'So much angst in men so young...' Willie Williams brings us his U2Playlist, from Drowning Man to Desire.
1. Drowning Man - War
On the War Tour we often talked about opening the show with this tune, probably with flags billowing and clouds of fog wafting about. We never did it, which is a shame, or maybe just as well. It's a beautiful piece all the same and still waiting for its live performance debut.
2. An Cat Dubh / Into The Heart
I fell in love with this track whilst having a bath in Israel in1981 and its no secret that this is the one I'd be most likely to take to the desert island. The perfect, yearning sparseness of the instrumental passage is so much greater than the sum of its parts. It was sheer delight to hear it played live so often on the 'Vertigo Tour year, though the performance I remember most vividly was at the Palladium in New York on the War Tour. Nobody in the room drew breath for 8 minutes.
3. Beautiful Day
- All That you Can't Leave Behind
If the sun made a noise when it came out from behind a cloud, it would sound like the opening sequence of this song. To me its also always felt like the anti-particle partner of An Cat Dubh, though I can't really explain what I mean by that.
4. I Fall Down
So much angst in men so young. I love the emptiness of this whole album, with its atmospheric fragments, "Scarlet", "Stranger in a Strange Land", etc. No wonder they got on so well with Brian Eno.
5. The Unforgettable Fire
- The Unforgettable Fire
There was a sharp intake of breath from family and fan-base alike as the all-new ambient U2 sound began to take shape. It was a bold experiment but the creative rewards were enormous, typified by this track which kind of sums up the whole album with its stumbling, intoxicated lyrics. It's hard to imagine who else could have had UK top ten single with this. As they said at the time, "you can't hum it..."
6. Exit - The Joshua Tree
I hope I live long enough to witness this being played live again, though I suspect it might prove prohibitively expensive to employ the tour exorcist it would require to deal with Bono after the performance. This was one of his first lyrical ventures into an entirely alien psycho personality and there were some nights on the Joshua Tree Tour we really weren't sure if he was ever going to make it back.
7. Where The Streets Have No Name - The Joshua Tree
It's almost a cliché to include this track, but night after night after night every hair still stands on end. Edge's opening riff has the unique property of conjouring up anticipation and payoff at the same time, which in dramatic terms I don't think is technically possible. Still it happens...night after night after night...
8. Baby Please Come Home - (A Very Special Christmas, compilation album)
From the sublime to the ridiculous. Performing other people's songs hasn't ever been U2's strongest suit, but they nailed this one. I love U2 when they're just being silly, and it doesn't get much sillier than this.
9. Lady With A Spinning Head
- B-Side, Even Better Than The Real Thing
I heard an early version of this in Tenerife, whilst the band was making its initial foray into cross-dressing. Then it was just titled "69" and was the first thing I heard from the Achtung Baby sessions. I practically wet myself and must have listened to it a hundred times over the weekend. The song eventually split into two and became both The Fly and Ultraviolet, but with all four players at full throttle it's the unbridled confidence of the performance that make this a masterpiece just as it stands, as well as being U2's first true jazz odyssey.
10. When I Look at the World
- All That You Can't Leave Behind
This is a quiet little gem from ATYCLB which, mood-wise, feels like the missing track from Achtung Baby. Guitar, bass, drums, lyrics and everything that slips through in between.
- The Unforgettable Fire
Like 'Streets' this song is so emotionally enormous that when performed live its position in the set list requires some strategy so as not to destabilise the whole gig. By contrast, the album version sounds remarkably fragile, delicate and understated. I love the brokenness of it and for iPod recreational listening would chose this over the live experience.
- Achtung Baby
Another song waiting for its live debut. We rehearsed a version of "Zoo TV" that opened with Acrobat and was extremely dramatic, though in a stadium situation it could be argued that it might have the same dramatic impact as walking out on stage and telling the audience to fuck off. I think U2 might well perform it some day, but till then this astonishing recording will have to do.
13. The Fly
- Achtung Baby
(Live in Buenos Aires, hopefully to be released at some point).
I almost didn't include this, as in spirit it's already included in the playlist within 'Lady With the Spinning Head'. In the end, the memories of the nightly aural and visual assault demand that it be added in its own right. The Fly was fabulous on the ZooTV tour, but outdoors on this last Vertigo run it really scaled new heights, like staring into a strobe light with a jet engine in each ear. Only louder and brighter.
- Rattle and Hum
(Live in Rotterdam on the opening night of the Zooropa tour, not commercially available)
I loved the way 'Desire' made its quiet quantum leap from the rootsy backbeat-skiffle of Rattle and Hum to ZooTV's cowboy preacher in a mirrorball costume. Folkways to Vegas in 60 seconds or less. When we got Europe to start Zooropa, the wheels really came off as Mr. MacPhisto took over the leading role for the song. On opening night in Rotterdam a huge thunder and lightning storm struck as 'Desire' kicked off the encore, which I think gave Bono the required courage to face down his public dressed as a drag-devil Laurence Olivier in gold platforms. Its always fun to watch 60,000 people go "what the f....?"
15. Take Me to the Clouds Above - (LMC vs U2, single)
This has always felt less like a pop song than a kind of Eric Satie style mathematical construction. It could have been written by a computer finding random permutations of two lines from Whitney Houston's 'How Will I Know', one phrase each by Edge and Adam from 'With or Without You' and a very cheesy sounding drum machine. I can't imagine why I find it so moving - perhaps it's my teen angst communing with its inner disco bunny.
On the Vertigo Tour I tried to persuade Bono to sing the Whitney Houston refrain over the end of 'With or Without You' live. After months of nagging, he finally did it for me in Manchester. I loved it, The Edge was appalled and it never happened again.
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