U2’s A Celebration was released as a non-album single in March 1982, between the records October (1981) and War (1983). U2 have re-released the track on two occasions; on the 2004 digital compilation album The Complete U2, and on the bonus disc of the remastered October in 2008. It’s the only U2 b-side to be played more than a hundred times on their tours.
The track was absent anything, really, even though the band did film and release a video for the song, most of which was shot in and around a prison in Dublin. The video was directed by Meiert Avis, who later wona Grammy Award for U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” and MTV Music Video Awards for U2’s “With or Without You” and Sakamoto and Iggy Pop’s “Risky”.
In a 1983 interview with KZEW Dallas, Bono indicated that the song was the source of controversy due to misinterpretation of the verse “I believe in a third World War / I believe in the atomic bomb / I believe in the powers that be / But they won’t overpower me” by fans who questioned his motives.
Interviewer: I wanna play the other side of that, which is ‘A Celebration’, since we have no hope in the world of hearing this tomorrow, since the band’s forgotten it we’re gonna play that. This is a terrific track, is it ever going to appear on an album?
Bono: No…(laughs) I don’t think so. It ah –
Interviewer: Do you not like it?!
Bono: No I do like it actually, I’m… sometimes I hate it, I mean it’s like with a lot of music, if I hear it in a club it really excites me, and I think it is a forerunner to War and a lot of the themes. It was great in Europe because… A song like ‘Seconds’ people thought was very serious – on the LP War ‘Seconds’ – it’s anti-nuclear, it’s a statement. They didn’t see the sense of humour to it, it’s sort of black humour, where we were using a lot of clichés; y’know It takes a second to say goodbye, blah blah, and some people took it very seriously. And it is black humour, and it is to be taken sort-of seriously, but this song had the lines in it, I believe in a third world war, I believe in the atomic bomb, I believe in the powers that be, but they won’t overpower me. And of course a lot of people they heard I believe in a third world war, I believe in the atomic bomb, and they thought it was some sort of, y’know, Hitler Part II. And Europeans especially were (puts on outraged French accent) Ah non! Vive le France! and it was all like, all sorts of chaos broke out, and they said, What do you mean, you believe in the atomic bomb? And I was trying to say in the song, I believe in the third world war, because people talk about the third world war but it’s already happened, I mean it’s happened in the third world, that’s obvious. But I was saying these are facts of life, I believe in them, I believe in the powers that be BUT, they won’t overpower me. And that’s the point, but a lot of people didn’t reach the fourth line.