Caroline van Oosten de Boer was founding editor of U2log.com (2000-2011) and author (with Pimm Jal de la Parra) of 'U2 Live - A Concert Documentary' (Omnibus Press).
It was New Year's Day from War in 1983 that introduced her to the band while 'the agony, ecstasy and catharsis' of Moment of Surrender in 2009, she thinks, might be the band's 'finest moment.' She's seen U2 play live sixty-plus times and these days keeps other fans up to date on twitter - @u2log.
We asked Caroline to dig into her back catalogue, slip the old b-sides on the turntable and come up with her U2 Playlist.
(Have a listen on the audio player and tell us what you think in the comments below.)
1. NEW YEAR'S DAY - WAR
This is the song that made me aware of U2, without knowing their name, who they were, where they came from and what they stood for. I was in college, went clubbing and heard two tunes that took my fancy: The Clash’s Rock the Casbah, and this one. It still gives me a thrill every time I hear them play it live.
2. TWO HEARTS BEAT AS ONE - WAR
One thing that strikes me listening to War is the incredible nervous energy a lot of the songs have. Surrender, Like A Song and The Refugee (I’ve only just copped on how tribal, how very Adam and the Ants that one is) are all relentless and so is Two Hearts Beat As One. There’s a bootleg out there that’s got 13 different studio takes of this song. Only for masochists.
3. A SORT OF HOMECOMING - THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE
I picked this one over the album’s title track and Wire, both of which rank high on my long list. Listening to it now it’s as uplifting, joyous and hopeful as it felt 28 years ago when I first put the needle in the groove. As The Unforgettable Fire was more or less my introduction to U2 (apart from the aforementioned New Year’s Day), I had no preconceptions when I bought the LP, but it’s sonic otherness must have freaked out older fans somewhat.
4. RED HILL MINING TOWN - THE JOSHUA TREE
I bought The Joshua Tree on cassette during a 7 hour layover in Toronto the week it was released. Walking through a mall with this album on my headphones, by the time I got to Red Hill Mining Town – not my favourite track on the album, which is Exit - I realised I didn’t know where I was or where I was going – I’d got lost in the music and I had to find a place to sit down.
It’s the spoken words “we’ll scorch the earth, set fire to the sky, we stoop so low, to reach so high” that take me back to ‘87 when, at what was possibly the height of my unconditional fandom, I made my first U2-friends and saw the band live for the first time..
5. 6. 7. WALK TO THE WATER, LUMINOUS TIMES (HOLD ON TO LOVE) and DEEP IN THE HEART
On odd days, Walk to the Water is my favourite U2 song of all time. “He said he was an artist, but he really painted billboards” is a phrase that continues to puzzle and amuse me. In large, capital letters.
If it had been up to me, and, if I’m not mistaken, The Edge, these three b-sides would have formed the heart of The Joshua Tree. Then the album would have been “The Unforgettable Fire Part II”, U2 wouldn’t have cracked America, they’d never have reached the heights of fame or hung around with supermodels, and then the band would still have been yours and mine alone and hearing their songs on the radio would still be a surprise and make your chest swell with pride. You know, in Bizarro Land.
8. A ROOM AT THE HEARTBREAK HOTEL
While Angel of Harlem is a catchy tune, I love the b-side of the single, its darker counterpart: the other side of the American Dream. Less of the Memphis Horns, more of the drama. It slots in nicely with the great Joshua Tree b-sides mentioned above.
9. NIGHT AND DAY
The only cover song in the list. If we take Sinatra’s interpretation as a starting point - and I love Sinatra - here’s where U2 improve on his version: they bring out the ‘night’ in the song. Where Sinatra croons romantically, Bono finds his inner stalker and goes for total despair, with great results.
10. LOVE IS BLINDNESS
I’ve written here before about my initial reservations with Achtung Baby, but the closing track has always been a favourite. U2 embrace European traditions in this piano-based ballad, with its almost classical opening (shades of Beethoven’s Mondscheinsonate) and Brel-esque sensibilities. Right up my alley.
11. THE FIRST TIME - ZOOROPA
Bono’s version of the Parable of the Prodigal Son ambiguously muses on leaving, not coming home and different kinds of love. Confident vocals set against a slightly unsettling, rumbling backing track, it’s a mood that’s continued in the next song on Zooropa, Dirty Day.
12. MIAMI - POP
What? Ok, I hear you. You hate this song. Fair enough. Maybe it’s not the greatest track on Pop, but baby, you should have seen it live. On the road, this strange little ditty became the perfect vehicle for Bono to show off the full extent of his ability to ham it up: strutting around in his peacock shirt, with his Clockwork Orange meets Ulster Orangeman bowler hat, twirling a Stars and Stripes brolly. Taking into account the band was playing this the week Gianni Versace was murdered on Miami Beach, it blew our heads completely when we saw them do it – some of the best memories I have of seeing U2 live with my friends. For me, Popmart was the greatest tour, and the Miami / Bullet the Blue Sky / Please cluster was its thumping heart of darkness.
13. PLEASE - POP
‘Stop fighting, please, let’s talk, please?’ is how Bono quietly introduced Please to the audience at Popmart opening night in Rotterdam. Then he unleashed his wrath. What does it for me in this song, apart from the incredible vocals, is Craig Armstrong’s string arrangement.
14. A MAN AND A WOMAN - HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB
If there’s a theme to this playlist it’s that it uncovers what I like best in U2: drama, atmosphere, pathos, anger. And then there’s melody, which this song has heaps of. If you’d divide U2’s songs into seasons, this one, Staring at the Sun and Electrical Storm would represent Summer. And in U2’s world, Summer apparently equals conflict and compromise, and great songs.
15. MOMENT OF SURRENDER - NO LINE ON THE HORIZON
Seven and a half minutes of agony, ecstasy and catharsis. U2’s finest moment came on their twelfth studio album. I’m with Eno, they should have never cut it for time and it should have been the first single. That would have been a real boot up the arse of daytime radio.
to read Jacknife Lee's U2 Playlist