15. Mothers of the Disappeared
This five-minute gem closes out "The Joshua Tree", U2's biggest and best selling album. It's a brooding, haunting, spooky song that starts with just a faint percussion line and some sporadic guitar feedback. Then it settles into a slow, rhythmic almost dirge-like beauty.
Bono and Edge combine for an achingly gorgeous falsetto chorus while the song gently moves along. The title refers to the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of Argentine mothers who lost their children, "The Disappeared", during Argentina's Dirty War from 1976 to 1983. As such, this is one of U2's most politically driven songs and it clearly demonstrates the band's interest and commitment to human rights. In a legendary 1989 performance in Buenos Aires, many of the Mothers came out on stage and stood as one holding up posters of their children as the band played this song. Very few rock bands can do that.
14. Mysterious Ways
This song is dedicated to that most beautiful of all creatures ... Women. It's a very loud but sensuous song with another of Edge's superb opening guitar riffs. This song is off their successful 1991 album, "Achtung Baby". Baby was a distinct departure from the band's earlier sound as this disc was their first venture into a new techno-dance sound that they would continue exploring throughout the 90's. During their 90's live shows, a belly dancer would join the band on stage during this song. In a case of life imitating art, Edge even married one of the belly dancers, Morleigh Steinberg. Clearly, she moved in Mysterious Ways.
13. City of Blinding Lights
"Lights" is from the band's 2004 album, "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb", and it opened up most nights of the 2005-06 Vertigo Tour. It has a shimmering "wall of sound" feel to it but it's also a kickass rocker with another of the band's trademark sing-a-long choruses. The song is about New York City in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. U2 has had a long and fascinating love affair with America and felt the loss much the same way Americans did. As the story goes, they were flying in to New York at night some time after the attacks and could see the city lit up from above like it always has been. "Oh, you look so beautiful tonight" was the result.
12. New Year's Day
From 1983's "War", this was U2's first big hit single. Originally a love song, it was reformed as a tribute to Lech Walesa's Polish Solidarity movement. It's about starting over fresh and new and it features Edge on both organ and guitar. He plays both instruments during live shows as well. Adam's bass line is also one of his best and carries much more of the song's texture than he typically does. And Larry's drums are up front and razor sharp too. Instantly recognizable, "Day" is a concert staple and still one of their most popular and well-known songs.
11. The Fly
One of the great "character" songs in the band's catalog, "The Fly" also features one of Edge's most distinctive and agressive "techno" riffs. This "Achtung Baby" song is the definitive break between the band's original sound and their new 90's "industrial" direction. "Fly" still has all the required U2 elements but they're played and mixed in a new way that instantly illustrates two conflicting themes ... Yes, this is U2 and no, we've never heard them like this before. From this point forward, "The Joshua Tree" was history. On stage, Bono assumes the character of "The Fly", a preening, strutting, leather-clad rock star in black wraparound sunglasses. When that phone call from Hell comes, it might as well be "The Fly" answering it. This song is 90's U2. It was their past, present and future.
10. Running To Stand Still
A truly lovely song about a sad subject, drug addiction, and heroin in particular. It's an achingly beautiful song filled with pathos and sympathy. Another one from "The Joshua Tree", "Still" has some of the band's most painful and poignant lyrics and some of their best slow song melodies. When played live, the crowd usually gets quiet and then softly sings along with Bono ... "Singing ha, ah la la la de day, Ah la la la de day, Ah la la de day". This is one of the band's songs that really gets down deep inside you. Very few fans can hear this one and not feel the pain and empty sadness. "She will suffer the needle chill, She's running to stand ........ still."
This is a loud, raucous, joyous, all-out, infectious number dedicated to either heaven above or just plain old joy and exhiliration down below. During the band's 2001 tour, they took the unusual step of opening each show by casually walking onto the stage with the house lights still on and then ripping into this song driving the crowd into a pogo stick frenzy. With Edge's raging feedback guitar and Bono's kickboxer poses, "Elevation" was the perfect opener for that tour. The band also played this song during a Saturday Night Live gig that year and drove that crowd and the show host, Val Kilmer, wild too. A mole, living in a hole, digging up my soul.
8. Pride (In The Name Of Love)
This is one of the U2's best known songs and it's also one of their best. As most fans know, it's about the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Edge plays a fiery guitar on "Pride" while Adam and Larry provide their customary solid backbeat. But this one is Bono's all the way. Yes, there is a mistake in the lyrics. Dr. King was assassinated in the early evening of April 4, not the early morning. But it doesn't matter. This is a song that crosses over racial boundaries as well as the Atlantic Ocean to recognize a true human hero. And Bono makes sure we know that. The band is rarely more urgent or more intense when they kick into this one.
A short and simple song but very powerful, "40" is often played to close down a live show. It's off the band's 1983 album, "War" and the title and lyrics are a reference to Psalm 40 in the Bible. Typically, they play it while the band leaves the stage one at a time. Bono usually exits first leaving the crowd singing the chorus line of "How long to sing this song" over and over. Edge leaves next while Adam and Larry remain. After Adam takes his bow and leaves, Larry and his drums are all that's left. But the crowd is still singing. Then Larry leaves. And we all stay and sing. Over and over. How long to sing this song. How long, how long. Then the lights slowly come on.
6. When I Look At The World
This is an obscure little-known track from U2's 2000 disc, "All That You Can't Leave Behind". It was not released as a single and to date, the band has not played it live in concert. But they should. "World" starts with a simple Edge guitar riff, hesitates for a brief pause and then explodes into a beautiful melody with soaring guitar notes and the usual airtight rhythm. Edge is all over this one moving up and down the scales while Bono sings another gorgeous set of lyrics about faith and spirituality. This song is a reminder of just how good U2 is because any other band would have rushed this one out as a single, shot an expensive video and then featured it at every live gig for the rest of their lives.
5. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
The boys do gospel. Oh yes, they do. "Found" is perhaps their most beautiful song. The melody is unforgettable and the chorus is so easy and so much fun to sing along with that most fans never mind when this one gets stuck in their heads. "Found" is about faith, religion, redemption, salvation, all mixed into one peaceful simple tune. It's the second of the "Big Three" songs off their mega-hit 1987 album "The Joshua Tree". This is the album that exploded U2 onto the world scene and cemented their legend for all time. And this song, among others on this incredible record, helped seal that deal. For an extra treat, watch and listen to "Found" in the band's 1989 movie, "Rattle and Hum". The boys team up with a Harlem church choir to show everyone what gospel can be. Heaven.
4. Sunday Bloody Sunday
"Sunday" is one of U2's first and most famous overtly political songs. It's about the bloody struggle in Northern Ireland and sends a plaintive almost desperate call for peace in that tortured land. Larry's drums provide a tight almost militaristic cadence while Edge uses a simple but powerful guitar riff throughout. This is another song that the band never plays casually. "Sunday" is an intense song meant to force you to wonder just how long this madness, The Troubles, has to go on. U2 opened their Live Aid set with "Sunday" as it was their most well-known song at the time. And they didn't disappoint.
3. Where The Streets Have No Name
The signature song from "The Joshua Tree", "Streets" has one of the band's most mesmerizing openings. It starts with a long church organ solo followed by another classic Edge riff. Then Adam joins in with a pounding bass line followed shortly by Larry's hypnotic drums. Finally, at the 1:45 mark, with the buildup at maxiumum intensity, Bono drops in with the opening line "I wanna run, I want to hide." The video for "Streets" is legendary as well. The boys made an unannounced visit to a rooftop in Los Angeles and started playing. A large crowd quickly gathered and soon the LAPD came and shut it down for fear of traffic and crowd control problems. U2 also played "Streets" during halftime of the 2002 Super Bowl just a few months after 9/11. As they played, the names of each victim scrolled behind the band on an enormous screen. At the end of the song, with millions watching on TV, Bono simply opened his jacket to reveal an American flag inside. Nothing else needed to be said.
This is the song that "saved" U2. As the story goes, the band was on the verge of breaking up while recording "Achtung Baby" in 1991. Edge and Bono wanted to explore the new techno-dance sound while Adam and Larry didn't. Finally, Edge came up with the arrangements for "One" and it changed everyone's outlook and approach to going forward with renewed optimism. The lyrics to "One" are ambiguous. Some interpret it as a love song although not a pain-free one. Others see it as a song about individuality as in "We're one but we're not the same." Regardless, the song is simply stunning and shows the band at its very finest. It's an encore number at all shows and has been covered by several other artists including Mary J Blige and Johnny Cash. "One" is the band's highest ranked song showing up on numerous "best ever" lists. It is the "One".
The best of the best. This sad but intense song about drug addiction is a huge crowd favorite. It opens with Edge repeating just two simple but unmistakable chiming notes over and over until the rest of the band kicks in and drives it harder and harder. U2 played this song at Live Aid and all but stole the entire show with it. When Bono went down off the Wembley Stadium stage and into the rapturous crowd, the band kept playing past the time they had planned to end the song and so U2 missed out on playing "Pride", the final song of their set. Legend has it Bono brooded over his "mistake" for weeks after the show until finally being convinced that "Bad" was just that good. If you listen to no other U2 song, this is the one. You'll be wide awake. You won't be sleeping.