My older son just will never let it go. Even after I took his wife and him to see them live, Graham constantly digs at me for being a U2 fan. I think deep down he is a fan, like the two-year-old version of him cruising into Oxford, Ohio, with me to pick up The Joshua Tree at the local record store. I knew he was excited about going to the record store even back then, but I really thought I was training his musical tastes. But ever since he and his brother watched that South Park episode in which Bono was the biggest piece of crap in the world, he will not let it go. Ah, who cares?! I know that one day he will catch the same grief about his days of loving Old Crow Medicine Show or Blink-182 when his daughter gets old enough. It’s a circle of life thing.
Back in 1980, I first heard U2’s Boy album. I thought that this band is interesting, but I still loved The Clash better. As a matter of fact, I still maintain the idea that if The Clash would not have imploded, U2 might never have ascended to fill that void of righteous indignation in rock music. Then again, we’ll never know.
Three years later, U2 moved into superstardom with their 1983 album War. For the first time since The Clash released Combat Rock the previous year, the world had a heavy message rock album dropped on it. And, U2 was bringing compassion, empathy and grace to their moral indignation message. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” actually was a call-to-arms for a generation besieged by violence. Suddenly, a group of young people were hearing a voice of reason during a time of Cold War military buildup, terrorist attacks in Ireland and all the world and the ignoring of the plight of the poor and the sick due to conservative policies. Yet, these four Irishmen were trying to take a stand while making terrific yet challenging music.
Fast forward to 1985 and Live Aid. That day, U2 finally ascended to the throne they always desired behind the second best performance of the day. It wasn’t just the music; it was the moment Bono slow danced with that young lady during “40.” It was an image that struck a chord with a whole generation. After that day, even after Queen stole the day, U2 had gained the public’s, as well as their own, confidence to ascend to the throne of the Rock Gods. Two years later, Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. took the throne as the World’s Greatest Band and haven’t given it up since.
No matter how the band tried to evolve, even during their supposed recording failures (Pop, Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience), U2 has reached for everything musically they haven’t found yet. These guys put it on the line every time they record a new album or perform a concert. As the great American distance runner of the Seventies Steve Perfontaine once said, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice The Gift.” And, the men of U2 understand this.
So, today, I wish to honor one of my favorite artists of all time with a list of my 30 favorite songs by U2. Let the honor roll begin!
30. “Vertigo” (2004)
29. “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” (2014)
28. “Ordinary Love” (2017)
27. “Discotheque” (1997)
26. “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” (2000)
25. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” (1991)
24. “Gloria” (1981)
23. “The Wanderer (with Johnny Cash)” (1993)
22. “I Will Follow” (1980)
21. “The Fly” (1991)
20. “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” (2009)
19. “All I Want Is You” (1988)
18. “40” (1983)
17. “Two Hearts Beat as One” (1983)
16. “Even Better Than the Real Thing” (1991)
15. “New Year’s Day” (1983). I remember watching this video after its release on New Year’s Day 1983. It was a moment that I will always remember, thinking at the time that U2 had become adults, and that I was becoming an adult as well.
14. “Sweetest Thing” (1998). Finally, U2 release a sweet song about love, while showing a playful sense of humor in the video.
13. “Red Hill Mining Town” (1987). This is a slow burning pop song that should have been the big fourth hit from The Joshua Tree. In my opinion, it was the showstopping song during the band’s 2017 tour.
12. “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (1984). I am going to catch hell for this ranking. Sorry, but it’s so difficult to do this list, especially with a song about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s a fantastic song in a wonderful catalog. This does NOT diminish the importance of this song.
11. “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” (1995). On a terrific soundtrack from a crappy movie (Batman Returns), this song was a highlight that would have been a natural for a James Bond movie theme.
10. “Walk On” (2000). This song was released around the time of 9/11 and seemed to play an important role in a nation’s healing process.
9. “Mysterious Ways” (1991). How could this absolutely great song be the second best song on an album? I’ll explain that later.
8. “Desire” (1988). I have always been a sucker for the Bo Diddley beat, and this song has it in spades. If it had been released ten years earlier, “Desire” would be a punk standard.
7. “Staring at the Sun” (1997). I’ve always been a sucker for a great U2 ballad.
6. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (1983). This is the band’s first true anthem. I prefer the version on the live EP Under Blood Red Skies.
5. “With or Without You” (1987). This was the song when U2 the Irish band became U2 the world phenomenon. And, the video images are so iconic that if you struck a Bono pose to this song back in the day, EVERYONE knew the reference.
4. “Beautiful Day” (2000). The comeback anthem of all comeback anthems. ‘Nuff said.
In my mind, the next three are interchangeable on any given day for me.
3. “Where the Streets Have No Names” (1987). One of the greatest buildups to the opening of a song in rock history. And, that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
2. “One” (1991). This song, much like The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” can be interpreted in so many different ways. Is it about carnal love, married love, compassionate love? Who know? Who cares! That’s what makes it great!
1. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (1987). This is the gospel song that Aretha Franklin should have recorded. I have always related to the lyrics, as I feel like I am continuing to strive to find myself and my beliefs. If you are striving for perfection, you’re dying.
Okay, U2 fans! Let the crap hit the fan. These are one humble man’s opinions. There are 70 more terrific U2 songs that I could have chosen, but I am deep down in my soul a pop music guy. Sure, there are few surprises, but this American Top 40 fan will always favor those songs. I will not apologize.