Best U2 Songs
These days liking or disliking U2 has become something of a dividing line between generations. People under a certain age are still annoyed about the album that auto-uploaded to their iTunes a few years ago. The older crowd still sees U2 firmly as the biggest rock band in the world, as demonstrated by their ticket sales and live performances. I know what side I am on. As a teenager I was religious about going out to buy every U2 album the minute it was released and was pleasantly surprised that album appeared on my phone!
I understand Bono bashing though… As a superfan member of U2.com last year I won tickets to see them play in Trafalgar Square. It was a truly memorable gig. One of the funniest parts though was when Bono asked the crowd to chant something they felt strongly about (footage from the show was later used in a music videos themed around protest songs). A group standing behind me started chanting ‘pay your taxes, pay your taxes!’. Very funny!
Whatever you think of Bono, I do think that U2 are the biggest rock band in the world. More than any other bands they are bigger than the sum of their parts. I can’t imagine being blown away by any of them individually (except for maybe the Edge, in a subtle way) but put them together… And I am pretty confident in saying that they (still) are the best live show out there.
So here are my favourite picks out of the less well-known corners of their huge catalog:
Two chords, a killer riff and guitar tone, a beautiful build up of textures and impressionist lyrics. The death by overdose at age 21 of one of Bono’s friends inspired the song. As all great songs (ref. ‘One’), it transcends the specific meaning in a truly universal way. The 1985 Live Aid performance gets all the attention but check out the 1987 live in Chicago version. You will find it on a bootleg called ‘Rock’s Hottest Ticket’ and the intro is as good as the performance. A gigantic song.
Probably the best known song from U2’s least well know album Zooropa, which in my opinion is a hidden masterpiece. ‘Stay’ was the signature track in Wim Wenders’ movie the Sky Over Berlin. The city inspired the song and U2 recorded much of the album there. Another set of impressionist lyrics which I never took the time to understand as they are so instinctively satisfying. A simple and repetitive electric guitar riff, a strummed acoustic guitar and Bono’s voice soaring over it all in his most classic way. I always thought that being able to write a great song from a title that is a simple and generic single word (think of ‘Bad’ above but also ‘One’, ‘Yesteray’ or Pink Floyd’s ‘If’) is a true mark of the best songwriters.
A lesser known track from Achtung Baby. The album is one of U2’s most famously innovative that rebooted their image and sound after they had become a little too earnest in their effort to be rootsy and authentic. The simple and hypnotic piano riff coupled with an almost-R&B beat fully hooks you in after a few bars so you can fully immerse yourself in the lyrics. Love turning to hate: ‘I’m only hanging on, to watch you go down, my love’. Dependency: ‘And you need her like a drug’. Reject: ‘The men who love you, you hate the most, they pass through you like a ghost’. The occasional lapse of reason: ‘To be with you, I’d be a fool’. If you’ve been there (I know I have!) this song will ‘cut through you like a knife’.