The 15 Greatest U2 Songs: A Highly Subjective List

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 1 2011 6:05 PM

The 15 Best U2 Songs

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Bono and The Edge performing in Brazil, 2006.

Photo by MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images

In preparing my Completist essay on the music of U2, it seemed only natural to also consider—and rank—the album-oriented band’s 14 studio LPs.

But evaluating songs is a trickier affair, partly due to how mindful the band has always been about individual tracks contributing to the greater whole. Songs like “Mothers of the Disappeared” and “MLK” are as gorgeous as anything U2 has ever recorded, but they belong at the back end of their respective albums, and wouldn’t have the same impact if they were stand-alones.

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Which might be why some of their best singles are either from undercooked albums (“Desire,” “All I Want Is You”) or didn’t appear on a U2 album at all (“The Sweetest Thing,” “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”).

That said, while many U2 songs are clearly conceived and mixed with heavy rotation radio-play in mind (Steve Lillywhite frequently doing the high glossing), it’s often the deeper tracks that make the strongest impression on me. (I’m much fonder of, say, “So Cruel” than I am of “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses,” two poison valentines of a very different sort, both from Achtung Baby.)

Still, I couldn’t let a good list-making opportunity pass me by. So here is my highly subjective list of the top 15 U2 songs, followed by 15 additional songs that are just as worthy. Some are obvious, like “With or Without You,” “One,” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” songs that I praise in depth in my album annotations. While other, less heralded songs—“Lemon,” “The Wanderer,” “Miss Sarajevo”—sound greater and greater over time.  

The 15 Best U2 Songs

One

Lemon

Bad

The Wanderer

Desire

Gloria

(You can listen to all of these songs as a Spotify playlist here: "The 15 Best U2 Songs.")

15 More:
“Two Hearts Beat as One,” “Ultraviolet (Light My Way),” “The Sweetest Thing,” “Running to Stand Still,” “So Cruel,” “The Fly,” “Wire,” “Bullet the Blue Sky,” “Out of Control,” “Mysterious Ways,” “Walk On,” “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” “Staring at the Sun,” “Your Blue Room,” “Gone.”

Eric Hynes is a New York-based journalist and film critic.