From the start, U2 have worn their convictions proudly on their sleeves. Whether it's political, social or religious in nature, the band -- particularly Bono -- has embraced causes with all the fervor and commitment of dedicated activists. Which can make their occasional vagueness a bit confusing. Like their music, U2's lyrics can be peeled away in layers until you think you know what you've got but chances are you're only touching the surface. Many of the songs on our list of the 10 Best U2 Lyrics are like that. And that's what makes them so great.
"You gotta cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice."
The elegiac 'Running to Stand Still' slips into the middle of 'The Joshua Tree' like a shadow from an unknown land. And in a way, that's what it is: a song about Ireland and heroin addiction masked in American folk music. The band has even referred to it as 'Bad Part II,' but the earlier song's anthemic rise sinks into despair and defeat here.
"And if the darkness is to keep us apart / And if the daylight feels like it's a long way off / And if your glass heart should crack / Before the second you turn back, be strong."
This song from 2000's 'All That You Can't Leave Behind' took on added and weightier significance after 9/11. Prior to that date, 'Walk On' was a fist-pumping track from U2's most U2-like album in years. After the tragedy, it became a we're-still-here anthem.
"My hands are tied, my body bruised / She's got me with nothing to win and nothing else to lose."
U2's big hit made them global superstars, and it's the anchor of their best album. 'With or Without You' is pretty much a love song, cataloging the highs and lows of long-term relationships. But the song can also be viewed as a spiritual call (the band has never shied away from its religious beliefs). Either way, it's about conviction and devotion. And it's great.
"I can't believe the news today / I can't close my eyes and make it go away / How long must we sing this song?"
'Sunday Bloody Sunday' was originally written about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. But since its release on 1983's 'War,' the song has taken on more global connotations, turning into an antiwar anthem that isn't tied to one place or event. At its core, the disbelief in the horror around us remains.
"Touch me / Take me to that other place / Reach me / I know I'm not a hopeless case / What you don't have, you don't need it now."
So many of U2's songs lend themselves to big, sweeping moments that they can be interpreted in various ways. Like this huge hit from 2000's 'All That You Can't Leave Behind.' It's since become one of U2's most popular songs, but it's always sounded massive -- right out of the box.
"You say love is a temple, love a higher law / You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl / And I can't be holding on to what you got when all you got is hurt."
Another big, sweeping U2 ballad, and another U2 song with various interpretations. But the band sets up 'One' this way. In a way, it's a breakup song but with a sort of consolation in its heart. But it's also a song of global hope among the ruins. The message may not be clear, but the passion is.
"I'd join the movement if there was one I could believe in / I'd break bread and wine If there was a church I could receive in."
So much for Bono's political and religious commitments. After years of waving the (white) flag for various movements, the singer steps back here and takes a look at himself and isn't sure if he likes what he sees. Doubt, insecurity and questions of hypocrisy arise.
"It's no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest / It's no secret ambition bites the nails of success / Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief / All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief."
Like 'Acrobat,' 'The Fly' dismantles the image Bono had worked so hard to construct in the '80s. On 'The Fly' (like 'Acrobat,' it comes from 1991's 'Achtung Baby') he pulls apart the artist's mythology.
"We thought that we have the answers / It was the questions we had wrong."
Even back in their early days, like on their second single, released in 1980, U2 were a pensive group. This popular concert favorite from the pre-superstar days gains a lot of momentum onstage. But the studio version of '11 O'Clock Tick Tock' packs a ton of youthful energy. And way more insight than you usually get from most groups barely out of their teens.
"I'm wide awake, I'm not sleeping."
Like 'Running to Stand Still,' 'Bad,' from 1984's 'The Unforgettable Fire,' is about heroin addiction. But where the later song takes a general look at the issue, 'Bad' zeroes in on a friend of the band (his brother was the kid featured on the covers of 'Boy' and 'War'). Years later, the story has a happy ending, with full recovery. But in 1984, things weren't so hopeful. The song's refrain is so simple. But so, so powerful.