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20 Insanely Great U2 Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know

Listen to lesser-known gems from the band’s catalog

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Paul Bergen/Redferns

U2 had a whole mini-catalog of songs prior to recording their debut LP Boy, and after that they always wrote far more tunes than could fit on any one album. Some of these songs were relegated to B-sides, while others were merely played live a handful of times. For every forgettable song like “Womanfish,” there’s a brilliant one like “North and South of the River” or “Salome.” Here’s a guide to 20 of the best obscure songs from the Irish quartet.

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14. ‘Two of Happy, One Shot of Sad’

Bono got close to Frank Sinatra during the final years of the Chairman of the Board's life. They recorded a duet of the Sinatra classic "I've Got You Under My Skin" in 1993 and the following year Bono presented him with a Legend Award, though the Grammys, in a shameful move, cut Frank off mid-speech to go to commercial. Bono was determined to see Frank Sinatra record one final masterpiece before he died, and he wrote "Two Shots of Happy One Shot of Sad" for him. He read him the lyrics in a limo one night, but Sinatra wasn't in great shape by this point and he never recorded it. Bono recorded it himself in 1995 with an orchestra and sent it to Frank for his 80th birthday. Two years later, it came out as a B-side to "If God Will Send His Angels." In 2004, Frank's daughter Nancy recorded it. 

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15. ‘Alex Descends Into Hell for a Bottle of Milk’

U2 were pretty much off the grid in 1990, though Bono and the Edge did emerge to write the score for the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of A Clockwork Orange. The Edge was listening to a lot of industrial music at the time, and their song "Alex Descends Into Hell for a Bottle of Milk" was the first glimpse U2 fans got of the new direction U2 were headed in the 1990s. It's also the complete opposite of the American roots sound of Rattle and Hum. The instrumental came out in 1991 as a B-side to "The Fly." 

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16. ‘Glastonbury’

"This is a new song we're trying out," Bono said in Frankfurt, Germany, in August 2010. "It's kind of a rocking 1970s thing. It's called 'Glastonbury.'" U2 were supposed to play England's massive Glastonbury festival that summer, but Bono's back problems delayed the show until the following year. When he got better, they debuted this rocking tune when they played mainland Europe in the late summer. Oddly enough, they didn't bust it out when they were actually at Glastonbury. 

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17. ‘Xanax and Wine’

The line "how to dismantle an atomic bomb" appears nowhere on U2's 2004 LP How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, but you can hear it on "Xanax and Wine," a song they wrote during the final days of recording the album. The track eventually evolved into "Fast Car," but it lost its raw, frenetic energy in the process. Thankfully, they released "Xanax and Wine" on a rarities collection a few years later. 

 

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18. ‘Native Son’

U2 have proved that it's possible to over-think a song and screw it up. Their 2004 song "Vertigo" was a big hit, but many fans prefers the tune in its original incarnation as "Native Son." It's not glossy, still has some rough corners and probably wouldn't have worked in an iPod commercial. The good news is they put it out so fans can compare the two. 

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19. ‘Mercy’

"Mercy" was originally slated for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, but for some reason it was yanked at the last minute. One fan wound up with a bootlegged copy and it was uploaded to the Internet in late 2004. U2 fans fell in love with the anthemic song, many of them arguing it was one of the most U2-ish songs every written. The band finally got on board in 2010 when they began playing a revised version of the song in concert. One of those versions came out on the band's 2010 EP Wide Awake in Europe

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20. ‘Lady With the Spinning Head’

Achtung Baby is undoubtably one of U2's greatest albums, but it had a very difficult birth. When they began cutting the album in Berlin, Germany, they were simply unable to finish any songs they were happy with. One of their early attempts is "Lady With the Spinning Head." They eventually gave it up and scrapped it for parts, using elements of it on "Zoo Station," "The Fly" and "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)." It's trippy to listen to it today since it sounds like all those songs combined. 

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