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I'm not sure I can be as honest in my life as I can be in my music, because with manners comes insincerity. Truth is sometimes difficult.-- Bono, 2004

U2's 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' Leads Top 10 Singles List

The Los Angeles Times
More than simply entertain or charm us, the most compelling records tell us something about the times in which we live. They reflect our innocence and exuberance (Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up"), our independence and rage (Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone") or our confusion and despair (Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On").

U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is in the best pop tradition of those records. An eloquent expression of the renewed idealism that seems a part of so many personal, social and musical agendas these days, "Looking For" was the most absorbing hit single of 1987.

After the widespread cynicism and apathy of the '70s, the U2 single -- built around bright, majestic instrumental textures that are highlighted by the Edge's sparkling guitar lines -- underscores what appears to be a growing willingness throughout society to explore traditional ideals and values.

This exploration isn't simply a duplication of the arrogance and naivete of the '60s but a more thoughtful, humble and wary approach shaped by the lessons and disillusionments of the past two decades.

There's still a place for records that merely entertain us, but the releases that dominate my year-end Top 10 suggest that there are some inspiring artists who feel a greater challenge.

In a period characterized by a general lowering of expectations in mainstream pop music, these artists encourage us to believe that rock 'n' roll itself is entering a new phase of artistry and maturity, a signal that the musicians and fans still haven't found all that they are looking for.

Here's my list of the 10 best singles of the past 12 months. Because I wanted to keep the list focused on mainstream pop rather than venture into the area of cult esoterica, records had to appear at least once during 1987 on Billboard magazine's weekly list of the best-selling pop, country or soul singles to be eligible.

1. U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (Island) -- When Bono Hewson sings, "I believe in the Kingdom Come/Then all the colors will bleed into one," he isn't just outlining his own faith, but yearning for the day when man's shared dreams will be recognized as more important than any racial, religious or political differences. That's a familiar message, but U2 injects it with a purity and passion that allows the single to serve as an inspiring rallying point.

2. Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" (Geffen) -- On the surface, this duet with Kate Bush from Gabriel's highly acclaimed 1986 album So is a dialogue between a supportive wife and her unemployed husband over his loss of self-esteem. Underneath, however, "Don't Give Up" is one of the most graceful and sophisticated protest songs of the modern pop era: a gentle but purposeful cry against a social system that seems to discard easily even its most obedient citizens.

3. U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" (Island) -- One of three Top 10 singles from the Irish rock band's The Joshua Tree album, the socially conscious "Streets" is, in its way, as invigorating a statement of reaching for your dreams as Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run."

4. Bruce Springsteen's "Brilliant Disguise" (Columbia) -- On casual listening, it's as easy to mistake this song for another tale of male insecurity (is she going to remain "true"?) as it was to misread "Born in the U.S.A." as a flag-waving anthem. The heart of the song -- which sports a sweet, Drifters-like arrangement -- revolves around the male's doubts about whether he can live up to the responsibilities of the relationship.

5. Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble" (Warner Bros.) -- Like U2 and Gabriel, Simon -- in this exquisitely designed track from the Grammy-winning Graceland album -- puzzles over modern man's ability to make such extraordinary progress in technological matters while he's unable to deal more humanely and purposefully with personal or social relationships.

6. Prince's "Sign O' the Times" (Paisley Park) -- Bad singles seem to get worse the more you hear them, while good singles tend to get better. This sermon about contemporary social dangers (including AIDS, crime, nuclear war and drugs) seemed too obvious in its understated topicality when released in April, but the record's soft, insistent tone captures perfectly the suffering and horror of the situation.

7. Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" (Epic) -- The dance single of the year, "Feel" is to Bad what "Billie Jean" was to Thriller.

8. Prince's "U Got the Look" (Paisley Park) -- Prince and Sheena Easton prove to be ideal vocal playmates on this sexy dance-floor jewel.

9. Randy Travis' "Forever and Ever, Amen" (Warner Bros.) -- This endearing pledge of romantic devotion is year's best country single.

10. Los Lobos' "La Bamba" (Slash) -- The prized East Los Angeles band put so much spirit and joy into its remake of the Ritchie Valens hit that the record stands both as a toast to Los Lobos' recent success and an acknowledgement of all the other Latino musicians (including Valens) who helped inspire them.

© The Los Angeles Times, 1987. All rights reserved.