[Ed. note: This is the eighth in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
Candy hearts with little sayings like "MARRY ME" and "BE MINE" are cluttering the grocery aisles these days as we approach Cupid's favorite holiday. As I was eating my fifth or six box today (like I'm keeping track), a banana-flavored concoction tumbled out and proclaimed "ONE KISS." Before I sorted it into its color pile (as I'm known to do), I thought to myself, "That should say ONE LOVE instead!"
And then I kept doing it. I kept calculating all kinds of U2 lyrics that would make good candy heart copy. Then I just had to play the full songs (really loud) and try to figure out, of all the lovey-dovey ones, which were the best love songs in the arsenal of U2 hits?
This is what I came up with:
10. Two Hearts Beat As One (1983) Ah, young love. Isn't it precious? This is Bono on his honeymoon waxing all poetic about his feelings for the Missus. Though the lyrics aren't much to scream about (I try to spit it out?!), the hook is undoubtedly catchy, and you really can't stop the dance once you get going.
9. Love Is Blindness (1991) Anyone who has stepped foot in a church will feel the obvious correlation between a religious hymn and this song -- but I'm not saying that's a bad thing. Bono's voice is somehow both pained and understated in this hypnotic, feel-like-you're-on-the-edge-about-to-crack tune on the dangers of feeling love. The dramatic bridge is also chill-inducing:
A little death without mourning No call and no warning Baby, a dangerous idea that almost makes sense
The way the song turns from there with The Edge's misplaced, yet uniformly tragic guitar bit reminds us just how heart-wrenching true love really can be.
8. Sweetest Thing (1987) "A blue-eyed boy meets a brown-eyed girl," and the rest, they say, is history. This is one that Bono wrote for his beloved wife, Ali, and at times it almost feels too personal for us outsiders to be listening in on. But we'll continue to anyway. Even if this is the "Don't Worry Be Happy" of the U2 catalog.
7. Electrical Storm (2002) Of course the video for this one helps. If my first images associated with this song hadn't been a black-and-white, wet Larry Mullen Jr. writhing around in a bathtub, I may not have loved it so quickly, but I did. And once you mine through the lyrical silliness (cold coffee, heavy trucks, etc.) there's really a lot of romance waiting to be revealed:
Let's see colours that have never been seen Let's go to places no one else has been
When you're in love, every new day with your partner is an adventure you're packed and ready to go on. Everything feels, tastes and looks better, so seeing colors that have never been seen isn't an impossible dream.
You're in my mind all of the time I know that's not enough
Haven't we all craved someone so much that thoughts of them consume our every breath? Haven't we also felt guilty that maybe we're not able to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week staring into their eyes or feeling their touch? Uh-huh, that's what I thought. Add that all to one of the Best Bono Wails Ever and you have magic. Go listen to the song again -- it's better than you remember.
6. In a Little While (2000) In all of its bluesy goodness, this song truly refers to memories of a hangover, but you'd never know it from the poetry seeping out:
That girl, that girl, she's mine Well I've known her since Since she was a little girl with Spanish eyes
Marrying your high school sweetheart does entitle you to write lyrics like these. Lovely as a lullaby, I say.
The most amazing part of the song isn't in the lyrics, though. When Bono cries Turn it on, turn it on, you turn me on, something in my stomach turns to jelly, and I'm bargaining I'm not the only one who feels it. Something goes way beyond conventionally good here.
5. The First Time (1993) This song is beautiful right out of the gates. Quiet, unassuming, calm.
I have a lover A lover like no other
That's quite a compliment.
Above all else, it's simply a narrative of a person explaining how they respond to feeling love "for the first time." The way the tune quietly builds and bursts into an unexpected piano bonus is unlike other U2 songs, but no less meaningful. Proof that in some cases, less is more.
4. One (1991) OK, so I'm cheating. We all know that "One" wasn't written about a couple - it was written about the band that's playing it, by the band that's playing it. But has there ever been a more perfect lead-in to melodic glory? Larry's drumsticks tapping are like the gentle knock on a door that opens into a world of complex sounds and feelings that everyone becomes a part of.
The lyrics are poetic genius. They identify all of the fears, insecurities and questions that plague every relationship, no matter how strong. Each line could stand alone as a thesis on love:
Is it getting better or do you feel the same
It's one love, we get to share it
We're one, but we're not the same
Love the higher law
We've got to carry each other
The song may truly be about the friendship of four rock stars, but it can easily translate to any love affair, alive or dead.
3. Ultraviolet (Light My Way) (1991) Yes, this song affected me personally, so perhaps it will fall higher on my list than it will on yours, but trust me, it deserves to be here. Here are just a few reasons why:
- That background layer that sounds like an underwater orchestra
- Its honesty
- The fact that Bono moans "baby" over 40 times
- Its complexity
- Edge's backup vocals (Ultraviolet love!)
- Its vulnerability
- The way that it's sad and desperate, but still manages to be hopeful
It's an unconventional love song, but it's still a love song. A fine love song.
2. All I Want Is You (1988) A friend once told me never to associate one man with this song because she had made that mistake, and after she broke up with said man, listening to it became unbearable. I can't say that I took her advice, but I can say that listening to this masterpiece - no matter how much it reminds me of my former love - will never be unbearable. It's simply too beautiful.
"Sacred" is the word I use to describe "All I Want Is You" to non-U2 fans who ask me to convert them. It's typically the first song I play for them. And although I've always been a fan of the circus-on-the-beach video that accompanies the classic, I tell them that interpretation doesn't come close to capturing the depth of the song.
The song is a journey in itself. You could be swimming or walking or driving or flying, but all the while you're moving, moving, moving helplessly to where this tune is taking you. Instead of leading, Bono's voice is following his instrumental accompaniments like gentle footsteps a parent would take when trying not to wake the baby.
It's everything you want to say, summed up into five words, delivered in musically diverse, passionate portions.
"All I Want Is You" is love's highest compliment.
1. With or Without You (1987) It's the ultimate predicament: wanting, needing, loving someone that you can never be with. You can't live with them for whatever reason fate has assigned; you can't live without them because your heart breaks in their absence.
Romeo and Juliet, Heathcliff and Catherine, Rhett and Scarlett-they all could have had "With or Without You" as their song. It is universally tragic and true; at once timely and timeless.
Listening to it from start to finish with no interruptions is like pulling the Band-Aid off of a wound that's not yet healed. It sounds like no other song. If you've experienced this kind of heartbreak, you ache because of it; if you've been spared the agony of this situation, you fear for it ever happening to you.
The music is haunting, the lyrics are naked truth, the delivery brutally effective.
Through the storm we reach the shore You give it all but I want more And I'm waiting for you
"With or Without You" is easily the best love song U2 has ever written and quite possibly the best love song of our time.
(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2009.