U2 Singles Ranked, 41-50

Originally Published on Facebook Notes (March 24, 2017)

Moving right along:

50. “Please”

U2 have written and performed several songs about The Troubles. This one was from 1997’s Pop album and felt a little out of place on that record. I really liked when U2 played some with their image (starting around Achtung Baby, they delved into irony) but it was a hard needle to thread. In the context of Pop – an album constructed around a general critique of consumerism by ironically embodying that consumerism – I think this song felt out of place. We’re sort of in the “not bad, but flawed” portion of our list right now. I really like the drum and bass work here – kind of a hypnotic jazz feel – but ultimately the song just doesn’t stick with me.*

* In the comments of the original Facebook discussion, my friend Tori persuaded me that I hadn’t given this song a fair shake. Visit the link up top if you’d like to read the conversation.

49. “City of Blinding Lights”

From 2004’s somewhat lackluster How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album, this track has a hint of some classic signature guitar work from The Edge. This was one of the most beloved tracks from that album – it won a Grammy, President Obama used it on the campaign trail, and it was generally well received. I just don’t dig the “Oh you look so beautiful tonight” sections. And – like a few of their other singles – this one sounds like they said “let’s try to write a song that sounds exactly like some of our earlier songs.” Now, on the same album, there’s a song called “Miracle Drug” that has a fantastic Bono vocal line and some equally compelling guitar work. In my universe, that song was the second single.

48. “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”

That video is charming. The thing that knocks this otherwise strong song down a few notches for me is the lyrics. I mean its just… Well… he rhymes “change the world” with “boys and girls.” I don’t really know what else to say. And the title, I mean. Just no.

47. “Another Day”

This one was released before their first album in 1980. It was not hit, they were only known to have performed it six times in concert before abandoning it, and it really doesn’t sound much like U2. Bono doesn’t sound like Bono. He sounds a bit like Falco. I think Bono, Falco and Taco (from “Putting on the Ritz”) would have made a great vocal trio. I digress. The song isn’t exactly good and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was recorded by a third rate Buzzcocks knock-off band, but it has a certain new wave charm that I enjoy.

46. “Lemon”

I kind of agonized about where to place this song on this list. Its one of my favorites, but this seemed like the right place for it. U2 frequently collaborate with musician/producer Brian Eno. Eno has also worked with the Talking Heads. This song has always sounded to me like U2’s version of a Talking Heads song (particularly the verses, which are sung by The Edge and Bono). Sharon and I often sing this one to each other at Zippy’s where they bring us tea and there’s lemon slices on the saucer. The thing is, I like this song more in theory than in practice. The album it was from – 1993’s Zooropa – was a bit brilliant and a bit frustrating. The songs feel sometimes more like sketches of songs. “Lemon,” in particular, feels like its a second draft of a song that needs five more before its ready to hand in. The concept behind the lyrics – Bono saw an old movie of his late mother wearing a lemon dress and wanted to describe the strange feeling of experiencing her in this way – is really interesting to me. I just think it doesn’t quite coalesce into an entirely coherent song.

45 “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”

Another single recorded and released in 1980 before their first album, this one was produced by the legendary Martin Hannett. Hannett had just come off of producing Joy Division. If you listen to the first two U2 albums, you can really hear that they were coming from the same post-punk world as Joy Division, Magazine, etc. Hannett should have been a natural fit for U2, but they didn’t click and I think this single is a lousy version of a great song. Bono’s voice is too light and airy, the children’s chorus a little too on the nose and the mix is just off. On the other hand, this song was a monster played live and is one of the highlights of the Under A Blood Red Sky live album. The lyric “we thought we had the answers/it was the questions we had wrong” might not be an especially original one, but when I first heard it at age 15 or so I thought it was the most startlingly profound statement. I had a moment of zen awakening – “Oh, I don’t really know anything.” But that was while listening to the live version – this one is crap.

44. “Angel of Harlem”

Rattle and Hum. 198l. I was experiencing antipathy towards U2 already and this album (and movie) confirmed to me that they were pretentious as all get-out. I should know – I was pretentious, too. This isn’t a bad song – I just associate it with a time when I didn’t especially like U2 and there’s a ton of their songs that I enjoy more. “Lemon,” which I ranked lower, for example. What I do love about this one is that horn section. Drop out U2 and let me listen to the brass.

43. “Window In The Skies”

La la la let’s write about U2’s singles. Hmm. OK, good, Wikipedia has a list of them. Wait, what is this in 2006? They had a number 1 song in Canada and on the Dutch Top 40 with something called “Window in the Skies?” But I… I’m a superfan… I’ve not… WHAT IS THIS SONG? WHERE DID IT COME FROM? Oh, it was a song on a greatest hits package, ok, ok, I’m not going crazy. Hmm. Its pretty good. Do I want to spend time seeing how much I enjoy it or do I want to create my list of ranked singles? Create the list? OK, then slap it at 43.

42. “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

Oh man, I’m a monster (in a bad way). This song is maybe the classic Edge guitar song. I haven’t written much about Adam Clayton’s bass work, but the man is also a monster (in a good way) and he is the secret weapon behind this whole song (and like 70% of U2’s output – always give props to the bass player). I really think there need to be more songs about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and appreciate that Bono respects him so much that he wrote about him (though I like “MLK” – also 1984’s from The Unforgettable Fire – a little better). And yet, this song has never really been a favorite. I don’t dislike it, I just don’t click with it. Like I think the lyric doesn’t really capture the greatness of the man. Furthermore, there’s several songs from The Unforgettable Fire than have, well, sort of been forgotten that I like more than this one. In fact, if “Bad” had been released as a single – either the live version or the studio version – it would be competing for the top spot on the list. So here it is at 42. If you love it, at least you get to listen to it now. As with ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses,” I used “Pride (In The Name of Love)” as a threshold song. Its a song that I don’t dislike but that I don’t seek out.

41. “Numb”

I imagine that video captures what its like to be The Edge in U2 all the time. He is serious and trying to get stuff done and the other band members torment him while he sits around stoically. I love that he’s the lead singer here and remember being really amped in 1993 that this was the first single from Zooropa. I thought it was bold of U2 to release a single that didn’t feature Bono on vocals and, furthermore, the song was weird and fun. On the other hand, it comes across a bit as a novelty single and the problem with novelty singles is the novelty wears off. I still enjoy the video every now and again and I don’t press skip when the song comes on (that’s true of all the post-”Pride” songs).

Coming up next: R. breaks U2 fans hearts by ranking “Get On Your Boots” higher than a bonafide classic.

U2 Singles Ranked51-5741-5031-4021-3011-201-10