Fire and Water Records: U2

Happy St. Patrick's Day, dear listeners! Fire and Water Records is proud to spend the day discussing the history and discography of Ireland's chief export: the rock 'n roll band U2. Join Ryan Daly and superfan Omar Uddin as they chronicle the band's atypically ambitious start in Dublin to falling in love with the myth of America from a tour bus, back across the ocean to the industrial cobblestone streets of Eastern Europe, only to return and conquer pop-rock and the world in the 21st century, all whilst crafting some of the most sonically charged, nakedly earnest, and aggressively catchy rock songs in music history. Also, Ryan reveals too much of his wasted teenage years, and it's totally cringe.

Track list

  1. "All I Want is You" from RATTLE AND HUM
  2. "I Will Follow" from BOY
  3. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" from WAR
  4. "The Sweetest Thing" from BEST OF 1980-1990
  5. "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" from BATMAN FOREVER: OFFICIAL MOVIE SOUNDTRACK
  6. "Zoo Station" from ACHTUNG BABY
  7. "New Year's Day" from WAR
  8. "Pride (In the Name of Love)" from THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE
  10. "In God's Country" from THE JOSHUA TREE
  11. "With or Without You" from THE JOSHUA TREE
  12. "Where the Streets Have No Name" from THE JOSHUA TREE
  13. "Running to Stand Still" from THE JOSHUA TREE
  14. "Angel of Harlem" from RATTLE AND HUM
  15. "Bullet the Blue Sky (live)" from RATTLE AND HUM
  16. "The Fly" from ACHTUNG BABY
  17. "Mysterious Ways" from ACHTUNG BABY
  18. "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World" from ACHTUNG BABY
  19. "One" from ACHTUNG BABY
  20. "One (live)" performed by Mary J. Blige
  21. "Stay (Faraway, So Close)" from ZOOROPA
  22. "The First Time" from ZOOROPA
  23. "Lemon" from ZOOROPA
  24. "Zooropa" from ZOOROPA
  25. "The Playboy Mansion" from POP
  26. "Please (single edit)" from POP
  27. "Elevation" from ALL THAT YOU CAN'T LEAVE BEHIND
  28. "Beautiful Day" from ALL THAT YOU CAN'T LEAVE BEHIND
  29. "Every Breaking Wave" from SONGS OF INNOCENCE
  30. "Get Out of Your Own Way" from SONGS OF EXPERIENCE
  31. "So Cruel" from ACHTUNG BABY
  32. "Window in the Skies" from U218 SINGLES
  33. "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" from ACHTUNG BABY
  34. "With or Without You (live)" from RATTLE AND HUM (movie)

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Thanks for listening!

10 responses to “Fire and Water Records: U2

  1. I think this is one keep the best episodes this network has ever put out! Omar and Ryan’s dissection of the music, as well as how U2’s catalog impacted their lives, is a wonderful exploration and discussion.

    Well done!

    And I want to read Ryan’s ZOOROPA fiction.

  2. I’ve got this thing. I’m often turned off by the biggest pop/rock bands. It’s not as ridiculous as my girlfriend’s affliction of hating the Beatles, which is a level of contrarianism that I doubt even Armond White could muster. Trust that I like or love plenty of the names– your Stones, Who, AC/DC, Queen, Aerosmith, GnR, Metallica, Mac, CCR, Halen, Journey… I’m right there with you on most of them. But, like, KISS? The Dead? Skynyrd? Miss me with most of that. I feel as guilty when I find myself absent-mindedly humming The Eagles “Take It Easy” as I would NKOTB’s “The Right Stuff.” Floyd? Only the singles, baby.

    So U2? Man, I don’t care a lick about these guys. I don’t hate or mock them… much… but I have no real interest in them as artists or people. And it doesn’t entirely make sense. I think some of their songs are friggin’ awesome, and I can’t fault their craft. I have enormous affection for INXS, another band under the monarchy with a highly affected long-haired singer that did big stadium pop-rock in the same time period. Part of it has to be the rapturous arrival of The Joshua Tree, heralding U2 as “important.” I was just getting into pop music in a big way in 1987, but I don’t think I heard much U2 until 1988, when all the accolades and awards were rolling in, and mass media was paying a lot of attention. Rattle and Hum was also rolling out that year, and it was kind of a lot all at once. But also, U2 had no style, and they absolutely were not sexy. Michael Hutchence might have been a craterface, but he could get it. I’m secure enough in my sexuality to admit he’d be on the short list of guys that could have pulled me over the fence in his prime, whereas even in my most sexually desperate teenage years, I can’t see myself maintaining an erection for Bono. So self-serious, so self-important, so… Christian. You guys kept going on about “Mysterious Ways” and it was like hearing about the erotic appeal of Sex/Life or Stephenie Meyer (first draft referenced E L James, but not even.) Anyone who ever followed me on Twitter knows what a liberal scold I can be be, but still, God, the virtue signaling. I sincerely hope Bono negotiated debt relief for impoverished nations or whatever, but Messiah much, my dude? As noted, U2 goes big in what I feel is schmaltzy, and it only gets worse when they don bug-eyed sunglasses and prance around in leather playing at being rock stars while being all straight edge and pious. It’s so late stage Pat Boone. U2 has a very distinctive sound, and it typically does not vibrate on my frequency.

    I preparation for my response, I’ve spent the evening listening to full U2 albums. I look forward to never doing that again. I actually did that a few months ago with How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which I didn’t pay much attention to in 2004, so I put it on a thumb drive for when I’m on the road. I consistently skip those tracks partway through. “I Will Follow” is a good single, but the rest of Boy isn’t worth my listening to. October is marginally better, but I’ll never hear anything but “Gloria” off it on purpose. “Two Hearts Beat as One” is one of those songs I didn’t know I knew from the radio until I heard War in full, and it’s got solid licks, but I’m not going to download it, I like “New Year’s Day” as a holiday song, and respect “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” but I wouldn’t have ever called in to request them of a DJ. “Pride (In the Name of Love)” is a commendable tribute, but the only other number off The Unforgettable Fire I like is “Bad,” and then only passively if it turns up on the radio.

    None of that stuff broke through into my consciousness until after The Joshua Tree. I know and appreciate most of side A plus “In God’s Country.” I dig the apocalyptic ecstasy of “Bullet the Blue Sky,” and “With or Without You” is objectively one of the greatest songs ever recorded, even if my mental image will always be Bobcat Goldthwait lampooning Bono on an Earth Day special. “Desire,” “Angel of Harlem,” and “God Part II” were perfectly fine singles in their day that I never need to hear again, and I needed to be coached to recall the latter. But again, Rattle and Hum had one all-timer in “All I Want Is You.”

    Achtung Baby came out in the prime of my musical consciousness, when my tastes were becoming both more expansive and more defined. Hearing you guys gush over it just reminded me that this was the period when U2 was considered the greatest current rock band while making strides toward becoming completely insufferable. I recall “The Fly” as the first single and joined the majority of the world in waving it away with my hand. “Even Better Than the Real Thing” and “Mysterious Ways” are reliable unit shifters for the masses. On the other hand, “One” is a significant recording in music history, “Until the End of the World” is a contender for my favorite U2 song, and I just plain like “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” enough not to speak of it dismissively. The rest of the album gets binned.


  3. O.k., I left a comment on fb that may be construed as a diss against U2, so – although I stand by what I said about Thin Lizzy being Ireland’s greatest contribution to rock music – I’ll say here that it doesn’t mean I don’t like U2. In fact, if you had asked me who my favorite band was any time in the late 1980s, I probably would have said U2 depending on the day of the week. I even saw them during their Joshua Tree tour (in Oakland, CA) in a blockbuster concert at which the BoDeans and Pretenders opened for them. And from my ‘old-timer’ standpoint, their absolute peak/best album is Joshua Tree, with Unforgettable Fire coming in a close second. I think their first great album is War, and their last great album is Achtung Baby.
    All that to say that I enjoyed the conversation, particularly because it was interesting to hear the perspective of both of you, who only became real fans of their music after I had already started to like them a lot less for a number of reasons (among them some of Bono’s obnoxious behavior at that aforementioned concert).

    1. By the way, I have to add that Omar’s point about ‘cultural taste-makers’ really resonated with me; you like what you like and shouldn’t feel any shame about it. For example, I don’t care what the hipster music snobs say, I’ve always been a fan of the Doors’ music, and don’t think there’s anything wrong with liking the Eagles…

      1. Yeah, I’m a big fan of the Doors too, and I was surprised several years ago to find there was such a dismissal and hatred for Jim Morrison. I kind of wonder if someone took Philip Seymour Hoffman’s line about the Doors being buffoons from the movie Almost Famous too seriously.

        1. Possibly, but from everything I know about him, Jim Morrison was a pretentious, kind of obnoxious a-hole. Being cognizant of that fact doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy the band’s music.

  4. [cont… and I’ll happily accept lookalike/soundalike interpretations, given my text]

    I dislike Mary J. Blige’s “One” because the vocal histrionics ruin the relatively frank, straightforward appeal of the song. The words mean more the closer they are to being spoken rather than shouted. Also, the grasping blue-eyed soul aspect of the “sisters… brothers” bridge sounds so lame from an actual artist of color. I don’t enjoy Bono’s vocals enough to feel that he’s irreplaceable or un-coverable on most songs, but he’s such a perfect fit on “One” that he can easily thwart Johnny Cash’s attempt to “Hurt” him.

    Zooropa sucks. I like “Numb,” and “The First Time” is alright, but I hated everything about “Lemon,” and the rest of the album is way too easy listening cruise control for my taste. It’s disgusting that this crap beat Star, In Utero, Automatic for the People, and Siamese Dream, as it’s objectively a boring and unworthy album that only won because U2. No wonder they inspire so much hate on the credibility front. I pissed off about this nearly thirty years after the fact.

    On to POP, “Discothèque” is forgettable but inoffensive– sort of U2’s “Pretty Fly for a White Guy,” but nowhere near as good. “Do You Feel Loved” is better, but I only have a copy because I ripped a library CD. “If God Will Send His Angels” is a snooze. I remember “Staring at the Sun” got airplay, but why? I sometimes confuse “Last Night on Earth” with “Until the End of the World,” but it’s an album cut that never should have escaped the CD. POP feels like a post-point production– artists bereft of message or inspiration generating songs as scheduled product. Sound furnishings.

    Sammy Hagar was mostly right about greatest hits collections. All That You Can’t Leave Behind sounds like a bunch of millionaires who’d like to mix in some new material to liven up touring. “Beautiful Day” is such a “I’ve been detached from common reality for too long to produce anything but effective commercial jingles” pap. Did it sell any pick-up trucks or phone service? I’ve got to be honest– you guys keep talking about transcending genres, and it’s like, these guys don’t even have Aerosmith’s range. They can do blues and country– Steven Tyler is a more varied vocalist. The earlier U2 stuff is very slightly more punky/post-punk, but all this stuff just sounds like U2 to me. Bono is never not Bono, except when he gives his song to a Sinéad O’Connor or Tina Turner, whose vocals are vastly more appealing to me. The man can sing, but he has his range, unwavering and exactly as expected. U2 has its sound. They’re not adventurous enough to be compared to Jim Cameron. If we’re doing directors, they’re the Ron Howard of Rock, which is an oxymoron. Nobody seriously hates Ron Howard or U2, but does anybody aspire to be them artistically, as opposed to commercially? It’s okay to love U2, like it’s okay to love bologna sandwiches or vanilla ice cream, but nobody’s going to be like “fascinating, tell me more…” U2 is designed to be a lot of people’s favorite bands. They’re nice, unproblematic fellows for nice, unproblematic fellows.

    When is the Burt Bacharach episode?

  5. Fantastic podcast, guys, I really enjoyed listening. U2 is my favorite band. They have been my favorite band as long as I can remember. If you go back to stuff from high school when the senior class had to fill out “favorite food”, “favorite band”, etc., my answer to “favorite band” even back then (1995) was U2. And they were my favorite band in middle school and all the way back to elementary school when I first heard them. My dad had The Joshua Tree on vinyl and played it a ton. He also recorded it onto audio cassette so he could listen to it in the car. We were a military family and my dad was stationed in West Germany in the 1980s. I will always associate The Joshua Tree (and my dad’s other music, like Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits, Synchronicity by the Police, and Born in the USA by Springsteen) with driving around the Bavarian countryside in my dad’s blue Opel Rekord.

    My journey with U2 is not linear in terms of how I discovered their catalog. I’m pretty sure the only U2 record my dad owned was The Joshua Tree, and it remains my favorite album to this day. Like you guys, it’s one of the few I can listen to from start to finish (the only song I could do without is ‘Exit’). I heard Sunday Bloody Sunday, Pride In the Name of Love, and New Year’s Day on the radio. When we moved back to the states and got cable, I saw U2 music videos on MTV and was aware of Rattle & Hum and liked songs from the album like Desire and Angel of Harlem. U2 then exploded onto the scene later with Achtung Baby, which as you noted was a huge evolution in their sound and those videos got a TON of play on MTV at the time. My dad didn’t really care for it but I think my sister had the audio cassette. I was a middle schooler at this point and had my own tape deck in my room, so I borrowed her and my dad’s music a lot.

    It wasn’t until I went to college that I discovered their back catalog! I had my own money by then and was buying my own CDs, and the town I went to college in (Bowling Green, Ohio) had a great music store called Finder’s Music where I picked up Boy, October, War, Unforgettable Fire, and Wide Awake in America (plus my own copies of Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, plus Rattle and Hum, Zooropa…not all at once, mind you. I was a college student on a shoestring budget :)). I had a great time exploring what had come before the Joshua Tree. Other than the big hits like Sunday Bloody Sunday, I had little awareness of their other music. Some I liked at the time, some I listened to in my 40s and reevaluated. Songs rediscovered and realized I liked were I will Follow and Out of Control.

    If the Joshua Tree was the first U2 “tentpole” in my life and Achtung Baby was the second, then All That You Can’t Leave Behind was the third. While I don’t consider that album as strong as JT or AB, I was delighted in the early 2000s that U2 was producing new music and still selling out concerts. I loved the U2 Elevation Live in Boston concert video. I hadn’t cared for Pop and skipped it entirely (I borrowed Pop from a guy in my dorm and tried it but decided it wasn’t for me). And I agree with you guys, their post ATYCLB output is kind of a blur to me. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb didn’t appeal to me. I like and recommend the title track from No Line on the Horizon. Songs of Innocence is interesting to me for The Troubles, which is first time as far as I know where U2 brought in a guest vocalist (other than their collaborations with Pavarotti and BB King). Songs of Experience has songs I like and feels like “classic U2” to me. I like the same songs you guys do from that album, but also one you didn’t mention: Lights of Home.

    That song has this beautiful lyric that’s become meaningful to me in my middle age years:
    “Free yourself to be yourself
    If only you could you see yourself.”

    I don’t understand why it’s seemingly become popular to hate on U2. But I really don’t care. I’ve never been one to dwell on if what I like is “popular” or not. I like what I like, it’s that simple. So why do I like U2 so much? Is it all nostalgia? That’s certainly a part of it. The songs on Joshua Tree, especially, transport me to another time and place. But it’s more than that. Their music expresses humanity in a way that really appeals to me. Spiritual yearning, heartbreak, grief, hope, loss, anger, joy, optimism and pessimism…scan their catalog and the whole gamut of the human experience is expressed there. And it helps I love Edge’s distinctive and bell-clanging guitar sound and Bono’s soaring vocals. And they’re the rare band that I like most of their output (The only others like that for me are Dire Straits, Duran Duran, INXS, and Huey Lewis & The News).

    I will close this doubtlessly too-long post with a short list of underrated and overlooked U2 songs that are worth a listen:

    Three Sunrises
    Love Comes Tumbling
    Hawkmoon 269
    Lady With the Spinning Head
    Yoshino Blossom (Rare instrumental U2, from the Unforgettable Fire album)
    A Sort of Homecoming
    Unforgettable Fire
    Lights of Home

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jason. I loved hearing the story about you listening to U2 and Dire Straights and Springsteen and the Police while driving around Europe while your dad was stationed there. Very cool.


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