Let me say up front as you read my opinion on the top ten songs by U2 that, I’m a fan of the U2, but not one of those really, really big fans who has copies of the versions of songs only available in Bangladesh or Papua New Guinea on hand at all times. Therefore, please don’t get upset when my Top Ten Songs By U2 list is mainly a list of well-known songs by the band. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes, as in the case of U2, songs that are well-known and have stood the test of time can often actually be the best songs the band does. A song doesn’t need to be obscure to be great, and when a band has so many hits, it’d in fact be dumb to overlook the classics just because they’re classics. Anyhow, I present to you, my top ten favorite U2 songs, in no particular order.
1. One. I think this song really represents the group. Since the beginning, U2 has been a rock band with an eye on what’s going on in the world, and consistently, it’s songs have been about things like freedom, peace, unity, love. Plus consider all Bono’s extracurriculars. I think One best encapsules that whole spirit of the band. And it’s musically and lyrically a powerful song.
2. Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. You know the version I like best? The one with the Gospel choir adding their own verses. I love the combination of styles in the song, Bono’s voice and the gospel voices bringing out the spiritual elements of a song that already was infused with a spiritual quest vibe. This might be my favorite U2 song personally. (Also try: Where The Streets Have No Names, Desire)
3. Sunday Bloody Sunday. You can’t think of U2 without thinking of Ireland or without thinking of politics or without thinking of anthems. This song combines all three into one of the band’s first widely embraced hits. Also good for the purpose of comparing: songs by the young band and songs by the more mature, let’s say, band.
4. Walk On. A lot of people took this song to heart post 9/11 when things were very dark and bleak. No wonder why, since the song’s got a strong message of encouragement (and Bono openly invited Osama Bin Laden to kiss his backside at concerts…) But it’s also poetic and you can’t beat the guitar. All around a great song, and one in keeping with the ongoing soul searching theme U2 often deals with. So, what more do you need? (Also try: Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own)
5. Angel Of Harlem. This U2 song has a great blend of upbeat jangling guitar that brings you in from the start and lyrics that pay tribute to jazz legends like John Coltrane and the angel herself, Billie Holiday. U2’s connection to African American music is a recurring element, and this song is a fantastic valentine, blending jazz and blues history with guitar-strumming rock. (Also try: Mysterious Ways, The Sweetest Thing)
6. Beautiful Day. With the release of this single on All That You Can’t Leave Behind, U2 re-earned the title Best Rock Band In the World, or at least claimed they wanted to re-claim it. The lyrics of course remain smart and filled with topical references, but it also rocks as promised. (Also try: Even Better Than The Real Thing, Vertigo)
7. Pride. Here’s another U2 song linked to the band’s social justice interests and it’s connection to Black American history with it’s reference to Martin Luther King’s assassination. But that content only adds to a song that’s musically powerful with maybe the group’s most famous opening bars. Tackling a heavy theme and also rocking, that’s the classic U2 combination.
8. With Or Without You. If you’re in your early to mid-thirties and American, this may be the song you most associate with U2. Aficionados who know more songs than I do will probably have other answers, but I think this song always seems unique in sound, to me, and remains their most sensual love-related songs, too. (Also try: All I Want Is You)
9. When Love Comes to Town. This U2 song features co-lead vocals with B.B. King and the combination tears it up. B.B. and Bono combine for something of a down and dirty version of what Bono and the Gospel choir did in Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Blues meets rock and they have a party. But don’t miss the lyrics, eventually they refer to Jesus, too. You’ll have to go a long way to find another religious song like this. (Also try: One with Mary J. Blige.)
10. Elevation. It may be a long shot to get anyone to agree with me that this song, of all the U2 songs out there, belongs in the top ten, but as far as my personal preferences go, this song with it’s hard rock edge – pun intended – stands out from other recent hits. So, I add it. Rock on, Edge.