Sure, you know all the words to “With or Without You” and “Beautiful Day.” But a true U2 fan appreciates the often-overlooked tracks just as much as the more familiar ones. Here’s a cheat sheet.
IT’S BEEN MORE THAN FOUR YEARS since the release of U2’s last album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. And though the wait for U2’s soon-to-be-released 12th studio record, No Line on the Horizon, has been long, you needn’t wail in agony à la Bono in a heartfelt ballad. Such times are good opportunities to dig through the Irish quartet’s “deep cuts” -- songs that didn’t get radio play but stand out as career changers and fan favorites nonetheless. Use this set list of underrated U2 classics to rediscover the self-proclaimed “best band in the world” before the group’s new album drops early next month.
“An Cat Dubh/ Into the Heart”
On U2’s debut album, this lengthy two-part song reveals what direction the band could have gone in in its infancy. The plodding bass line, Bono’s relative monotone, and the Edge’s rough use of feedback recalled the morose sounds of Joy Division, one of U2’s earliest inspirations.
Sophomore slumps don’t come more pronounced than October; and since Bono’s lyrics for this album were lost before recording began, the songs are uncharacteristically simple. But on this track, which describes Bono’s mother’s funeral, the aimlessness works, as Bono pleads in childlike fashion with what would become his signature wail.
Though the backing female choir and the trumpet blasts (courtesy of members of Kid Creole and the Coconuts) were rare U2 turns, what made this song most special was its sly hat tip to postpunk acts of the era. It’s among the Edge’s most frenetic performances, full of wild minor-key squeals that were held aloft by Adam Clayton’s unusually funky bass.
(The Unforgettable Fire)
This song was eventually vaulted to single status but only after fans clamored for it again and again in concert. Credit the song’s success to the band’s performance at 1985’s famous Live Aid concert, where this dark tale of a drug overdose stretched on for more than 10 minutes and cemented the band’s ability to find bright light in any dark theme.
“Red Hill Mining Town”
(The Joshua Tree)
The progression to the chorus, complete with stereotypical ’80s synth warbles, drags a bit. But all is forgiven by the time a swell of oohs lifts Bono’s heart-pounding chorus to the sky. “I’m hangin’ on!” he shouts at just about his highest register. So why wasn’t this song a hit? In the ’80s, Bono said his vocal cords couldn’t handle the chorus in concert.
“Whose Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”
It’s hard to find a deep cut on U2’s biggest album -- five of the 12 songs went to radio -- but this song was the album’s last single, so it’s largely overlooked. Not only was it the most pop hit on an otherwise somber album, it also was a spiritual and structural precursor to “Beautiful Day,” the band’s comeback single in 2000.
Nine years before his mainstream comeback, country legend Johnny Cash made an unexpected cameo on Zooropa’s final track. In spite of the poppy synth bass line, Cash owned the tune with his baritone mourning: “Where the ground won’t turn and the rain it burns/like the tears when I said goodbye.”
U2’s electronic reinvention came long before Radiohead‘s, though Pop’s results were less successful. This big-beat song was an exception; it cast the Edge’s guitar aside in favor of a pulsing, aggressive techno attack that bested the likes of electro freaks Photek and Future Sound of London.
(All That You Can’t Leave Behind)
This midalbum sleeper comes off like a cover, what with its jangly acoustic approach and hooky repetition. But U2’s take on the blues pop of the Rolling Stones is made all their own, unsurprisingly, by the honey-dripping multitracked voice of Bono.