There weren’t too many bands from the 1980s that I like, but the ones I do like were pretty good – The Police, The Pretenders, and U2. The Pretenders started out great but after James Honeyman Scott and Pete Farndon died they became Chrissie Hynde and a bunch of guys. The Police left behind a small recorded legacy - too small for my taste. U2 on the other hand has hung around for over thirty years. They’ve done some great work, and they’ve had some duds along the way as well. Here are the songs that I could hear anytime. I purposely left off some of the more popular songs, namely Pride [In the Name of Love], I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With Or Without You, and Two Hearts Beat as One, and Beautiful Day to name a few. Good songs yes, but they’re overplayed. If I’m stranded on a deserted island, those songs don’t make the cut. Here are the ones that do:
Sunday Bloody Sunday [War, 1983] – this one is the first U2 song I ever heard on KILO-94, a radio station in Colorado Springs that used to be great. This song was the hook for me - New Year’s Day sealed the deal.
October [October, 1981] – I bought this album after I bought War. No guitar, just piano from The Edge. At the Red Rocks show [yes, that show] this song served as a very effective intro to…
New Year’s Day [War, 1983] – this one’s a song for Poland’s Solidarity [or so I have read]. It has the driest, most angry Fender Stratocaster tone that one will ever hear on a U2 recording. Truly a great song…my favorite from this band.
Seconds [War, 1983] – The Edge sings! This is the song that is sandwiched between Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s Day. Getting blown up by atomic weapons was a big worry back then, especially for Europeans caught between Soviet SS-20 and American cruise missiles and Pershings. It takes a second to say goodbye…
Drowning Man [War, 1983] – U2 goes acoustic, except for an electric violin. It’s the most haunting song in the U2 catalog courtesy of said electric violin.
A Sort of Homecoming [The Unforgettable Fire, 1984] – The clean guitar tones from War are nowhere to be found here, but that’s ok. This was my first exposure to Daniel Lanois’ production style where everything kind of smears together. Larry Mullen Jr’s drums are very different as well – polyrhythmic instead of just keeping time.
The Unforgettable Fire [The Unforgettable Fire, 1984] – Bono’s vision of a nuclear apocalypse. George Martin used to tell the Beatles to “think symphonically.” I think U2 does that on this song.
Bad [The Unforgettable Fire, 1984] – Heroin addiction. This song is almost like a trance. Maybe that’s what it’s like to be strung out…
The Three Sunrises [The Unforgettable Fire Deluxe Edition] – I have no idea what this one is about. I just like hearing The Edge abuse his Stratocaster with a slide.
Where the Streets Have No Name [The Joshua Tree, 1987] – I hadn’t heard the song until I saw the video on MTV. The first time I saw their video was the day I arrived at Officer Training School in 1987, of all places. When I saw it I thought “Beatles. Let It Be. Rooftop.”
Bullet the Blue Sky [The Joshua Tree, 1987] – Bono wanted The Edge to play like there’s a war coming through his amps. I think he got it right. Outside it’s America…
Running to Stand Still [The Joshua Tree, 1987] – Bad, Part II. Bono wrote about Dublin’s heroin problem. The “seven towers” in the song are high-rises in Dublin where lots of drug addicts live. The piano and acoustic slide guitar are courtesy of The Edge. Instead of the haze of Bad, this one is an uncluttered, unplugged number with some very good singing from Bono.
Silver and Gold [The Joshua Tree Deluxe Edition] – There are two versions. One is an electric, all-band B-side. The other is a bluesy, all-acoustic thing with Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Steve Jordan done for the anti-apartheid Sun City thing. I like both versions, but I prefer the unplugged one.
Mothers of the Disappeared [The Joshua Tree, 1987] – The closing track from The Joshua Tree sounds nothing like anything U2 had done up until this time. In retrospect, it sounds like the coming direction of what became Achtung Baby. This song would fit right in on that album. As for subject matter, it’s for those mothers in Chile whose children disappeared at the hands of the Pinochet regime. Sting covered the same ground on They Dance Alone (Cueca Solo).
Desire [Rattle and Hum, 1988] – When I first heard this song, my first thought was ‘Bo Diddley.’ This was my first hint that Bono was turning away from matters in his environment to matters of the heart.
When Love Comes to Town [Rattle and Hum, 1988] – BB King. ‘Nuff said.
All I Want Is You [Rattle and Hum, 1988] – Carol and I saw the movie when it was in theatrical release at the State Theater in Marysville, California. That was the only time we saw a movie there. The place is closed now. This song was at the very end of the movie. It played over the credits. We stuck around to hear the whole song. An extremely moving song, it has stuck with me ever since. Van Dyke Parks provided the haunting string arrangement. It’s almost perfect, right behind New Year’s Day. I never tire of it.
Zoo Station, One, So Cruel, The Fly, Mysterious Ways, Acrobat, Love Is Blindness – I already wrote a blog on the Achtung Baby songs.
The First Time and Dirty Day [Zooropa, 1993] – These both sound like leftovers from Achtung Baby, which is OK with me.
The Wanderer [Zooropa, 1993] – Johnny Cash walking under an atomic sky. This song is so strange one can’t help but like it.
Discothèque, Do You Feel Loved, and Gone [Pop, 1997] – I just like how they sound. They might just have that dance-club thing down here. What about the rest of Pop? Meh…
Vertigo [How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, 2004] – One, Two, Three, Fourteen?
Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own [How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, 2004] – I think Bono wrote this for his dying father. It reminds me somewhat of One.
All Because of You [How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, 2004] - The beginning sounds like a sonar ping, and you’re on the submarine about to get depth-charged. Good guitar song.
Elevation [All That You Can’t Leave Behind, 2000], Magnificent [No Line on the Horizon, 2009], and Electrical Storm [The Best of 1990-2000, 2002] – these songs just sound cool.
Get On Your Boots [No Line on the Horizon, 2009] – Just like Where the Streets Have No Name, I saw U2 play this on a rooftop before I heard the record. This time the rooftop was the BBC in London.