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10 Best U2 Songs

U2Listing your top 10 U2 songs is kind of like listing your top 10 vegetables. Everyone usually has the same thing on their list, and well, nobody really cares.

That being said, I’ll go ahead and list my top 10 U2 songs anyway. And with me, It’s even worse: I’m a fan of their classic sound: Soaring anthems with the signature Edge guitar, circa 1985-1987. That’s like telling you what my favorite green vegetables are. The only thing worse would be if I said “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was the greatest song ever written (which was what I professed back in 1986).

There are few surprises on this list. I just like looking at it in a Hornby-esque way.

  1. “With or Without You” (The Joshua Tree, 1987).  One of the most overplayed songs in recent rock history. But I will boldly defend it as the greatest song ever recorded. It’s classic U2 at their creative peak – the Edge’s guitar, Adam Clayton’s droning, predictable bass, Larry Mullen’s tom-toms sounding like a beating heart, and Bono, ever the melodramatic preening protagonist, at his best.
  2. “Bad” (The Unforgettable Fire, 1984). I tagged this song as my favorite at the height of the media hype that surrounded “Pride (In the Name of Love).” But I think this song has withstood the test of time more than “Pride.” It’s very similar to “With or Without You,” starting softly with a simple chord progression, then building to an enormous crescendo before settling down again.
  3. “Ultra Violet (Light My Way)” (Achtung Baby, 1991). I was extremely disappointed with Achtung Baby when it first came out; I was expecting The Joshua Tree II. But amid the pop sellout of “Mysterious Ways” and “One,” I found this jewel toward the end and enjoyed one last fling with the past before they got really weird.
  4. “All I Want Is You” (Rattle and Hum, 1988). Like “Ultra Violet,” this was the one redeeming track on Rattle and Hum, a mediocre soundtrack from a good documentary. Bono is somewhat subdued, but I like the Edge’s simple riff and Van Dyke Parks’ orchestral arrangement.
  5. “The Unforgettable Fire” (The Unforgettable Fire, 1984). Usually an overlooked track from this album, it captures the essence of this album – an atmospheric, Eno-enduced sound collage.
  6. “Where the Streets Have No Name” (The Joshua Tree, 1987). A co-worker described this as the most overplayed U2 song ever. But I still get goosebumps when I hear it.
  7. “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” (No Line on the Horizon, 2009). In my earlier review of No Line on the Horizon, I proclaimed my instant love of this song – so much so that it has vaulted into my Top 10. This is U2 going retro on themselves.
  8. “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (The Unforgettable Fire, 1984). If I didn’t include “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or “New Year’s Day,” I had to put at least one of their political anthems in the list.
  9. “The Fly” (Achtung Baby, 1991). The first song I heard from Achtung Baby, it has the techno vibe but still retains the classic sound.
  10. “40” (Under a Blood Red Sky, 1983). Anyone who ever went to a U2 concert in the 1980s still remembers singing this while filing out of the arena after the lights had come on.

And for those who are interested, my Top 10 vegetables:

  1. Broccoli
  2. Corn
  3. Green Beans
  4. Spinach
  5. Potatoes
  6. Cauliflower
  7. Zucchini
  8. Lettuce
  9. Peas
  10. Yellow squash

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5 thoughts on “10 Best U2 Songs”

  1. My favorite U2 song is the Hollywood remix of “Desire,” which they used to play all the time on the radio station I listened to then. It actually made me go out and buy the 12″… it wasn’t until much later that I heard the original “Desire,” which seemed flat and lifeless in comparison (at least to me).

    If you haven’t heard it lately, it’s here:

  2. Great list. The Unforgettable Fire is probably still my favorite album by them, especially the title track and ‘Bad.’ I’m happy to see both of them here. Also, I know what you mean about ‘Where the Street…’, but I never tire of hearing it. Every time that guitar begins I just get the tingles, especially with some of the live versions. Fantastic song.

  3. I honestly don’t get U2 at all. I saw them on their very first US tour at a big bar in Syracuse NY. At the time they had a terrific single, “I Will Follow,” and a decent album, “Boy.” Their show was okay with “I Will Follow” as the clear highlight. What was curious though is that when it came to performing an encore, they replayed a song from their set and “Johnny Be Good.” I had never seen that before or since and it always made me wonder about them. Most bands have so much material to draw from when they record their first album that they have an abundance of material they can’t use. Somehow that wasn’t the case with U2. They had a really good B side on an early single as well, and then released the rather snoozy “October.” That was the end of story for me and U2–never chose to listen to another one of their records after that, so I don’t really know any of these songs beyond perhaps two.

    As I said initially, U2 never seemed like much when I saw them at the beginning. In fact, they were rather geeky and seemed like a bunch of wannabees. They still seem like that to me today, although the band has seemed to grow up with the exception of Bono. Adam Clayton was originally a geek of the highest order, but he has grown considerably since then. But Bono, Bono….the stupid glasses, the bad clothes, and that makeup on the Rolling Stone cover–please, 30+ years out of date on that one. He will always be a wannabee.

    The only thing though that really irks me about them is the constant commercial re-exploitation of their music, releasing, re-releasing, greatest hits, greatest hits redux, ipods, etc. It seems like such a constant naked money grab. Bono runs around the world asking everyone to give money to has causes, yet I have not heard of him making significant donations himself–that’s pretty offensive.

    Still, let me close on a positive note. The recent article in Rolling Stone on their live show was quite good. In the end, U2 slots in with Hootie and the Blowfish for me–very popular, but very forgettable in the larger scope of music– not memorable with the exception of the great ” I Will Follow.” I can’t say that for Hootie…. In the end, my top ten list only contains one song and that pretty much says it all.

  4. So, you know I had to comment on this one! I agree with your list except that I would take off The Fly and replace it with Beautiful Day or Walk On. At the concert they actually did Unforgettable Fire and Ultraviolet, which they don’t usually do at concerts, it was a nice surprise.

  5. i like the list. they’re a pretty good cover band too. I would have added a couple of covers U2 has done in list of my favorites: instant karma from the amnesty international CD and unchained melody and everlasting love from the U2 greatest hits CD.

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