What the hell am I thinking?

…or, I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.

I am about to do something so absurd, on the surface you would have to question my sanity.  But dig a bit deeper, and…well, yeah, it’s pretty fucking crazy.  The word “fan”, after all, comes from “fanatic”.

But there are some good reasons for what I’m about to do.

First, I kind of already started on it today, somewhat by accident, and realized that if I’m going to do it, I may as well do it right.

Second, I’m doing it because I can, because technology allows me to do so.  Most folks view the digital revolution in music to mean that people are more interested in individual songs for download than in full albums; the flipside of that is that you’re no longer limited to just a single album…you can build a playlist that’s quite a bit longer.  If you’re into that sort of thing.

Third, this is probably the best possible opportunity to do so.  U2 have reached a point in their career that’s unparalleled in modern times.  I’m not going to argue about their “ranking” in the all-time rock greats—you can feel free to argue the relative merits of Sgt. Peppers, or the purity of Exile on Main Street, or the poetry of Dylan, the hubristic-majesty of Tommy, the unrestrained power of “Black Dog”, or the integrity of that fucking hipster indie band, they’re kinda obscure, you’ve probably never heard of them.

But no band in history has had a career as long, as varied, and as accomplished as what U2 have done.  The only possible contenders would be The Beatles, The Stones, and R.E.M., when looking at both longevity and artistic accomplishment, and all fall well short of what U2 has done.  The Beatles didn’t last nearly long enough (would you believe that U2 has been together, releasing innovative albums and selling out stadiums nearly twice as long as The Beatles were together?), The Stones peaked in the late seventies and have been releasing variations on that same album for three decades, and R.E.M. has been navel-gazing with no drummer for the last decade and a half.

There is no other band where you can assemble, in order, nearly 34 years of amazing rock and roll and listen to it start to finish.

Which is what I’m going to do.  I have created a playlist that starts with U2: 3 and ends with the live version of the Redanka’s “Kick the Darkness” remix of “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” from their 360 tour.  It’s 12.7 hours long, 173 songs, and I’m going to listen to the whole thing, start to finish, in one go.

When I said that this is the perfect opportunity to do so, what I meant is that U2 is on the brink of a possibly major evolution in what they do and how they do it.  They have—depending on how much you believe what they’ve said recently—literally five different projects between 80 and 90 percent done, just waiting for that final tying-together moment to finish them off.

  • The soundtrack for the Spider-Man musical:  While this is mostly Bono and the Edge, anyone who thinks that when they needed someone to play bass and drums on the tracks and looked further than their childhood friends is crazy.
  • The Rick Rubin sessions:  Back after finishing the Vertigo tour, U2 went into the studio—Abbey Road studios, in fact—with Rick Rubin to record an album.  One song, “Window in the Skies”, saw the light of day; the rest were shelved for a later date.  They’ve constantly said they will revisit these rock-centric session and finish the album.  They’ve never said when.  Bastards.
  • Songs of Ascent:  This album is by now both legendary and infamous amongst the hardcore U2 fans.  When their last album was wrapping up, all four of the band members said that they had a bunch of material that was finished but left off the album because it didn’t quite fit.  It was atmospheric, spiritual, meditative and like nothing they’ve done since the more abstract moments on The Unforgettable Fire.  They said it would be out by the end of the year, it just needed some final polishing.  That was in early 2009.  We’re still waiting on it a year and a half later.  Bastards.
  • An “electronic” album:  Both Bono and the Edge have mentioned this lately as something they’re really excited about, all new songs (i.e. recorded after Songs of Ascent) that is offbeat and driven with a groove they didn’t know they still had in them.
  • The “rehab” sessions:  In between the US leg of the 360 tour and the 2010 relaunch of the tour, Bono hurt his back, had surgery, and the band had to delay the start of the 2010 leg until he had healed and rehabbed.  They couldn’t practice for the tour, but they could sit in the studio in Bono’s house and record new material.  Again.  Which still hasn’t been released, though we have heard at least one of those songs performed since the tour started up again (one, incidentally, recorded before Bono hurt his back, so it isn’t technically part of the “rehab” sessions, but fuck it, this is all getting a bit confusing).

All of that is to say that there’s no telling what’s going to happen next with them, and now is as good a moment as any to take a detailed tour of where they’ve been so far.

I’d actually thought of listing the entire track listing up here, all 173 songs, because fuck it, it’s my blog, I’m not exactly paying by the inch, I can write out the names of 173 songs if I want to.  But instead I’m just going to give a quick overview of the playlist.  It will be worth reading—at least, I would enjoy reading it, were another U2 fan doing this insanity and I happened across his blog—because this is not a simple one-album-after-another affair.  There are stretches in their career where fandom has, quite successfully, second-guessed their track selection and ordering, and it gives a much more interesting perspective on those particular moments in their career.  So that’s what follows:  a short list, with occasionally-extensive commentary.  Which is what I do here, so if you’re already at this blog, and have read this far through this post already, and are suddenly balking at going a little further with me…what the hell is wrong with you?

We start with “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”, the best non-album song they ever recorded, and seriously, one of the best songs written between 1975 and 1985 by any band in any genre.

Then comes two of the three songs from U2:3, the EP they recorded that got them their record deal.  Just “Boy-Girl” and “Stories for Boys”; no need for “Out of Control”, the version here is nearly the same as that on Boy (“Stories for Boys” is included because of how much it changed between this EP and Boy).

Then comes Boy, October and War, in order, no need to futz with the order or include any rare B-sides; they were spending all their time touring instead of recording and dithering like they did later on.

After War, we skip Under a Blood Red Sky.  I’m focusing on the songs here, and while there’s certainly a different energy and impact when the songs are played live, there’s no need to revisit them again so soon.  We’ll save that for when I decide to do this madness over again, next time with just bootlegs, no studio recordings.

“Boomerang I” introduces the The Unforgettable Fire era, and leads right into the first song of the album.  Again, no need to re-order anything on the album proper.  After wrapping up with “MLK,” we head to “Boomerang II” and “Bass Trap”, two of the B-sides recorded at this time that don’t have much of a real home anywhere else.  And then comes the first huge departure from cannon.

The Joshua Tree is reconstituted as the band originally intended it:  a double-album.  19 songs.  Full track listing follows.  The story of how an epic double-album became one of the greatest “normal” albums ever released is very interesting, but not something I’m going to get into here now; it’s a long story, and this post is already spiraling out of control.  Suffice to say, almost every single song is both familiar and incredibly fresh and new when heard in the double-album context for the first time.

The Joshua Tree – Restored

  1. Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience
  2. Where the Streets Have No Name
  3. Silver and Gold
  4. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
  5. Spanish Eyes
  6. With or Without You
  7. Luminous Times (Hold On To Love)
  8. Walk to the Water
  9. Bullet the Blue Sky
  10. Running to Stand Still
  11. Red Hill Mining Town
  12. In God’s Country
  13. Trip Through Your Wires
  14. Sweetest Thing
  15. One Tree Hill
  16. Deep in the Heart
  17. Exit
  18. Race Against Time
  19. Mothers of the Disappeared

After the restored JT comes another album that fandom has reworked with incredibly successful results.  I should note that this version is my own, not the one more commonly accepted by the other nutjobs out there, but I like it, and that’s what matters, given who’s doing the listening.

Basically, we take Rattle & Hum, strip out all the live stuff, add in all the B-Sides during this era (seriously, U2’s B-sides from 1985-1989 would comprise a decent career for most bands), and then combine and bake until golden brown and delicious.

Rattle & Hum – Studio

  1. Desire
  2. Dancing Barefoot
  3. God Part II
  4. Hawkmoon 269
  5. Unchained Melody
  6. Hallelujah Here She Comes
  7. Love Rescue Me
  8. Everlasting Love
  9. When Love Comes to Town
  10. Heartland
  11. A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel
  12. All I Want Is You

From here we’re into the most amazing single moment of any musician’s career, the transition between the long-haired, earnest boys of The Joshua Tree and “Fuck the revolution!” and the cynical, smoking men thrusting their hips to “Even Better than the Real Thing.”  I could write thousands of words just about how important and amazing Achtung Baby is, but, again, not here and now, probably later.  I’ll just say that the tracklisting for Achtung is the closest to perfection mortal man has ever achieved, so it remains untouched.

After “Love Is Blindness”, we get a quick tour through some of the B-Sides of this era, those completed before ZooTV became Zooropa:  “Slow Dancing”, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”, “Lady with the Spinning Head”, and “Alex Descends into Hell for a Bottle of Milk” (which was written, believe it or not, as part of the score for a stage production of A Clockwork Orange; again, a story for another time).  And then we crash into Zooropa proper, with no need to change up anything until the air-raid siren comes on in the wake of Johnny Cash’s devastating “The Wanderer” (a song that Bono considers U2’s best, as in the [paraphrased, non-verbatim] quote “It’s a shame that I don’t even sing on our best song).

From here we enter the Passengers/POP era, the last legs of the long, dark tunnel of self-discovery, revelation and deception they entered nearly a decade prior when they landed in Hansa studios to begin work on Achtung.  First the interstitial stuff, “Your Blue Room” and “Always Forever Now” and “Holy Joe (Guilty Mix)”, after which we head straight into POP itself, a grossly-underrated album and one which I love just fine in it’s original form.  And we wrap up the 1990’s with two amazing B-sides, “The Hands that Built America” and “North and South of the River”.

And it’s at this point that I start to become a bit…deviant.  U2 is my favorite band, and are still blowing my mind almost three and a half decades after they first came together.  (Of note, they first sat down together in the fall/winter of 1976, right when I was being born; coincidence?  I think not.)  But that doesn’t mean they’re perfect, and they have had some missteps along the way.  These became more noticeable at the end of the millennium, and to be honest, it’s mostly either non-musical errors in judgment (what to release and when) or “secondary” musical issues (what versions to release and why).

So here we are at All that You Can’t Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and I’ve taken many liberties here.  First, I’ve added in several of the songs that were recorded but never released, not even as B-sides.  I’ve also swapped in different versions of some songs because I think the unreleased versions are just better.  If there’s one common thread to all the mistakes they’ve made in the last fifteen years, it’s that they’ve over-thought what they were doing; where I can, I’ve resurrected their initial inspiration.

All That You Can’t Leave Behind – Instinctual

  1. Levitate
  2. Elevation
  3. Love You Like Mad
  4. Walk On
  5. In A Little While
  6. Flower Child
  7. Stuck in a Moment (acoustic)
  8. Summer Rain
  9. Wild Honey
  10. Beautiful Day
  11. Kite
  12. When I Look at the World
  13. New York
  14. The Ground Beneath Her Feet
  15. Electrical Storm
  16. Stateless
  17. Grace
  18. Always

Then a few B-sides, “Big Girls Are Best” (written for Ali when she was pregnant, any father/husband will understand) and “Neon Lights”.

How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb – Instinctual

  1. City of Blinding Lights
  2. Miracle Drug
  3. Crumbs from Your Table
  4. Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own
  5. Love and Peace or Else
  6. Native Son
  7. All Because of You (alternate)
  8. Fast Cars
  9. A Man and a Woman
  10. Smile
  11. Original of the Species (Killahurtz Casa De Angeles Mix)
  12. Window in the Skies
  13. One Step Closer
  14. Mercy
  15. Yaweh (from Vertigo: Live in Chicago)

And then another B-side, “I Believe in Christmas (No Snow)”.

No Line on the Horizon – Instinctual

  1. No Line on the Horizon
  2. Magnificent
  3. Breathe
  4. Stand Up Comedy
  5. I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
  6. Get on Your Boots (Long Intro)
  7. Fez – Being Born
  8. Unknown Caller
  9. White as Snow
  10. Winter
  11. Moment of Surrender
  12. Cedars of Lebanon
  13. Soon

And we end the whole thing with “No Line on the Horizon 2”, like U2 Meets the Go-Go’s, and the live version of the Redanka’s “Kick the Darkness” remix of “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” from their 360 tour.

Which brings us right up to the present day.  I’m not sure what I’m hoping to accomplish with this musical death march.  It’s a sort of “It’s so crazy, it just might work,” scenario, and when you hit that point, the details tend to not matter too much.  When it’s all listened and done, I’ll try to drop back by here and let y’all know how it went.


One response to “What the hell am I thinking?

  1. I need this playlist put on my iPod like yesterday, honey.

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