21 Best U2 Songs

U2 is one of the most influential modern rock bands of all time. The Irish group’s songs speak of love, loss, politics, longing, the human condition, spirituality, and everything in between.

The band’s discography is vast. Below we narrow it down to the best U2 songs the group has to offer.

“With or Without You” by U2

Song Year: 1987

“With or Without You” is many listeners’ default U2 song. The power ballad, featured on The Joshua Tree, earned the band wide renown and considerable success. “With or Without You” was U2s first American and Canadian number-one hit.

The song’s lyrics detail a complicated romantic relationship. It starts softly before crescendoing in a huge cathartic mess of vocals and music. Blender, Rolling Stone, Slant Magazine, VH1, and The Guardian have all included the song on their lists of the greatest pop songs of all time.

“One” by U2

Song Year: 1992

U2 struggled to record a follow-up to The Joshua Tree, their wildly successful fifth album. “One”, a soaring anthem about fractured relationships on both personal and global levels, broke the band’s stasis and opened the gates for Achtung Baby.

U2 wrote this song after the Berlin Wall fell. The lyrics explore Germany’s reunification attempts, as well as the tension the band felt to develop a new album. The music is sweeping, a timeless rock ballad. Showing they do more than just sing about various important topics, the band also donated the benefits from the song’s release to AIDS research organizations.

“Bad” by U2

Song Year: 1984

“Bad” has been with U2 for much of the band’s career. The song appears on The Unforgettable Fire, U2’s fourth album.

The lyrics delve into heroin addiction. Bono has been cagey about precisely who inspired the song. However, the theme of drug addiction is undisputed. Musically, the song employs Edge’s signature guitar tone, stretched over six gentle minutes.

This song is a long-standing fan-favorite, and the band often plays it during their live shows.

“All I Want Is You” by U2

Song Year: 1988

“All I Want Is You” is a grand, sweeping declaration of romance. The six-minute and thirty-second song gradually builds from a simmer to an eruption. The instrumentation starts simple, with only the strum of Edge’s guitar, and then swells to include a full string section.

The lyrics are straightforward, as Bono details all the things his lover offers him, declaring her the only thing he truly wants.

The song was included on the hybrid live and studio album Rattle and Hum and achieved moderate success, appearing on several charts.

“Where the Streets Have No Name” by U2

Song Year: 1987

U2 made a declarative statement with “Where the Streets Have No Name”. The upbeat, joyous number opens The Joshua Tree with a bang. The song helped define the sound fans associate with the band.

Lyrically, this is Bono’s ode to erasing cultural biases. He took inspiration from Belfast neighborhoods where you could surmise a person’s religion and social status based on the streets where they lived.

The song has continued to earn critical praise since its release, appearing on best-of lists from Rolling Stone, Q, Consequence of Sound, Slant Magazine, and The Guardian.

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2

Song Year: 1987

U2 chases “With or Without You”s success with “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The song continued the band’s hot streak, earning U2 another American number one.

U2 builts “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” around a Larry Mullens, Jr. drumbeat. The band developed a warm and optimistic but mellow groove around the rhythm’s foundation.

Bono contributed lyrics about longing. While the writer claims the song focuses on spiritual yearning, the words readily double as romantic declarations.

RIAA, Q, Rolling Stone, Blender, and Los Angeles Times all rank this song as one of the greatest of all time.

“New Year’s Day” by U2

Song Year: 1983

“New Year’s Day” transformed from a love song Bono wrote about his wife into an ode to Polish solidarity. The first single off of  U2’s third studio album, War, “New Year’s Day,” was an English hit.

The base-driven song earned U2 their first number-one in the United Kingdom. Musically, “New Year’s Day” is a dark, pensive piece. The song is a passionate, angry statement from a young and hungry band.

This song is a U2 live-show staple. Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Cashbox all consider it as one of the best-written. 

“I Will Follow” by U2

Song Year: 1980

“I Will Follow” was only the second single U2 ever released. The song was a strong opening salvo, with big, upbeat rock guitars and rhythm.

Bono wrote the lyrics about his late mother. The song explores the unconditional love shared between a mother and her child.

The song appears on U2’s debut album, Boy, and holds a pivotal spot in the band’s legacy. They play it on every tour.

“Beautiful Day” by U2

Song Year: 2000

“Beautiful Day” was something of a comeback for U2. The lead-off single from All That You Can’t Leave Behind, U2’s tenth album, earned commercial success and critical raves.

U2 returned to their foundational sound. Edge used his traditional guitar tone, and the band crafted a polished, well-produced rock anthem. Lyrically, “Beautiful Day” is an ode to seizing the moment and celebrating what you have.

Listeners reacted positively to the optimistic tune, launching it to international success. The Village Voice, Q, and Rolling Stone celebrated the joyous tune, naming it one of the century’s best. Notably, the song won three Grammy awards.

“Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” by U2

Song Year: 1991

U2 knows their way around a torch song. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” finds the band at the peak of their powers. Released as Achtung Baby’s final single, the song is a sweeping, romantic masterpiece.

Bono’s lyrics capture the complicated nature of a toxic relationship. The singer repeatedly acknowledges how destructive his paramour is but can’t deny how drawn he is to her regardless.

The song was an international hit that inspired a cover by the American band, Garbage.

 “Desire” by U2

 “Desire” by U2

Song Year: 1988

“Desire” is as punk a song as U2 ever wrote. The Stooges inspired the band to revamp the classic Bo Diddley beat into a punchy, upbeat rock song.

It seems like a love song at first. However, as the song progresses, the lyrics reveal their greater intentions, lamenting how coveting anything inspires our worst impulses. Bono mentions romance, drugs, and money as motivators.

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