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"Isn't all art an attempt to identify yourself, really? At some level, I've made a career out of personality crisis." — Bono

U2 Lists: Top Ten One-Line Lyrics


[Ed. note: This is the first in a "U2 Lists" series currently being revisited by the @U2 staff. The first series, which focused primarily on Top Tens, ran from August through October of 2002.]

U2 ListsYou give it all but I want more
-"With or Without You," 1987

The impact of powerful lyrics in the overall value of a song cannot be understated. Successfully assigning meaning to musical landscapes is sometimes what separates good musicians from great ones, and this is one of the reasons I think U2 are great.

From the very beginning, Bono and The Edge have produced poetry to accompany the band's sounds, pairing heartfelt sentiments with timeless melodies.

Back in 2002, Keir Dubois produced his "U2's Top Ten Lyrics" list for @U2, calling attention to the fact that while he thought some of their early words were clichés, he recognized that their writing had matured as their music had. Although I somewhat disagree with his statement, he did choose exceptional examples to illustrate their merit in later years.

Now, I'm revisiting the topic in a different way. When scanning through the mountain of words that compose the U2 catalog, I realized that some of my favorite lyrics are those that are condensed into one line.

To create something profound in a single sentence is no easy feat, and for that reason, I've decided to name my Top Ten One-Line U2 Lyrics:

10. The street sounds like a symphony

The great thing about "Angel of Harlem" is that you instantly feel camaraderie for the music to which U2 are paying tribute. Of course the bluesy groove helps, but it's really the words here that take you along on their musical journey (sorry, couldn't resist). This specific line magically captures the essence of New York jazz in six simple words.

9. Your head can't rule your heart

Most probably think of the catchy guitar hook when recalling "Vertigo," but the lyrics should claim partial credit for its genius. This line specifically conveys an exciting loss of control, while making an equally philosophical statement. The intent is so versatile, it can be determined by the listener.

8. You miss too much these days if you stop to think

"Until the End of the World" illustrates a Biblical conversation between Judas and Jesus, but many of the messages can apply to our modern world - even everyday life among mere mortals. In this line, the voice tells the subject to beware of trickery. We could all take heed of such warnings...

7. You're the reason why the opera is in me

Bono has made no secret of the fact that the relationship with his father was a difficult one. In "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own" he assigns credit for his musical talent to his dad in this most poetic and sentimental sentence. It says so much by saying so little.

6. The heart is a bloom

Has there ever been a more beautiful way to start a song? To take a physically repulsive organ and metaphorically assign it the delicate properties of a flower? "Beautiful Day" couldn't help but become a hit with such a gorgeous intro line - it's simply flawless.

5. And you can dream, so dream out loud

The invention of the automatic signature in electronic communication practically begs for lines like this to be written. Truthfully, this often-quoted phrase from "Acrobat" could just have easily been a sentence from a moving speech or a chapter heading in a self-help book. But it really works best as a lyric.

4. Home, that's where the hurt is

Anyone who has ever suffered abuse, fractured relationships, distance from their partners -- really any painful level of domestic dysfunction -- can relate to this line from "Walk On." The brilliance of it is that it's buried in a truly inspirational tune about overcoming injustice, which only emphasizes its impact.

3. I can't believe the news today

There are some song introductions that leave you no choice but to keep listening. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is a perfect example of one of them. The instant Bono brings you in with this line, you're begging to know what the "news today" is all about. This lyric is so powerful, it has undoubtedly helped the song become one of the band's most timeless hits.

2. I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky

The heartbreaking loss of U2 friend Greg Carroll is immortalized in the song "One Tree Hill," which Bono wrote shortly after attending his burial in Greg's native New Zealand. This line, which lends itself to a spiritual certainty about the after-life, and also implies an arrival of peace in Greg's passing, is nothing short of spectacular. I still get goosebumps every time I hear it, and I bet I'm not alone in that.

1. Midnight is where the day begins

Perhaps one of the silliest songs in the U2 catalog is "Lemon." Its upbeat dance-vibe and video featuring Bono in full MacPhisto glory won't win it any awards for depth, but the lyrics certainly should; specifically this one, which is repeated in the background like a subliminal mantra. It has mystery, it has intrigue, and in just a few short words, paints the portrait of profound.

To weigh in on Tassoula's list (and post your own), visit the @U2 forum.

© @U2/Kokkoris, 2008.