"12 by..." aims to summarize an artist's career in 12 songs. This one features...
I know, I know. The general guidelines I follow for picking artists for the 12 by... feature are as follows: 1) they don't have a greatest hits album already and 2) no one could make a case for much more than 12 classic songs by that artist. A feature on U2 obviously breaks both of those rules, but with good reason. For one, it's nice to change things up once in awhile. For another, I saw the fun U23D concert film this weekend and that got my mental cogs turning. And finally, despite the surest bet any band could ask for, U2 whiffed all three of their best of packages. Those should have been classic greatest hits albums, yet they were hampered by non-chronological sequencing, remixes and odd song choices. I'm here to rectify.
1. "I Will Follow" (from Boy, 1980)
Is that the guitar riff from Guitar by Prince that I hear? What strikes me about this early highlight is how generic Paul Hewson's voice sounds, like he's imitating Peter Murphy.
2. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (from War, 1983) Take a military marching beat, guitar harmonics, plus lyrical and vocal passion from Bono and you have the band's first bona fide classic.
3. "New Year's Day" (from War, 1983)
Though they hadn't reached their defining moment, they were certainly creating a rough draft of it. Rare for U2 in that the piano is more memorable than the guitar, this one features spirited background vocals and an undeniable sense of motion.
4. "Bad" (from The Unforgettable Fire, 1984)
This song is a slow burn ballad. My only problem with it is that it's hard to remember from its title. "Wide Awake" or "I'm Not Sleeping" would have been better. Plus, it wouldn't make me think of Michael Jackson dancing in a subway in leather.
5. "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" (from The Unforgettable Fire, 1984)
It always gives me chills, the fact that these Irish boys embraced such an American figure as Martin Luther King Jr. Obviously his message of peace and freedom rang far beyond the U.S. geographical landmarks he listed in his famous speech.
6. "The Unforgettable Fire" (from The Unforgettable Fire, 1984) A ballad that shows early signs of their later experimentation. Plus, you gotta love it when Bono unleashes the falsetto.
7. "Where The Streets Have No Name" (from The Joshua Tree, 1987)
This is the signature U2 sound. You know, that sweeping, epic, break-free-of-your-earthly-bonds sound.
8. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (from The Joshua Tree, 1987)
9. "With Or Without You" (from The Joshua Tree, 1987)
"An immaculate performance with a great lyric, but I always wonder about the switch from third person ("on a bed of nails she makes me wait") to second person ("And you give yourself away") on the chorus. Is the song about two different people?
10. "Desire" (from Rattle & Hum, 1988)
One doesn't tend to think of U2 as blues-based, but they pull off a respectable and energetic imitation.
11. "All I Want Is You" (from Rattle & Hum, 1988)
Their most unabashed love song, and probably the best they've recorded.
12. "Even Better Than The Real Thing" (from Achtung Baby, 1991)
A hypnotic rocker. This was a U2 we hadn't heard before, but were obviously ready to embrace.
13. "One" (from Achtung Baby, 1991)
Is it about a failing relationship, the band itself, peace on Earth, or all three? Does it even matter?
14. "Mysterious Ways" (from Achtung Baby, 1991)
Perhaps winking at their Christian upbringing, this song is either a) comparing a beautiful woman to God or b) calling God a beautiful woman. No matter which it is, the line "if you wanna kiss the sky better learn how to kneel" manages to be Biblical and cool all at once.
15. "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" (from Batman Forever, 1995)
Here's a nugget from the band's time in the wilderness. It sounds bit fuzzier and dirtier than most of their songs, but unlike the Zooropa fare that preceded it, it doesn't ignore melody and structure.
16. "Miss Sarajevo" (from Original Soundtracks 1, 1995)
While I admit it barely grabbed me in its recorded version, I had a whole new appreciation of this song after seeing them do it live in the movie. Even better, there's a live version available for download.
17. "Dischotheque" (from Pop, 1997) This song will forever remind me of the first time I successfully connected my Discman to my car stereo. This was the first tune I played. Ignore the remix on Best Of 1990 - 2000, which takes out the stompy "oohh"s from the ending.
18. "If God Will Send His Angels" (from Pop, 1997)
A gospel song with an electronic tinge. Great line: "It's the stuff of country songs."
19. "Sweetest Thing" (from Best Of 1980 - 1990, 1998)
This was actually a dusted off 1987 B-Side, which was re-recorded and became a big hit. Though that means chronologically it belongs much higher, but considering its time in the public consciousness and (strangely) its musical and lyrical content, it fits much better with the band's latter day work.
20. "Beautiful Day" (from All That You Can't Leave Behind, 2001)
I'm still reeling a little bit from it being overplayed, but you couldn't ask for a better "comeback" song.
21. "Elevation" (from All That You Can't Leave Behind, 2001)
Sure it sounds like Bono grabbed a rhyming dictionary and wrote the lyrics in 5 minutes, but the energy more than makes up for it.
22. "Walk On" (from All That You Can't Leave Behind, 2001)
A motivational speech set to music. Gets me every time.
23. "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" (from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, 2005) Bono's offers a complex tribute to his father, avoiding laudatory clichés and instead focusing on the difficulty of their relationship and his father's stubborn nature. He also admits his debt: "You're the reason that I sing."
24. "City Of Blinding Lights" (from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, 2005)
Edge breaks out the piano again for this sweepingly romantic song that harks back to the band's early days.