U2’s 10 most underrated songs
Obviously, U2’s Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. aren’t running low on hits — their Best of 1980-90 and Best of 1990-2000 collections included about 30 of the band’s most popular tunes. But scattered among all those successes are plenty of underrated gems yet to be discovered by newbie fans. As their 14th album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, hits stores (Nov. 23), here’s a look at a few of the fearless foursome’s best lesser-known tracks (and since there’s no way to list them all, post your own favorites below).
”Rejoice” (October, 1981) Like their debut, Boy, U2’s second album, October, focused heavily on the young foursome’s politics, but songs like ”Rejoice” are the first to suggest some ambivalence and personality: ”I can’t change the world/ But I can change the world in me.” (This was apparently before Bono decided to change the world, like, for real.) Though U2 hadn’t quite matured as a group, ”Rejoice”’s pounding guitar lines, tight drumming, and compelling lyrics foreshadowed more resonant songs like 1993’s ”Sunday, Bloody Sunday.”
”40” (War, 1983) An adaptation of the first lines of Psalm 40, the closing track on War is U2 at their most spiritual. Whether it’s a plea for the end of violence in the name of religion or simply a pretty song about God, the short, simple ”40” is a seamless blend of all four band members — even though Bono has said its recording was spontaneous and last-minute. Similar in style and theme to All That You Can’t Leave Behind’s closer, ”Grace,” ”40” has been used as a finale for many of U2’s live shows.
”A Sort of Homecoming” (The Unforgettable Fire, 1984) The first U2 album produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, Fire saw the band move away from the mainstream and develop a unique, Edge-ier sound. In the moody opener, Bono’s voice soars as he paints a hopeful yet pained portrait of an Ireland torn apart by conflict. His calling the landscape ”dislocated/ suffocated” brings to mind the longer string of angst-wracked adjectives in the album’s slower, more popular ballad ”Bad.”
”Exit” (The Joshua Tree, 1987) All of the songs on the underappreciated latter half of U2’s wildly successful Joshua Tree deserve a spot on this list, but ”Exit” captures the album’s themes of self-discovery and existential quandary perfectly. The song, about a man with a gun in his pocket, starts out as quiet and meditative but then, as if mirroring the man’s conscience, suddenly spirals in and out of a climactic, hard-rock jam.
”Heartland” (Rattle and Hum, 1988) This rolling tune was easily lost in the eclectic shuffle of Rattle and Hum, but Bono’s soft vocals and the Edge’s crisp guitar would have made a good addition to The Joshua Tree. As in ”A Sort of Homecoming,” the land comes alive though poetic lyrics: ”Freeway like a river cuts through the land/ Into the side of love.”
”So Cruel” (Achtung Baby, 1991) Not as daring in style as the rest of the album’s songs, this love-hate tune shines because of its heart-wrenching lyrics. Man loves woman, hates that he can’t help it, and will continue to love her even though she’s bad for him: ”Then she makes you watch her from above/ And you need her like a drug,” sings Bono yearningly, as his bandmates, sounding at times like a full orchestra, uplift him.
”Lady With the Spinning Head (extended dance remix)” (Even Better Than the Real Thing single, 1992) Although the concept of an ”extended dance remix” seemed very un-U2 at the time, this track hinted at the band’s impending techno phase. And it worked: One listen to this fun, peppy tune and the “La la la la la Lady” keeps spinning in your head all day long. A few bars of Achtung Baby’s ”Fly” even sneak in there at the end.
”Your Blue Room” (Passengers, Original Soundtracks 1, 1995) U2 upped the artistic ante by collaborating with Eno to produce Original Soundtracks 1, a collection of compositions for imagined movies. The subtly beautiful ”Room” has the dreamlike quality of 1993’s Zooropa and the electronic vibe of 1997’s Pop — you get the feeling you’ve somehow wandered into a strangely erotic underwater universe.
”Please” (Pop, 1997) Much like ”Exit,” ”Please” starts out slow but builds up enough emotion to produce one of the greatest crescendos in U2’s catalog. Even though it shares a techno flair with the rest of Pop, the song adds a more mature spin to the band’s ’80s concerns with Irish civil strife and the questioning of faith. At the end, Bono confesses, ”You know I’ve found it hard to receive/ ‘Cause you, my love, I could never believe.”
”In a Little While” (All That You Can’t Leave Behind, 2000) A sweet, bluesy stroll of a song, it deserves mention if only because it’s like nothing else U2 have ever done. When the accompaniment subsides and Bono belts out a long, whiny ”Turn it on/ Turn it on/ You turn me on, ooh-oooooh, yeah,” you can’t help but smile and think, “Right back at ya, baby.”
Okay, diehard U2 fans — agree with our picks? What songs would you add to this list?