Thursday, October 13, 2005

Top 10 U2 Songs

Tomorrow I'll be seeing U2 live. I've heard they're one of the best live acts out there today, so I'm psyched. To commemorate the occasion, here's a list of my top 10 U2 songs, if you've only heard their big hits, check out some of the more obscure tracks here, because they're brilliant.

#10. Until the End of the World (Achtung Baby) - One of U2's trademarks is the delay guitar and this song features one of their best riffs, essentially functioning as the song's chorus. After the lyrics about "the end of the world," there's a great instrumental part, with some non-lyric vocals. The final verse ("In my dreams I was drowning in sorrows...") is the highlight here. It's a great example of building a song primarily around an excellent guitar riff.

#9. Miss Sarajevo (Passengers) - This is a song off the album U2 did with Brian Eno, mostly ambient stuff that's ok, but this track is exceptional. The lyrics are great, particularly the repetition with the "There is a time for..." bits. The high point is the Pavarotti cameo, which takes the song beyond just a slow ballad and into the stratosphere.

#8. Discotheque (Pop) - This was the first single off the much maligned Pop album, an album that I'd rank among U2's best, and the opening track is the high point. This is a great example of a rock song built around dance rhythms, that uses a lot of repeitition within a few distinct sections. There's the verses, "You can...," the "Know you're chewing bubble gum" part, the chorus ("boom Discotheque") and finally the B section ("Looking for the man..."). All the sections are strong individually, but it's the combination and variation that makes it work. It's a song with a lot of hard edge, but with a pop structure. My favorite bit is the "Boom cha cha boom Discotheque" part.

#7. City of Blinding Lights (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb) - When I first saw the track list for the new album, this one sounded instantly promising. I always love titles that involve light, and this sounded like it would be a huge, anthemic track, and upon listening, it was. I think this does everything that 'When the Streets Have No Name' does well and then goes beyond it by combining the anthemtic style of 80s U2 with the experimentation of 90s U2. I love the buildup in the first part of the song up to "I'm getting ready to leave the ground," which leads to a great instrumental section and the soaring chorus. The way the words are spaced out on "Oh you look so beautiful tonight," is another high point.

#6. One (Achtung Baby) - This song was huge for a reason, it's a great low key, yet driving track. This is probably Bono's best vocal, or at least most emotional vocal, on any U2 song, and the guitar line adds a lot. And in the interaction between the two you get magic, as in the segue from "Carry each" into a great guitar part. That's consistently the most interesting thing in U2's music, the way the guitar and vocal compliment each other, such that each song seems like a duet. The crescendo at the end from "all you got is hurt" to the chorus stands out as well.

#5. Stay (Zooropa) - This is another song in the lo-fi lounge mode of One, but Stay goes even more loungetastic in its stylings. The interaction between vocal and guitar here is phenomenal, most notably in the chorus, the way "Then the night would give you up..." segues into a beautiful arching guitar line. I also love the way the verse segues into the chorus, the music building to the point that it's inevitable for something interesting to happen. The second chorus is the high point here, and it all dissipates in the comforting final verse. So the song takes you on a journey from this dark night to a bright morning.

#4. Walk On (All that You Can't Leave Behind) - This song has so many things I love about it. The slow opening, backed by some electronic sounds makes the bigger verse rewarding, and the chorus here is the best of U2's anthemic songs. But the best part is the ending with its repeated line of "All that..." phrases. I always love the repeating of stuff like that, such as on Pink Floyd's "Eclipse," and it works wonderfully here, particularly with the vocal interjections over the repeated phrases.

#3. Ultraviolet (Achtung Baby) - I'm mystified that this song was never released as a single because it's incredibly catchy and captures everything that the best U2 songs have. The guitar line is a phenomenal example of delay work, nicely dropping in after the a capella opening. I love the chorus here, with the repetition of "Baby, baby, baby light my way." It's such an exhilirating song, and the start of the phenomenal three song run that ends Achtung Baby.

2. Acrobat/Love is Blindness (Achtung Baby) - I know two songs sort of breaks the rule, but I see these as a suite since they flow into each other so well. This follows Ultraviolet on the album and it's the only U2 album that closes on a high note. They usually front stack their records, so the end just sort of fades out. However, here it ends on a great dark progression. I love the way Acrobat's opening verse builds within itself, and following it, the way the instruments echo "Don't let the bastards grind you down," with the keyboard progression repeating those notes. Also, the lyrics in this song are phenomenal. There's a desperation in the delivery that really sells it, and is complimented nicely by the hard edged guitar which cuts into the song following the choruses. Love is Blindness follows with more darkness, this time a low key, electronic track, and fades out on an eerie instrumental bit. The two of them together are beautifully dark and a great end to U2's best album.

1. Lemon (Zooropa) - This is a crazy song, another one built out of disparate parts. There's the verses ("She wore lemon..."), the "I feel like I'm slowly..." part, " the chorus ("Midnight is where the day begins...") and the b section with "Man paints a picture..." I love each of these individual parts and together they form the best song U2 ever recorded. The vocal goes to so many different places, from the soaring "Midnight" to the detached, almost monotone "Man makes a picture..." and it's all backed by similarly varying instruments. My favorite instrumental part is what's going on behind the "Midnight..." part. Listening to the song as a whole it's like nothing else I've ever heard, the combination of production and performance skill is unparalleled and the song itself cobbles together a bunch of disparate pieces into a great cohesive work. This is one you really have to hear for yourself to understand.

Well that's the top ten. It's exclusively stuff from U2 Phase 2 and U2 Phase 3. I don't dislike their early work, but there was a massive jump with Achtung Baby, and the stuff from then on eclipses what came before. Even though Achtung and Zooropa are my two favorite albums, I have liked the things they've done recently, when they've promoted a retreat from the experimental period. I think the past two albums have fused what worked about early U2 with what worked about experimental U2 and that's made them successful again. I would love to see more stuff like Zooropa, but it just doesn't seem to be happening, so I'll enjoy the top notch stuff they did on the most recent album.

Judging from the setlists online, there seems to be a fairly even spread through the eras. There's not much Zooropa or Pop, but there is a lot of Achtung, and Miss Sarajevo, which should be great. And perhaps they'll mix things up seeing as how this is their fifth New York show in a week.


Anonymous said...

I agree w/ you on the Achtung Baby songs. Those are some of the best songs of all time.

muebles madrid said...

To my mind one and all must go through this.

Kate Andrews said...

Thanks for providing us this helpful information. I am really excited to read some of your posts.

Baby Music DVDs