"What we mean by pop music of the '90s is maybe not what everyone else thinks but it's pop to us."
-- Edge, on Pop
U2 Lists: Top 10 Types of Sustenance in U2's Lyrics
February 24, 2010
[Ed. note: This is the 17th in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
Any way you slice it, U2's music feeds the soul in more ways than you'd realize. When you think of U2's lyrics, typically people think of the holy trinity of political, spiritual and emotional to describe what their music is all about. If you dig deeper, you'll find an overlooked theme in their music that Bono alludes to in their unreleased song, Mercy: "If you hunger, baby, let me feed it." Nourishment comes in many forms, and I would like to propose a list of the top 10 types of sustenance inspired in U2’s music.
This sweet regurgitation from honey bees is the leading food item Bono takes inspiration from. It is referenced in at least 10 U2 songs, with Wild Honey being the most obvious tribute to this yummy delight. Bono explains how honey is made in the outtake Levitate: "To be the bee / To be the bee and the flower / Before the sweetness / Before the sweetness turns to sour." He tightened up the lyric when Levitate became Always: "To be a bee and the flower / Before the sweetness turns to sour." Even Better Than the Real Thing brings us "You're honey, child, to a swarm of bees." A Man and a Woman tells us "But you're like honey on my tongue," which is the same reference Bono gives in both Hawkmoon 269 and Summer Rain. The Rattle and Hum b-side A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel gives us "You let them suck your life out like honey." Passengers' Elvis Ate America mentions "honey, potato chips and cheese." Not to mention, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For states "I have kissed honey lips."
For a band from Ireland, it's no surprise that alcohol in some form would be mentioned in song. From the band's earliest days, Cartoon World mentions "He didn't give me a lot of beer." To the best of my knowledge, that is the only reference to beer. Holy Joe gives a nod to champagne, but it's wine that seems to inspire Bono more. I suppose wine is a better sounding word in songs, especially since it can rhyme with many things. Wine has also been a bigger influence to Bono since Paul McGuinness first taught him to appreciate the beverage. Lyrics with Bible scripture references are where wine is used mostly: Until the End of the World, Mercy, and Acrobat. The Unforgettable Fire gives us "red wine that punctures the skin." And there's the outtake Xanax and Wine.
Bono's not afraid to write about hard liquors as well. He mentions "Tequila and orange, Jamaica and rum" in Summer Rain. He also alludes to hard liquor in the title Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad. While it's a stretch, cocoa butter can be made from chocolate liquor, which would put the line "She's cocoa butter, baby, she's the glue" in Big Girls Are Best in this category too.
From wearing Lemon, and bringing oranges from a tank in Cedars of Lebanon, fruit has been used in a few ways by Bono. The earliest reference to fruit can be found in Boy/Girl to describe complexion "her skin is coloured strawberries and cream." He also uses "cherry red" to describe lips in Walk to the Water. Edge also gets into the fruit action when he tells us to "have another grape" in Numb.
4) Non-Alcoholic Beverages
Bono must have a thirst that needs quenching while in the studio because he sings about many types of drinks other than alcoholic ones. Coffee and water are the most popular (Cedars of Lebanon, Electrical Storm, Hawkmoon 269, and Trip Through Your Wires). Bono's soft drink of choice appears to be Coca-Cola, as sung in Promenade and The Playboy Mansion. Even Better Than the Real Thing was a coy nod to Coca-Cola's slogan "The Real Thing" from around the same era. Mofo mentions lemonade, and "If O.J. is more than a drink" is cleverly used in The Playboy Mansion.
5) Fast Food
Bono has given lyrical equal time between McDonald’s and Burger King. The Playboy Mansion gives props to McDonald's with "A Big Mac bigger than we think." In Elvis Ate America, Burger King gets the spotlight with "ate a king burger and kept getting bigger."
As crazy as it sounds, if you take Bono's lyrics literally, he references cannibalism twice in U2's discography. Bono sings "Every artist is a cannibal" in The Fly. He chose to be a bit more descriptive in Crumbs From Your Table, by singing "With a mouth full of teeth, you ate all your friends."
7) Ice Cream
Sorbet and sherbet just aren't cool enough when it comes to frozen dairy products in U2 songs. Ice cream is where it's at in Elvis Ate America, Holy Joe and Get On Your Boots.
8) The Sweetest Things
"Ain't love the sweetest thing?" Not really when bubble gum and sugar are used in U2 lyrics. Bubble gum can be found in Discotheque. Bono finds "sugar" both as a term of endearment in Original of the Species, and a way to describe someone as "Some sweet delight, a sugar rush" in Love You Like Mad. Get On Your Boots refers to "candy floss," which is blown sugar. Even the outtake Flower Child refers to sugar.
9) Special Ingredients
There are several songs with a single referenced ingredient, all of which are worth noting. Beautiful Day mentions tuna being cleared out by the fleets. "I can taste the salt in the sea" is found in Kite. U2 performs the Allen Ginsberg poem, Drunk Chicken/America. There's even "butter on toast" in Winter.
10) Artificial Ingredients
It would seem that U2 inspires many comedians with food-related parodies. Two worth bringing up in this list include Chris Kattan and Ben Stiller. Chris Kattan parodied Bono during episode 2 of season 25 of Saturday Night Live. This parody pokes fun at NetAid, and the fact that no one showed up for it. Kattan sings "Salami, cheese and pickles help make starving people strong" to the tune of One. Ben Stiller also uses One to parody U2 with a commercial for "Lucky Clovers" cereal.
© @U2/Lawrence, 2010.