I’m on Spring Break right now which means that, as an educator, I’ve had a lot of time to think about important things. For example, I wondered why I never made a playlist of every single song U2 ever released and then spent weeks listening to that playlist in chronological order over and over again. I’ve been listening to all of their songs from all of their albums (and their other one-off single releases) and decided that you all needed to have access to my thoughts about their singles.
Now, this is not “every U2 Single, Ranked” because they released three live versions of “I Will Follow” and some songs that are sort of outside the scope of what I’d consider cannon singles (The kind of touching “Ballad of Ronnie Drew,” for example, doesn’t make my cut here). I’ve also chosen to include “Out of Control” from their three song Three EP because it was technically their first single in Ireland. Wikipedia provides a complete list of their singles if you want to see what I dropped off my list.
Now, I’ve loved U2 and I’ve hated U2 (though my hate was more of “I am too cool for this” pose during The Joshua Tree era) and clearly I fall more on the superfan end of the scale these days. Your mileage may vary.
Methodology: I first ranked every single in relationship to every other single from its album and/or era of release. Then I merged the lists. A couple of songs were sort of border markers for me – particularly “I Will Follow,” “New Years Day” and “Whose Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” for reasons you’ll see in my comments. For example, I would ask “Do I like this song more or less than ‘I Will Follow?’ Then it belongs here.”
Let’s do this.
57. “A Day Without Me”
“A Day Without Me” was the second single from U2’s debut album, Boy. Close your eyes, hit play and imagine Flock of Seagulls. Or maybe a Flock of Seagulls cover band, because I rather like Flock of Seagulls. While I completely understand why a record company dude would hear this song and think “say, this sounds like a lot of the other New Wave stuff being played here in Ireland and the UK in 1980, it should be next single,” I also think there’s about six better songs on Boy. U2 were still figuring out what they were all about (I mean, they were all of 20 years old in 1980) and this was a path they could have followed but didn’t. As with several of their early singles, this one sounded much better in concert. Check out the 1983 Red Rocks performance if you’re so inclined.
56. “All Because of You”
Hmm. You know, on a different day, I might rate this one higher, but just at the moment it sounds to me more like a parody of a U2 song – or, more favorably perhaps, a tribute to U2 by U2. That said, its actually a song that the band described as heavily influenced by The Who. I hear The Who whenever I listen to Green Day, but I don’t especially hear The Who here. Say that five times fast. Hear The Who Here. This was the second single from 2004’s How To Dismantle and Atomic Bomb.
That’s U2 playing “Fire” on Top of the Pops. Well, lip-synching the song. “Fire” was their first song to break the UK Top 40, so there was a period of time where this was the song their fans got most excited about hearing when they performed live. It was the second single from 1981’s October. That is also our cat’s name. Anyhow, October (the album, not the cat) had a number of excellent songs on it, but the record company executives were right that this slice of generic early 80’s new wave was a potential hit. It did better on the charts than “Gloria!” Life is a mystery.
54. “If God Will Send His Angels”
The fifth single from 1997’s Pop. What can I say? This one just doesn’t do it for me. I don’t in general have a problem with Bono’s earnestness (indeed, I rather like it most of the time) but sometimes he let’s it get in the way of the song. I’m mostly going to be explaining why I enjoy U2 songs, so I feel like I should get in some good zingers here, but this track just let’s the air out of my sardonic-cycle’s tires.
53. “Last Night on Earth”
OK, I love the start of this song. It has so much promise. When Larry Mullen’s drums come in and then Bono swoops in for that great first verse… and then the chorus happens and I just can’t be bothered. I’ve read that Bono was losing his voice when they were recording this for Pop – a rushed album that had many brilliant ideas, some of which became brilliant songs and some of which (like this song) hinted at what they could have been. Anyhow, you can hear that Bono is struggling through the chorus. Guys, wait until your singer is healthy. You’re one of the biggest bands in the world.
52. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”
I’m just going to say it – I loathe this song. Its probably my least favorite U2 song. When I was sorting out the bottom of the list, I used “do I think this is a better or worse song than ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’” as my reference point. Its not a badly made song – everyone sounds great – but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. When Achtung Baby was released in 1991, it blew me away. I’d written U2 off around the time of Rattle and Hum (which was a relief, in an odd way, because I was far too cool to be caught liking U2 when they released The Joshua Tree, but it was such a good album) but “The Fly,” “Mysterious Ways,” and “Even Better Than The Real Thing” had made me a believer again. Had this been the first single, no way would I have even given the album a second thought. Its just so…. U2. I don’t know if I can ever listen to it objectively, but I came around on “One,” so maybe someday.
51. “A Celebration”
U2 were heavily influenced by the Irish and UK punk and post-punk scene. I mean, of course they were. While the band Magazine probably had the biggest impact on The Edge’s signature guitar sound, you can hear touches of The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and half a dozen other contemporary bands in their early songs. To me, this sounds like Bono’s voice, but it sounds more like a Generation X song than a U2 song (especially the backing “shake shake” business). That said, its catchy as all get out.
I’ll post the next batch soon from this highly scientific endeavor.
Coming up next: You ranked THAT song at #42? Are you a monster?