When tasked with the (admittedly) enviable job of listing twenty U2 songs that you’ve never heard - of course, you probably have heard them, but the title is good - I was tempted to just save time by naming the middle four tracks off the last three albums, and work from there!
With careful consideration I deemed this to be just plain mean, and besides the task at hand is to list twenty of the best U2 songs that the reader has possibly never heard, which rules those aforementioned middle album tracks out.
From the beginning it was obvious that U2 had more grandiose ambitions than some of its peers, and in fact the four members had achieved megalomania by their late 20s. It was what the band did after this that was most interesting. U2 surprised their fans, and the musical environment as a whole, with the direction the band took in the nineties. A journey that the fans gladly followed, and where even the most cynical, critics of U2 jumped on board. This was a band primed for experimentation, and destined to be one of the all-time greats. This was art, both in the studio and on the road (ZOO TV), and I’ll speculate that writing the three singles to promote the release of an album was far from their mind.
Unfortunately from 2000s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, this journey ended, as the ambition to retain the title as 'The Biggest Band In The World' pre-occupied far too much of the band members’ minds than was necessary. Fuelling this ambition was the emphasis to write the ‘single,’ and this author believes that the middle section of the last three U2 records is a result of this. Having said all of that, there are great moments on each record since 2000, with 2015’s Songs of Innocence a latter standout in their repertoire.
But for me, U2’s run of albums in the nineties – Achtung Baby, Zooropa, Passengers Original Soundtracks 1 and Pop – is up there with the Stones’ run of Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street and The Beatles’ Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album - bands at the peak of their greatness!
Anyway, where were we? Yes, Deep Cuts: The 20 Best U2 Songs That You Never Heard.
20. Boy/Girl (1979)
The b-side of the Three release, effectively the single for Out Of Control with Boy/Girl and Stories for Boys on the b-side. Released in 1979, the tracking order was voted by the listeners of Dave Fanning’s radio show. I’ve included this song, as the other two tracks are available on their debut album (albeit new recordings), so this was a real rarity before the age of the Internet. Sounds a little like a band still unsure of themselves, but aren’t we all at 18?
19. Another Day (1980)
The single following Three, I’ve included purely for the selfish reasons that I own an original 7", with the sleeve and liner notes designed by Bono. Similar to Boy/Girl, there is a sound of uncertainty from the band, a sonic fragility that was ironed out when it came to the first album Boy and producer Steve Lillywhite. Seems like they were trying too hard to find a ‘hook’ with this one, although I still love it.
18. Window In The Skies (2006)
This was released to promote the compilation album U218 Singles. It didn’t gain much traction upon its release, although it did come with a pretty cool video, but it was a new direction for U2 at this time. Produced by Rick Rubin, it exudes the classic '60s sound, but more like a song The Beatles might have given to Cilla Black rather than release themselves. I loved it, especially as it is driven by a 6/8 beat, which was unchartered territory for U2.
17. Mercy (2010)
Written during the How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb sessions in 2004, it wasn’t my favourite U2 period but this track may have warranted inclusion ahead of All Because Of You or Love And Peace Or Else. It’s U2 at their most anthemic, which may piss some off but it’s a great track. Did not officially see the light of day until it was included on 2010's Wide Awake In Europe.
16. Luminous Times (1987)
The Joshua Tree was an interesting period for U2’s creative output. Obviously the band were off to a winner with a record that was about to shift fifteen million copies, but some of the cuts from this album reveal a band delving less into the great American landscape, and more into a tradition much closer to home, where Van Morrison was as much an influence as Raymond Carver – Walk To The Water is an example. Luminous Times is somewhere altogether different. The b-side to With Or Without You, it stems from The Joshua Tree sessions and sounds like how I would imagine Elvis doing a cover of She’s The One from Bruce’s 1975 album Born to Run. It’s the closest they’ve come to the E Street Band, just with fewer instruments.
15. Alex Descends Into Hell For a Bottle of Milk (1991)
This is the b-side to The Fly. Aside from a contribution to the Red, Hot & Blue compilation album in 1990, this was the first new music from U2 since Rattle and Hum. In one step, the band went from Angel of Harlem to this! I simply had no idea what was going on, but it was the first step to true greatness for U2. Listen to it, and you’ll know what I mean.
14. Love Comes Tumbling (1985)
Released as the b-side to The Unforgettable Fire single in 1985, Love Comes Tumbling captures the ambient and atmospheric sound that U2 was creating during The Unforgettable Fire period. A new departure for the band at the time, this was the beginning of the long and fruitful relationship with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. More than any track that actually made the album, Love Comes Tumbling is a snapshot of what is to come from U2 some seven years later. Metronomic and sparse, it exudes a melancholy that I’m not sure was intentional, and save for some dodgy bass ‘slaps’ from Adam (a (thankfully) short-lived phase that Adam went through during this period), it’s a great illustration of a band learning new things with their instruments.
13. The Three Sunrises (1985)
Also from The Unforgettable Fire sessions, it can be found on the Wide Awake in America EP that was released in 1985 (only as an import in the UK and Ireland), which also includes Love Comes Tumbling. It’s a strange song with a funny middle-eastern air from Edge’s guitar, its spiritual quality helped by Bono’s lyrics (are they ever anything else?). Again it sits perfectly with the new departure the band was going for, but was even a little ‘far-out’ for inclusion on the album.
12. Where Did It All Go Wrong? (1992)
The b-side to 1992's Even Better Than The Real Thing, this is the sound of a band having fun. An upbeat, poppy melodious little ditty. Recorded in Dublin in 1990, its ‘throw-away’ feel probably prevented it from serious consideration for Achtung Baby, but I love it.
11. Holy Joe (1997)
First heard when U2 launched Pop with a live performance for the media in a Greenwich Village Kmart (lingerie section) in 1997, it’s a '60s style grungy number which is totally at odds to what the Pop album is. An odd thing to do, but a great song that showed up later as the b-side to Discotheque.
10. I Fall Down (1981)
OK, so I’ve included an album track on this list (in fact I will include two altogether). I’m doing this, as I don’t believe that this song gets the recognition it deserves. Taken from the underrated October album in 1981, to me this has always sounded like a classic single but was never released as such - it probably may have helped with sales of this record. Showcasing Edge’s skills on the piano, and his song writing credentials, it is mythical, with a Celtic air and a driving beat from Larry Mullen. It also has a ludicrously great melody, I love this song.
9. Hallelujah Here She Comes (1988)
The b-side to Desire, this track sits perfectly with the American roots period that U2 was going through in the late 80s. Similar to something George Harrison may have written in the early 70s, it is an acoustic, country song with a simple but effective tom-tom groove from Larry.
8. The Wanderer (1993)
U2 has explored the trope of a spiritual journey on many occasions; it could be argued that the band made a career of it! The Wanderer is the piéce de résistance of that particular journey, a post-apocalyptic ride through a barren landscape, where the author questions the role of God is this new world. It’s a futuristic country song that closes Zooropa, and as it is somewhat at odds with the rest of the record, it perfectly sums up that whole album. And how do you blend the old with the new? Get Johnny Cash to sing it!
7. God Part II (The Hard Metal Dance Club Mix) (1989)
Akin to Sympathy For The Devil meeting the ‘Madchester’ scene of the late 80s/early 90s, this remixed version of the Rattle And Hum original actually gives the listener a glimpse of how U2 would approach the next decade. The original is good, but the remix is great. Exploiting samples and dispersing with the standard rock structure, it’s even possible to dance to this. Something U2 was not known for in 1989.
6. Your Blue Room (1995)
From the Passengers album Original Soundtracks 1, this is a cinematic, trippy and melancholy masterpiece. The slow, metronomic groove allows U2 (and Brian Eno), the space to venture into territories that were unexplored previously, even with Zooropa. I love this record, and Bono’s vocal performance is perfectly understated, whilst showcasing his unique falsetto. It even has Adam on vocals. Honestly, go back and listen to this, it’s wonderful.
5. Night And Day (1990)
Yes this is the Cole Porter classic, part of the Red, Hot and Blue AIDS benefit compilation album, where contemporary artists covered Cole Porter greats. Released in 1990, it is the bridge between Rattle And Hum and Achtung Baby. Bono’s oft quoted "we’re gonna go away and dream it all up again," from the Point Depot gigs during the 1989 Lovetown Tour left fans contemplating the bands demise, but his prophetic words that night in Dublin now made sense. This was U2, but it wasn’t! A brilliant re-worked version of a classic, it exudes a confidence and assures the audience that the band was going to come back with something special.
4. The Ground Beneath Her Feet (2000)
With words by Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet had an unstable inception, prevented from being a single release by U2’s record company, it made it onto the Million Dollar Hotel soundtrack before eventually finding a home as a bonus track on All That You Can’t Leave Behind imports. It’s the best track on the album, a melancholy masterpiece exploiting sparse atmospherics, with Larry’s standard drum machines off setting his playing as Bono delivers a vulnerable, pleading style vocal before it opens out into an outstanding outro. Should be considered one of U2’s greats.
3. Dirty Day (junk day) Remix (1997)
An industrial powerhouse of a tune, the b-side to Please from the Pop album. This could be considered an unusual choice, but it showcases the band’s willingness to embrace remix culture, dance, industrial sonic spaces and also shows how you can always improve a song – this betters the original Dirty Day from Zooropa.
2. Salomé (1992)
The top 3 on the list are all b-sides, cuts from U2’s nineties period, no surprise there I suppose. Salomé was recorded during the Achtung Baby sessions and released on the CD single for Even Better Than The Real Thing. This was simply U2’s most exciting period, embracing dance, the Madchester scene, samples and new technology. Salomé belongs to this period, but was actually a sparser song than its contemporaries. It embraces '70s funk, like a soundtrack to a Tarantino movie, lots of melodious backing vocals and even the word ‘shake.’ The band sounded fresh, like they were having fun. This was U2, but not as we know them!
1. Lady With The Spinning Head (1991)
This was the closest U2 came to the aforementioned nineties ‘Madchester’ scene, propelled by Larry’s Stone Roses-style beat (but as always without the busy interruptions). For the first time we also hear the groove that Adam has in him - the nineties will be his decade. The anthems were thin on the ground for U2 during this period, and they were the better for it. Sonic experimentation, brilliant melodies, lots of Edge singing, it was a glorious period, and the fact that this track didn’t make the final cut for Achtung Baby, illustrates to us how great that record was.