Top 10 Favorite U2 Songs

I sometimes feel that U2 was the greatest rock band of my generation. They were huge yet I feel they were slightly underrated or misunderstood for simply the greatest “rock” band of a generation. Innovative yet at times normal. And moving. Yet, somehow I always am surprised by their success. They aren’t your traditional band, per se, when you get past the surface. Listening back to some of their material The Edge’s guitar is mind blowing and more often than not his Eno-produced guitars sound more like synths than guitars. And how when it’s “time” to take a solo he simply hits a few chords and takes the background a bit. That’s punk rock to me and there’s no safety pin involved. Definitely in my Top 10 Guitarists. And the drum production for their records recorded in the 80s is beyond anything in recorded music for that time. Not to mention all the political goodness Bono has done. Talk about a good use of power. Bono Vox for real. Not to belittle the power and emotional goodness of the Edge’s guitar work, but I wholeheartedly believe that the driving force with U2 is Adam Clayton. His bass work is insanely solid. He does exactly what he’s supposed to and then he pushes it, just slightly. Yet keeps it all together.

Also, let’s recall the early 90s. Grunge was everywhere. Good or bad. Even R.E.M. joined the bandwagon and started layering their guitars with distortion on their Monster release in ’94. But what did U2 do? They released a record (Zooropa) they wanted to that was kinda weird and seemed to have the least guitars of all their records and not to mention, was more European influenced with dance beats than any other record of theirs. It’s less about a dis to R.E.M. but more a hand clap to what U2 was doing then.

I remember the first time I heard this band. Sara Marcus made a mix tape for me on one of those Type I Maxell cassettes with the clear purple and yellow streaks on them. They had yellow stickers. So it wasn’t like I hadn’t heard their music. But I hadn’t owned a record of theirs. Only songs taped off the radio here and there. This was probably summer after freshman year of high school when we both were working at the JCC Summer Camps. Strangely, I was a counselor for an art camp. I think that Fall we had a friend-date where she came over and we watched Rattle & Hum. I remember Where The Streets Have No Name came on. The build up was immense. And as soon as the time changed from 6 to 4 and the bass and drums kicked in, all hell broke lose in the enormo-dome they were playing. It was complete ecstasy. I didn’t know it then, but I was being moved. And no bowel was involved.

  1. Where The Streets Have No Name (The Joshua Tree) – For many reasons. The guitar work. The bass. The intensity. And where this songs takes me. Who needs church when you have a DX7 synth.
  2. Elvis Presley & America (The Unforgettable Fire) – I feel this song came from hours of just playing in the studio and they selected 6 minutes from the session. I just feels too raw to be a “song”.
  3. A Sort Of Homecoming (The Unforgettable Fire) – When Bono sings “I am coming home” at the end when the song finally releases it’s chord structure I feel released emotionally on many levels.
  4. “40” (War) – Hey, it’s a Psalm. And it’s beautiful. Who woulda thunk the bible could be this beautiful.
  5. So Cruel (Achtung Baby) – There is that cliched Edge delayed guitar in the left channel that comes in at 1:15 that just haunts the song with future reprises. The delay in the hi-hats. The violin and viola. And I think the fact that Adam Clayton waits until after a verse and chorus, nearly 1/3 of the way in to the song to start playing. Now that’s restraint. In retrospect, the idea reminds me of Radioheads’s Airbag. Clearly not something new, but executed wonderfully. Stravinsky was on to something there. Or was that Chick Corea?
  6. Ultraviolet [Light My Way] (Achtung Baby) – The synth that takes the sorta-lead/bass in the intro (once the drums kick on) is stellar. Very seesaw. If only I could be that fly on the wall while recording went down at Hansa Ton in Berlin.
  7. With Or Without You (The Joshua Tree) – Until you’ve done a duet with Emily in the car on the interstate, you haven’t lived life. Also the Edge’s use of the Infinate Guitar made by Michael Brook is to die for. And did I mention the lack of guitar solo that is being begged for towards the end? Instead you get a quiet interlude and the song fades. I rest my case with The Edge, yet again.
  8. Love Rescue Me (Rattle & Hum) – A song built for Dylan on backup vox. And the pain and soul. My god. I also would like to add the fact that Rattle & Hum is a completely underrated record. Fuck the critics who panned the movie. They wouldn’t know good music if it shot up their ass and out their mouth.
  9. Mother’s Of The Disappeared (The Joshua Tree) – Vocoded drums. And the truth in this song will make you weep.
  10. Bass Trap (B-Side to The Unforgettable Fire) – Needs no explanation, but is obvious where The Verve acquired their inspiration for their first record.

3 Responses to “Top 10 Favorite U2 Songs”

  • I haven’t been able to stomach U2’s output from the last 10+ years or so, but the drum sounds on Boy and October are sickness. Couldn’t agree more with you about Adam; he’s the band’s secret weapon.

    Uugh, I can’t believe The Joshua Tree is 20 years old (!) this week…

  • 20 years old! Wow. I’ve been out of it. I wonder if there’s a special release coming. I’d love to hear those 4 track demos that the Edge recorded.

  • I would love to hear all of The Edge’s 4 track demos!

    You get a glimpse of them occasionally on documentaries, such as their Classic Albums episode. The Edge was a real wizard. Would love to hear his full archives! 🙂 4 tracking rules.

    You can hear some of my 4 track stuff on my blog, if you’re interested.

    (And yes, U2s more recent material just doesn’t seem to have any essentialness to it at all. Unfortunately.)

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