Dec 102007

One of the benefits of spending time in the Halls of Rock is the opportunity to air petty grievances. For those of us who love rock ‘n roll, there are moments in a day when a thought comes to mind that no normal person who ever consider nor feel the need to share. Here, we do and we do.

This morning I was searching for something decent for my wife and I to hear on commercial radio. As I flipped to a station playing U2’s “New Year’s Day”, I became quickly and mildly annoyed at the fact that any time I do run across a U2 song on the radio it’s rarely one of the half dozen or so well-known U2 songs I’d rather hear, that I could tolerate for a few minutes. It always seems to be the hit song from whatever album that I don’t get any pleasure from hearing! My wife told me that this is typical of me, claiming I only like any band’s obscure songs over their big hits. The she told me that it’s for this reason she’s always amazed that I consider The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” to be the greatest song in all of rock ‘n roll. I explained to her that it’s just a coincidence that my great taste sometimes coincides with the taste of The Masses, but I digress. Yes, my wife suffers on an almost daily basis with hearing me express some beef along these lines.

Anyhow, following are songs by U2 that commercial radio chooses to play followed by hit songs I’d rather hear from the same album containing the track with radio programmer staying power. I could make a similar list for The Who, a band that I really do love yet for whom commercial radio programmers typically display equally bad taste in songs fit for broadcast. You may have your own examples regarding a band you either like mildly or love.

From Boy, if commercial radio plays anything these days it’s “I Will Follow”. No complaints from me, although as with early Who, it’s rare that “Classic Rock” stations play “I Will Follow”. When the band first hit, other songs used to be played from that album too, but I’m not deluding myself into ever thinking I’ll hear one of those songs again.

From the highly listenable October, commercial radio plays…nothing. Instead, “early U2” typically begins with the album War, which I never liked. This is the moment when all the heroic posturing of U2 was codified. It’s also the moment when it became clear that they only played variations on the same song or two.
That said, I might have better tolerated the last 2 minutes of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” than “New Year’s Day” this morning.

I’m sure I’m going to lose sequence at this point, because from album #4 (whatever it was) on they all start sounding the same (with the exception of their “blues” album, you know, the one that accompanied the movie).

Let’s jump, if that’s the case, to The Joshua Tree. Maybe it’s my bad luck, but more often than not, when flipping channels on commerical radio, I’m hit with “With or Without You” or “Where the Streets Have No Name”. As much as it pains me to admit this, given those two options, I’d rather hear “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. As least I get a little bit of DESIIIIIIIIIre and emotion out of all the 2-chord, same-dynamics emoting that Bono and the band go through on that number.

These days, radio’s go-to track from The Unforgettable Fire is “Pride (In the Name of Love)”. I know that song stands for a lot of important things that occasionally stir my soul and make me proud, in the name of love, to be a righteous American, but I don’t get a kick out of hearing it. Years ago they used to play another track from that album, called “Bad”. I can’t for the life of me remember how that tune goes, but if you put a gun to me I’d imagine The Edge is playing a I-IV progression with lots of effects on his guitar while Adam Clayton plays eighth notes on bass and Larry Mullen does the swishy hi-hat/constant beats on the kick drum thing. Bono probably starts out the song in a lower register and then jumps up into the higher octave. (He must have been a huge fan of Bowie’s “Heroes”, don’t you think?) Anyhow, I can’t remember how that song goes, but I used to favor hearing it on the radio when that album first came out. There may have been a live version that was more often played, but even that’s faded off the airwaves.

Achtung Baby is the only post-October U2 album I own. It’s got a number of songs I like, a few of which I really like. I can’t complain about “Mysterious Ways” holding on at the major hit from that album – and “One” is a good lighter waving/tit flashing while sitting on your boyfriend’s shoulders number, but how ’bout giving some radio love back to “Even Better Than the Real Thing”, with its recurring Magical Mystery Tour-style George Harrison guitar lick?

In recent years, as U2 healed our nation and helped sell iPods, the songs with the most staying power have been “Elevation”, “Beautiful Day”, and “Vertigo”. I’d rather hear the secondary hits, “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own”.

I won’t even get into the U2 song from that Wim Wenders film, “Stay (Far Away, So Close)”. I really like that song, but adding that to my list would confirm my wife’s initial suspicions.


  14 Responses to “I Coulda Had a U2!”

  1. Mr. Moderator

    In response to the first write-in answer from today’s poll, I believe the poll question now will make more sense.

  2. No it doesn’t. The question asks about songs, but the answers are all bands.

  3. Mr. Moderator

    I see what you mean. It should have read “songs”; even then, it might confuse you. The question will be reformatted shortly. Unfortunately, you have used your vote, but it’s not in vain.

  4. Much better. Honestly, I don’t have a dog in this fight, so I don’t mind wasting a vote. Good grammar costs nothing.

  5. BigSteve

    Is this really more true of U2 than other bands? I don’t listen to radio much, partly because they drain good songs of their pleasure potential by repetition.

    I guess there are some artists that don’t have anything of interest past their hit(s), but most any artist I like would have deep tracks I’d prefer to hear on the radio instead of what is on the playlist. The point of your post would seem to be that U2 does in fact have deep tracks and that radio doesn’t play deep tracks.

    Where is the radio station that will play Silver Train instead of Angie?

  6. Mr. Moderator

    I don’t know, BigSteve. The songs I would prefer to hear are not deep tracks; I believe all of them were in regular commercial radio rotation when their albums came out. There are plenty of great hit songs by The Rolling Stones that will do when I flip stations in a car, for instance. I don’t love The Cars, for a better example, but I’ve got a great chance of hearing the hits by The Cars that I prefer over other hits. For the little bit I like/can tolerate of U2, it’s rare anymore that I get to hear those songs. No one else feels this way about them or a band’s primary and secondary hits catalog?

  7. At least in my parts, the songs from ZZ Top on the radio are almost always their lousy 80s hits, not the good stuff from the 70s.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    Yes, ZZ Top is a great example. Years ago you used to be able to hear what most of you would consider a good ZZ Top song on Classic Rock radio. Now what can you count on hearing beside maybe “Tush”?

  9. trolleyvox

    I was a U2 head from 1980-83. At the time I was especially fond of the first two records “Boy” and “October”. I had U2 pins on the lapel of my Ike jacket along side my mod RAF target pin. I even got to see them at the Orpheum in Boston on the October tour and was sufficiently impressed (though my date could’ve cared less). And after the “Celebration” single, a tune which gave me goosebumps despite the muddiest Steve Lillywhite production I’ve ever heard, I expected great things. I actually liked “New Years Day” at the time, but the album was a real disappointment. The disco overtones of “Two Hearts Beat as One” was a real turn-off, and the lp was packed with filler. Live, they were still decent, though Bono had started waving giant white flags around on stage and, as Mr. Mod has pointed out, the more annoying characteristics of his Bono-ness really got codified around that point. To my mind they went from being kids who identified and bonded with the Power and Glory of Rock to being rock stars (I know it’s a dicey distinction, but I think it has something to do with humility and the subtleties of presentation) and I basically stopped hanging on everything they did from that point on. I took off the lapel pins. Fortunately for me, REM came along right about then, and then after they got all rock star (and crappy: see “Green”), the Replacements came along. Man I could use one of these for a visual aide:

    Anyway, all that said, I do enjoy hearing the occasional latter-day U2 song on the radio in the same way I enjoy an occasional Tom Petty song on the radio. Their deep tracks are better than those of a lot of bands (check out “The Three Sunrises”. I’m surprised I don’t own Achtung Baby or Zoo TV, since I keep hearing songs from them I actually enjoy, like “Stay” and “Some Days Are Better Than Others”. Unlike Mr. Mod, I quite enjoy Beautiful Day, which to me is a U2 throwback to their early period, kind of like the Kink’s doing “She’s Got Everything” in the late 60’s.

  10. mockcarr

    I guess they make a lot of money from the practice, but I would never put a Green Day ballad out as a single.

  11. Mr. Moderator

    Trolleyvox, you have identified a great strain of underground rock fandom in your personal history that I don’t think was uncommon back then. Well done!

  12. I don’t love The Cars, for a better example, but I’ve got a great chance of hearing the hits by The Cars that I prefer over other hits.

    See, I thought of the Cars as a band where you’re not gonna hear many songs that had been huge at the time: off HEARTBEAT CITY, you’re not going to hear “Magic” or “Hello Again” on the radio anymore, just “Drive” or “You Might Think.” You’re not going to hear “Touch and Go” on the radio anymore.

    I think it’s all to do with the general narrowing of classic rock playlists, which is a sucky thing just by itself.

  13. C’mon! The Clash

  14. Mr. Moderator

    Oh man, THE CLASH is a tremendous example! “Rock the Casbah” is embarrassing. “London Calling” is pretty boring. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” gets really embarrassing – not “pretty” much so. You’re right, my man, The Clash are a complete failure in terms of commercial airplay.

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