Top 10 U2 Songs of All Time (IMHO)

I’ve been a little quiet of the late because my head is fully engaged in pumping out a sermon that I’m delivering at my church on Oct. 24th called “Spiritual Journeys Through the Music of U2.” I know you’re probably surprised that I didn’t choose to deliver my first lay-led service on the topic of cycling or the spiritual aspects of cycling–both ideas of which are totally viable. However, I’m a multi-dimension person with other passions besides cycling and one of those passions is my absolute and complete love for the band U2. Which, admittedly, has reached full-blown feverish levels since I began gathering the inspiration to write this sermon a little over a month ago.

The writing’s going a little slow; as of today, I’m only on the bottom of the second page. I plan to write five pages figuring that will be about the 20 minutes–if you include my stuttering and sweating–and probably about all people can handle of my unbridled idolization of Bono. I need to get back into the zone and get the writing into a flowing place, as the kind of zone I get into when I’m writing these blogs. Do or die, I’m locking myself in my house on Saturday until I get this thing done. I didn’t know when I accepted this challenge of leading a service for my church that it would be like writing a paper for college…

Anyway, since I’ve been doing all this research, I figured I’d share the benefit of some of it on my blog since today I can’t seem to get going on writing anything else. Through extensive youtubing in the last few weeks, I’ve determined my favorite U2 songs ever and I’m posting them with explanation as to why below.

10. Sunday Bloody Sunday – War – “This song is not a rebel song,” says Bono in 1983 when introducing the song at Red Rocks Amplitheatre in Denver, Colorado. Oh, but, Bono, it is your rebel song. Since the early 80s when he marched around stage bearing a white flag, Bono has always turns this song into a sermon on peace whenever he performs it live. Sometimes he’s angry, sometimes he’s near tears, and sometimes it’s a prayer. Every time he sings this song, it’s something new and I love it. He entices me to stand up, even in my living room while watching a show on DVD, and scream right along with him, “No MORE!”

My current favorite rendition from the live at Slane Castle DVD from the 2001 Elevation Tour:

The classic Red Rocks rendition (my, how they were young):

9. Drowning Man – War – “Rise up, rise up / With wings like eagles / You run and not grow weary.” (Isaiah 40:31) This song is just so beautiful from the lyrics to the electric violin at the end. You could say it’s the voice of a Christian trying to bring a lost soul into the fold; or it’s God trying to call a lost child home. It’s an invitation to a warm embrace. It’s easy… just take my hand…

8. With a Shout (Jerusalem) – October – It’s not secret that October is one of my favorite U2 albums. It’s also the band’s most outwardly spiritual album. Kind of ironic for an agnostic, huh? But it’s their passion I get right on board with. This song is sung by young men desperately seeking to know God. “I want to go. To the foot of Mt. Zion / To the foot of He who made me see…” It’s full of youthful spit and energy. And the tune is enigmatic. Kind of reminds of me standing in Rome touching the walls of the Colosseum, trying to connect with all the souls that once moved in and out of that arena. For just one moment, you can feel as though you were really there in the same time and place.

7. Tomorrow – October – My appreciation for this song really increased when I realized it is really about Bono trying to come to turns with his mother’s death. Who exactly is Bono talking to in this song when he implores, “Won’t you come back tomorrow?” His mom? Or Jesus as some of the other imagery in the song suggests? Or is it both because if Jesus returns to Earth, he can see his mother again too? “I’m gonna be there, mother; I’m going be there!”

It’s some of Bono’s best lyric writing to me. He can paint an image simply with a few words: “Outside, somebody’s outside / Somebody’s knocking at the door / There’s a black car parked at the side of the road / Don’t go to the door, don’t go to the door.”  I’m transported back to a moment when my own front door was swinging open constantly with people coming in to support me in those days after Mike died. There is a point when you don’t want to leave your house and face the reality of that black car (the hearse) that awaits; nor do you want to open the door to the new rush of guests with their hearts full of well-wishing.

6. Electrical Storm – a single – I just discovered this song a few weeks ago in my youtube browsing. Where has it been my whole life?! Well, it was apparently one of those bonus tracks added to a best of album that I didn’t get because I already had all the songs since I , as a fan, own all of their releases.

“The sea it swells like a sore head / And the night it is aching / Two lovers lie with no sheets on their bed / And the day it is breaking.” — A struggling relationship, the tension of a post-9/11 world, both sewn together into this hauntingly beautiful song that reminds of me the last, dramatic days of several of my own past relationships.

5. In God’s Country – The Joshua Tree – In this song, America is characterized as a “desert rose / dressed tall in ribbons and in bows / like a siren she calls to me.” I think this song talks of the double-edged sword of the greatness that is America–grand in scale to everything, but yet, at the same time, we’re a bit too used to what we have. We’re are a land of excess, of unimaginable riches in a lot of ways. But we’re also a land of waste. A land of people with no real connection to what’s going on with the rest of the world. I think Bono, as an outsider, can see this better than perhaps we do ourselves. “I stand with the sons of Cain,” is the last line of the song, “burned by the fire of love…” Seems to imply an untempered jealousy, maybe?

Well, if anything, this song has a kick-ass The Edge styled guitar riff to warm us all up, no matter where we stand politically!

Original form:

A cool live version:

4. Breathe – No Line on the Horizon – My immediate favorite song from their newest CD. This song is full of hope and love and praise. I cling strongly to the words, “I found grace inside a sound / I found grace and it’s all I’ve found / And I can breathe.”– Music cleanses my soul, brings me out of my funk. A song as beautiful as this can have me singing at the top of my lungs in the car on the way to work. In one, simple moment, I can feel released from any depression or sadness I’m feeling. All it takes is one beautiful note that sends goosebumps along my arms…

There’s an inherent struggle in this song that I can identify with as a widow. “Every day I / die again and again and I’m reborn / Every day I / Have to find the courage to walk out / into the street / with my arms out…” Every day of my life since losing my husband–since coming to terms with my mortality–has been a struggle with myself to overcome my own depression. Symbolically, I have to find the courage to walk out of my house, put my arms around the world–around life–and say that everything is okay. I can do this, I can step forward, I can move. I can love. I can form bonds with people. It’s okay. Something I do matters. This song just connect with me on that level… I don’t know what Bono was going through when he wrote this song, or what his particular struggle with life entails, but I can say that mine involves the very act of forcing myself to breathe each and every day… even when breathing hurts… I guess this is the interpretation of the song from someone who battles with a lot of depression… But this song accurately describes how I push myself forth every day. My own little internal pep talk to myself.

Oddly, “Breathe” has not really been performed well live in the 360 tour and was, in fact, removed from their set list in the 2010 leg of their tour. I don’t know why it doesn’t seem to work well live. I think it’s probably one of the only U2 songs I could actually sing decently myself. Below is a decent version from a pre-tour No Line on the Horizon promotional tour. (The studio track is way better…)

3. Miracle Drug – How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb – “Of science and the human heart / There is no limit / There is no failure here, sweetheart / Just when you quit” — This song also sailed me through another rough period of my life–the tail end of the anger phase of my grief. It’s upbeat and hopeful. I believe in the spirit of the human heart. And science. And it has a damned cool Edge guitar riff in the middle that causes goose bumps to surface all over my body.

I liked the song even better when Bono explains what it is about in U2 by U2: There

was a boy who came into Mount Temple just as we were leaving. He had been deprived of oxygen for two hours when he was born and developed cerebral palsy, so he was paraplegic. It’s written from his mother’s perspective. It’s abut her faith in her son when for nine or ten years she had no idea if he was a conscious, sentient being or not. The hospital, the carers, the doctors and nurses could not guarantee her that he was awake to the world. But she believed it. She saw something in his eyes that was the light of being. And she had enough faith in her instinct and in her love for him to teach him, to read to him, to talk to him as if he was there. And then, aged eleven, this drug appears on the scene which frees up one muscle, which is the neck muscle, and allows him to move an inch. And through that movement he was able to type out all the stories and poems he had in his head for all those years. He had a little unicorn device attached to his forehead and his first poem was called “I learn to bow,” which is about this mechanism of the head movement but it’s also his poem of gratitude to God, who I think he felt had worked through science to free him up.

2. Walk On – All That You Can’t Leave Behind – In a way, my whole sermon is about this song. Though the song is actually about Aung San Suu Kyi, it’s always been for me a very personal song that supported me during the roughest days of my grieving. “And if the darkness is to keep us apart / And the day light feels like it’s a long way off / And if your glass heart should crack / And for a second you turn back / Oh, no, be strong” — I always felt like this song was speaking directly to me. In the darkness time of my life, this song brought me back into the daylight and taught me how to breathe again.

1. A Sort of Homecoming – The Unforgettable Fire – The album The Unforgettable Fire was inspired by an art exhibit that displayed paintings commemorating the bombing of Hiroshima. There’s a mood in this album that’s laid back and nostalgic; this song is the best of them. Whenever I hear it, I picture driving home from southern Ohio in the golden light of a fall evening. I must have bought this CD in the fall. I remember playing it a lot when I was working out-of-town for my first real post-high school job. All of the lyrics are poetry–not one particularly stands out to me. It just seems like returning home after being estranged or sent away. I’m not quite sure what it means, and maybe Bono didn’t either, but it’s always my favorite U2 song.

Hmmm… maybe some of these songs will end up in my sermon….?

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