U2 is one of the most successful, biggest selling, most honored, and most beloved bands to ever hit the big time. Growing up in Dublin, Ireland, Bono (Paul Hewson), The Edge (Dave Evans), Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr., first hit the radio, in America, with 1980’s Boy. The first single – I Will Follow – (a song about Bono’s mother) gave us a taste of what to come in the next three decades. From their rise through the 80’s, to their experimental days of the 90’s, to the rebirth of rock in the 2000’s, U2 keep proving that they are here to stay. With that in mind, here are my picks for the top ten songs by U2. (In parenthesis I will list the album from which the song originally appeared.)
#10) October (October). This was their second album. It may stand as the most underrated and least known album of their whole catalog. The simplicity of the title song is pure magic. It is a very different song from what you expect from U2. The way the piano intro lulls you into a level of instant comfort is remarkable. Bono doesn’t over sing the song, like many lesser musicians would, he just does it beautifully. For any casual U2 fan, October is a must hear. One of the most touching songs they have yet to record.
#9)I Will Follow (Boy). I briefly touched on this song in my introduction but it deserves inclusion on the list. Not only is it their first hit song, not only is it dedicated to Bono’s mother, but it has one of the best and most catchy guitar riffs of the 1980’s. This song is about as close to punk as U2 have ever gotten. It is a simple, three chords, guitar driven song that just works. It sounds as fresh today as it did when it was released over 26 years ago.
#8) Love Rescue Me (Rattle & Hum). Here is another song that most won’t recognize, but it is so remarkable that you need to discover it. This is a song that is a cry for the lonely. The title explains it all. It starts out as a slow, country sounding ballad, and it remains that way for about 5 minutes. At that point Bono wails his heart out in an up-tempo near scream that will bring tears to your eyes. I love this song.
#7) With Or Without You (The Joshua Tree). Everybody knows it and everybody loves it. It is one of U2’s biggest hits and is also one of the biggest hits of the 1980’s. In early 1987, when this song exploded on the world, U2 had officially arrived. Although it wasn’t their first hit, it was the one that put them on the map. It is also the song that earned them the title of Biggest Band in the World, a title they still haven’t relinquished. Though not their best song, it definitely deserves a spot on the list.
#6) The Fly (Achtung Baby). When I first heard this song, I thought that U2 were dead. It sounded nothing at all like everything else they had done. When I listened to it again, It started to grow on me. Then I listened to the whole Achtung Baby album a few hundred times. Now I realize that the song didn’t kill them, it didn’t reinvent them, it was just them at a whole new level. Edge gives us some of his best ever guitar work on the song although it is not what stands out. Bono’s experimental vocal styling is not a gimmick that blows up in his face, it adds to his brilliance. This is the song that begins U2 – the second coming.
#5) Exit (The Joshua Tree). This is a song that came under harsh criticism when it first came out. A teenager killed himself and the claim was that the lyrics to this song ‘inspired or made’ him do it. With lines like “he knew the gun was loaded/ he knew the gun would kill/ the pistol weighed heavy/ his heart he couldn’t feel”, it’s easy to point fingers. Although a touchy situation, the claims are ridiculous. All this aside, this song is power and emotion and pain at its best. It is the most powerful song they recorded until Love Is Blindness (yet to come on the list). The best way to hear this song is in the movie Rattle & Hum. When Larry hits the drums and cymbals in sync with the beat and bass, and the lighting matches him beat for beat, it still gives me goose bumps. A very strong, strong, song.
#4) Love Is Blindness (Achtung Baby). This song was written at a time when several members of the band were experiencing relationship difficulties with wives/girlfriends. Not only can you hear the pain that comes with this song, you can literally feel, taste, touch, and see it. This song is a masterpiece for the senses. I cannot honestly name one other song, by anybody, that is as emotionally driven, real, and dripping with agony and loss, as Love Is Blindness. If you are sad, listen to this song. If you are happy, listen to this song. It works for every mood, every time, every emotion. Its greatest asset is its honesty. I cannot say enough about this song. One little known bit of info – the song sounds best if you can track down a live recording of it from Giants Stadium. It was released on the cd-single “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” that Bono did with Frank Sinatra. This live version is the most hauntingly chilling song I have ever heard. The guitar work that The Edge plays here is less notes, chords, and rhythm, and more his soul bleeding from his heart on that given night. I have no way of knowing, but I’d bet money that The Edge was crying as he played the song that evening. You can hear it in how he plays. It’s less a song and more a look into his life.
#3) Bad (Wide Awake in America). When they performed this song live, at 1985’s Live Aid, in front of a few billion people (in person and watching on TV around the world), U2 made themselves known to America. New Year’s Day, Sunday Bloody Sunday, and Pride may have come earlier, but it was this song, this performance, that made them a household name. They instantly went from being a band that sang some good songs to a band that you had to hear, a band you wanted to hear more from. Plus, it is a beautiful song. One of the best songs ever written.
#2) All I Want Is You (Rattle & Hum). If you’ve never heard this song, all I can say is that I envy you. To be able to hear this song again, for the first time, is an experience that is all-moving. This song, in my mind, is one of the five greatest love songs ever written (by anybody). It is less a song, less a poem, and more a cry for love and beauty. There is nothing that I can say about the song that will do it justice. Just get the album (or watch the movie; it closes both), listen to it when there are no distractions, and enjoy.
That brings us to the top of the list. There are so many U2 songs that could have been included on this list – New Year’s Day, Please, Heartland, Acrobat, Stay (Far Away, So Close) just to name a few. In fact, they would be my numbers 11-15. But since I can only name my top ten best songs by U2, there is only one clear and obvious choice for number one…
#1) Where The Streets Have No Name (The Joshua Tree). Honestly, wouldn’t you have this song at number one as well? It was, and is, the epitome of what great rock n’ roll should be. Every aspect of this song is head and shoulders above all expectations. The intro is one of the best intros in all of music. The theme is so intense that it can make you become spiritual. The beautiful blend of keyboards, guitars, cymbals, and everything else flow together as if they were placed together by God himself. To experience this song at its best, you need to attend a U2 concert. About 3/4 of the way through the show, all lights in the stadium will go out…then the keyboard intro will begin. At this precise moment, the crowd will lose its collective mind with anticipation. Even if you know what comes next, you will still get chills up and down your spine each time you experience it. As the bass line and drums begin to combine into a living, breathing machine of love, Larry will strike a cymbal and every light in the stadium will instantly go on. This is the single greatest moment I have ever experienced in any concert that I’ve ever seen; and I’ve seen them all. It is something that all U2 fans, hell, all music fans MUST witness at least once in their lifetime. It cannot do justice to read about it, to see it on dvd, to hear it on cd; you have to be there. This is what rock and roll is all about.