During U2’s early days, frontman Bono would often tip his hat to recording artists who influenced his teen years in Dublin, Ireland. During the “Unforgettable Fire” and “Joshua Tree” tours a generation ago, the vocalist with a big heart would not just talk about the impact the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed had on him.
U2 paid tribute to many of its heroes by covering songs throughout the band’s long career. I was knocked out by U2’s version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” at New York’s intimate Irving Plaza in 2001, Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” at Amnesty International at New Jersey’s Giant Stadium in 1986 and Reed’s “Satellite of Love” at Philadelphia’s Spectrum in 1992.
Only a fan would deliver deep Dylan and Reed cuts. Bono reminded the music world that he’s an inveterate aficionado first and musician second, and he released a list of 60 songs that changed his life last Sunday, which was his 60th birthday.
It’s a disparate rundown of favorites ranging from Luciano Pavarotti, Kraftwerk and Billie Eilish to Andrea Bocelli and the Ramones. It’s a thoughtful take.
A number of the songs, such as Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and David Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” made a palpable change in music and culture.
The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” and Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” each manipulate emotion.
Bono not only delivered a meaningful list, but he also wrote a letter to each of the recording artists who changed his life.
“These are some of the songs that saved my life,” Bono wrote regarding the meaningful tracks. “The ones I couldn’t have lived without … the ones that got me from there to here, zero to 60 … through all the scrapes, all manners of nuisance, from the serious to the silly … and the joy, mostly joy.”
Kudos to Bono for not just writing a list for publicity. Ever since I experienced U2 as a high school student in 1983, I was taken with how genuine the group has always been. If it’s been a charade, then Bono missed his calling and should have been an actor.
His list prompted my own rundown of a meaningful song from each U2 album.
1. “Stories for Boys” from “Boy” (1980)
The tune captures the band’s youthful optimism. Simple, raw and hook-laden.
2. “Gloria” from “October” (1981)
The first real glimpse of what U2 was to become courtesy of the anthemic classic.
3. “New Year’s Day (The Extended Mix)” from “War” (1983)
The haunting piano line that kicks off the alternative version meeting Adam Clayton’s bass, followed by Bono”s “You won’t hold me, hold me down” is a great introduction to the song that introduced U2 to America.
4. “40” from “Under a Blood Red Sky” (1983)
A gorgeous live track inspired by Psalm 40 and performed at arguably the most beautiful venue in the country, Red Rocks in Colorado. Best viewed since the concert footage is can’t-miss material, and “40” was the show-closer for most of the band’s ’80s concerts.
5. “Bad” from “The Unforgettable Fire” (1984)
The song that catapulted the band into rock’s upper echelon thanks to a moving 12-minute version at Live Aid. The emotional performance of the cut about heroin addiction would likely have been the story of the benefit concert if not for Queen’s show-stealer.
6. “Where the Streets Have No Name” from “The Joshua Tree” (1987)
U2 became superstars during the tour, graduating from arenas to stadiums. The urgent leadoff track also kicked off most of “The Joshua Tree” shows. The beginning of the song sounds like the calm before the start of a hurricane.
7. “All I Want Is You” from “Rattle and Hum” (1988)
The gem from an uneven album in which U2 tries to do too much, but “All I Want Is You” is gorgeous.
8. “Until the End of the World” from “Achtung Baby” (1991)
One of the finest reinventions in rock history. The Edge experiments with guitar distortion, and U2 composes some of the greatest songs in its long history led by this well-constructed tune.
9. “Stay (Faraway, So Close)” from “Zooropa” (1993)
Arguably U2’s most beautiful love song on an experimental album that received quite a bit of attention for its techno touches.
10. “Discotheque” from “Pop” (1997)
Off an album that has more misses than hits is “Discotheque,” which is a blast. Give the quartet credit for taking a chance.
11. “Walk On” from “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” (2000)
“Beautiful Day” and “Elevation” are catchy tunes that became massive hits. However, “Walk On” is a melodic hit that possesses the heart of “The Joshua Tree” era U2.
12. “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” from “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” (2004)
So relevant during the pandemic or for anyone who has lost a loved one. Listen and try not to shed a tear. The song was inspired by Bono’s dad.
13. “Magnificent” from “No Line on the Horizon” (2009)
A majestic raveup.
14. “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” from “Songs of Innocence” (2014)
A nice tip of the cap to the Ramones frontman. Solid riff by Edge.
15. “You’re the Best Thing About Me” from “Songs of Experience” (2017)
Catchy and clever.
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