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What I'm most proud of is my humility. -- Edge

@U2 Lists: Top 5 Edge Guitar Solos


U2 Lists - Edge Guitar Solos

Studies have repeatedly shown that despite its incredible complexity, the human brain can be broken down into two sections. The left side of the brain is the logic center. Math, science and linear thinking all come from that side. The right side is the more emotional side of the brain. When you paint, get a gut feeling or daydream at work, that’s the right side of your brain. 

This comparative list is written from the perspective of people who are reliant on logic (Christopher Endrinal) and emotion (Mason Merritt). Before we get too far into the list, here are our individual methodologies for putting these lists together.

Chris: My favorite quality about Edge and his guitar playing is the restraint he practices. He is a rare breed of lead guitar player who is more than willing to forego showy solo passages in favor of a more holistic approach to texture and form. While Edge isn’t known primarily for his “shredding” ability, U2 is a rock band, and rock music is known to have guitar solos from time to time. And contrary to what many non-U2 fans may think, Edge can play a pretty mean guitar.

The songs on my half of the list contain guitar solos that are evocative, texturally interesting, rhythmically complex and showcase a variety of playing techniques and effects. Additionally, these solos are integral parts of their respective song’s narrative. That is, each solo is directly/explicitly related to the song’s story from a musical perspective.

Mason: My methodology for putting this list together comes from a more abstract place than Chris. When I approach a piece of art, what’s first and foremost in my mind is how it makes me feel. I don’t know much about the finer details of how Edge plays the guitar or the technical sides to how he makes the sounds he does. But I do know emotion. And there’s no one who can communicate emotion with plastic and metal strings quite like The Edge.

Mason #5: “Acrobat”

The genesis of this list came in February when I was between @U2 articles, so I spent some time thinking about what I could write that would tie into the upcoming tour. A random appearance of "Acrobat" on my phone gave me the spark I needed to start working on this list. Once I whittled down my selections, I jotted down quick notes next to the songs that I could refer to when I sat down to write out my reasoning for including the songs on my list.

Underneath “Acrobat” I wrote: Another intense song. Probably wouldn't work in a live setting. Let me just say I was A) having some sort of premonition and B) more wrong than I have ever been about a U2 song.

I've been lucky enough to hear “Acrobat” three times now, and every time I've heard it I've been shocked by how well this song works, especially when it comes to Edge's guitar solo. The focus and grit he has when he plays this is just something you have to see to believe.

Mason #4: “The Fly”

Bono has said that "The Fly" is about a phone call from a man in Hell who's come to discover he likes it there and is raving about it to the person on the other end of the line. When it was released as the band's first single from this new era, I think Edge's solo conveyed to everyone that U2 were the ones on the phone raving about “Hell.” Like the rest of Achtung Baby, the solo is epic and revels in the chaotic nature of the world it's found itself in.

This solo is also a showcase for what I think is some of Edge's most brilliant effects work. The tone and piercing frequency of the effects make the song sound enormous and to my weird brain: three-dimensional. When Edge is at his best, I feel like I can see the notes as well as hear them. 

Mason #3: “The Electric Co.”

Taking into consideration the way he talks about, interacts with and uses it, I think the case could be made that Edge doesn't really like the guitar. His goal often seems to be to make the guitar sound like anything but what it is. It's as if he's embarrassed to be a guitar player, and instead wants to be seen as a musician to avoid the stigma. Metaphorically, he's fighting his guitar to get it to be something it's not. I think that existential battle materializes in “The Electric Co.” He seems to spend the first section fighting the beast, almost to a draw, before he's finally able to tame it.

I'm not so naive to think there isn't plenty of (incredible) showmanship going on in this particular performance, but if you look at the macro instead of the micro, this solo symbolizes his adversarial relationship with the guitar and rock music as a whole.

Mason #2: “The Little Things That Give You Away”

I knew as soon as I heard it from my crappy laptop speakers that this was going to be a solo for the ages. Seeing it live for myself and listening to it on repeat on the album has reinforced that “love-at-first-sound” moment. Unlike some songs where Edge's solo comes out of nowhere (see below), this one gets three minutes of tense build-up before the song reaches its emotional crescendo and Edge really lets loose. And when he does, you better hold on for dear life.

When I listen to U2’s music, my mind takes a sensory approach to processing what I’m hearing. Sometimes I’ll see the notes, while at other times a song brings me back to an unrelated memory. When it comes to “The Little Things,” just about every time I hear it, I’m taken back to my childhood home. The house is situated in the middle of a hill, which gives it a wide view of the valley. Extreme weather is never able to sneak up on us. When we can see a thunderstorm is on its way, my dad and I both like to sit outside and feel the air start to fill with electricity. Whenever I end up on “The Little Things,” I’m taken back home, soaking up that electric feeling until Edge opens up the sky to deliver the lightning.

Mason #1: “Miracle Drug”

I'll do my best to put aside the emotional connection I have to this song and try to focus on the music, because this Edge solo is the middle of one of the most musically inspired moments ever in a U2 song.

Coming up to the bridge, when the band sings the “ohs” and “yeahs,” “Miracle Drug” is a good song. The build is nice, the chorus feels appropriate and the rhythm section is as sturdy as ever. When it gets to the bridge, however, the song zigs instead of zags, the "ohs" and "yeahs" provide a little misdirection for Edge to come in and tear it up. I'm sure people who are more well-versed in music history will point to the notes he's playing as punk or blues inspired, but to me it’s gospel. In the case of “Miracle Drug,” that is the gospel of assurance.

Chris #5: “The Fly”

This solo is on this list as much for its significance to the band’s career as it is for its intrinsic musical/sonic virtues. The timbre of Edge’s guitar combined with an overdrive effect was a striking departure from the shimmering quality heard on much of The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree. As the lead single from Achtung Baby, “The Fly” ushered in U2’s electronic aesthetic for the 1990s with flair and a palpable lack of restraint. The song’s guitar solo features a piercing tone quality, one that cuts through the rest of the song’s texture like a siren, alerting the listener to a radically new era of U2’s catalog. Normally a model of subtlety and delicacy, Edge’s technique also stands out here. His solo has an aggressive character to it, sounding as if he (and the rest of the band) knows this new sound will meet resistance among fans, but also sounding like he is ready to defend this bold artistic choice.

Chris #4: “Twilight”

In the late 1970s, U2 was but a fledgling band of teenagers emerging from the post-punk era trying to establish its own musical identity. Eventually, of course, they would come to be known for soaring rock anthems that incorporated various delays and effects. But before the band’s big break in the late 1980s, there was the hard, driving sound of their first LP, Boy. And though the album has its fair share of guitar solos, Edge’s work in “Twilight” is the standout solo for me.

If for no other reason, this solo impresses me because of Edge’s age when he recorded it. To be so young and to write/perform a passage like this is impressive enough. Even more remarkable is its tone and character. It is the shortest solo on this list, but because there are no additional effects (like echo, distortion or overdrive), it is arguably the purest solo here in terms of the sound. Edge channels teenage angst through his guitar: His playing captures the same desperation that is present when Bono sings “Twilight, can’t find my way / Can’t find your way.” That tonal purity allows for an unfiltered demonstration of the power and drama behind his playing while also foreshadowing the earnestness the band would eventually be known for.

Chris #3: “Surrender”

The sheer variety of effects and playing techniques in this solo is reason enough for its inclusion here. It is simultaneously reminiscent of earlier U2 songs and yet also foreshadows an upcoming stylistic shift. The use of the slide is a callback to the solo in “Gloria” (an honorable mention for this list) while the echo effect previews the more atmospheric aesthetic heard on The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree. Of particular interest to me are the last 15 seconds of the solo. Here, Edge uses echo, harmonics and slide simultaneously to create melodic lines in different octaves that seem to weave in and out of each other. The resulting contrapuntal texture is not unlike the intricate textures Bach creates in his famous cello suites.

Chris #2: “Until The End Of The World”

Full disclosure: UTEOTW is a personal Top 10 U2 song, so including its solo on this list perhaps says as much about my bias toward the song as it does about the solo itself. To be as fair and objective as possible, I initially tried not including the solo here, but it proved to be an exercise in futility. I had to include this solo on this list because it is one of Edge’s best. Period.

To prove it, I could discuss the fact that the guitar part represents Jesus and the vocals and bass together represent Judas. I could then discuss how the fact that the solo passage is in a different key from the rest of the song reinforces this interpretation. I could continue by discussing how the relative simplicity of this solo (compared with the others on this list) is perhaps its distinguishing feature. But instead of going into a detailed explanation about all that right now, I’ll let a deleted scene from Davis Guggenheim’s outstanding documentary It Might Get Loud do all the explaining for me.

Chris #1: “Bullet The Blue Sky”

The ultimate Edge song, no other solo in U2’s catalog is as picturesque as the one in “Bullet.” It truly sounds like a war zone, as if Edge literally put 1980’s Central America through his amplifier. This solo displays a number of playing techniques and effects, not to mention Edge’s keen sense of musicality and his outright ability to play the guitar. He displays as much power as he does nuance in painting a terrifying picture of life in a military hot spot. From his seamless integration of the slide technique to the chromatic ascent and descent the melodic contour follows about halfway through, this solo puts all of Edge’s guitar talents on full display. For those who criticize The Edge for not being able to “shred,” I implore them to listen to this song and not be impressed by his chops.

(c) @U2/Merritt and Endrinal, 2018