"I've escaped it, a life wasted/And I'm never going back again." - Pearl Jam, "Life Wasted"

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Top 25 U2 Songs

Finally, I got about doing another list. This is the toughest to do, mainly because I had to brutally cull some great songs.

U2 are my favourite band. Period. No other band had a bigger influence on me liking music, creating music and playing music.

Bono's impassioned lyrics, The Edge's extraordinary fretwork and the pulsating rhythm of Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. U2 are far greater than the sum of its parts.

This list is my thank-you letter to them.

25 Mofo (Pop)
Where Adam and Larry get to hog the spotlight. An inventive bassline is propelled onto the dance floor by incessant drumming. The Edge lends some strange noodlings, and Bono sings about asking his deceased mother for redemption. U2 usually opened the Pop Tour with this song, and it's a summation of the mood of that album - cheesy, yet with a heart of darkness. Spine-tingling moment: The bassline appears for the first time, and Larry stops wisely to allow Adam's moment of glory.

24 Drowning Man (War)
An overlooked gem from their early days. Evokes a wintry atmosphere unlike any of their subsequent songs. A stellar Bono vocal performance, and an even better performance by The Edge. He forgoes his trademark ringing guitars and adds acoustic flourishes instead. Never done again after this unique song. Spine-tingling moment: Midway through the song, Bono shouts "You run! You run!" and Larry adds a booming timpani.

23 I Will Follow (Boy)
Ah, the first single from their first album. And surprisingly, it still sounds fresh, totally unlike anything done before or since. Awesome Edge riff, simple yet cutting. Bono contemplates about his mother, not for the only time. Spine-tingling moment: Their calling card - an unforgettable chorus: "If you walk away, walk away/I'll walk away, walk away/I will follow."

22 Miracle Drug (How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)
Since The Beatles, only U2 have come close to voicing a genuine humanistic view successfully in their songs. Bono alludes to finding a cure for Aids, but extends his lyrical scope so that it encompasses the "Nothing is Impossible" ideal. All too rare in modern rock landscape today. Spine-tingling moment: The Edge steals the show, with a forceful solo that cuts like a knife.

21 Zooropa (Zooropa)
The band's post-modern experiments taken to their logical end. A pastiche of white noise, voice snatches, underwater guitar sounds and... a show-stopping piano riff? No doubt, it drifts in amid the subconscious din like a guiding light through all the mysteries of the 1990s. Bono lists advertisement catchphrases numbly, too immersed in TV-speak, before declaring his willingness to take the plunge into the unknown. Adventurous freak. Spine-tingling moment: That desolate piano riff, so good that The Edge will appropriate it again on the latest album.

20 Silver And Gold (Rattle And Hum)
Bono's infamous rant about Apartheid (I don't mean to bug ya =p) While his spoken-word diatribe in the middle of the live version of this song is too messianic, self-righteous for my liking, it overshadows a terrific protest song, the fiercest U2 have done since "Sunday Bloody Sunday". The genius of this song is that it never points the finger at the oppressors, but paints the determination of the protagonist to be set free. "Outside all the prisoners/Inside the free." Spine-tingling moment: "Ok Edge, play the blues," Bono says. And so Edge plays something as far away from the blues as possible.

19 Kite (All That You Can't Leave Behind)
I didn't take to this song at first, then I saw Bono perform this as a tribute to his dead dad. And it's the most moving tribute to a dad I've ever heard. Sometimes, Bono's lyrics need a concrete context to make sense of it all. Spine-tingling moment: You have to check the live version in Boston, as Bono sings the second verse again as the song ends.

18 Gone (Pop)
Stardom gone haywire. Over a funky bass riff, Bono and The Edge wring surprising emotion from a so-so tale of a star refusing to come down after his 15 minutes are up. Is Bono singing about himself? Spine-tingling moment: The Edge's looping riff that gives this song the kick.

17 Until The End Of The World (Achtung Baby)
Bono takes on the role of Judas, taunting Jesus and his big ideals. Set to the most rocking performance by the band. None of that ethereal chiming guitars and spacey drums. Bone-crunching brilliance. Spine-tingling moment: Hints of regret from Judas, as Bono launches the surreal final verse: "In my dream, I was drowning in sorrows/But my sorrows, they learnt to swim."

16 Running To Stand Still (The Joshua Tree)
The rare ballad that manages to be earthy, yet hypnotic. The Edge lays in simple piano and slide guitar, Bono keeps his vocals restrained, Adam's hardly in the song, and Larry comes in at only the last verse. Yet it remains their most haunting song, a heartbreaking depiction of heroin abuse. Bono sketches poignant distress effectively: "You gotta cry without weeping/Talk without speaking/Scream without raising your voice." Spine-tingling moment: The sad ending with Bono blowing his harmonica as the song fades.

15 Pride (The Unforgettable Fire)
For the Reverend Martin Luther King, sing. The first classic riff by The Edge, and it drives the song to intense heights. A killer chorus aside, Bono wisely keeps the lyrics simple and allow us to enjoy the army of guitars that engulf the song. Spine-tingling moment: There is one section omitted by The Edge in the Rattle And Hum version, and to me it's the best. It sounds like a gospel section taking flight.

14 Crumbs From Your Table (How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)
The Edge's guitar work always transports me to the desert, where sound is untainted by noise. His opening notes of this song are so pristine, you feel the swoop of the desert landscape right before you. Bono writes one of the best bridges as the song turns dark: "Where you live should not decide/Whether you live or whether you die/'Three to a bed,' Sister Ann she said/Dignity passes by." Spine-tingling moment: The band's best opening riff in ages, on par with "Where The Streets Have No Name".

13 Love Is Blindness (Achtung Baby)
U2 have always cited Joy Division as one of their influences. However, they never travelled as close to the heart of darkness as the Manchester band, except on this final song on their most accomplished album. A weary desperation permeates straight from the opening funereal organ riff. Bono sounds bitter, cynical about love, and offers no way out of the heartbreak. It's telling that they usually end their post-modernistic Zoo TV Tour on this lament of love lost. Spine-tingling moment: The Edge sounded like tearing into a bluesy solo, bending his opening notes with fury. Then it stops abruptly as if he realises his mistake, and tickles the remaining notes of a most original solo.

12 I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (The Joshua Tree)
Blues done the U2 way. Bono's lyrics sound like it's is written for a blues lament, the chord progression is classic blues, but the band never plays it straight. From the opening tambourine count, to Larry's strange beat, to Adam's walking bass riff, to The Edge's unforgettable chime, the song typifies U2 and the utter pleasure of listening to them. Spine-tingling moment: Larry's opening drum crack kick-starts the whole band, and Bono lands in with a great opening verse: "I have climbed the highest mountains/I have run through the fields/Only to be with you."

11 Miss Sarajevo (Passengers Soundtrack)
A paean to a beauty pageant held right in the middle of the Bosnia War, this is U2's most restrained protest song. Yet, just when you think it's a mediocre, throwaway B-side song... Spine-tingling moment: ...in comes Luciano Pavarotti's gigantic voice singing a spellbinding aria. It's an astonishing touch that made the song. I searched for translation to the Italian lyrics and it goes something like: "It is said that the river finds its way to the sea/And like the river you shall come to me/.....and I cannot hope in love anymore/and I cannot wait for love anymore." Tearjerking.

10 Stay (Faraway, So Close!) (Zooropa)
A breath of humanity in U2's most mechanical album. It's also one of the saddest songs by the band, a tale of lovelorn souls who cannot reach out to each other. Bono pens one of his best lyrics, oddly charming and shatteringly wounded all at once: "If I could stay, then the night will be enough." Spine-tingling moment: As Bono finishes his verse in the coda, the song ends abruptly with Larry's snare. Appropriate for the lyrics: "Just the bang and the clatter as an angel hits the ground."

9 Bad (The Unforgettable Fire)
Superb inpromptu jam, which evolved in one of the high points during their concerts. The whole song banks on two chords, and one of The Edge's best riffs. Bono offers stream-of-consciousness words that lend an air of mystery. Is it about heroin abuse? Or of prisoners shackled? Who cares, when the music is so beautiful. Spine-tingling moment: One of the finest choruses by any rock group, as Bono leaps into his highest register: "Wide awake!/I'm not sleeping."

8 Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of (All That You Can't Leave Behind)
Probably the best pop song they have written, as soulful and uplifting as the old Motown records. What strikes me most is there are no scene-stealers in this - no Bono histronics, or chiming riffs from The Edge. Just a plain joy at their crafting of a beautiful song. Subtle flourishes abound. Spine-tingling moment: The falsetto coda: "And when the night runs over/And if the day won't last/And if our way should falter/Along that stony path." Then the horns come in with great effect.

7 The Fly (Achtung Baby)
The sneering side of U2. From The Edge's opening guitar snarl is matched by Larry's deadly thump and Adam's ominous bass. Bono intones advices from the dark side, and revels in the loss of humanity in the chorus: "Love, we shine like a burning star/We're falling from the skies tonight." Quite unlike anything before or after, but certainly a chilling presence in the Achtung Baby album. Spine-tingling moment: Rarely does The Edge play a long solo. When he does, as on this song, it simply takes your breath away.

6 Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own (How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)
Amazingly moving tribute to Bono's dad, who passed away before the song was finished. Yet, this back story is not really necessary, because Bono's lyrics can mean different things to different people, while evoking the same teary response. That is perhaps his one incomparable gift that endears the band to so many fans. Spine-tingling moment: It's a tremendous song from word go, but the chorus often chokes me up with emotion: "As it's you when I look in the mirror/And it's you when I pick up the phone/Sometimes you can't make it on your own."

5 All I Want Is You (Rattle And Hum)
Written just so the song can be played as the Rattle And Hum film credits roll, it is nonetheless a soaring ballad that captures the complexities of the heart. Once again, The Edge transforms the aching lyrics into an uplifting hymn with his tremendous guitar arrangement. A softly-strummed opening takes off with a classic turnaround riff. Then some simple chimes before the songs climaxes to a maelstrom of guitars. Spine-tingling moment: When the guitars ebb away, and the strings take over.

4 Where The Streets Have No Name (The Joshua Tree)
The Edge's calling-card riff. Echoed to create a massive sound, his riff propels the song into the stratosphere, perhaps where Bono paints his utopia to be. He has said that whenever they play this song live, their set is saved, because God just dropped in. It's indeed a majestic thrill to hear the headlong rush through the song. Spine-tingling moment: Take your pick, but my choice is when the lyrics end, and the riff reappears to end the song. Yet at that moment, you will never want the riff to end.

3 Sunday Bloody Sunday (War)
The song that defined U2. Wide-eyed they may be when they cut this track in 1983, but this song is charged with visceral power that grabs you from the opening martial drum beats. Bono's finest moment as a protest lyricist, he depicts the stupidities of war with indignation and compassion for those who suffered. How long must we sing this song? Indeed, with wars still prevalent, the question remains unanswered. An unbelievably brave effort to set them apart from all the post-punk bands. Spine-tingling moment: On the War album, The Edge's riff sounds small but, when played live, it's a chilling counterpoint to Bono's impassioned wail. Check out The Edge's solo rendition of this song on the Pop Tour. Incredibly powerful.

2 With Or Without You (The Joshua Tree)
When I was 10, I was torn between two choices when I was buying my first cassette. The Joshua Tree, or Michael Jackson's Bad? I chose the latter. Yes, I came to my senses later. But even at that young age, I could tell that this song is brilliant. A catchy melody, with mysterious high-pitched sounds in the opening stanza, then the drums became more frenetic and a bell-like guitar sweeps in as the singer leaps up one octave. A stirring lament on the joys and pains of a relationship, it's a transcendent song - unique enough to maintain U2's integrity, yet catchy enough to become a No 1 hit. Spine-tingling moment: When Larry's drum break announces the titanic riff about to crash in. Also, the hypnotic coda where The Edge piles on overdubbed guitars for an unbearably beautiful sign-off.

1 One (Achtung Baby)
The only song that made me want to be a better man. So humanistic, so compassionate in its theme, so soulful in its performance, so classy in its arrangements. Bono sings "one life but we're not the same, we get to carry each other" with such urgency that it seems like a startling revelation. The song is the peaceful balm to heal all misunderstandings, all resentments of human relationships. The band never sounded so assured, and their music cuts across all borders. Utterly inspirational, utterly emotional, utterly transcendental piece of work. Spine-tingling moment: Listen once, think of the lyrics. Listen again, think of the music. Listen once more and be moved.


Blogger Dave said...

great list. u2 is awesome.

9:53 AM

Blogger Eliah said...

well played

5:28 AM


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