U2, for some it stands for legendary, for others it stands for sell out. Some claim they peaked with Joshua Tree while others say Achtung Baby is one of the greatest records of all time. When a band lasts as long as U2 there is a point when the band goes from young to old, new to used, or in some opinions, silver to tarnished. One could say that, after the release of the commercially underwhelming Pop, U2 made that transition. Regardless where you fall, there’s no denying their repertoire. From studio records to B sides to compilations, to say they have an extensive body of work is an understatement. (Forget about remixes, fan club releases, and bootlegs). Sure, everyone knows Beautiful Day, Vertigo, and Elevation but what about the other songs? The album tracks, the new song to move a greatest hits release, the movie sound track songs? Radio, Internet, and TV can’t play every U2 song but there were some that fell through the cracks and, in this writers eyes, never got the respect they deserved. Let’s take a look at some of U2’s most underrated songs following the release of Pop, or, after they turned “old”.
Sweetest Thing/The Best of 1980-1990 – Amongst U2 diehards this song had been lauded as one of the better U2 songs since it was released as a B side to the Where the Streets Have No Name single from The Joshua Tree. It would have to wait, though, to be given to the masses. This happened when a re recorded version was floated as a single ahead of the release of U2’s first official greatest hits record. Supposedly Bono wrote the song for his wife Ali as an apology for missing her birthday. The hardcores will tell you that the B side version is better than the re recorded version (which this writer agrees with).
The Ground Beneath Her Feet/The Million Dollar Hotel Soundtrack – Produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, lyrics by Salman Rushdie, and music by U2 would, on paper, make this song a commercial slam dunk. It fell short though, despite a dark delivery by Bono and an eerie guitar riff from The Edge. The song only received a promotional release and, although a video was made, only garnered sparse exposure on tv and radio.
Electrical Storm/The Best of 1990-2000 – The drum and bass rhythms, along with Bono’s falsetto, drive this loud/quiet gem. The track is produced by William Orbit and 2 official versions have been recorded. The “Band Version”, mixed by Carl Glanville, can be found on the Limited Edition bonus disc and the “William Orbit Mix” can be found on the standard version of the cd. A third version is floating around out there as the song was leaked to the UK’s radio 1 before the official single came out and is rumored to have been a demo.
Yaweh/How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb – Yaweh, as God is referred to in the Bible. It is said that, unlike the majority of U2 songs, the final version of this song didn’t stray far from the first demo. Bono seems to be channeling a higher power as he belts out “Yaweh” during the songs chorus. Put that on top of a patented Edge guitar riff/chord progression and the result is magical. The perfect last song for an album, almost like a closing prayer.
Miracle Drug/How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb – This one should make you cry once you know the subject matter. It was written about Christopher Nolan, a mate who the lads studied with at the Mount Temple Comprehensive School. Christopher was a paraplegic and was home schooled by his mom who, despite the skeptics, believed her son could understand. Then a drug was discovered that gave Christopher the ability to move one muscle in his neck. A unicorn device was fashioned, Christopher learned how to type, and the rest is history. Bono and the boys capture the essence of struggle and melancholy like none other in this severely underrated track.
Window in the Skies/U218 Singles – Produced by Rick Rubin and, at the time, name checked as the best thing they had done in years. So much so that a large contingent hoped for a full Rick Rubin produced record. This song got shafted, though, as the first single from this release was the cover of The Saints are Coming. This song featured U2 collaborating with Green Day to benefit the survivors and cleanup from Hurricane Katrina and was massive. Thus burying Windows in the Skies. While the track is aces, it was nominated for a Grammy, it’s the video that is the true star. Said video includes almost 100 clips from musicians/singers (some famous, some not so famous) over the past 50 years where the footage is synced in such a way that it appears they are singing/playing the U2 song.
Breathe/No Line on the Horizon – I remember my first listen to No Line on the Horizon as a whole and thinking “How could they have put this as the 2nd to last song on the record?” A spot generally reserved for a more fringe type song, maybe something in a different style. But no, this is classic U2. Larry Mullen starting it off with some nice tom work, Edge’s heavier guitar falling in along side a catchy piano riff, Bono coming in with a spoken word type thing. By the time the chorus came I was hooked. Someone must have felt the same way because Breathe served as the opener for the first leg of the massive U2 360 tour.
Moment of Surrender/No Line on the Horizon – If you haven’t heard this song then do it, now, all 7 minutes 20 or so seconds of it. Adam’s bass, Bono’s delivery/lyrics, Edge’s slide guitar et al. For sure the best ballad since One, maybe Top 10 in their catalog. I had no clue that Rolling Stone named it the best song of 2009 and in 2010 they ranked it 160th on their list of the 500 best songs. Not sure if that disqualifies it as underrated but this writer isn’t hearing anywhere, and Moment of Surrender needs to be heard.
Cedarwood Road/Songs of Innocence – The Edge brings the heaviness, a la Bullet the Blue Sky, on an ode to the street which Bono grew up on. The street is no longer a war zone but even today curious fans, and folks alike, still visit to get a glimpse of where it all started for the Irish singer. Do yourself a favor and look for a live video version from the Innocence & Experience Tour of 2015. It’s quite impressive seeing Bono walk the middle stage which is done up like old Cedarwood Road.
California (There is no end)/Songs of Innocence – From the eerie intro touting Santa Barbara to Bono exclaiming “There’s no end to grief/That there is no end to love” this tune delivers. It reminds us that is ok to remember the bad times, for however long. Add a solid bass/drum line and a crafty guitar solo and you’ve got a truly underrated experience of inward thinking. Guaranteed to keep you looking upward.