U2's 50 Greatest Songs

A definitive guide to 35 years of music that changed the world

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7. "With or Without You"

"It doesn't sound like anything else of its time," the Edge said of the first single from The Joshua Tree. "It's not coming from an Eighties mentality. It's coming from somewhere completely different." With its stark sound and low-key video, "With or Without You" cut through the bloat and slickness of Eighties rock ("It whispers its way into the world," Bono said), giving U2 their first Number One hit in the U.S. and turning the band into reluctant pop stars. "You don't imagine hearing it [on the radio]," Clayton said. "Maybe in a church." The song's lyrics were sparked by heroes of the U.S. civil rights movement and the "new journalism" of the 1960s. Yet "With or Without You" – rooted in a simple bass groove and an ethereal guitar that frames Bono's yearning vocals – remains one of U2's most universal songs to date, a meditation on the painful ambivalence of a love affair. Bono insisted it was "about how I feel in U2 at times: exposed. I know that the group thinks I'm exposed and that I give myself away. I think if I do any damage to U2, it's that I'm too open."

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