The Irish rock band U2 rose to prominence in the 1980s to become one of the most popular bands ever. From sincere religious rockers, they eventually transformed into ironic pop stars, although they always remained politically engaged. In 2005, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What are the ten unforgettable songs of U2?
10. With Or Without You
The first single from the album The Joshua Tree (1987) had a difficult birth. The end result was a subdued ballad whose commercial potential was unclear. Those fears were quickly dispelled as With Or Without You, which could be about either doubtful love or spirituality, became a number one hit in many countries.
9. Pride (In The Name Of Love)
The third album The Unforgettable Fire put U2 definitively on the map in 1984. Here, the band worked for the first time with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois who provided a moody sound. The first single from the album was a powerful number about Martin Luther King Jr. Singer Bono later criticized his chaotic lyrics. Pride (In The Name Of Love) became a top-10 hit word wide and the passionate song would grow into a crowd favorite.
8. Even Better than the Real Thing (Perfecto remix)
With Achtung Baby, U2 radically changed course. The band focused on Europe and adopted a more ironic stance. The sound became more electronic and poppy. The fourth single Even Better Than The Real Thing is essentially the best summary of the idea behind the album. U2 also became more open to remixers, and young DJ Paul Oakenfold, along with Steve Osborne, transformed the song into a lightweight house number. The remix performed better in the UK than the original.
7. Where the Streets Have No Name
For the album The Joshua Tree, U2 sought inspiration in America. The third single Where The Streets Have No Name refers to the American habit of giving streets a number. The song starts with the characteristic echoing guitar sound of The Edge. The guitarist wanted to create a song that performed well in live shows. Despite its complexity, it succeeded, and Where The Streets Have No Name has been a staple of U2 concerts for years.
Every band that stays together for a long time will eventually argue. During the recording of Achtung Baby, tempers flared over the direction to take. With the improvised ballad One, the band managed to restore unity. The song was released as a charity single for AIDS research and has since become an evergreen.
5. Mysterious Ways
In the first ten years of their existence, U2 was clearly a rock band. With the album Achtung Baby, they changed that for the first time. Mysterious Ways, the second single from the album, clearly shows the influence of dance music. Yet the song still sounds like U2, especially thanks to the innovative guitar work of The Edge, who contributes beautiful riffs. Mysterious Ways is U2 at its funkiest.
4. I Will Follow
I Will Follow is the most notable song from the debut album Boy from 1980. Here, The Edge already introduces the guitar sound that would make the band so recognizable. The authentic feeling the song exudes is due to its personal meaning. According to singer Bono, I Will Follow is about the unconditional love of a mother for a child (Bono’s mother died when he was fourteen years old.) The chorus ending in a passionate exclamation is even more powerful live. I Will Follow quickly earned a central spot during performances and is therefore the song that U2 has played most often live.
3. New Year’s Day
U2 has always been a political band that often contributes to concerts for charitable causes. Their performance during Live Aid is legendary. But politics is also an important theme in their lyrics. New Year’s Day, indeed released on New Year’s Day 1983, is about the Polish Solidarity movement. As with the better U2 songs, the political message is subtle and New Year’s Day can also function as a love song. In many countries, this was the band’s first real hit.
2. The Unforgettable Fire
The title track of The Unforgettable Fire is one of the most recognizable songs of the 1980s. Not only because it was a big hit, but also because the production and synthesizers strongly evoke that era. It’s an odd song that is structured as a ballad yet driven by powerful drums. The spacious guitar playing by The Edge and string arrangements by jazz musician Noel Kelehan give the song a cinematic quality unique to U2’s work. The inspiration for The Unforgettable Fire came from an exhibition about the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
1. Sunday Bloody Sunday
The sound of military drums that starts Sunday Bloody Sunday is unmistakably recognizable. The song is a protest against political violence, with the title referring to two bloody incidents in Irish history. When U2 performs the song in recent years, Bono often dedicates it to contemporary victims of political violence, thereby giving it a universal message. Sunday Bloody Sunday was not originally intended as a single. It was eventually released to promote the concert film and live album U2 Live At Red Rocks: Under A Blood Red Sky (1983). During this performance, Sunday Bloody Sunday plays a crucial role, reinforced by Bono hoisting a white flag on stage. An iconic image the band was associated with for a long time.