U2: The Neglected Hits

It was 30 years ago this month that 5 Irish lads gathered together to form a group called Feedback.  Paul Hewson, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., and Dik & Dave Evans probably had no real sense of what they were beginning back in October 1976.  If any representatives of the media had been in attendance for that first cacophonous band session it is unlikely any of them would’ve been impressed with what they heard.  Only 2 of the members had any kind of musical training.  Larry had been playing the drums for 6 years up to that point and Dave had a little bit of piano training.  Everybody else had to figure out what they could do in the band.  Paul, who couldn’t play anything, ended up being the singer.
 
The name Feedback would only last one gig.  By the time of the second gig, they were known as The Hype (which was what David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars back-up band was called initially).  Paul was rechristened Bono Vox (or “Good Voice” in latin) which was the name of a neighbourhood pharmacy and Dave was renamed The Edge because of his pointy chin. 
 
2 years later, Dik left the band in the middle of a gig never to rejoin them in the future.  It has been the only line-up change in the 30 years that U2 have operated.  (Oh yes, by that point, on the advice of a fellow musician, they made their final name change.)
 
Incredibly, U2 were established during punk’s formative years and 4 decades later, they remain the most important band in music, outlasting all their contemporaries including The Sex Pistols, The Clash and countless others.
 
To commemorate their special anniversary, the band has a new coffee table book out called “U2 by U2” (Could there be any other possible title?), which is already a Bestseller.  I would love to have my own copy.
 
All through the year I’ve been thinking about U2’s legacy.  I believe they are the greatest band in music history.  I would gladly put their catalogue up against anybody else’s and that includes The Stones, The Beatles and even Bob Dylan.  I have all their studio records and am only missing that elusive Passengers CD from 11 years ago.  (I’m still on the hunt for that one.)
 
I don’t think it’s remotely possible for me to pay fitting tribute to the band on my site with a thoroughly detailed analysis.  So instead, I’ve decided to dip into my archives and showcase a previously unseen piece about the band’s second greatest hits package.
 
This was written in 2002 with The Hamilton Spectator’s YourPlace page in mind.  It was never accepted by the editor of that page which is too bad because it’s not a bad article, if I do say so myself.
 
The Best of 1990-2000 didn’t include every hit single the band released during that period.  There was no Night & Day (from the Cole Porter tribute album, Red Hot + Blue), no Elevation or Walk On (from All That You Can’t Leave Behind), no Please, If God Will Send His Angels, Last Night On Earth or Mofo (from Pop), no Lemon or Zooropa (from Zooropa), and no Zoo Station or Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses? (from Achtung Baby).  Because I only had about 700-750 words to work with for the article, I only mentioned 4 missing singles.
 
It’s amazing.  U2 have so many hit singles from throughout their career they could probably put out another greatest hits package and even include tracks like Bono’s duet with Frank Sinatra (I’ve Got You Under My Skin) and Larry and Adam’s underappreciated reworking of the Mission: Impossible theme.  It’s a shame they’re not putting any new CDs out this year because I’m suffering from withdrawals.  Apparently, they’re hard at work at another studio album which is supposed to be released next year.  I can’t wait.
 
I’ve had to make some slight changes.  I used to dislike the Pop and All That You Can’t Leave Behind albums but after years of not listening to them, much to my eternal delight, I thoroughly enjoy them now.  Pop doesn’t have a single bad song on it while I have strong feelings for 8 of the 11 songs off Behind.  (I still don’t care about Stuck In A Moment (You Can’t Get Out Of), Peace On Earth, and Grace.)
 
As a result of my change of heart about those albums, I’ve had to scrap some lines.  I originally said of Last Night On Earth that it was “[t]he best single off the disappointing Pop album…” and that “I would much rather hear this one over and over than the lackluster Staring At The Sun.”  Today, I think Mofo is the best single from Pop and while I would still rather have had Earth on the second hits package instead of Sun, I don’t think it’s lackluster anymore.  It’s grown on me considerably. 
 
Even though I like the band’s 2000 album now, I still think it’s overrated in comparison to its much stronger, earlier releases, which is why that line remains intact.   
 
If I had a larger word limit to work with 4 years ago I would’ve focused on all the rejected singles from Best Of 1990-2000 and not just the 4 that I do talk about.  Anyway, it’s a good piece and I hope you enjoy this revised version.
 
 

THE NEGLECTED HITS:
The U2 Singles left off the new compilation
By Dennis Earl

It’s a dilemma all of us would love to have: deciding which hit singles to put on your greatest hits compilation. In the case of U2, there have been enough to put together 2 such releases.

In 1998, they unleashed the first one, The Best of 1980-1990, a wonderful collection covering the energetic early days and the more compelling breakthrough accomplishments of the late 80s. Still, it was odd that they didn’t include every hit single they had during that period. Where were Gloria, Two Hearts Beat As One and Bullet The Blue Sky? There was plenty of room on the CD to include those successes as well.

And now comes the sequel, The Best of 1990-2000. 2 months before the first pressing hits stores (which includes a limited edition second disc of re-mixes and B-sides plus a DVD), we know what’s going on the album: 2 new singles and an impressive list of familiar radio staples from the last 11 years. (The inclusions of both Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me from Batman Forever and Miss Sarajevo, the collaboration with Brian Eno and Luciano Pavarotti for the one-album Passengers project, were both pleasant surprises, even if the latter is an edit.) Unfortunately, the upcoming album doesn’t include every big single. Here are the ones that didn’t make the cut:

1. Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?

The final single from 1991’s Achtung Baby is not scheduled to appear on the new release. Neither the abbreviated re-mixed single nor the full 5 minute album version have been included. True, it wasn’t as huge as say The Fly or Mysterious Ways, both of which did make the cut, but it was everywhere in early 1993. The album version is deeply moving despite its murky, challenging arrangement. U2’s best songs create atmosphere not only in the music but in Bono’s poetic lyrics, and Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses? is a good example of that, documenting a turbulent, often lusty relationship that prevents the protagonist from ever fully escaping the woman who continually drives him crazy. This might be U2’s most tortured love song.

2. Lemon

U2’s brilliant re-thinking of what makes the ultimate dance song only appears in a re-mix version on disc two of the limited edition first pressing. The best version has always been the full 7-minute cut on the band’s best and most underappreciated studio album of the 90s, Zooropa. A brilliant musical melding of electronica, disco, classical and pop, it might be the most exquisite dance number of the last decade. Lyrically intriguing with its tale of a film director who lives only to capture his beautiful leading lady on film in the best possible light, it is simply a great piece of musicmaking. On paper, it shouldn’t work. But U2 make it come to life.

3. Last Night On Earth

One of the best singles from the Pop album was foolishly excluded from this second greatest hits package. With its wonderful, goose pimply electronic opening to The Edge’s always confident guitar playing to Bono’s empathetic read on his own lyrics, this was one of the standouts. 

4. Walk On

This is probably the biggest and most surprising omission.  A recent Grammy winner, U2’s follow-up to its best single in years, Beautiful Day, which did make the cut, was certainly a sure bet to get on the track listing.  You would think, right?  But you would be wrong.  In its place, we get the slow-moving Michael Hutchence tribute, Stuck In A Moment (You Can’t Get Out Of) which isn’t nearly as emotional.  Walk On had to grow on me but my patience is rewarded with a nice, stripped-down arrangement and a moving, inspiring lyric about letting go of personal insecurities and electing to move on in a world filled with naysayers and non-believers.  Best part of the song:  the last-minute sing along which inspired the name of the overrated album it was a part of, All That You Can’t Leave Behind.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, October 30, 2006
7:54 p.m.
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Published in: on October 30, 2006 at 8:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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