10 songs that show Bono's lyrical qualities

10 songs that show Bono's lyrical qualities
What rhymes with achtung?

10 songs that show Bono's lyrical writing qualities


The one thing that truly stands out for me when thinking about the brilliance of U2 is not their songs, the drums, or riffs.

Nor is it the hype and hyperbole of one of the world's most popular bands.

It's simply Bono's lyrics.

Bono has written the vast majority of U2's lyrics and in many of them, you can find some true gems of penmanship, little sparkles of lyrical bliss that took a good song and put it into the territory of musical greatness.

I suggest that while some non U2 fans take any chance to diss Bono, they would be really grumpy buggers if they denied that Bono was a great lyricist.

Like a good poet, Bono's lyrics feature a whole range of subjects - love and loss, drugs, faith, faith in drugs, gods, Elvis and other monsters and of course, politics and its prisoners.

This work leaves ample room for an inquiry into U2's lyrics, especially when The Edge chips in the odd song.


So what are Bono's best lyrical moments and qualities? 



What's his inspiration for putting pen to paper?

What makes Bono's lyrics so well received by millions of listeners and readers around the world?

I can't speak for anyone else but I thought I could share 10 U2 songs which I think highlight Bono's mastery of his craft.

Some things are simply clever word plays, others are stories of delight and irony - a thing which Bono and the boys were very heavy on in the 1990's.

Trabants on stage anyone?

10 songs that show Bono's lyrical qualities


One


Perhaps second only to With Or Without you in terms of popularity, it is arguably U2's finest song and I believe the lyrics are what make this so - I think this is because it's one of those songs where the lyrics can mean anything and everything to anyone.

At work last week a manager did a pop quiz and asked what this song was about. The answers varied from 'it's about a gay couple' or 'two torn lovers'.

I think Bono's actually on record in the U2 by U2 book as One being a song about a couple that's breaking up.

But that doesn't matter as its words are universal and have been taken to heart by so many U2 fans - indeed some have even had it as their wedding song which I'm sure would be a delicious irony for Bono. 

The Wanderer


"They say they want the kingdom but they don't want God in it".

I think that's Bono perfectly capturing the wishes of so many of us.

We want the nice things, but aren't prepared to put in the effort.

Or something.

For me, The Wanderer always seemed like some post apocalyptic dream - and it's perhaps a sign of a great song where it allows you to shape your own thoughts and fantasies around it (well when Bono mentions the 'atomic sky', that's nice nudge).

Indeed, the whole of Zooropa's lyrics seem to take me to a strange other world, where in some places it's OK to feel numb or taste the lemon but spit out antifreeze.

Original of the Species


The title is suggestive of what's to come in this song, a play on Darwin's epic work about evolution - the song's lyrics are possibly a father looking at his daughter's own evolution from - child to woman.

The second half is more likely Bono singing to his wife (and the message in the first half could also before her) - either way both, themes are heartwarming.

If God Will Send His Angels


'Blind leading the blond' is perhaps my favourite U2 lyric ever. It's just a cleverly simple play on words.

Bono does that trick a fair bit in the Pop album - an almost too cute example is from The Playboy Mansion which opens with the lyric "If Coke is a mystery, and Micheal Jackson, history...".

It was a nice play on the failing career of Jackson and a play on the name of his Greatest Hits album.


Sunday Bloody Sunday


Bono defiantly wears this song's lyrics on his sleeve.

A song about soldiers shooting civilians in Northern Ireland - the lyrics capture the moment crisply by invoking a cross fire between religion and the military (and by extension the State) and the sad consequences when both collide.

Featuring a fine use of  a marching drum beat by Larry Mullen, the song's chorus is a defining moment for Bono - it was one of U2's first truly popular 'classic' songs and it many ways this song defined U2 as a band that could carry some political weight.

U2 would return to this theme with "Please" and "The Troubles".
.

Until the End of the World


"In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim

Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You, you said you'd wait
'Til the end of the world"

Simply one of Bono's finest song writing moments.

Water is commonly used as a metaphor life yet here's Bono drowning in his sorrows.

The song can be seen as a obvious story about how Judas betrayed Jesus and thus seen as one of those "U2 going on about God and spiritually" type songs but as with all good lyrics they can mean anything.

I tend to see this one more of a dramatic break up between two lovers where the relationship perhaps has been bit one sided.

The Wanderer


"They say they want the kingdom but they don't want God in it". I think that's Bono perfectly capturing the wishes of so many of us.

We want the nice things, but aren't prepared to put in the effort.

For me, The Wanderer always seemed like some post apocalyptic dream - and it's perhaps a sign of a great song where it allows you to shape your own thoughts and fantasies around it (well when Bono mentions the 'atomic sky', that's nice nudge).

Indeed, the whole of Zooropa's lyrics seem to take me to a  strange other world, where in some places it's OK to feel numb or taste the lemon but spit out antifreeze.

U2 playing live onstage


Not a hugely popular song on release as a single but I think time has shown that Please was a fine song from U2's Pop album.

Lyrically it was a political plea, invoking the captains of Irish politics to sort their messes out (The Troubles).

The listener would perhaps know the song had political connotations if they had seen the cover which featured Gerry Adams and other elected leaders - however this stanza effectively leaves no stone unturned as Bono thows a rock in the air to hit home the issues:

Your Catholic blues, your convent shoes
Your stick-on tattoos, now they're making the news
Your holy war, your northern star
Your sermon on the mount from the boot of your car

Strong stuff from an album many people were quick to write off.


One could be forgiven for thinking that Get on Your Boots was simply a throw away song by U2 ( indeed one wonders why they released it as the first single from No Line on the Horizon when Magnificent probably would have given them a hit single) however the lyrics of this song run deep.

Almost a stream of consciousness, tripping through its seemingly nonsensical words but when Bono writes "I don’t want to talk about the wars between the nations" is he saying everything or just burying his head in the sand?

This is Bono's finest love letter he has ever written.

The closing from Rattle and Hum is simply a man tell a woman how he loves her - it's perhaps not the happiest song with undertones suggesting things may have gone awry - indeed the tremendous coda at the end suggests a passionate love affair being ripped apart by uncaring forces.

A good lyric deserves a fine musical backing and All I Want is You has it in spades.

Summary

So that was my attempt to highlight some of the fine lyrical qualities and charms that Bono and U2 have to offer.

Of course, with any interpretation of songs, the whole exercise is a subjective journey, indeed a musical journey that could have stopped at a completely different set of songs.

Bono is a bit of a lyrical magpie.

He steals lines from the bible and riffs on the work of others (such as when he tried to write a sequel of sorts to John Lennon's 'God') to make his point. But he does that and gets his unique messages across to the listener very well.

If someone hasn't already printed a book featuring all of U2's lyrics, they surely will as they serve as some fine literature in their own right. Throw in some politcal rallying and a little love making and there's a best seller book of poetry on your hands....

What are your favourite lyrical moments from U2?

10 U2 songs that reflect on American culture and politics

Bono wearing an American flag jacket
Outside is America

10 U2 songs that reflect on American culture and politics


U2 are no strangers to having a say on America, its people, and its politics. They are fairly big on political activism.

In fact, making political commentary is almost second nature to Bono, if he's not singing about troubles in Ireland, he's trying to convince someone like George Bush Jnr to reduce the debt owed to America by third world countries. He shares his views because he earnestly cares.

U2 toured America many times early in their career and appear to have fallen under its spell - so it's no surprise really that Bono has chosen to write about what he's seen and heard and learned.

Here's a selection of 10 U2 songs that feature some form of lyrical comment or celebration of one of the world's most dynamic countries.

Angel of Harlem


A song about singer Billie Holiday, Bono was trying to throw the kitchen sink at this song, referencing all kinds of musical figures related to the city of New York - even a popular radio station was mentioned!

U2 appeared to be trying to 'get into' the blues on Rattle on Hum - this song was a clear step in that musical genre and the dropping in of names from artists that helped shape it were an attempt to give an air of authenticity.

America is, after all, the home of the blues.

A less cynical reader might simply see the lyrics of Angel of Harlem as a celebration of the city.

The Saints Are Coming


While not written by U2 or Green Day (it was a cover of The Skids song), The Saints Are Coming is a song both bands recorded together to deliver a blunt political message about the U.S. Government's response to Hurricane Katrina which many felt was negligent and that the Bush administration was "Stuck on Stupid".

The promotional video deliberately played on popular feelings of utter disbelief and dismay at the way the U.S. government had responded to the event.

Stuck on stupid indeed.

Bullet the Blue Sky


Perhaps the archetype political song by U2 (arguably Sunday Bloody Sunday could take that role too) the lyrics describe the unintended consequences of US President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy decisions in South America.

The song lyrics are an overt criticisms of the American policy of "stop communism at all costs".

Such policy les the Reagan Administration to provide financial and political support to the Salvadoran regime which required them to ignoring that regime's abuse of human rights. 


Is it really any surprise that U2 ended up writing a song about New York?

Bono has stated that the song is a tribute of sorts to both Frank Sinatra and Lou Reed.

The Play Boy Mansion


The Play Boy Mansion is possibly a symbol of all that is wrong and right with America - either way Hugh Hefner is as popular as ever.

The songs lyrics are perhaps a tongue-in-cheek run down of some American icons.

Certainly Bono would not be deliberately suggesting the route to happiness is a visit to Hefner's pad.

Or is he?

Elvis Ate America and Elvis Presley And America


Two for the money here - U2 have often sang about Elvis - and these songs were a celebration of the man and his legacy on music.

The lyrics that 'Elvis would have been a sissy without Johnny Cash' was a great piece of commentary - the use of the word 'nigger' was a brave move.... did Chuck D approve?

Zooropa


Many of the verse lyrics are borrowed from the slogans of American companies and corporations.

These slogans include "Be all that you can be" from the United States Army), "Fly the friendly skies" from airline United Airlines), Colgate's "Ring of confidence (the lyric being "We've got that ring of confidence"), and Fairy's "Mild green Fairy liquid" (the line being "We're mild and green and squeaky clean").

This could be simply viewed some kind of meta commentary on American consumerism (admittedly the song has slogans from other European countries) and perhaps hints at some kind of moral confusion where the morals of a society may be dictated by the corporate dollar spend on advertising.

Pride (In the Name of Love)


Pride has become an international anthem for peace, freedom, and human rights.

Its inspiration was the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1950s and '60s.

The song is a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. who has become the symbol for equal rights in America for all persons.

U2 also wrote the song MLK about the same subject.

Seconds


While the lyrics are a loose story of a terrorist trying to arm a bomb and perhaps set it off, the context for the song is that it was written by Bono in the 1980s.

This was a period where the Cold War between the USSR and America had reached an all-time freezing point in relations (save for the Cuban missile crisis!).

The song evokes the fears that people had that this Cold War could potentially lead to nuclear war and the own kind of cold winter that would bring.

That's just a taste of songs that U2 has used to make a comment on America.

There's almost a duplicity to U2 in this regard - they tour America and revel in its people and then at the same time they make sharp criticism of its leaders, their institutions and Coke but take the ticket sales and sponsorship opportunities.

I trust U2 fans are in on it but it might be hard to tell in a country where many people think Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA is a patriotic song.....