"A Sort of Homecoming" is the first track of U2's 1984 album, The Unforgettable Fire. A live version of the track is found on 1985's four-track EP, Wide Awake in America. It is also the only song with lyrics inside the sleeve for the album.
As the opening track on The Unforgettable Fire, "A Sort of Homecoming" epitomises the new direction U2 had taken. A far more atmospheric album than the previous overt-rock of War, the album has a rich and orchestrated sound.Like much of the album, the song replaces the hard-hitting martial drum sound of War with a subtler polyrhythmic shuffle, and the guitar is no longer as prominent in the mix.
On the War Tour and leading up to recording The Unforgettable Fire, U2 lead singer and lyricist, Bono, had become a voracious reader. He read fiction, philosophy and poetry, and came to realise that his song-writing mission—which up to that point had been a reluctant one on his behalf—was a poetic one. He read works of poet Paul Celan, whose line "poetry is a sort of homecoming" inspired not just the song's title but the song itself. Celan's profound spiritual doubt contrasts with U2 members' previous religious certainties. The song's line "on borderlands we run...and don't look back" suggests the band had become more comfortable with the contradictions between rock and religious beliefs in comparison to during the October-War period. The phrase, "poetry is a sort of homecoming" had additional significance for Bono as a singer who was constantly away from home and travelling
Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin wrote for Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time the section on U2, saying: "I don't buy weekend tickets to Ireland and hang out in front of their gates, but U2 are the only band whose entire catalogue I know by heart. The first song on The Unforgettable Fire, "A Sort of Homecoming", I know backward and forward—it's so rousing, brilliant and beautiful. It's one of the first songs I played to my unborn baby."
"A Sort of Homecoming" live premiere was during The Unforgettable Fire Tour on 17 September 1984. When played live, the song would start acoustically with just The Edge playing while Bono sang. After the first verse, the rest of the band would join in.
It was played regularly on the rest of The Unforgettable Fire Tour, typically after "The Electric Co.", and was played occasionally on the first two legs of the next tour, The Joshua Tree Tour. It was dropped from the band's live set on 27 June 1987 and did not reappear until the second leg of the Elevation Tour in 2001.
It was played at the band's homecoming gig at Slane Castle in Ireland on 25 August 2001. The performance didn't go very well as Bono forgot many of the lyrics. It made only one more Elevation Tour appearance, at a concert in Oakland on 16 November 2001, where a fan was pulled on stage to play guitar with the band and he began playing "A Sort of Homecoming". The band played along with him but Bono's recollection of the lyrics was even worse than the previous performance. The song has not been performed since.