'As If It Was Yesterday...'

07 March 2014
'As If It Was Yesterday...'
'I arrived at Island Records in August 1979 where my first signing as an A&R manager was a Manchester band called The Distractions. U2 were my second.'

In North Side Story, the exclusive book commissioned from Hot Press for our 2014 subscribers, Nick Stewart describes how he signed U2 to their first major deal. Now running his own music consultancy, we asked Nick to come up with the 15 tracks he'd always want to keep on his U2 Playlist - hit 'Play' and hear them all as you read.

(Then add your comments below.)

1. 11 O'Clock Tick Tock
It was a pretty wild and woolly night in Dublin, when I first saw U2 on their home turf in January 1980. The National Stadium, used for boxing in the normal course of things, was packed; when the band came out, the stage was stormed and Bono was briefly submerged  under a crowd of frenzied fans. Order was restored. The Edge kicked hard into the opening chords of 11 O’Clock Tick Tock. I can see it and hear it 34 years later, as if it was yesterday. I wasn’t sure what I was watching or just how big it could be, but I sensed it was destined to become significant. It certainly thrilled me. The song was then recorded by Martin Hannett (Joy Division, A Certain Ratio & The Durutti Column) at Strawberry Studios in Manchester  and became the bands’ first single on Island.

2. I Will Follow
I always thought this had to be a hit in 1980 when it first came out. It had a lot of the early U2 trademarks – soaring vocal, powerful guitar, pounding rhythm section and  bags of energy. While it received some radio play and press support, it failed to enter the charts, but remains a favourite at concerts.

3. The Unforgettable Fire
The choice of Brian Eno as producer for this album had raised a few eyebrows in Island Records, but an extraordinary and groundbreaking album emerged and took U2 to a new level. Overlaid with a new aural landscape of  mystery and imagination,  Eno combined with the band to produce a new sophistication of writing and playing matched by the drama and power of Bono’s vocals. The gamechanger.

4. Pride (In The Name of Love)
For my money, not only one of U2's greatest singles, but one of the great vocal performances on a single of all time. After this, nothing seemed to be the same again. Bono had joined the ranks of Cocker, Stewart, Daltrey and Plant as a pre-eminent rock vocalist.

5. Where the Streets Have No Name
The opening track of The Joshua Tree begins with a mood synth, slowly building over the first forty-five seconds, as The Edge's pounding rhythm guitar starts to creep in. At 1'10", Adam's bass line propels the track to a new level alongside The Edge’s driving guitar work. At 1'47" – most singles are more than halfway through at this point – Bono bursts in with "I want to run, I want to hide" and we’re off on the whirlwind journey that was to be the enormous success of The Joshua Tree. One of the greatest opening tracks to any album, ever.

6. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
With The Joshua Tree, U2 became the first act to sell 1 million CD’s and with this track, and  of course, the rest of the album, they conquered the world. The album was brim full of great tunes, fabulous ideas and swept all before them. The Joshua Tree rightly stands as one of the great rock albums of all time.

7. When Love Comes To Town
I’ve always admired the way the band forge alliances with great artists. There’s nothing remarkable about this track, but I just love the interplay of the vocals from Bono and BB King and then the guitar playing of BB King and The Edge.

8. Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
Achtung Baby was famously described as the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree; this was the sound of the crash as it fell to the ground. The Berlin location - the record was made as the wall was coming down - unleashed some fiery  'wild horses'  all over this timeless album. See 'From The Sky Down',  the documentary made for the reissue of Achtung Baby  in September 2011, for a fascinating peek behind the making of the album.

9. One
If there was ever such a thing as a grungy ballad, this would qualify as a prime example. It’s not what one expects, which makes it all the more mysterious. Destined to become a timeless classic and a staple of Valentine-themed CD’s.

10. Love Is Blindness
A sepulchral organ begins the final track on Achtung Baby and all is despair and darkness. The Edge’s guitar, jags and quivers its way through the track, in a way unheard before or since. One of the great gems of their catalogue.

11. The Wanderer (With Johnny Cash)
Bono said it had to be Johnny Cash singing this song. He was right as J C's haunting delivery gave it terrific resonance. As a result  it remains one of the great works in U2’s canon, because everything about it is perfect and is one of my favourite U2 tracks of all time, as Cash is a particular hero of mine.

12. Miss Sarajevo (Featuring Luciano Pavarotti)
The Passengers album remains the great unrecognised album from U2 as it contains so many extraordinary, largely unheard moments. This magisterial track, however,  was heard  all over the world. Bono’s gentle soft vocals give no real clue of the drama to come. When LP makes his entrance the sound  is liable to make strong men weep and is, along with The Wanderer, another  exceptional collaboration.

13. Beautiful Day
Gorgeous song, gorgeous production, gorgeous record along with "Pride" their greatest single. Rightly, this stops traffic and gets radio's turned up.

14. Kite
I've always believed this song to be about Bono losing his father and it's one of the most heart-wrenching songs the band ever recorded. It would certainly be my U2 Desert Island Disc and the one track I always refer people to, to prove the power and the magic of the bands songwriting and playing.

15. City Of Blinding Lights
'Atomic Bomb' is a much underrated U2 album and I love the atmospheric and all-embracing sound of this track. It's the stand out track on an album I play as often as any other.
This article is tagged to:
My U2 Playlist, Subscriber Exclusives
altrockaddict - 25 May, 2014
my only counterpoint is song #1
Growing up in California was centuries away from Ireland and I couldn't grasp 11 O’Clock Tick Tock in the least. The beat was killer, but the words confused me as a teen. You really had to be Irish to understand. I think it was about having babies at a very young age. And could it be that you brought them out partying with you?
brentmasters - 20 March, 2014
my generation
too many for me to come up with a 15 song playlist. mine would be these plus maybe 30 more. so many times in my life tied to what these guys were putting out, especially being their age and growing up as they did.
tan_lejos_tan_cerca - 19 March, 2014
Very nice read
lovecomestumbling - 18 March, 2014
A bit ordinary
Agree with jazzyjoesig, some good choices but would have liked a few more album tracks rather, some unbelieveable gems on all albums that don't get listed
xabimichael - 17 March, 2014
How to dismantle a atomic bomb
well depending on my feeling of the day this album is for me one of the best, if not the best.... miracle drug etc, they stick in once mind and the guitar pieces and vocale's are exceptional......
jazzyjoesig - 14 March, 2014
A little too standard for me. I love these songs but I have heard most of them hundreds of times. I think lesser known songs such as please, drowning man, your blue room, original of species, and when I look at this world, deserve more recognition.
SagePearl - 13 March, 2014
Just heard "11O'Clock Tick Tock", the only single I haven't heard before. No doubt when Mr Stewart said it was a thrill. I must also tell you, the songs from Passengers, besides "Miss Sarajevo" are hidden treasures and very much worth listening to.
morganpearl - 11 March, 2014
MDH Soundtrack - timeless tracks!
Great and justified selection, but I always wonder why tracks from the more forgotten CD, Million Dollar Hotel Soundtrack, which has produced some gems such as 'Stateless', (absolutely classic U2) and 'The Ground Beneath Her Feet' never make it to the lists ... maybe because they weren't singles, but if you haven't hear them. You Gotta!
Julie&Bryan - 09 March, 2014
Fantastic Selections
First, thank you Mr. Stewart for signing U2. Many of these songs would be in my top 15, though I'd have to make space for "Stay (Farawy, So Close)." I especially like that he included "City of Blinding Lights." Each time I listen to that song I can't help but think of the red, white and silver confetti that fell on the crowd during the arena concerts. I still have some of it!
emmalucy08 - 08 March, 2014
Interesting choices
A good variety of fav picks some of mine too interestingly none after atomic bomb!!
isca75ad - 07 March, 2014
Well balanced choice of songs here!
NanyandGonzo - 07 March, 2014
Classic and modern
U2 are U2, simple, complex, period. They are awesome and it's amazing to go back to their three first albums and singles, the young ones with lots of promises... then we move on to classics, and because U2 is U2, we have a combination of certain songs that are not performed in concerts but that bring us--wow--lots of emotions. That's what I love about this group, they are simple mortals trying to express love in its different concepts. Beautiful Day, but of course! WTSHNN, no one could ever beat it, COBL what it is and more!!! Great playlist, thanks for the comments I always enjoy getting to know what others like about them!
orange12 - 07 March, 2014
excellent choices
Great to hear from Nick Stewart. His section in North Side Story makes for fascinating reading and nicely de-bunks the myth that U2 had millions of labels after them. In fact, it's typical of a U2 fan club gift that you get to see the 'real' band - even if the 'facts' don't necessarily do them any favours. Ten of these would be in my top 15 - I especially like the live version of 11 o'clock tick tock at Red Rocks: that is the definitive version for me.
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