21 Best U2 Songs

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.

“Pride (In the Name of Love)” by U2

Song Year: 1984

U2 took the inspiration for “Pride (In the Name of Love)” from one of the world’s greatest civil rights leaders. Bono wrote the lyrics about Martin Luther King Jr.

Released as the first single off their fourth album, The Unforgettable Fire, the song has a soaring, triumphant chorus designed for stadium sing-alongs.

Though it initially inspired mixed reviews, critical reappraisals have been kinder. Rolling Stone, Spin, Mojo, VH1, and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame all declared the song a classic. 

“Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2

Song Year: 1983

U2’s most politically driven expanded the band’s reach exponentially. Edge wrote “Sunday Bloody Sunday’s” initial riff. The guitarist’s heavy mindset informed the music, one of U2’s darker compositions.

Lyrically, the song deals with 1972’s Bloody Sunday incident. It laments the lives lost and the enduring damage of the violence between the IRA and the British. Over a military drumbeat, Bono implores both sides to see the humanity in the other.

Notably, this song provided a blueprint for political songs. The tune’s wild success proved a song could have a message while being a hit. 

“Even Better Than the Real Thing” by U2

Song Year: 1991

U2 channeled their fun side on “Even Better Than the Real Thing.” The song is a joyous, slick rock and roll song produced to perfection.

Bono claims his lyrics are about instant gratification. Though he is the authority on the subject, the steamy song serves as a straightforward ode to being amorous.

The song isn’t U2’s biggest hit. However, the fun, light-hearted tune earned spots on multiple global charts. In addition, it inspired several covers, and Mojo declared the song one of the best of the 1990s. 

“Angel of Harlem” by U2

Song Year: 1988

U2 defied expectations with “Angel of Harlem.” The Irish rock band dipped their toes into American blues, crafting a bright, sunshiny pop song full of New York flavor.

Bono’s lyrics reference important New York landmarks as well as jazz luminaries. The song deviates from U2’s usual guitar-driven musicality, bringing in The Memphis Horns to provide brass backing.

Despite their Irish roots, U2 wrote one of the most distinctly American songs of the 20th century. It was released as the second single off the album Rattle and Hum.  The song was a modest success, charting in multiple countries.

“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” by U2

Song Year: 1995

Few fans cite Batman Forever as their favorite caped crusader movie. The soundtrack, however, is chock full of hits, including “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me.”

U2’s soundtrack contribution is a dark, brooding synth groove. The slinky track features a string arrangement and electronic influences. Bono wrote the lyrics about the sinister side of celebrity life.

The song earned U2 Grammy and Golden Globe nominations. Moreover, it was a massive hit, reaching number one on multiple charts globally.

“Acrobat” by U2

Song Year: 1991

“Acrobat” is the result of combining a love for an American poet, Delmore Schwartz, and an unusual time signature. Most songs are written in 4/4 time, but Edge composed “Acrobat” in 12/8 time.

Bono took inspiration from Delmore Schwartz’s poetry for his lyrics. The lyricist set out to write a more formally structured song about his insecurities and self-doubts. As such, the song has a darker edge driven by industrial instrumentation and production.

“Acrobat” allowed U2 to expand their range. The experimental track polarized critics but earned immediate fans. U2 included the song on Achtung Baby.

“The Ground Beneath Her Feet” by U2

Song Year: 2000

Music draws interesting collaborators together. “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” combined the linguistic talents of Salman Rushdie with U2’s musical know-how.

Salman Rushdie wrote the song’s lyrics for his 1999 novel of the same name. He sent the words to Bono and asked the band to provide a melody. The song retells the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, detailing a tragic love that ends in inevitable loss.

U2’s music hauntingly drives Rushdie’s lyrics. “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” appears on the soundtrack to the Bono-produced film The Million Dollar Hotel.

“Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own” by U2

Song Year: 2004

“Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own” is U2 at their most personal. Bono wrote the bittersweet song about his relationship with his ailing father.

The song’s music is aching and poignant, perfectly supporting Bono’s plaintive lyrics. U2 released “Sometimes You Can’t Make it on You Own” as the second single on their eleventh album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

The song was a global success and landed on myriad charts.

“Sweetest Thing” by U2

Song Year: 1998

“Sweetest Thing” has led the most interesting life of any U2 song. Bono wrote the song in 1987 as an apology to his wife. The band recorded the song as a b-side to “Where the Streets Have no Name.”

Eleven years later, U2 reworked the song and released it as a single to modest acclaim and success.

This song is, for lack of a better word, adorable. The tune makes it a tender love song with endearing, upbeat music. Bono and his wife remain together, so clearly, the song worked for her, and it worked for audiences as well. “Sweetest Thing” charted globally.

“Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” by U2

Song Year: 2000

The tragic death of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence inspired mournful songs from many musicians. U2 composed “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” as a tribute to the late singer.

The melancholy melody supports the ponderous lyrics. Notably, Edge incorporated Gospel elements into the sweeping composition. There are three versions of “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”: the album version, the acoustic version, and the radio edit.

The song was featured on All That You Can’t Leave Behind and won U2 a Grammy. The song landed on multiple global charts.

Top U2 Songs, Final Thoughts

U2’s influence on modern music can’t be overstated. The band owes its longevity to an experimental spirit and a willingness to defy genre.

The tunes included on this list of the best U2 songs aptly display why and how U2 has endured across multiple decades.

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