Best U2 Songs, Ranked


Image of the rock band U2.

U2 – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Sam Jones

What are the best U2 songs? Audio Ink Radio presents the 12 best U2 songs, ranked, encompassing songs from the band’s full career

A band like U2 doesn’t come along often. They’re a once-in-a-generation band. Actually, U2 are a once-in-a-lifetime band. There aren’t many rock bands that can transcend musical genres, and even music itself, to appeal to fans around the world at both a musical and spiritual level. But, that’s U2. So, what are the best U2 songs, ranked?

U2 formed in Dublin, Ireland, in 1976. The band’s original lineup of lead vocalist Bono, lead guitarist the Edge, bass player Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. has remained unchanged for nearly 50 years. Since their beginning, U2 have released 15 studio albums, won 22 Grammy Awards and were inducted into the Rock Hall in 2005. Today, U2 remain one of the world’s biggest rock bands. They sell out arenas and stadiums nearly wherever they play.

Whittling U2’s tracks down to the top 12 wasn’t an easy task, but we were up to the challenge. We present Audio Ink Radio’s 12 best U2 songs, ranked.

12. “Bad,” off “The Unforgettable Fire”

“Bad,” like many U2 songs, covers a very serious topic. The song, off 1984’s “”The Unforgettable Fire,” is about the heroin epidemic that Bono was witnessing across Dublin during the 1980s. His lyrics are based on the experiences he saw in people he knew. Musically, the Edge’s guitars really fit the song’s delicate subject matter, with sparse guitars and spaced-out instrumentation. “Bad” is also considered one of the band’s strongest early releases.

11. “Desire,” off “Rattle and Hum”

U2’s 1988 album, “Rattle and Hum,” was supposed to be the band’s tribute to American music and culture. Many didn’t quite “get” the release, but the song “Desire” was a smash it. The harmonica alone in this song makes it a memorable one in U2’s catalog. That’s not to mention the Edge’s wrangling, jangling guitars and Bono’s signature “yeah” at the onset.

10. “Every Breaking Wave,” off “Songs of Innocence”

Sure, some people made noise when U2’s “Songs of Innocence” album was automatically downloaded onto every Apple phone upon its release in 2014. But, even with a marketing mishap and the subsequent backlash, “Songs of Innocence” was a smash it. The second track off the set, “Every Breaking Wave,” is one of U2’s greatest “new” songs. The track, produced by Danger Mouse and Ryan Tedder, is classic U2. It features a soaring chorus and yearning lyrics about giving yourself to a loved one and the idea of failure and resurrection.

9. “Beautiful Day,” off “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”

U2’s biggest hits arrived in the 1980s and 1990s. But, their legacy also stretching into the 2000s and continues today. One of U2’s biggest later his is “Beautiful Day,” off 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.” It’s a feel-good song. But, but buried between the lyrics, you’ll find a deeper and darker tale of appreciating the good things in life, even when everything seems to have been lost.

8. “Elevation,” off “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”

“Elevation” is simply one of U2’s catchiest songs to date. The high-energy song, which was the third track on 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” has a super funky, upbeat guitar sound ala the Edge. The guitar’s repetitive main riff and cool wah-wah effect is contagious. It’s a light-hearted song and provides relief in a not-so-light-hearted discography.

7. “Mysterious Ways,” off “Achtung Baby”

U2 aren’t known for their “fun” songs. But, if one had to pick one U2 song that could get the dance floor hopping, that song would be “Mysterious Ways” off 1991’s “Achtung Baby.” The song has a catchy, upbeat delivery, which makes it much more dance-friendly than most of U2’s other songs. It was also a huge radio hit.

6. “Pride (In The Name Of Love),” off “The Unforgettable Fire”

When listing U2’s most legendary albums, 1984’s “The Unforgettable Fire” doesn’t usually make the cut. It often falls behind big names, such as “The Joshua Tree” and “Achtung Baby.” But, it’s a solid record, and it features one of U2’s most celebrated singles in “Pride (In The Name Of Love).” The song is a beautiful tribute to one of humankind’s most basic needs and desired: to love and to be loved. Who better to share this message than U2?

5. “New Year’s Day,” off “War”

U2 weren’t really an “MTV Band” like many of the rock and metal bands of the 1980s. But, they got a lot of MTV airtime with the music video for “New Year’s Day.” The clip pictured band members riding handsome horses through snow, although the Edge later dished that it wasn’t band members on the horses. The song pays tribute to Polish union leader Lech Walesa, who was imprisoned in December 1981, when the government tried to halt the Solidarity movement that he led.

4. “Where The Streets Have No Name,” off “The Joshua Tree”

“Where the Streets Have No Name,” which marks the first track on 1987’s “The Joshua Tree,” is another example of the pristine paring of Bono’s emotive lyrics with U2’s warm, full-sounding sonics. Bono wrote the lyrics about a story he heard about an area in Ireland where a person’s religion and income were designate by their street address. In addition to the meaningful words, the song also has a strong hook that instantly draws the listener in.

3. “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” off “War”

U2 aren’t really a political band, but they do incorporate political and social issues into their music. One example of that blend is with “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” off 1983’s “War.” Here, Bono addresses the tragic “Bloody Sunday” event, which occurred in early 1972, when British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians during a protest march in Northern Ireland. The song’s serious subject matter fits well with the Bono’s melancholy singing and the Edge’s swaying guitars.

2. “One,” off “Achtung Baby”

At a time when grunge was starting to explode and taking that Seattle sound from the West Coast to the mainstream, U2 stayed true to their pure, melodic rock roots. U2 struck gold with 1991’s “Achtung Baby.” One of the most celebrated songs off that set is “One.” The song, which is the album’s third single, is the most recognizable song off the set. Bono wrote the dramatic lyrics about the band’s quarrels at the time, as well as the German reunification.

1. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” off “The Joshua Tree”

Not many songs can sum up a core human feeling and experience with a single line. But, that’s what U2 did with “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Who hasn’t felt that feeling of longing, even when everything seems to be going well? Who hasn’t asked, “Is this all there is to life, or is there more?” With I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” U2 struck a very human and universal chord. The song, off 1987’s “The Joshua Tree,” also features warm guitars and Bono’s soulful vocals. For its passion and human connection, we’re making U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” No. 1 on our list of the 12 best U2 songs, ranked.

U2 weren’t grunge, but they thrived during the Seattle grunge boom of the 1990s. Find Audio Ink Radio’s list of the best grunge albums of all time here.

Anne Erickson
Posted by Anne Erickson | Alternative, Features, Music, Rock

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