U2 40: Part I


by John Walters

Longtime friend and fellow quasi-native Arizonan Dino DeMillo suggested, after Vulture did a worst-to-best ranking of all U2’s songs, that I take a stab at it. Dino knows U2 is my favorite band, knows I take pride in having attended the November 1, 1987 show in which they came out in costume as “The Dalton Brothers” and that I also attended the $5 shows seven weeks later at Sun Devil Stadium when U2 needed to fill up the venue for the filming of Rattle And Hum.

Asked by Wenner what he’d tell his younger self, Bono replied, “Stop second-guessing yourself. You’re right.” Is that not the Bono-est quote ever?

Two years ago I “met” Bono, which is to say that I stood in a red carpet line and asked him a question, which was not “Can I just give you a massive hug?” although that’s the question I wanted to ask. Anyway, the erstwhile Paul Hewson is on the cover of a recent Rolling Stone, if you want to read the interview with the magazine’s founder, Jann Wenner.

That tune is one of a few you’ve heard of that did not make my Top 40 list, along with “Desire,” “Lemon,” “Bullet The Blue Sky,” “Out Of Control”or “Van Diemen’s Land.” Let’s be clear here: this isn’t a list of U2’s 40 greatest songs, it’s a personal ranking of one fan’s 40 favorite U2 songs. When I told my musical soulmate and close college friend Randy McDonald that I was going to undertake this challenge, he quipped, as someone who also came of musical age in the Eighties, “So your first 1o songs are off The Joshua Tree…then what?”

In other words, your mileage may vary.

The list will appear in four parts. Direct all your outrage to me (or Dino at @dinodemillo).

  1. Until The End Of The World

Achtung Baby, 1991

I’ve always thought of Achtung Baby as U2’s Revolver: their first psychedelic album and the reason it works so well is because you can hear the band’s unshakeable confidence, if not outright arrogance, in every song. They know they’re exploring uncharted territory, but they also know they’re crushing it. This tune embodies that as much as any on the album.

  1. One

Achtung Baby, 1991

If this prayer of brotherhood is in your personal Top 10, I can’t fault you (if you have it ranked eponymously, I can’t blame you for that, either). These are some of Bono’s most intimate lyrics and it’s the Irish version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” That downer bass line by Adam Clayton, though. It fits, but it just bums me out.

  1.  City Of Blinding Lights

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, 2004

“Oh…You…Look…So beautiful…toniiiiiiiight!” The lads used this upbeat, positive-vibe rocker as the show opener on the Vertigo tour and it won a Grammy in 2006 for Best Rock Song. Deserved.

  1. When Love Comes To Town

Rattle and Hum, 1988

I’ve never understood why critics slagged U2 so damn much for this album, but it was songs such as this that really, really got under their skin. Who do these Dublin blokes think they are, paying tribute to New York City, blues and jazz musicians? Hell, they can’t even get the names of our American towns right. This is just a fun song, though, and does anyone really have a problem with B.B. King getting to sing the chorus? Also, you can sub in “Angel Of Harlem” for this choice and I won’t mind. 


  1. The Refugee

War, 1983

Early, angry and idealistic Bono. This is when U2 sounded an awful lot like The Alarm and Big Country, but stood out just enough.

  1. Even Better Than The Real Thing

Achtung Baby, 1991

See # 31. 


  1. Hawkmoon 269

Rattle And Hum, 1988

This song evokes images of wide-open spaces, which fits, because the title purportedly comes from a North Dakota town through which the band passed while on tour. The problem is that there is no Hawkmoon, North Dakota. There is a Blackhawk, South Dakota, though. Blackhawk, 269?


  1. Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of

All That You Can’t Leave Behind, 2000

Bono wrote this song as a fictional argument between himself and his mate Michael Hutchence, lead singer of INXS, who had committed suicide a few years earlier. He’s said that he felt he owed it to Hutchence not to pay tribute with “some stupid soppy song.” It all came out of a gospel melody The Edge had been working on.


Mysterious Ways

Achtung Baby, 1991

I’ve never been a monster fan of most of the lead singles from most of U2’s albums (e.g., “Desire” from Rattle and Hum). This tune pushed “Staring At The Sun,” “Lemon,” “Numb,” and countless others off the list. And though the list is heavy on songs from this album and The Joshua Tree, I’ll make no apologies. It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright…

  1. 40 (Live)

Under A Blood Red Sky, 1983

Before there was “One” or “All I Want Is You,” this was U2’s emblematic slow-it-down anthem. The closing tune off Live at Red Rocks proved that the band understood how to slow your pulse while lifting your heart.


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