#50 – “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”
And here we are. The top 50 U2 songs. At this stage, you can assume that I am an unabashed, huge fan of each of these songs. Sure, that love will only intensify as we go, but you can take as a baseline that I love them all.
“Crazy” is a pretty unabashed pop song, and the two-chord strummed chord figure that comes in after the echoing riff that kicks off the song bears a little resemblance to what is probably U2’s biggest pure pop hit, “The Sweetest Thing.” And if the song kept on that two-chord vibe it would be a good U2 song—pleasant and a little winsome. But then the chorus kicks in and we get this big anthemic line, on “It’s not a hill, it’s a mountain, as you start out the climb.” Just a great sweeping, big melody, with a great vocal from Bono as he hits the high notes. I also like how the humor in the title carries its way throughout the song, with lines like “Every beauty needs to go out with an idiot” and “The right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear.” Again, U2 does not get a lot of credit for even having a sense of humor, so it’s worth calling out these moments.
#49 – “The Electric Co.”
Another song I came to on the Under a Blood Red Sky live EP, this song, off of Boy, features one of U2’s most indelible riffs, a galloping machine gun of a sound, spitting away underneath lyrics about the transition from boyhood to manhood (the central theme of the entire album). Later, after a furious, stuttering guitar solo, we get an oddly dreamy bridge with Bono’s vocal echoing off in the background – from this haze the Edge’s guitar slowly retakes dominance, until the band comes crashing back into the chorus. This song was also somewhat infamous for how Bono would quote lyric snippets over that hazy bridge in concert—and how when he used Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” on the Red Rocks recording the band got sued by the composer.
#48 – “In a Little While”
As I’ve said before, there is a kind of consensus that All That You Can’t Leave Behind represents a kind of retreat from the experimental industrial, electronic, and dance sounds of Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop, but I’ve always found that notion suspect. Just as Rattle & Hum represented a band experimenting with musical styles it hadn’t much played with, so does some of All That You Can’t Leave Behind. “In a Little While” is a soul song, tender and aching and simple, but for U2 it is just as much an experiment as “MOFO” was. The song starts off with a sweet, very slightly bluesy guitar line, which repeats with some bass and drum beneath. Then Bono comes in. His voice on this song is ragged and rough, soulful in a new, interesting way, as he sings lines about his wife, Alison (That girl, that girl she's mine/Well I've known her since/Since she was/A little girl with Spanish eyes). When Joey Ramone mentioned listening to the song in the hospital before he died, the song took on a more religious meaning, with lines like “In a little while/This hurt will hurt no more/I'll be home, love” sounding like the last words of a dying man. Either way you interpret it, the song remains a simple soul song, sweetly sung.
#47 – “Love Rescue Me”
Legend has it that there is a version of this song out there with more Bob Dylan. “Love Rescue Me” was written with Dylan, and he apparently recorded a few verses that couldn’t be used in the recording for contractual reasons. Either way, the Dylan influence is palpable – you can tell Bono was trying to write a “Bob Dylan” song. A long track by U2 standards at 6:25, the song opens with a simple arpeggiated chord figure on the guitar with a mournful harmonica over top. Bono’s vocal here is one of his all-time best, deep and soulful, and in lines like “Many strangers have I met/On the road to my regret/Many lost who seek to find themselves in me” you can hear the Dylan influence. You can also hear the Dylan influence in the folk song-like structure, with the many verses sung over the same music. As the song progresses, things get a little more gospel than Dylan tended to get, with a church organ making its presence known and a big ‘ol horn section coming in at the end. Still, strip away those elements and you still have a very powerful, simple song that, a la Dylan, could work (and does) performed just on acoustic guitar.
#46 – “All Because of You”
This song off of How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is a straight-ahead rock song, more “rock” than U2 typically is, and it’s a corker. A squeal off the guitar starts things, and then the main riff comes barreling in, thick and meaty and muscular, with a fat bass and tight drums beneath. As he so often does, Bono plays with religious metaphor in the lyric, with the identity of the “you” in “All Because of You” pretty clearly God (“I was born a child of grace/Nothing else about the place/Everything was ugly but your beautiful face/And it left me no illusion”). There’s also a great guitar break towards the end, with the Edge indulging in just a little of the “guitar God” antics he so rarely does. This is just a fun, hard-hitting U2 rock song. Nothing wrong with that.
#45 – “Original of the Species”
We are sticking with How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb for this deeply felt song about parenthood. At least that’s how I’ve always interpreted it. A lilting piano starts things off and Bono begins singing about time moving too fast and wanting the addressed to stay a child. Over some snythy strings he sings what I consider one of the great U2 lines: “I’ll give you everything you want/Except the thing that you want/You are the first one of your kind.” He’ll give his child anything he or she wants – except what he or she really wants (independence). He is not leaving. And then that killer last line—I absolutely love the metaphor of being an “original of the species” to communicate how special the child is – how he or she is a new, unique person, never before seen by the world. Then the chorus. “I want the lot of what you got/And I want nothing that you're not.” What a beautiful way to communicate acceptance. I want you to be nothing that you are not. So simple.
#44 – “Yahweh”
And now we get the last song on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which, in a bit of a departure for the band, is not a slow downer of a song, or a reflective meditation, but an upbeat inspirational song. Over a rapid beat, and ringing guitar, Bono sings a simple prayer for absolution and grace. “Take this soul/Stranded in some skin and bones/Take this soul/And make it sing.” And then the chorus. “Yahweh, Yahweh/Always pain before a child is born/Yahweh, Yahweh/Still I'm waiting for the dawn.” What I find completely fascinating is how the song is about that yearning for God and grace—but not necessarily about finding it. That interpretation can get buried given the clean music, and the simple lyrics, but look at that last line of the chorus. “Still I'm waiting for the dawn.” Waiting. See also how Bono sings the melody of each Yahweh. You expect to hear the melody resolve downwards on the second “Yahweh.” But it doesn’t—at least not until the very end. Such a beautiful way to sing about hope and the need to keep hope coming.
#43 – “Exit”
Another song I really came to love in a live version, this one from Rattle & Hum. This is an odd song for U2 in its darkness, use of chaos, and almost theatrical build. Right at the start we get this very churchy introduction sung over slow, majestic synths. And then, so quietly and slowly that you think the song is over, we get this dark, foreboding bass figure over some moaning guitars, and then Bono’s hushed, almost spoken delivery of a tale of a lost soul turning to a gun and violence, in a time of darkness. By the second verse, Bono and the band are getting louder, but we still aren’t hearing much in terms of structure, or melody, or a chord progression. And then, after “The pistol weighed heavy/And his heart he could feel was beating” we get an explosion of sound from the band that pretty quickly dies away again, before returning for the finale. On record that explosion isn’t as dramatic as I think the band wanted it to be; live, it’s extremely effective, especially the finale of the piece (before they launch into the Van Morrison “Gloria” cover), which is as loud and thrashy as U2 ever got.
#42 – “Vertigo”
After “Beautiful Day” SO successfully launched their last album, you might have expected U2 to launch How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb with a similarly anthemic, uplifting first single. Instead, we got a bit of tongue-in-cheek Spanish, Bono calling the Edge “Captain,” and an infectious, dirty, riff that was more classic rock than classic U2. I love the way that Adam takes over the basic melody of the riff for the verse while the Edge scratches out some rhythm in the background. Then for the chorus we get this sing-along melody that Bono just wails on. I distinctly remember being very taken aback when I first heard this song, but it quickly grew on me, and I found its garage rock vibe just delightful. One more thing to call attention to – the classically minimalist Edge solo, in which the same basic figure is played four times, the only difference being whether there is a brief pause at the end of the phrase or not (twice there is, twice there is not).
#41 – “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”
Another breakup song off of Achtung Baby, this one never stuck as a single or a live song, but it’s always been one of my favorites. After a strange electronic sequel of an intro, we get some grand, dirty guitar chords ringing out. “You’re dangerous cause your honest.” That’s the first line. The drums come in banging out a tribal cadence. And the release is withheld—two verses before the chorus, not one. Then the release of the chorus – a yearning Edge riff and these aching words from Bono “Who's gonna ride your wild horses?/Who's gonna drown in your blue sea?/Who's gonna ride your wild horses?/Who's gonna fall at the foot of thee?” Later, we get to the bridge and one of my favorite vocal moments from Bono. It’s a longer bridge, more complex than your typical bridge, and it ends with this repeated phrase: “Don’t turn around, don’t turn around again.” Twice we get that loop, the second time Boni singing it in a higher register, and then we climax with the phrase “Come on now love, don't you look back,” with the note on that “look” as far as I can tell the highest note Bono has ever sung on record in full voice – a high C. Just a gorgeous performance and piece of songwriting.