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Deep Cuts: U2: Part I

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The Joshua Tree was the very first CD I ever bought – can you believe that? It wasn’t Europe or Huey Lewis & the News or White Lion; it was arguably U2’s greatest album and maybe the best album of the decade. I listened to the disc over and over and when it became too scratched and my prehistoric CD player couldn’t play it, I went out and bought another copy. In those days, I didn’t explore a band’s back catalog like I do now. I think I may have bought a copy of Under a Blood Red Sky just to hear “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” but I didn’t go out and buy The Unforgettable Fire or War to see what the boys from Dublin did before they delivered this beautiful work to me.

In the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to explore the band’s back catalog of album releases and most of their B-sides as well. Much like my Rolling Stones Deep Cuts article, I’ve compiled a list of all of U2’s best music that I feel is underappreciated. Take a listen to these album cuts spanning U2’s entire career and maybe you’ll discover a few new songs. Be sure to check out Part II of our U2 Deep Cuts, which features live tracks, non-album tracks, remixes and covers. Also take a look at the list of essential U2 and the band’s biography.

1) “An Cat Dubh / Into the Heart” – These two songs from Boy are listed as separate tracks but are seamless on the record. The group resurrected these tracks and performed them at many of the shows on their last tour. Both tracks are certainly raw, but you can hear the classic U2 sound starting to form. “An Cat Dubh” is Gaelic for “The Black Cat” – the song is apparently about a woman that Bono had an affair with after a falling-out with his longtime girlfriend and future wife. There isn’t much to the lyrics of “Into The Heart,” but they seem to be about growing up.

2) “Out of Control” – First released on the three-song single Three, this song was re-worked by producer Steve Lillywhite before appearing again on Boy. Bono has been quoted (Hot Press, 1979) as saying that this song is about “waking up on your 18th birthday and realizing…that the two most important decisions in your life have nothing to do with you – being born and dying.” Certainly one of the catchier songs off Boy, this track is largely ignored by casual fans.

3) “Fire” – This song from October was released as a single in parts of Europe, but not in North America. Despite being one of the more memorable songs off of the first two albums, it wasn’t really a hit for the band and was subsequently left off their Best of 1980-1990 greatest hits compilation.

4) “Gloria” – The second single from October was also never officially released in the US, though the import sold well enough for it to peak at #82 on the US singles chart. This track features great guitar work by the Edge and a rare bass solo from Adam Clayton before it kicks into high gear.

5) “Wire” – Released on The Unforgettable Fire, this song is about heroin addiction. U2 has stayed mostly drug free throughout their career, but had friends who died from various addictions. It did chart as a single, but it still remains unknown to a lot of casual fans as it rarely gets radio airplay. Listen for the growing U2 sound in Bono’s vocals during the chorus and the Edge’s stuttering guitar throughout the song.

6) “The Three Sunrises” – First appearing on the Wide Awake In America EP in 1985, this track is lyrically quite simple – it’s a song about love. It features some crunching guitar from the Edge and prominent bass work from Adam Clayton.

7) “Running to Stand Still” – Casual fans might overlook the second half of The Joshua Tree, which did not have the hits of the first half, but features some terrific songs nonetheless. Also about heroin addiction, this track starts slowly and Bono’s potent vocals take the listener on an emotional journey.

8) “Red Hill Mining Town” – Written about a coal miner’s strike in England, this song was supposed to be the second single off of The Joshua Tree but it was discovered in rehearsals that Bono could not hit the high notes consistently. As a result, it couldn’t be properly promoted and was never performed live. This song is another example of the empathy that the band has felt toward the working poor.

9) “Trip Through Your Wires” – The lyrics of this, the third deep cut off The Joshua Tree, are full of imagery but have no discernable meaning. One of the few U2 songs to feature the harmonica, the energy in the music and passion in Bono’s vocals are palpable.

10) “One Tree Hill” – This song was written about Greg Caroll, a Maori from New Zealand who was a friend and assistant to Bono. He was killed in a car accident while running an errand for Bono. One Tree Hill is a volcanic island in Auckland where Carroll took Bono on his first night in the country. Bono felt he could only perform this song once, and did just one take in the studio, though the band played the song several times in concert in support of The Joshua Tree. The band’s last live performance of this song was in December of 1993 at their show in Auckland, New Zealand.

Update (12/7/06): The band played "One Tree Hill" at both of their Auckland shows (11/24/06 and 11/25/06). It appears that the band still only plays the song in New Zealand. Thanks, Anna!

11) “Hawkmoon 269” – Released on Rattle & Hum, this song isn’t about love – it’s about need. The track starts slowly and builds as it goes. Larry Mullen uses the bass drum extensively on the song, to great effect. The lyrics drip with all sorts of imagery and Bono’s voice sounds excellent throughout. It isn’t clear where the title came from – it might be an homage to one of Bono’s favorite writers, Sam Shepard, or it could be the name of a place in Rapid City, South Dakota that just sounded good to the band.

12) “Zoo Station” – The band tends to open their albums with a catchy song – “I Will Follow” on Boy, “Gloria” on October, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” on War and “Where the Streets Have No Name” on The Joshua Tree. But for Achtung Baby, which the band described as the “sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree,” they decided to do something different. “Zoo Station,” with its industrial guitar and its compressed vocals, gets the group’s point across – this is not The Joshua Tree you’re listening to. The song’s title was inspired by the Zoo Bahnhof train station in Berlin, Germany.

13) “So Cruel” – After hearing “Mysterious Ways” a few too many times, this track quickly became my favorite on Achtung Baby. I love the descending piano riff and Larry Mullen’s beat. Aptly titled, it is a song about rejection. It also features some strings that add to the track’s moody feel.

14) “Ultra Violet (Light My Way)” – This track features another great beat from Mullen and Edge’s guitar is probably the most Joshua Tree-ish of all the tracks on Achtung Baby. It features an addictive chorus along with one of the best lines on the album, “When I was all messed up and had an opera in my head / Your love was a light bulb hanging over my bed,” which gives the song a spiritual feel.

15) “Babyface” – Zooropa didn’t sit well with a lot of fans that wanted to hear more Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby, but there are some very good tracks on the disc. “Babyface” is a subtle song with a sweet melody. There’s a theory that the song is about the models that the band was hanging out with at the time and another theory that it’s about watching pornography on TV. With the lyric “Coming home late at night to turn you on / Checking out every frame / I’ve got slow motion on my side,” the latter theory may hold some water.

16) “The First Time” – Also from Zooropa, this track builds in the same way as “All I Want Is You.” Bono has said that this song is about “losing your faith.” The track was never really played on the radio, but the repeating guitar riff and piano interlude make this one of the band’s most beautiful songs.

17) “The Wanderer” – A strange ending to what many believe to be a strange album, this Zooropa track features country legend Johnny Cash on vocals. Hearing his unmistakable voice over an experimental baseline is an exercise in opposites – but in a weird way, it works. Bono doesn’t appear on the song – that’s the Edge singing background vocals towards the end of the track.

18) “Your Blue Room” – Technically not a work of U2 (it was released under the name Passengers), this song was released in 1995 on an album entitled Original Soundtracks No. 1. The album was experimental and didn’t sell very well, but the group included this and another Soundtracks song on their Best of 1990 - 2000 & B Sides compilation, so it seems they consider it part of their catalog. The track is slow and moody, but Bono’s vocals sound good against the organ that is present throughout the song.

19) “Last Night On Earth” – Definitely one of the better songs off of Pop, this track sounds more like Achtung Baby than anything else on the album. Featuring a great bass line from Adam Clayton and a catchy chorus – “You’ve got to give it away!” – this track seems like a compromise between the experimental phase that the band was going through at the time and the type of music their fans were clamoring for after the fairly non-commercial Zooropa album.

20) “In A Little While” – This is my favorite song off of All That You Can’t Leave Behind. It is still stunning that the band didn’t release it as a single. From the Edge’s addictive guitar picking to the somber vocals by Bono, this song is an example of the band at their very best. I could do without all the “oooh-ing,” but the track still hits me five years after its first release.

21) “Love and Peace or Else” – My choice for the best song from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, this track would have worked better as the album opener, a la “Zoo Station.” Starting slowly with distorted guitar, the song quickly builds, using Bono’s vocals as a bridge. Overtly, the song is about war and the state of the world, but there are religious undertones as well, which makes sense, as the two seem to go hand in hand.

If you think I’ve left anything out, feel free to email me at jpaulsen@bullz-eye.com. I’m happy to hear your suggestions and maybe discover a great new song or two along the way.