#124 – “God Part II”
That Rattle and Hum is seen by history as an act of hubris, of an indulgent bit of musical tourism by a band that should have known better, is by now a given that no one argues with. And within that construct of assumed arrogance, we get things like the interpretation of Bono’s “Charles Manson stole this from the Beatles; we’re stealing it back.” intro to a live cover of “Helter Skelter” as one of unforgivable arrogance. While I’ve never cottoned to that viewpoint, that U2 was out to honor and play with some musical giants is undeniable, and this song, an ostensible, in spirit, anyway, sequel to John Lennon’s “God,” is a prime example. And if the result is not perhaps on par with a Lennon classic, it does have a sneaky power behind it. An insistent, sinister bass line anchors a sneaky almost-mellow introduction, as Bono recites a litany of what he doesn’t believe in. Then the third verse hits and the guitar comes crashing in, and now Bono is singing the melody up the octave in an impassioned howl. “I don’t believe in the ‘60s/The golden age of pop/You glorify the past/When the future dries up.” I’ve always loved that line, not as an admission of defeat, but as a warning of what nostalgia can lead to. And it’s a fascinating line in the context of this song and this album – which in many ways were about glorifying the 60s.
#123 – “Daddy’s Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car”
Another Zooropa experiment, from the title (which is cheeky and specific in a way that U2 songs often aren’t) to the orchestral opening (a fanfare from “Lenin’s Favorite Songs”), to the dance club beat. I like that the lyrics are more specific and detailed than is typical for the band (“A little uptight/You're a baby's fist/Butterfly kisses up and down your wrist”). But it’s the build I like most in this song, and how it’s not achieved through anything overt, but just through a gradual increase in intensity.
#122 – “Babyface”
Another Zooropa deep cut, this mellow attempt at a Barry White-style slow jam starts with a toy xylophone dinging out a playful figure, followed by an Adam bass line that is, quite impishly, a revisit of the “With or Without You” bass line. This is a fun, loose U2 song, with an easy Bono vocal (he’s not straining to be sexy like he is on “If You Wear That Velvet Dress”). In keeping with the album’s overall feel, there’s some interesting sound experiments going on in the background, but it’s the periodic return to the xylophone and bass that keeps the song from losing its charm.
#121 – “Tomorrow”
For a band that has never been shy about grappling with Irish politics in its songs, U2 has always stayed away from overt Irish influences in its music. This song, with its mournful Uileann pipes, is an exception. The repeated refrain of “Won’t you be back tomorrow” has been interpreted as an indication that the song is about Bono’s mother’s passing, and the funereal pipes, plus the anger in the end when the guitar finally comes ringing in over repeated “Cause I want you . . .” certainly makes a strong case. Either way, the emotional feel of the song, with its sad drone and distant pipes, is an effective one.
#120 – “Wild Honey”
There is a faction of U2 fandom that, with the U2 resurgence that came with All That You Can’t Leave Behind, found this to be the album’s odd man out, a song worthy of mockery. What always struck me as odd was that the criticism seemed to coalesce around a specific lyric: “In the days/When we were swinging from the trees/I was a monkey/Stealing honey from a swarm of bees.” Apart from the fact that such playful lyrics are not U2’s traditional style, I never saw anything specifically wrong about the line. In any case, this is still the All That You Can’t Leave Behind song with the lowest placement here. A light, playful acoustic throwaway, the song still has a charm that I can’t deny. On top of that, there’s a very interesting bridge, with Bono wailing away in a broken, painful upper register that really resonates.
#119 – “Crumbs from Your Table”
One of those U2 songs where U2 (Bono) really wears its (his) political passions a little too squarely on their (his) sleeves, this song nevertheless sticks with me. Sure, lines like “Would you deny for others/What you demand for yourself?” and “Where you live should not decide/Whether you live or whether you die” are a little on-the-nose, but the passion is hard to deny, and the riff and melody on this mid-tempo rocker do their job well. It’s really the bridge when it gets interesting, and elevates it up this list a little, with the vocal shifting into an angrier, more despairing inflection and phrasing that makes the message, pathos-ridden as it is, stick.
#118 – “Another Time, Another Place”
This cut from U2’s first album, Boy, is very earnest in its early U2-ness, with its ringing guitar, fat bass, and impassioned delivery. But that main riff is riveting in its simplicity, and the band’s inexperienced passion really comes through. Sure, the lyrics are very high-school-journaling (“Just as I am/I awoke with a tear on my tongue/I awoke with a feeling of never before/In my sleep I discover the one/But she ran with the morning sun”) but the energy is hard to deny. Add to that an odd ending in which Bono starts experimenting with a growled, almost Germanic delivery, and you have an interesting early U2 song, at least. (Sidebar to note that the remarkably mangled prosody on the “another place” part of the lyric is really a wonder to behold).
#117 – “Seconds”
This War cut stands as one of the very few U2 songs with an Edge lead vocal. And as is often the case when non-lead singers in band take the lead vocal on a song, they, for whatever reason, really end up sounding like the lead singer. It was years before I realized that it wasn’t Bono singing this song. The song itself, a catchy, almost poppy ditty sung to a martial beat, is about the looming specter of nuclear war, and so can sound a bit dated now (although lyrics like “In an apartment on Times Square/You can assemble them anywhere” really do have new meanings today, huh?). The short pause in the bridge, with recordings of sounds from a war documentary, comes off as kind of needlessly arty and precious today, and yet the tightness of the band and the same martial drum that would (only one track later) define one of the band’s best songs, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” so indelibly, make this a song worth listening to.
#116 – “The Three Sunrises”
This single, one of a pair of new songs included on the live Wide Awake in America EP that documented the Unforgettable Fire tour, features some great crunchy guitar and a thicker and a punchier bass sound than usual, but it’s really the soaring chorus that lets it rank so relatively high for an EP throwaway. The chorus is as simple as they come (“In this love song/love song/love song/love won´t find/find its own way home.”), and yet the rise of the melody gives it a real joy.
#115 – “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”
This is the song from the Million Dollar Hotel project that always struck me as the most clearly a “U2 song,” even if the main synth riff, the overall harmonic feel, and the lyrics (which come from a Salman Rushdie novel, making this the rare song U2 wrote just music for) aren’t typically “U2.” And yet the band really feels like a band here, and there’s a groove here that sits nicely with their style. I particularly like the quiet opening, with a drumbeat followed by a high synth part that drops down the scale to lead into that main riff. A forgotten song, but a solid one.