song inspirations and what she learned from Johnny Carson.

John Lee HookerSongwriter Interviews

Into the vaults for Bruce Pollock's 1984 conversation with the esteemed bluesman. Hooker talks about transforming a Tony Bennett classic and why you don't have to be sad and lonely to write the blues.

How "A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss" Became Rock's Top ProverbSong Writing

How a country weeper and a blues number made "rolling stone" the most popular phrase in rock.

Al Jourgensen of MinistrySongwriter Interviews

In the name of song explanation, Al talks about scoring heroin for William Burroughs, and that's not even the most shocking story in this one.

Francis Rossi of Status QuoSongwriter Interviews

Doubt led to drive for Francis, who still isn't sure why one of Status Quo's biggest hits is so beloved.