Earlier this week, U2 released a new album in the most U2 way possible: at an Apple press conference. The Internet instantly raged with delicious hate. Meanwhile, I listened to the U Talkin’ U2 to Me? podcast for a fourth time, then played “New Year’s Day” to forget Bono and Tim Cook touching hands. I’m not a huge U2 fan, though I wouldn’t consider myself a hater, either — their early stuff is pretty good! Yeah, yeah, hipster nonsense, etc. But there are some memorable songs that overshadow the ones you’ve heard a million times. Here are eight (all non-singles) of them.
1. “Out of Control” (Boy)
U2 was a well-oiled machine straight from the get-go. The second single on their first album, “I Will Follow,” is as arena-ready as anything on The Joshua Tree. The same is true of “Out of Control,” a downer about having no say over the two biggest events in your life, birth and death, that still sounds epically optimistic.
2. “I Fall Down” (October)
October was a big step down from Boy (the over-the-top production drowns out Bono’s vocals), but there’s some good stuff in there. “Gloria” is the one song everyone knows, but check out the track preceding it, “I Fall Down.” It begins as a soft acoustic-and-keyboard ballad before evolving into a sinister-sounding blowout with a tingly midsection.
3. “Like a Song…” (War)
U2 wouldn’t become the BIGGEST BAND IN THE WORLD until 1987, but all the pieces were already in place in 1983, when they dropped War (which might be their best album). War is grandiose and ridiculous, but Bono and the band are so goddamn earnest, and believe in what they’re playing SO much, that it’s hard to fault such passion. The entire album, but especially the propulsive “Like a Song…” and “Sunday Cruddy Sunday,” has a charming puckishness to it; Bono wants to save the world, but he doesn’t feel like he’s THE MAN to do the job. Yet.
4. “Bad” (The Unforgettable Fire)
Here’s the “yet.” 1985 was the beginning of Bad Bono, the Messiah-like figure who’s tolerable for the first six minutes of the clip, filmed at Live Aid, then turns unbearable in the second half, when he thinks his hugs can cure the world like Holy Wayne from The Leftovers. Also, that haircut; it nearly ruins one of the Edge’s most memorable soaring riffs. The 1980s were weird.
5. “All I Want Is You” (Rattle and Hum)
Yes, it was released as a single, but whatever, it’s my favorite U2 song (bonus points for being in Reality Bites — there might be a connection between “favorite” an Winona Ryder). I’d say it should be played on the radio more, but considering I liked “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” right up until the point when I heard it wedged between “Here I Go Again” and “Pink Houses” for the 827th time in a week, no, it shouldn’t.
6. “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World” (Achtung Baby)
You’ll notice that I skipped over The Joshua Tree. That’s because pretty much every song on that seminal record was released as a single. Achtung Baby has that “problem,” too, and it just so happens that those five songs are the five best on the album. The laid back “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World” isn’t nearly as iconic as “One” and “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” and it really doesn’t sound like the first half of the experimental album, but it effectively captures what it’s like to stumble home drunk. I can relate to that. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” is terrible, though.
7. “The Wanderer” (Zooropa)
Do you like U2 but hate Bono??? Then you’ll love “The Wanderer,” which has Johnny Cash on lead vocals. (Fun fact: when Zooropa won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, Bono ended his acceptance speech by saying, “I think I’d like to give a message to the young people of America. And that is: We shall continue to abuse our position and f*ck up the mainstream,” despite the fact that Zooropa is a weaker replication of David Bowie’s Heroes, which came out nearly 15 years earlier.)
8. “Gone” (Pop)
Pop is the last album before U2 became the Starbucks of rock bands: very popular; occasionally decent, but mostly consistently mediocre. (Don’t try to defend No Line on the Horizon. You can’t.) The electronica-heavy Pop is an album that’s only gotten better with time, although it had nowhere to go but up; at the time of its release, it was widely considered U2’s least essential album, and the subsequent PopMart Tour was either the worst or best thing to happen to the live music industry, depending on which date you went to. I have a fondness for Pop, though, especially the buzzing “Gone.”