Having formed in 1976, U2 accomplished what most bands can’t do: they survived. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of their album Pop, its time to take a look at and rank their entire catalog.
#13 Pop (1997)
Despite the title, Pop was a lackluster listening experience for any real U2 fan. That is probably why the album ranks lowest among the band’s lifetime sales. Although the first single, “Discotheque,” was a commercial success, the song (as well as most of the album) tends to stray towards a more exploratory sound, which some fans just didn’t jibe with.
Key Track: “Discotheque”
#12 October (1981)
The band’s second studio album was produced by Steve Lillywhite and surrounds the band’s involvement in a Christian group known as “The Shalom Fellowship.” This was made even more difficult by the fact that Bono had lost a briefcase containing lyrics for the new songs, which required some quick improvisation.
To date, it is the band’s worst-selling album behind Pop.
Key Track: “Gloria”
#11 Songs of Innocence (2014)
The most recent album from the Irish rock group, Songs of Innocence, was produced by Danger Mouse and released to all Apple customers at no cost. Although it was one of the largest album releases of all-time, some were displeased with its distribution, automatically downloading the album for Apple users.
Key Track: ” The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)
#10 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004)
Following the release of All That You Can’t Leave Behind, U2’s studio albums began to take on a much more mainstream rock sound that strayed away from the more electronic and experimental sounds.
“Vertigo,” the lead single off of How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, was an international hit. It won three GRAMMYs, including “Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group” and “Best Rock Song,” and remains the band’s best-selling digital single to date.
Key Track: “Vertigo”
#9 No Line on the Horizon (2009)
U2 began the project with producer Rick Rubin, in 2006, but a conflict in the studio led them to shelve the material.
Even though No Line on the Horizon did not sell as well as the band would have hoped, the band’s 2009-2011 tour remains the highest-grossing concert tour in history, raking in more than $736 million in ticket sales.
Key Track: “Get On Your Boots”
#8 All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)
Despite being one of the band’s later albums, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, was a chart-topping success.
It is also the only album in history to have won two GRAMMYs for “Record of the Year,” both in 2001 with “Beautiful Day,” and in 2002 with “Walk On. Some other noteworthy singles also include: “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” and “Elevation.”
Key Track: ” Beautiful Day”
#7 Zooropa (1993)
Zooropa definitely falls into the “fan favorites” category, as one of the group’s “edgiest” albums to date. It was conceived while performing on their “Zoo TV” tour, from 1992-93, and produced by Mark “Flood” Ellis, Brian Eno and U2 lead guitarist, The Edge.
Unlike some of their other albums, Zooropa tends to shift focus towards technology and the oversaturation of media at the time. The result was a much grittier, more experimental sound.
Key Track: “Numb”
#6 Achtung Baby (1991)
U2’s Achtung Baby is one of the band’s biggest, most commercially successful albums in their catalog. Appropriately titled after the German phrase for “danger,” Achtung Baby was rife with internal conflicts throughout the recording process, however, the dynamic shifted after recording the song “One.”
The album debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 and each of the five singles, including “Mysterious Ways” and “The Fly,” went on to be chart-toppers.
Key Track: “One”
#5 Rattle and Hum (1988)
The band’s only live album, Rattle and Hum, was released as a companion to the rockumentary by Phil Joanou. It featured a mix of new songs, live performances and covers from such legendary artists as The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.
At the time, several critics felt the band was trying too hard to establish itself among the ranks of other classic rock/blues musicians, whereas today, it is debatable whether or not U2 fits that category.
Key Track: “When Love Comes To Town”
#4 The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
Taking its name from an art exhibit about the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in WWII, U2’s The Unforgettable Fire, was just that… it was “unforgettable.”
The album was recorded in less than four months, while the band lived, wrote and recorded music at Slane Castle and is perhaps best known for its lyrical tributes to American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “MLK,” which were written as an elegy to King.
Following the commercial success of the band’s fourth studio album, U2 lead singer Bono was bestowed the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change’s highest honor.
Key Track: “Pride (In the Name of Love)”
#3 Boy (1980)
Before achieving notoriety, U2 first hit the scene during the post-punk/new wave craze in the early ’80s. Their debut album, Boy (1980), sold nearly 200,000 copies and set the bar for their future success.
Unlike many of the group’s later albums, Boy tends to focus on adolescence. The first hit single, “I Will Follow,” was actually written in tribute to Bono’s mother, who died when the U2 frontman was just 14-years-old.
Key Track: “I Will Follow”
2) War (1983)
Not only was War (1983) the band’s first album to hit No. 1, but it was the first to establish U2’s socio-political relevance. With such stoic hits as “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” a protest song about the IRA and “New Year’s Day,” it’s no wonder that War became their first album to sell more than half a million copies in the U.S.
Key Track: ” Sunday Bloody Sunday”
#1 Joshua Tree (1987)
Produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, Joshua Tree (1987) just might be the penultimate album for any true U2 fan. The album, while much more in the vein of the mainstream than some of their earlier work, was recorded in Ireland but inspired by American culture. Featuring such iconic singles as “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “With or Without You,” Joshua Tree received critical acclaim, topping several international Pop charts, before becoming certified triple-platinum by the RIAA.
Key Track: ” Where The Streets Have No Name”