They weren’t always rotten…
U2 in 1987

I don’t know. You try to be nice, you try to be kind, and everyone throws your gesture back in your face. When U2 (or Apple, let’s be fair) slipped their ‘Songs Of Innocence’ album into millions of iTunes accounts last week, the ‘net went mental.

People were, generally, not amused. Alcopop! Records founder Jack Clothier responded by penning an ‘Apple, Leave Our Libraries Alone’ piece for Virgin, while a September 11th-published article on how to remove the album became one of the BBC website’s most-read items.

Suffice to say, many a copy of ‘Songs Of Innocence’ has now been banished from music fans’ digital collections. If the giveaway was a physical one, British Heart Foundations the country over would be heaving with unwanted discs, and MusicMagpie would probably have taken itself offline just to avoid the hassle of having to tell everyone that they won’t pay for promotional items. The record itself: meh, in a nutshell. More middle-of-the-road plodding from a band that long ago lost its spark. But, didn’t they used to be pretty great? Some of the time?

Yeah. They did. Here’s 7 Of The Best U2 tracks from before you all hated them. Which you do. Don’t deny it.

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‘With Or Without You’
(from the album ‘The Joshua Tree’, 1987)

The Irish act’s first number one across the Atlantic, beginning a love affair with American audiences that’s rarely dipped to this day. Think of the 1980s and, beside the memories of Ghostbusters and aerobics is this song, and this album. Great range from Bono, guitar that goes on forever from The Edge, it’s successfully affecting without risking mawkishness. Massive tune, guys.

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(from the album ‘October’, 1981)

Some didn’t take to ‘October’, its makers’ second album, weighed down as it was by a spirituality unheard on the more grounded ‘Boy’ of 1980. But in its mid-section was a surprising, tender, almost-instrumental number – the collection’s title track, which changed the mood of the album for two magical minutes. Given the band’s reputation for bombast, hearing ‘October’ today is a reminder that U2 could so easily blindside with the unexpected in their earlier years.

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(from the album ‘Pop’, 1997)

‘Pop’ is another of U2’s long-players to have divided the press and long-term admirers alike, but few can question its ambition, its palpable demand for something new from a band that might otherwise have just gone through the motions. It saw Bono and company embrace dance music more openly than ever before, and this Flood-produced lead single – packing so much thrust it almost leaves the atmosphere – pointed the way to a collection of experiments that don’t always come off, but rarely fail to entertain (at least the once). It’s a shame, really, that they’ve rather disowned it in recent years.

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‘The Fly’
(from the album ‘Achtung Baby’, 1991)

The lead single from U2’s only Mercury Prize-nominated album, ‘The Fly’ welcomed a darker edge to the band’s output after 1988’s ‘Rattle And Hum’ had explored rootsier territories. The shift in approach worked: harder than what fans were used to, ‘The Fly’ went straight to number one in the UK and enjoyed plenty of international success, too. The music triggered an image update, with Bono adopting wrap-around shades and becoming an in-character The Fly, with leather jacket and menacing looks, while touring the LP. ‘The Fly’ catches The Edge on some of his career-best form, too, showing that he’s not just about epic delay.

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(from the album ‘Zooropa’, 1993)

The Edge speaks! Over a bunch of samples! And it’s good, weirdly. Can’t you imagine someone like Grimes doing a great cover of this? Just me? Okay…

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‘Where The Streets Have No Name’
(from the album ‘The Joshua Tree’, 1987)

It’s the one on the roof. It sounds, still, as if it’s reaching for the sun. An anthem, pure and simple, from a time when U2 sounded like they could knock such songs out on a lunch break.

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‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’
(from the album ‘The Unforgettable Fire’, 1984)


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More 7 Of The Best articles

Related: The Cost of Free Content, Or: The New U2 Album Is A Bit Pants

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