Number Ones: #99


  • U2 With Or Without You (Island)
  • Week Ending 11th April 1987
  • 2 Weeks At #1


U2’s first No.1 on my Top 40 should really have been their second, but the delay in releasing the title track from The Unforgettable Fire (the song which had turned me on to the band) as a single meant that it only made #3 when it finally appeared in May 1985.

Then came Live Aid, and the world went collectively nuts for U2. All the subtlety and atmospherics which characterised The Unforgettable Fire, and held so much appeal to me, could easily have been jettisoned in the wake of global adulation. Bono & co.’s ability to work a huge crowd, and create anthemic music which made grand gestures, had been a major factor in their rise through the early 80s. Would they slip back into old habits, despite the progression made under the watchful eye of Brian Eno and his protege Daniel Lanois?

Thankfully, the answer was no. Resisting any temptation to cash in on their Live Aid impact (which saw their entire back catalogue get the biggest sales boost of any act involved), U2 spent 1986 away from the limelight working on their next record, The Joshua Tree.

There had been just two singles lifted from both War and The Unforgettable Fire, so it was perhaps no surprise that Island Records opted to release The Joshua Tree first, before allowing With Or Without You out on its own.  The decision possibly cost them the chance of a UK chart-topper, but on the other two charts which counted (the Billboard Hot 100 and mine!) it didn’t prove an obstacle.

As track 3 on Side 1 of The Joshua Tree, With Or Without You – alongside Where The Streets Have No Name and I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – formed one of the finest opening trilogies I’d ever heard on an album, and arguably any of the trio could have been the lead single. Most bands are lucky to have one song as sublime as that during their whole career, let alone three of them back-to-back on the same record. There was an awful lot of hyperbole surrounding U2 around the launch of The Joshua Tree (and for a while afterwards too) but it was wholly deserved.

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