Sunday, December 30, 2012

The U2 Countdown

I've made no secret of my love for U2. Their music is great, but the band itself is a source of great inspiration. Their road to success is one that writers should probably look at (I talked about that here), because it wasn't overnight. They pursued it and worked at it even after they achieved it. But they are so much more than just a band (a great book about that is Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas).

As my wife was saying, the reason for this post may just be an excuse for me to get to listen to a lot of U2. And, believe me, I've done just that. In the last few days, I've gone back through every album, some of them more than once (just because I'd forgotten how good, say, Zooropa actually is) and listed out all of my favorite songs from each album. Of course, there's also that I've been saying I should do this for, probably, over a year, so, since this is the list time of year, I figured it was as good a time as any. And, then, there was the listening to U2. What I've found is that boiling U2 down to 10 songs may be impossible, so let's see how I do with that.

But, before I go on to the list, I did make an interesting observation: the degree to which I like an album may not be related to how much I like the individual songs on it. For instance, I love No Line on the Horizon. It has a great overall sound and continuity, but I don't love the songs individually as much as I like songs on other albums, albums which I may not actually like as much as No Line. In fact, many of my favorite songs come from The Joshua Tree, but it's not higher than third on my list of albums from them (which does not change my mind on the fact that I think it's probably the greatest album of all time and, yet, I still love Achtung Baby more).

At any rate, U2 has probably been the most significant band in history, which is not to say that a lot of people wouldn't argue about that, but, mostly, people will argue from the place of what they prefer rather than what it means to be significant. The Beatles are probably the only real contender as most significant band, but, applying some objective measures to what each band has accomplished, other than make music, The Beatles didn't really accomplish all that much. Then, again, I'm biased, which is why I say people may want to argue about it. I'll say this as a comparison, though: I love the band The Alarm, but I would never try to make an argument for them being significant. Anyway... I don't suppose any of that is really all that important. A band's significance has nothing to do with whether anyone will like or not like their music. I don't much care for The Beatles, but I can't deny their significance.

One other thing I should say about me and music: I'm highly attracted to lyric content. By that I mean I want my songs to say something. It's not uncommon that I will like a song when I first hear it because I like the music, but, once I figure out the words, I will quit liking it either because I don't like the message or it just doesn't have one. U2 appeals to me in that their music is about something. Often, their songs are about conflict, both external and internal, and those contradictions appeal to me. That being said, some of the double listings (but not all) are for songs that are thematically equivalent (at least, in my mind). Mostly, the double listings are just because I couldn't pull a top 10 out of the 40+ songs I had listed.

Okay! On to the list! My top songs by U2 (links provided if you want to listen to the songs):

10. "October" from October and "40" from War

  • "October" -- I just love this one. Beautiful music and a powerful message.
  • "40" -- How could I not include the song they used to end all of their concerts with? Besides, the lyrics are pulled from "Psalm 40," just like the title says.

9. "Window in the Skies" from U218

  • Like many of U2's best songs, this one has a meaning under the obvious one, not that the obvious one isn't good enough for a song. You'd have to do away with nearly every love song out there if love wasn't a strong enough message, but it's more than just a song about love, because it's a song about the transformative power of Love. And, then, the song goes deeper than that.

8. "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" from How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" from All That You Can't Leave Behind

  • These two songs speak to me on the same level; both are about people not being able to admit that they need help. Too many people can't or won't admit they need help, and, sometimes, I'm one of those people. I hate when I hit a situation that I just can't deal with. Often, there are people on the outside of those situations saying, "Hey, I can help," but we just don't want to listen.

7. "One" from Achtung Baby and "All I Want Is You" from Rattle and Hum

  • These two songs are simultaneously alike and different. I mean, completely alike as in almost the same and, yet, completely opposed to one another. Listen to the songs if you want to figure that out.

6. "The First Time" from Zooropa

  • I don't know what to say about this song without actually going through the whole thing, which I'm not going to do. It just has some amazing lyric images, especially about how we may respond to unconditional love.

5. "Elevation" from All That You Can't Leave Behind and "Pride (In the Name of Love)" from The Unforgettable Fire

  • "Elevation" -- Immediately my favorite song from All That You Can't Leave Behind, which is probably my second favorite album and has a lot of songs on it that I just love. My oldest was four when the album came out, and we used to blast this song in the car and sing it together. Yes, it has some sentimental value to it. The video's a lot of fun, too.
  • "Pride (In the Name of Love)" -- A tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. with an obvious meaning and message. It's a great song.

4. "New Year's Day" from War

  • I almost put this song with "Pride," but I really do like it more. It's probably actually in competition for a spot higher than this, but it just gets edged down the list, hitting #4. It wants to be higher but can't quite overpower the powerhouse of Joshua Tree. "Gold is the reason for the wars we wage."

3. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "Where the Streets Have No Name" from The Joshua Tree

  • "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" -- This is, in many ways, the quintessential U2 song for me. More than any other song, it openly displays the conflict between belief and, well, belief. I believe, but I'm not satisfied with the options. I'm still looking. I believe, help my unbelief.
  • "Where the Streets Have No Name" -- This song is so linked to "Still Haven't Found" for me that I can't separate them. Different songs with a similar theme in that they both deal with what we, as humans, are striving for. This one, though, is the reach for a better place, a place where we are not judged by what street we live on, a place where the streets have no name. Heaven. When I was in high school, my youth pastor made a snide remark to me about listening to this song, to which I replied, "Mike, what place do you think they mean when they say 'where the streets have no name?'" He just sort of stared at me for a moment and turned and walked away. One of my favorite performances of this song was done by the band Mercy Me at a Christian music festival. They ended with this song, saying it was their favorite song from their teens about heaven. After they finished, the host came out on stage and said something like how "even a band like U2" can give us praise music... "even a band like U2." Talk about being ignorant of your subject matter. But, then, I suppose Jesus faced the same kind of thing from the pharisees. Which is not to draw a comparison between U2 and Jesus, but...

2. "With Or Without You" from The Joshua Tree

  • This song, which I love, gets the #2 spot largely for sentimental reasons. I do think they have better songs, but this was the first song I ever heard by them, and it caught my attention the very first time I heard it. I had one of those "who is that?" moments, which I don't actually have all that often and had never had before. None of the people I was with knew who it was, either. I'm not sure what that says about any of us. Actually, I know what it says about me: Prior to U2 I listened to what was classified as "light" rock, stuff like Air Supply. "With Or Without You" was the first song that fit the music profile of the radio station I listened to back then, so it was the first song I heard by them because it was the first song my station ever played by them. However, I have nothing to say for my friends, since they all listened to rock music and really have no excuse for not at least knowing who U2 was.

1. "Bad" from The Unforgettable Fire

  • Bono has said that the writing in this song isn't actually very good, but that it manages to be a good song anyway. In fact, he never really even finished writing it. Nevertheless, it's been my favorite song by them since shortly after I found it during my U2 exploration. I worked my way back through all of their albums, and, even with as much as I love Joshua Tree, I love this song more. It's the discordant images.
Honorable mentions:

"Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" -- Not my favorite U2 song, but almost my favorite Christmas song. Yeah, sure, if I have to choose, there are Christmas songs I like more, but, still, it's not Christmas for me without this song. The one thing it does do is make me wish U2 would do a Christmas album.

"Sweetest Thing" -- U2 is the only band I know of that have had numerous B-sides go on to become hits. As it's been said by many people in the music industry, U2 discards songs to B-sides that most bands would be more than happy to lead with from an album. "Sweetest Thing" is my favorite of U2s B-sides, and it almost made the top "10."

"Silver and Gold" -- Another B-side that has become a big hit for them. Great song.

"Unchained Melody" -- My favorite cover by U2. I like the original, but I like U2's even better.

There you go, my top 15 "Top 10" U2 songs. Plus a few more. And, I just have to say, this post took me longer to research and write than any other post I've ever done, which is actually saying something. But it was great fun. And, yes, I know I probably know more about U2 than is normal, but I also know even more about Lewis and Tolkien, and I bet none of you think that's weird. And none of that comes close to what I know about Star Wars, and, hey, compared to what some people know, what I know about Star Wars is practically normal.


  1. In God's Country, from the Joshua Tree and Ultraviolet Light from Achtung baby. Lemon from Zooropa.
    I love the way U2's music still makes me dream.

  2. Was never a U2 fan. (That's right, throw your U2 CDs at me - I'll wing my Pantera and In Flames discs right back at you.) But I do like Beautiful Day and can play it on my guitar.
    Have a great New Year's Eve - see you on the other side.

  3. Great post and You definitely picked some nice song choices from U2!

  4. With Or Without You all the way.

    I've never heard their cover of Unchained Melody before but I'm going to go track it down and give it a listen.

  5. A lot of these I haven't heard, so I'll be checking them out today.

    I used to have a bootleg live album of a U2 concert from Chicago where they did "Bad" and had this great introduction about the song. That's how I grew to love that song. The album version is okay but that live version gave me goosebumps.

    Have you heard their cover of "Everlasting Love?" It's pretty good, too.

    What I like best about U2 is that they don't rest on their laurels. They could've kept on putting out Joshua-Tree-esque stuff for years, and coasted, but they took it in a variety of different directions. Not always successfully, but at least they kept trying to be creative. I ranked them as one of the best rock bands ever, a while back, and I more or less agree with everything you said here.

  6. I do like U2. The young man and I have an ongoing joke about U2.

    1: I love you.
    2: I love U2.
    1: Well, they're all right.

  7. They do have great lyrical content and as Irishman they better! I saw them in concert way, way back and Los Lobos was to be their opening act. Los Lobos got stuck at the airport and couldn't make it on time. None of us knew this.

    It was past opening time for the show when this Country and Western band took the stage. We were all confused, but they were good. I was in the third row and after a little while I thought something looked familiar about the singer. It was Bono! Eventually the whole crowd figured it out and it was splendid. After they played a full set of country music, they explained what happened. Changed clothes then came back and gave us a full 2 hour show. It was the Joshua Tree tour. Fabulous it was!

  8. I agree with everything you say about U2. I have been in love with them ever since the Joshua Tree and that's the one album from that generation that still gets a lot of playtime when I'm sitting around.

  9. Great music fo' sho!!! Saw them in concert and they were a little too political for me but talented nonetheless.

  10. Winopants: I think I had half of Achtung Baby on my list. I just wish they'd put out a new album. I think it's time.

    Alex: Beautiful Day's a great song; it was on my list.
    You, too!

    G_G: Thanks!

    M.J.: Yeah, it's great. And there are some live versions that are just fantabulous.

    Briane: I'm pretty sure the version of "Bad" I linked is from the Chicago concert.
    I have heard their cover of "Everlasting Love," and I like it; I have it somewhere, even; I just like Unchained more.
    And I agree with you there for sure. The fact that they reinvent themselves from time to time is what makes them so great and keeps their music alive.

    Callie: heh We have those kids of jokes around here, too.

    Anne: That's awesome! I've never seen them in concert. It's a huge issue for me.

    Michael: Greatest album ever!

    JKIR,F: Some of the changes they've made were to get away from some of the political stuff. Bono said something like, "I can't even take a piss without someone taking it as a political statement," so they had to change, which is what lead to Achtung Baby.

  11. YouTube changed the Internet forever too. Odd how their names sound so similar.

    I like U2, but was more like Alex with my Pantera or similar bands. These days I don't listen to much music at all. Kinda sad really. I like music. I should listen more.

  12. Rusty: I should listen to more, too, but I can't have anything on when I'm writing, so that take out a lot of time when I could have music on.

  13. Well, I only write with music on if I need to drown out other things. But I think music if like reading. It needs to be appreciated when possible. I don't want to have it on while I'm doing other things. I remember when I used to put on headphones, lay in the floor, and do nothing but listen. That was awesome.

  14. Rusty: If there's something that needs to be drowned out, I'm certainly not getting any writing accomplished. Just not gonna happen.

    What I really like to do is listen to music while I'm painting. Of course, I haven't done any painting in a few years now :(