The other day, my older son and I were talking about an article he read about Prince’s Sign ‘o’ the Times album turned 30 this year. I told him that 1987 was one of my favorite year’s for new music, like The Joshua Tree by U2, The Cure’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and Bad by Michael Jackson, among many other classics. He said that his first memories of music seemed to come from all of those albums I got that year. He remembered going to purchase some of those albums.
After our talk, I started flipping through my albums just to admire the classic artwork. Then, I noticed that I had all the vinyl of U2’s 1980s output. I remember buying their first album when I was still in high school. Then, watching their steady rise from the barely-can-play-their-instruments band of their earnest debut to a neo-Christian band on their second album to the confident post-punk stars on their War album.
Then, I watched Bono climb the scaffolding at the 1983 US Festival while singing “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. Their slow climb to superstar took its next step with their fourth album, The Unforgettable Fire. After that came the band’s transcendent Live Aid performance where Bono went out in the crowd during their song “40” to slow dance with a young lady.
So, when 1987 rolled around, U2 was primed to become one of the biggest bands in the world. And, when The Joshua Tree was dropped, U2 made everyone nearly forget that The Clash could have been in this place if they had not imploded. Now, U2 is one of the biggest acts on the planet. It seems as though I grew up with this band.
One last thing, why do the millennials hate U2? I hear nothing but cynicism about them trying to release their last album to everyone with iTunes for FREE! For FREE! I also appreciate stuff for free, even if it’s not as awesome as a U2 album. Even South Park rips on them, though those guys rip on everyone. Yet, I still love U2.
With that said, here’s my Top 20 U2 songs! On with the countdown!
20. “New Year’s Day” (1983). This song was actually released on New Year’s Day. I remember watching the video a little hung over, but the earnestness of the band came through loud and clear and I was hooked on them forever.
19. “The Fly” (1991). Just when everyone was getting tired of the earnestness, U2 took a turn and became a dadaist art band. “The Fly” represented Bono’s alter-ego at the time.
18. “Ordinary Love” (2013). The band recorded this song for a Nelson Mandela documentary. On this song, they demonstrated their grasp of Mandela’s universality.
17. “Vertigo” (2004). By the time the new century rolled around, it was time for U2 to get back to the sound they were best at, which was their original sound. But, they maintained their sense of humor as Bono counted off in Spanish, “1, 2, 3…14!” This song rocks!
16. “Staring at the Sun” (1997). This was the strongest song on the Pop album. The only thing is that it sounded a little too much like “One”.
15. “Numb” (1993). U2 was on such a big roll after the success of the Achtung Baby album, and their subsequent, multimedia extravaganza of a tour, the band went straight back to the studio to record Peven more dadaist art statement with their Zooropa album, from which this song comes. It is one of the few songs with the vocals done by guitarist The Edge.
14. “40” (1983). I don’t think this was ever released as a single off the War album. Still, it is a beautiful song whose lyrics were influenced by the words found in Psalms 40 in The Bible. This one, along with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” were their first two truly transcendent songs.
13. “With or Without You” (1987). This song was the band’s first release from The Joshua Tree, a classic album if there ever was one. “With or Without You” was the band’s first big hit song.
12. “Invisible” (2013). U2 released this song for the RED foundation for AIDS. It is an anthemic song that U2 is known for.
11. “Mysterious Ways” (1991). The first single from Achtung Baby was the first clue that U2 had successfully changed their sound in a Bowie-esque move for long-term sustainability of the band.
10. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (1983). This represented the band’s first true anthem in the form of an anti-war statement to those battling at the time in Northern Ireland. It was also one of the few times that a major band mentioned a Biblical view of Jesus Christ in their lyrics in the last verse of this song.
9. “Get Your Boots On” (2009). Ever since this song came out, U2 has kind of become a critical punching bag after nearly 20 years of near unanimous praise. This is the band’s huge nod to the glam rock they grew up listening to in the early-70s in their native Ireland. This song turned out to be a real call-to-arms on the U2 360º tour following the released of the album, No Line on the Horizon, on which this song can be found.
8. “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (1984). U2 followed up their super-successful War album with arty The Unforgettable Fire, on which this song can be found. Now, excuse these sincere Irishmen for their lack of facts about Martin Luther King Jr. on this song, because they sure cut to the essence of his messages in this song. Once again, the band was wearing its hearts on their sleeves.
7. “Desire” (1988). After the huge success of The Joshua Tree, U2 understood that it was time for them to begin to broaden their sound. Unfortunately, they took a slight misstep as they attempted to incorporate American sounds into their uniquely European vision. But, if you just listen to this song, with its “Bo Diddley” beat and punk attitude, you’d thought the band was successful on the Rattle and Hum album. Unfortunately, that was their only musical success on the album. And, as we know with hindsight, they will discover their artist direction on their next album.
6. “Sweetest Thing” (1998). This song was recorded in the early-80s, but was too pop for any of those albums. Instead, the band put it on their first greatest hits package and released it as a single. The song is, pardon the unintended pun, a lyrically sweet song expresses Bono’s love for his long-time wife. Anyone who is married to his or her soulmate will understand the theme of this song.
5. “Beautiful Day” (2000). If you were to choose one song to perfectly represent a band’s sound, than this is the one I would use for U2. This anthemic masterpiece contains everything that makes U2 great: a soaring guitar lick, an unshakable rhythm section, and pitch-perfect lyrics sang with sincerity by an otherworldly vocalist. This is one U2 anthem I will NEVER get tired of.
4. “One” (1991). Rolling Stone magazine continues to list this song in the Top 10 Songs of All-Time, and I ask, “Why not?” On the surface, it appears to be a love song within an ever-strengthening relationship, only to hear upon fuI rther listens that this song is a call for unity in man that continues to be missing a long 26 years after its release.
3. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (1987). As a young man, I related to this song like no other had ever spoken to me on such a deep level. Growing up is difficult, let alone attempting to factor in a spiritual side to this growth. And, this song describes the process perfectly. Back in the old days, this song would have been a gospel song used to great affect in the Church. Unfortunately, people look at rock music in a cynical fashion.
2. “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” (2014). The first song on that aforementioned free U2 album on iTunes, Songs of Innocence, picked up on all the themes that someone like me could relate to. I am about the same age as the men in U2, so I fully understand the feeling of age and life passing us by. Rock is no longer our best friend. We have families with children at the ages we were when this music first saved us. And, U2 successfully used those emotions in the lyrics of this song, all the while setting them to some of the most incendiary sounds that only wily veterans could accomplish.
1. “Where the Streets Have No Name” (1987). No other song that U2 has recorded has achieved as much as this song has. First off, it could be used as the perfect anthemic opening song of a concert performance. Second, U2 has written few songs besides this one where they capture the uniqueness of the times sociologically, psychologically and politically as they did when they record this song. This song tackles some universal themes all the while set to some timeless music. In a catalog jam-packed with classic songs, this song continues to stand above much of the rest of it.
So, that is U2 to me. They are still one of the few artist whom I feel as though still maintain artistic dignity that others only wish they could. Raise a glass to U2!