"U2's records take a long time to make not because the band members are stuck for ideas but because they never stop talking about them."
-- Brian Eno
U2 Lists: Top 12 Songs For Summer Travel
July 18, 2012
[Ed. note: This is the 40th in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
It's summer vacation season, and whether you are traveling by plane, boat, train or automobile, rest assured that U2's music can provide the soundtrack for your journey. A vacation soundtrack allows the songs to take on a new meaning, as well as serve as sightseeing inspiration wherever you end up. Fantastic travel songs are ones you want to crank at full volume, sing along with and get lost in. After decades of creating my essential U2 travel playlists for various trips, I wanted to share the stories behind my unconventional dozen of go-to tunes that make those long trips much more bearable. I am a longtime collector so the versions in the list may be a bit rarer to find, however the studio version of the track is always good too.
"Where The Streets Have No Name" Live From Rotterdam - Please PopHeart CD (6:33)
The PopMart version of this song is my favorite because of the added bars of drumming in the middle before the "oh, oh, oh's." In almost every U2 board on the web, this song tops the list of best driving songs. The Volkswagen and BMW Drivers Clubs have listed this track as quintessential. For me, it's the one song I have to be especially careful with as I've been known to break some speed limit laws as the song builds and accelerates at the beginning. Vacationing is about escaping to a place where you want to "feel sunlight on your face" and forget about day-to-day for a while.
"City Of Blinding Lights" - Live From Chicago DVD (7:17)
The excitement, anticipation and drama of this song match the adrenaline rush of what lies ahead. As the Vertigo tour opener for most nights, the track brings back so many memories for me as I attended over two dozen shows on the tour. "I miss you when you're not around. I'm getting ready to leave the ground" are lyrics that express that sense of travel and reaching a destination where you're able to assess where your life is leading you.
"Elevation" (Influx Mix) - Live From Boston DVD (5:07)
While the studio version of the Influx Mix can be found on the 7 cd sold at Target stores, I was at one of the Boston shows that was filmed for this DVD so I'm a bit sentimental about this version. When I'm taking off on a plane, I try to get this track lined up just after take-off when we're allowed to play our approved devices. It's next to impossible not to sing along to this song while driving, and it's much more fun to crank it going through tunnels.
"Beautiful Day" – Live From Slane Castle DVD (4:36)
The energy from the audience at Slane Castle can be felt in this live version of "Beautiful Day." It does not matter where in the world this song has been performed, the audience responds in the same places in the same way just about every time. It's that same energy that reminds me why I feel that sacred tribal kinship with the band and its fans. I definitely feel part of the tribe. This is another U2 song that scores high on best driving song lists as well.
"Desire" (Hollywood Remix) – (9:23)
I am a fan of this extended version from the "Desire" promo single for several reasons. First, the rhythm section is front and center through each loop and sampling of the "voodoo economics ... in Hollywood tonight" news headlines. Second, the sirens at the beginning are a reminder to check the mirrors while driving, as well as the speedometer. Third, the "Desire" promo was the first promo in my collection. Fourth, as the track clocks in at over nine minutes, it makes travel feel that much faster. This version playfully explores the musicality of its much shorter original. The addition of the soulful backing vocals by Alexandra Brown and Edna Wright gives it added attitude.
"I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" Live From Dublin – Artificial Horizon or Wide Awake In Europe EP (6:47)
From the head bopping to the euphoric release after admitting that you do, indeed, need to go crazy, this is a must-have in my summer travel listening list. Each time I hear the live version, I have an uncontrollable urge to do a primal scream as Larry puts down the djembe and picks up his sticks to kick the song into overdrive with that heart-pounding drumbeat. The invitation is there to get lost in the song, and I accept that invitation each and every time.
"Out Of Control”"Live From Boston – U2 R.O.K. or "Sweetest Thing" single (4:25)
It's the perfect bookend to the rave-style "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight." The theme of the song is about how fragile life is and rebelling against fate. I include it in a summer travel list because it challenges me to enjoy each moment, new experience and cultural shift as I’m not sure if I’ll ever get the opportunity to do it again. I've been on many a trip where I had no control whatsoever about how we were getting to the destination or even in the destination itself. It's a great gut check for when I feel the journey is getting too blasé.
"The Fly" - Live From Boston DVD (7:15)
This is my all-time favorite performance of "The Fly." I am a sucker for the tease at the start of the song, and just when you think you can exhale, Edge's guitar jolts you into a different stratosphere. There's an anger in the performance where I can sense The Fly is battling it out inside of Bono's head as he's not giving into the character like he did in Zoo TV. Each time I sing along in the car, I tend to take on the different personalities within the song. The echoed "gotta go" at the end serves as a reminder of why I'm going on vacation in the first place. This song also brings back many pleasant memories of spending time with friends in Boston with the hope of getting Bono's autograph, and when I finally did the adrenaline rush it brought on.
":Vertigo" – Live From The Brooklyn Bridge (3:37)
There are many reasons why this song is on my list. The obvious one is because of the "hello hello, hola – I'm at a place called Vertigo – Donde esta" repartee. If you have a car full of friends or like-minded family members, it's next to impossible not to have the banter between everyone. It's a great driving song too, thanks to Larry's beat. On a more personal note, this song brings me back to a couple key travels in 2004 and 2005, and serves as postcard-style reminders of those journeys. First, my husband and I joined a couple of friends on a frantic drive from Boston to New York City to make it to this performance. Listening to this version brings me back to three hours of nonstop U2 conversation with good friends and the euphoria of getting to the gig. (Note: Do not try to do this drive in only three hours as you might get a hefty speeding ticket. We were lucky.) Second, a few months after the gig, I found myself in Buenos Aires en route to Ushuaia to board a boat to travel to Antarctica. After all that travel, "Stranger In A Strange Land" might have been a more fitting song, but "Vertigo" was what I truly felt. There's nothing like being on a secluded boat crossing the Drake Passage with two weeks of alone time to get into How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and stopping the disc after "Vertigo" to re-examine what the heck you're doing on the planet.
"Zooropa" Live From Baltimore - U22 (4:31)
Less than 24 hours after buying Zooropa in 1993, I was on my first transatlantic flight to the United Kingdom. It was also my first trip outside the United States, so the European feel of the entire album really made a deep impression on me. As for a summer travel song, it speaks of a yearning to go out and explore the unknown: "And I have no compass, and I have no map, and I have no reason, no reason to get back. No particular place names, no particular song, I've been hiding – what am I hiding from?" The beauty of the U22 version of the song can be found at the 2:38 mark as Edge's sonic guitar takes over.
"Theme From Let's Go Native" - Original Soundtracks 1 (3:06)
This underrated instrumental gem from the Passengers era begs to be played at high volume while driving along the highway. The rhythm works well if you're going around 60 mph as it captures the flowing scenery with a cinematic flow. After all that singing along for the past hour, it allows the voice to rest too.
"A Sort Of Homecoming" - Wide Awake In America (4:06)
All good trips should end with a feeling of coming home. Sometimes the destination is a home-away-from-home. Most vacations usually have a goal of rest and relaxation: "And you hunger for the time, time to heal, desire, time, and the earth moves beneath your own dream landscape." There is a sense of wonder and anticipation in this song, and no matter where I might be, I always yearn to return home with optimism that things are going to be all right.
In the end, my 66 minute playlist of travel songs takes me on an emotional journey while the vehicle I'm traveling in takes me where I need to go. After decades of traveling, I'm glad that U2 continues to provide me with a soundtrack for that ride.