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Top 10 U2 Songs

This weekend on 92.9, we are bringing you the Top 10 songs from Irish Rockers U2.


10.

Vertigo

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004)

If All That You Can’t Leave Behind returned U2 to something like their pre-Achtung Baby selves, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’s roaring lead single took them back even further: inspired once more by the Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks, it stripped their sound to its elemental punk roots: one guitar, bass, drums.

This was used in commercials as part of a big promotional deal with Apple. The commercials, where many people first heard the song, promoted Apple's iPod. Apple also released a special-edition iPod with the signatures of the band members engraved on the back, and made the entire U2 catalog along with special bonus tracks available for download at iTunes for $150.


9.

All I Want Is You

Rattle N Hum (1988)

Of all Rattle And Hum’s attempts to tap into American music history, employing former Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks for All I Want Is You was the most inspired. His complex but beautiful string arrangement turns a straightforward love song into something richer, adding an undercurrent of uncertainty to Bono’s vocal proclamations. Bono wrote the lyrics about his wife Ali. The quiet verses are him telling her the words, the loud guitar pieces at the end of the verses is her reaction. At the end when he screams "All I want is you" 4 times, the Edge solos for that amount of time, as her reaction. The Edge came up with the guitar part while working on U2's song "Desire.


8.

Desire

Rattle N Humm (1988)

Rattle and Hum marked the point at which U2 allowed their passion and self-belief – and indeed their reaction to superstardom – to slip into bombast, but sometimes its experiments with US roots music work. Fizzing with their enthusiasm for music forbidden under post-punk’s rules, Desire’s irresistible Bo Diddley beat is evidence. The song incorporates a blues style. U2 became interested in American forms of music - gospel, blues, folk - after touring there in the early and mid '80s. This was U2's first #1 in Australia.


7.

Mysterious Ways

Actung Bbay (1991)

“Heavy-bottomed but light-headed” in the words of the producer Brian Eno, Mysterious Ways is one of a number of Achtung Baby tracks to bear the influence of contemporary indie-dance, an inspiration U2 were able to assimilate remarkably well, hence this gleefully lubricious blast of wah-wah guitar, congas and funky bass.

Recording the album, Achtung Baby, was challenging but ultimately very rewarding. So much so that Daniel Lanois, who produced it with Brian Eno, cites it as his favorite collaboration Lanois, who has also worked on albums with Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan and many others, has a long association with U2. He first worked with them on their The Unforgettable Fire album in 1984.


6.

With Or Without You

The Joshua Tree (1987)

Daringly at odds with then-prevalent trends for pumped-up and musclebound stadium rock, With Or Without You’s examination of faith and/or love is simple to the point of sounding stark: subtle, even subdued, never reaching the big climax you expect. None of which stopped it going to No 1 in the US, a very counterintuitive way of becoming the biggest band in the world.


In this song, Bono describes a tortured relationship that he can't escape. The lyric can be interpreted many ways; Bono explained that he wanted to write a love song that dealt with real issues.

The Edge used a distortion device called an "Infinite Guitar" to create the wail. It was invented by Michael Brook, whom The Edge worked with on the soundtrack for a 1986 film called The Captive. Brook created the Infinite Guitar by replacing the pickup on a guitar with a magnetic device that vibrates the strings. Daniel Lanois, who co-produced The Joshua Tree album with Brian Eno, told Songfacts: "We had a little secret weapon. It was called the 'infinite sustain guitar,' invented by my good friend Michael Brook, a Canadian associate. Michael had invented this instrument where you didn't have to use your right hand on the guitar. You just held a note with your left hand, and he had a little self-looping system built into the instrument. But as you went up higher on the guitar, the infinite sustain just kept going into the stratosphere. So, that sound that you hear, I was taking the infinite sustain guitar out of the box and plugging it in to see what it did, and it started making that sound. The Edge was really just testing the guitar to see what it could do. He did a take, and I said, 'That sounds pretty good. Can you try another one?' And then we did a second one, and that was it. We did a little 'best of the two performances,' and then it became that signature, high-frequency stratospheric sound on 'With Or Without You.'"


5.

Where The Streets Have No Name

The Joshua Tree (1987)

Where the Streets Have No Name had inauspicious beginnings: in effect written to order – The Joshua Tree was “short [of] a certain kind of song”, the Edge later recalled – the band struggled to record it, and Eno was so unimpressed he attempted to wipe the tape. He would have erased a song that perfectly sums up U2’s appeal.


Powered by a particularly gripping example of Edge’s patent echo-drenched arpeggios, it is breathlessly exciting without ever resorting to rock anthem cliche (the time signature changes twice). The lyrics seem to be as much about the ability of music to inspire joyful transcendence as the divisions in Belfast that inspired them and the chorus soars irresistibly. “The ultimate U2 live song,” Edge suggested. He was right.



4. Pride (In The Name Of Love)

The Unforgettable Fire (1985)

The song that in effect sent U2 supernova plays fast and loose with the facts of Martin Luther King’s murder – he was shot in the afternoon, not the morning – but it hardly matters. As straightforward a lunge for anthem status as they had yet recorded, Pride worked. This began as a song about US president Ronald Reagan.

Bono had lyrics written condemning Reagan for an arrogant pride that led to nuclear escalation, but it just wasn't working. "I remembered a wise old man who said to me, don't try and fight darkness with light, just make the light shine brighter," Bono told NME. "I was giving Reagan too much importance, then I thought Martin Luther King, there's a man. We build the positive rather than fighting with the finger."

Chrissie Hynde (lead singer of The Pretenders) sang backup. She was married to Jim Kerr of Simple Minds at the time and was thanked on the album as "Mrs. Christine Kerr."

3.

Beautiful Day

All That You've Left Behind (2000)

Trailed as a return to basics after the failed experiment of their album Pop, All That You Can’t Leave Behind wasn’t quite as straightforward as that, but U2 songs come no more direct and powerful than its lead single. Everything about Beautiful Day clicks perfectly, the apparent effortlessness of its widescreen euphoria at odds with its tricky gestation.

The lyrics were inspired by Bono's experience with Jubilee 2000, a benefit urging politicians to drop the Third World Debt. Bono describes the song as about "a man who has lost everything, but finds joy in what he still has." This song was one of the first major releases made available for download. Fans could stream the song from U2.com before it was released.


2.

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

The Joshua Tree (1987)

The gospel inflections and earnest tone of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For are precisely the kind of thing that winds up U2’s detractors. But blessed with a melody that sounds it has somehow always existed, its strength lies in the fact that it doesn’t deal in pious sermonising; its expressions of spiritual doubt are disarmingly heartfelt. The lyrics could refer to a search for spiritual enlightenment or a search for love. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Bono said the song was "an anthem of doubt more than faith." The Edge came up with the title and melody, and Bono wrote lyrics around it.

1.

One

Achtung Baby (1991)

Achtung Baby is rightly heralded as one of the great 180-degree artistic turns a major band has ever performed, but at its heart lies a traditionally U2-esque song: a love ballad that reaches for bigger topics – “We’re one, but we’re not the same, we get to carry each other” – so emotionally powerful it apparently reduced Axl Rose, of all people, to floods of tears.

The band wrote this song in Berlin after toiling there for months trying to record Achtung Baby. The Berlin Wall had just fallen, so the band was hoping to find inspiration from the struggle and change that was coming to the region. Instead, they found themselves at odds with each other and unable to do much productive work.


This song came suddenly - the bones of it written in about 30 minutes by most accounts, and it rejuvenated the band creatively. When they left Berlin, they had little to show for it except for this song, but they were able to complete the album back home in Ireland with this song as the centerpiece. Says The Edge: "It was a pivotal song in the recording of the album, the first breakthrough in what was an extremely difficult set of sessions." The line "One life, with each other, sisters, brothers" was voted the UK's favorite song lyric in a 2006 poll by music channel VH1.