When U2 initially met as high school students in 1976, they weren’t terrific composers. Even juvenilia like “Cartoon World” and “Science Fiction Tune” took them a couple of years as a second-rate Dublin cover band before they rose to the level of juvenilia.
However, when the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, something snapped, and great bursts of creativity such as “Out of Control” and “I Will Follow” began to pour out of them.
The Best 80s U2 Songs
U2’s outstanding combination of popular and critical appeal matches that of any other rock band in history, and proof of this stirring style can be found in the group’s best-known albums from the 1980s. Here’s a look back at 6 of U2’s best songs from the time period.
1. With or Without You (1987)
This is one of the best songs of the decade, a serious contender for the title of “most perfect pop song of the 1980s” (along with a classic like the Police’s “Every Breath You Take”). On The Joshua Tree, Bono’s lyrics reached an impressively high degree of strength and clarity, and they’re especially haunting and true on this song, which tells a story of deep emotional longing and woe.
Musically, the song elevates atmospherics to a new level, with Adam Clayton’s modest but instantly recognizable bass line setting a deliberate tone that leaves plenty of opportunity for the Edge’s sonic textures to shine. This song was unavoidable in 1987-1988, and U2 has since been synonymous with high-quality pop music as a result of it.
2. I Will Follow (1980)
On a number of levels, this song marked the beginning of U2’s career, particularly in terms of the Edge’s signature guitar sound. Boy, the band’s powerful, gripping lead-off single from their 1980 album also established leader Bono’s larger-than-life vocal and performing style.
With the enormous, powerful, and motivating sound of this early classic, it’s no surprise that U2 swiftly became one of the decade’s most recognized live acts. But there’s also a lot of groundbreaking naivety in the song, which surely had a huge influence on the shape of music in the decade to come. Many bands would try to follow U2’s ’80s rock path, but only a few would be able to keep up.
3. Bad (1984)
This majestic epic showcased the quartet’s ability to stretch out, generate tension, and create subtle textures when given plenty of space. The song’s lyrics follow an ambiguous route, but Bono’s improving sense of melody and passionate singing are certainly the song’s strongest assets.
The group manages to turn in both a great studio recording on The Unforgettable Fire and a magnificent, crucial live rendition from 1985’s live EP Wide Awake in America, demonstrating how a band can take itself as seriously as this without alienating (in fact, drawing) people. Both are valuable possessions.
4. Pride (In the Name of Love) (1984)
U2’s love for sweeping, politically charged anthems reached its pinnacle with this nearly perfect rocker from 1984. The band’s music would become more personal and less distantly observant after that, but there may be no better tribute song in rock history than this one.
The song’s subject matter, Martin Luther King’s inspirational life and terrible end, is undeniably appealing to Bono’s humanitarian mindset, and the outcome is magnificent. By this time, the Edge’s ringing guitar technique and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr.’s rhythmic accuracy had begun to shape the band’s unique, appealing sound, which still shines brilliantly a quarter-century later.
5. One Tree Hill (1988)
This neglected gem, which appears as the ninth track on the 11-song album, is the album’s ninth consecutive fantastic song, an accomplishment that is remarkable given the filler tracks that have plagued even the best albums published over the years.
The melody is beautifully evocative and transcendent, and it serves as a fantastic link between U2’s relatively hidden heroes and the massive pop artists that would shortly join the 1990s. The unifying thread is The Edge’s distinct guitar sound.
6. Red Hill Mining Town (1987)
When it comes to identifying the best songs on U2’s catalog, it’s mostly a matter of closing one’s eyes and pointing at the album sleeve. The album contains so much great folk-influenced thinking man’s rock music that it’s impossible to leave any tracks out. One of the band’s best ascending melodies is featured in this song, which is beautifully presented with the help of the Edge’s trademark chiming guitar technique.
Also, even though it’s tough to dispute that Bono is anything other than a high-percentage vocalist, his vocal delivery has rarely been as legendary and impassioned.
So those are our best picks for U2 songs from the 1980s. There’s no doubt that any of these songs would make a great addition to your daily playlist.