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Readers Poll: The Best U2 Songs

You chose ‘New Year’s Day,’ ‘All I Want Is You,’ ‘With Or Without You’ and more

u2 best songs

Bono of U2

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On Saturday night, U2 will finish their two-year 360 tour in Moncton, Canada on a double bill with Arcade Fire. The tour has grossed over $700 million, a record that's unlikely to ever be topped – unless the Rolling Stones really push themselves on their next outing. And thus it was time to find out our reader's 10 favorite U2 songs. It turns out you guys have a lot of love for the 1980s, the very early 1990s . . . and that's mostly it. Click through for the results. 

By Andy Greene

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10. ‘New Year’s Day’

U2's first single to hit the Hot 100 was "New Year's Day," from their 1983 LP War. The track began with Adam Clayton messing around with the bass part at a soundcheck, and then the Edge came up with the piano part – but it took Bono a little while to come up with lyrics. He eventually turned it into a love song for his wife Ali, set against the backdrop of the Polish Solidarity Movement. He must not have been happy with all of the lyrics, because in concert he never sings the "gold is the reason for the wars we wage" verse. 

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9. ‘Beautiful Day’

When the new millennium rolled in, it looked like U2 might be on the way out. Their last album Pop failed to connect with a mass audience, and the 1997/98 stadium extravaganza Popmart was labelled Flopmart by one too many headline writers. (For what it's worth, Pop remains a vastly under-appreciated album). U2 aren't the kind of band to roll over and die, and with their 2000 LP All That You Can't Leave Behind they came back swinging. The first single Beautiful Day sounded more like classic U2 than most anything they did in the 1990s, and it became a smash hit. It's one of the few songs from this century that's likely to be in every U2 setlist for the rest of their career. 

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8. ‘All I Want Is You’

The final track on 1988's Rattle And Hum is a straight-ahead love song written by Bono for his wife Ali. "That's clearly about a younger version of myself and my relationship with Ali," Bono told writer Niall Stokes in Into the Heart: The Stories Behind Every U2 Song. "It's about commitment, really. I don't think being married to someone is so easy, really. But I'm interested in the idea of marriage. I think it's madness, but it's grand madness." The song is six and a half minutes long, and the strings were arranged by Brian Wilson's Smile collaborator Van Dyke Parks. 

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7. ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’

The second single from The Joshua Tree charted all across the world, and helped establish U2 as one of the biggest bands on the planet. "At first it was complete gospel," the Edge told Rolling Stone in 1998. "And I was like, 'How are we going to make this U2?' Then one afternoon Bono was working on a vocal for it and just hit on this approach. The final thing that nailed it was the chiming guitar part with the echoes. Suddenly, rather than sounding like 'U2 go gospel,' it was this little gem. I still harbored a sense that it might be too gospel, but when I eventually heard a gospel choir sing it, I never felt so white!"

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6. ‘Pride (In The Name of Love)’

Bono was inspired by write this song about Martin Luther King Jr. after Rolling Stone writer Jim Henke gave him a book about the civil rights leader called Let The Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr. "Everybody in the band shines," the Edge told Rolling Stone in 1998. "It's a great vocal, a great musical idea, a great lyric. I'm not so in love with the recording – I don't like some of the drum sounds, and it took ages to mix. But there's something about the song itself that transcends all that stuff. It could have been recorded on a Walkman and it still would have that power."

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5. ‘With Or Without You’

This was U2's first Number One single in America, and it's remained one of their most played songs on the radio. " It was self clear early on that this was a little bit special," Bono told Rolling Stone in 2005. "The song is all one build to a crescendo. The song breaks open and comes down, and then comes back. Everyone in the room is, 'OK, Edge, let’s see if you can let off some fireworks here.' Three notes – restraint. I mean psychotic restraint, and that is the thing that rips your heart out, not the chorus."

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4. ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’

In the early 1980s, Norther Ireland was trapped in what seemed like a never-ending cycle of violence. The band's 1983 LP War reflects their frustration with the situation, most notably on the album's opening track "Sunday Bloody Sunday." "People don't understand it," Larry Mullen Jr. told Rolling Stone in 1983. "They call it a 'religious war,' but it has nothing to do with religion. It's like the the Dylan song 'With God On Our Side.' During the hunger strikes, the IRA would say, 'God is with me. I went to Mass every Sunday.' And the Unionists said virtually the same thing. And then they'd go out and murder each other. It's very hypocritical." 

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3. ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’

Bono has often said that regardless of how bad a concert is going, U2 can always break out "Where The Streets Have No Name" and completely rescue the night. Like Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run" or Arcade Fire's "Wake Up," it never fails to make a crowd go completely insane. " It’s a sort of odd, unfinished lyric, and outside of the context of Africa, it doesn’t make any sense," Bono told Rolling Stone in 2005. "But it contains a very powerful idea. In the desert, we meet God. In parched times, in fire and flood, we discover who we are. That’s my prayer, by the way, for the United States. Do you want to go to that other place… where the streets have no name. You can call it 'soul' or 'imagination,' the place where you glimpse God, your potential, whatever. That’s what it means at a U2 show. It’s like the Doors’ 'Break on Through to the Other Side.'”

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2. ‘Bad’

U2's 1984 song "Bad" was never a single, and you almost never hear it on the radio – but talk to any U2 fan and they'll cite it as one of their favorites. The song, about the horrors of heroin addiction, has a power that the band didn't seem to capture on the album. It's an entirely different animal onstage, and they have performed it countless times – often with bits of "Sympathy For The Devil," "Walk On The Wild Side" and other classic songs tacked onto the end. At Live Aid the song stretched out so long that they didn't have time for a planned performance of "Pride (In The Name of Love)," making the band think they had completely bombed in front of about a billion people – when in fact many people said they were one of the best parts of the entire show. 

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1. ‘One’

Believe it or not, this is the only song from the 1990s on the list. In many interviews over the years, the band has said this was the song that kept them from breaking up. They were in the midst of tracking songs for Achtung Baby and, for one reason or another, were fighting like crazy. There was even talk of breaking the band up. The, during in the middle of work on "Mysterious Ways," they discovered a melody that eventually became "One." All problems immediately ceased as they came together to work on the song.  "The melody, the structure – the whole thing was done in 15 minutes," Bono said. "Brian [Eno] arrived and he said that he liked all the material we had. We were surprised because everyone was freaked out about it. Then he said, 'There's just one song I really despise, and that's 'One.' He felt it needed some serious deconstruction." The band fiddled with the track a little more and eventually it morphed into the version everybody knows today. 

In This Article: Bono, U2

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