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"I'm sure the work that I do . . . is some kind of Catholic guilt, but it's working, so we'll continue with it."

-- Bono

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U2 Lists: Top 10 Uses of Nature in U2 Songs

@U2, March 30, 2011
By: Tassoula E. Kokkoris


U2 Lists[Ed. note: This is the 24th in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]

Lightning flashes across the sky
East to west, do or die
Like a thief in the night
See the world by candlelight -- Seconds

You'd think Bono was a meteorologist in a former life with all his talk of electrical storms and locust winds. Where other male songwriters may have chosen sexier metaphors, Bono and The Edge embraced the female form via Mother Nature, creating a plethora of references to the earth and its behaviors.

It wasn't until our grand Joshua Tree road trip of 2009 that I fully noticed how often nature themes are injected into U2's lyrics.

What follows are ten of the best uses of this practice, from the solemn to the spiritual.

10. Kite

Who's to say where the wind will take you
Who's to say what it is will break you
I don't know which way the wind will blow

When Bono sang about the feeling that "it" was coming, he was referencing the death that was upon him as his father grew more ill with cancer. Flying kites with his daughters at the beach near their home was said to be the inspiration for the song, so naturally wind is the theme he chose to use throughout. "In summer I can taste the salt in the sea" carries the listener to that ocean of pain and then rescues the doubt with inspirational phrases such as "Life should be fragrant." Carpe diem all the way.


9. Shadows And Tall Trees 

Are the leaves on the trees just living disguise
I walk the sweet rain tragicomedy
I'll walk home again to the street melody

Even in their early days, the knack for nature was evident. In this song, Bono was metaphorically transforming U2's north Dublin neighborhood into a forest reminiscent of the book Lord of the Flies -- in fact that's where he found the title (it's a chapter heading). An impressive effort for someone so young.


8. In A Little While

When the night takes a deep breath and the daylight has no air
If I crawl, if I come crawling home will you be there

I like it when a time of day is assigned a human quality. And who hasn't felt like they've been swallowed by "the night" after a long evening of drinking? The song is after all about a hangover, and nature taking its course on the singer couldn't really have been better expressed. The scatter-o-light star-talk at the end just serves as a sparkling bonus.


7. Bullet The Blue Sky

You plant a demon seed
You raise a flower of fire
See them burning crosses
See the flames, higher and higher

Though the song is steeped in political roots, few U2 hits mention nature as frequently as this one. Sky, for instance, is referenced 13 times. Wind and rain twice each. There are also locusts and fireflies and thorn bushes -- all of which pack the perfect poetic punch. Mother Nature can be the most unforgiving of foes, so it's no wonder the band chose to cleverly use her in one of their angriest rants.


6. Get On Your Boots

The future needs a big kiss
Winds blow with a twist
Never seen a moon like this
Can you see it too

The song explodes with action, drawing our attention to the sky right out of the gate. From there we're led to a darker place in the falling night, but the beat never lets us fall too low, as we're freed from the "dark dream." For such an electronic song, it has a very organic ground.


5. Indian Summer Sky 

Two rivers run too deep, the seasons change
and so do I
The light that strikes the tallest trees
The light away for I

For a song that was hatched in a buzzing metropolis (New York City), it's clear its author was yearning to return to a more organic landscape. Bono is quoted as saying he was trying to convey "a sense of spirit trapped in a concrete jungle." Swimming against tides, wind blowing through hearts and souls, I'd say he accomplished his mission.


4. One Tree Hill 

We run like a river to the sea, run to the sea
We run like a river to the sea
And when it's raining, raining hard
That's when the rain will break my heart

Written in remembrance of friend and crew member Greg Carroll, who was killed in a motorcycle accident before The Joshua Tree was recorded, this song explores the themes of the Maori burial Greg was given in his native New Zealand. One Tree Hill, of course, refers to the actual place, and the band used nature as its poetry to complete the story. "I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky" remains one of the most beautiful moments of musical imagery in U2 history.

3. A Sort Of Homecoming

The wind will crack in wintertime
This bomb-blast lightning waltz
No spoken words, just a scream

The "land grows weary of its own," indeed. In this landscape-laden meditation sparked by the phrase of a Jewish poet, Bono paints the portrait of someone on the edge of death, which thankfully leads to rebirth. With talk of city walls coming down and burning rain, it would be a very grim song if the melody weren't so contradictory and upbeat. The rescue of the subject in the end coming home affords the listener a well-deserved sigh of relief.

2. Beautiful Day

See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light and
See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out

The entire song is about a glorious, perfect day, so how could the band have refrained from lacing the song with earthy references? Luckily, they didn't. They loaded it up with a giant dose of happy in the form of blooming hearts and warm sun, then threw in a bit of their signature vulnerability, thus resulting in a radio-friendly, relatable refrain. Pure salt-of-the-earth genius.

1. Heartland

See the sun rise over her skin
Don't change it
See the sun rise over her skin
Dawn changes everything

With the "delta sun" burning "bright and violent" and floods of fears through "ghost-ranch hills," this song from 1987's Rattle And Hum may be the most nature-heavy tune of all. With much talk of "The Two Americas" around the time of this recording, it's clear U2 truly got to the core of one of them. The song is so powerful I've always pondered if Bono's wailing "In this heartland soil" really was meant to say "In this heartland soul."

(c) 2011, @U2/Kokkoris.

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