In February, the night before the Grammys, two of the biggest rock bands in the world sat down together for a long, boozy dinner at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont Hotel. As the seven members of U2 and Green Day ate and drank wine, they tossed around the idea of making some music together. “We just felt that these were some great people — the way their values were wired was so similar to ours,” says U2 guitarist the Edge. “We resolved to keep an open mind about things that we might do together that have some kind of significance.“
Seven months later, they found a project. In the second week of September, Green Day and U2 came together again, in Studio Two of London’s Abbey Road studio — the Beatles’ preferred room — and worked up a cover of “The Saints Are Coming,” a rousing 1978 tune by Scottish punk rockers the Skids. The song will likely be released as a benefit single for the rebuilding of New Orleans, and the two bands will debut it live on September 25th at the reopening of New Orleans’ Superdome, before local NFL team the Saints’ first home game since Hurricane Katrina. The two bands will be joined by New Orleans musicians, and the Edge will also play with Green Day on one of their own songs. The performance will be broadcast on ESPN and streamed on Rhapsody, “If there’s any statement, it’s us showing up and wanting to support the city,” says the Edge, who arranged the collaboration as the latest venture of Music Rising, the New Orleans-focused charity he started with producer Bob Ezrin. “It’s about rebirth and the future and things coming back to normal.“
Each of the two bands had already been working in the studio on its own: Green Day are writing songs for a follow-up to American Idiot, and U2 had been writing and doing some casual recording for a studio album likely to come out next year. U2 have been working with producer Rick Rubin, who also came along for the session with Green Day.
The sessions took place over three days. “It was almost a punk-rock recording in a lot of ways,” says Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. “There was a lot of talking about who was going to play what, and then we just pretty much banged it out.
“To be sitting there in the studio with U2 and talking on a creative level was something you wouldn’t imagine in your wildest dreams,” he adds.
The two bands worked up an arrangement in which both drummers and bassists played at once, while Armstrong shared lead vocals with Bono and guitar parts with the Edge. Along the way, they also fooled around with other material. “We staned playing Buzzcocks songs and a little bit of Stiff Little Fingers and, because it was Abbey Road, some Beatles songs, too,” says Armstrong. “Some of it sounded god-awful, and some of it was pretty good.“
There was time for a few laughs, too: “Bono sent my wife a dirty e-mail — that was kind of funny,” says Armstrong, who adds that the sessions sparked a friendship. “If anything, we can sit around and have a couple of pints.“
This story is from the October 5, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.