The Story Behind U2’s “With or Without You”

U2

1987 marked the beginning of U2’s success, and the Irish band has “With or Without You” to thank for that. The song is the third lead single in the Joshua Tree album, released in March 1987. The song was a big hit, propelling U2’s popularity globally before the internet and streaming music were unheard of. If you’re wondering about the story behind U2’s “With or Without You” song, this write-up will give you a clue.

What’s the hype around “With or Without You?”

U2 is a famous Irish rock band that has released more than ten studio albums. Though the band’s fame came in the late 1980s, they’ve kept performing great hits after hits, almost four decades later. According to Far Out Magazine, U2 comes in two forms; the famous band in the early 1980s and the ones who wrote on the album’s back. The result is the well-established first half, mainly track one to three. It doesn’t take a genius to notice metal rock is lacking in the second half. “With or Without You” was the third single they used to promote their Joshua Tree album. It is a romantic song that’s a bit controversial. Some analysts view it as a scapegoat for their band’s inadequacies, while others argue that it could be a portrayal of their achievements. If you’re wondering, the band’s lead singer called Bono wrote it. Some sources say he’s catholic and protestant. They claim most of his songs suggested controversial lifestyles in believers from both denominations. Each piece he writes evokes mixed reactions, with some analysts arguing that he doesn’t have a strong stance on where he belongs.

Either way, “With or Without You” endeared him to fans thanks to his powerful vocals. Writing songs for the Joshua Tree album was a rollercoaster ride alongside his friend Gavin Friday. Once they finished writing, the band recorded it in Danesmoate House in Dublin. At one point, the band disagreed with the direction Bono wanted for this song. But with the help of co-producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, they reached a status quo. It was evident that ambient guitar rocking was the only way out of wheeling the song to success. The group had different ideas for the song and almost quit playing it. Despite the back-and-forth arguments, Bono and Friday didn’t give up. However, Lanois and Eno left it halfway. Eventually, Friday introduced a keyboard arpeggio to sustain tremendous notes for the song. Edge also suggested they add an infinite guitar, though the technician operating it complained about electric shocks. According to U2Songs, everything went as planned, and that’s how “With or Without You” became sensationally successful. It’s hard to imagine that a band that initially deferred on matters of instruments and lyrics could come up with its finished version, creating a more powerful version.

What to expect from “With or Without You”?

The first verse starts with Bono singing its title slowly while the drums get heavier. He picks the chorus with “Oh-oh-oh-ooh” double-tracked vocals in a high voice. You can hear the electric guitar, tambourine, and cymbals in the background. Bono repeats “with or without you” in the second stanza, prompting the music to go low. Bono picks falsetto before Edge sets the guitar rolling. He argues that a low-key guitar works best as the music ends. That’s how the 3:38-minute song fades.

What’s the meaning of “With or Without You?”

U2’s interpretation of “With or Without You” is a relationship between two lovers that seems to be on eggshells. Bono says it’s purely a romantic song portraying two people in love. Surprisingly, critics believe it represents spiritual needs where one surrenders their ego to faith. Upon close observation of the lyrics, the song tries to make Bone and Paul Hewson apologize to each other. Bono seems to be intimidated by some monster of his doing. According to Far Out Magazine, the lead singer regrets being two-faced. He confessed that he wasn’t happy with it. One moment he appears to be the unsung hero only to pose as an idler. These two conflicting personalities prevent him from being responsible.

How did “With or Without You” get released and perform on music charts?

Paul McGuiness, the band’s manager, was reluctant to release this track as a single because he thought it was premature to do so. However, Gavin Friday convinced McGuinness, promising that it would rank first in various music charts. Eventually, McGuiness included it in The Joshua Tree as the band’s third single. The band allowed music stations to play it upon release, though they released it a fortnight later. The song made it to the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, ranking it 64. Come May 1987, the song became number one on the charts. “With or Without You'” maintaining the top spot on the charts, manifested Friday’s prediction. It held the top spot for eighteen weeks. The Billboard Album Rock Tracks also charted it first, and it didn’t end there. The RPM Top 100 in Canada and Singles Chart in Ireland also ranked it first. It’s evident that “With or Without You” was the group’s breakthrough among American audiences.

Its reception

Music critics always regarded “With or Without You” as the best song U2 ever released. It doesn’t surprise that Rolling Stone ranked it number eight in their “100 Greatest Pop Songs” list. Hot Press’ Bill Graham also praised the song, noting “and you give yourself away” as the best message U2 ever came up with. The Sunday Independent once remarked on the music, terming it commercially accessible. Over the years, various music-related sites have praised the song. It is no surprise that it’s featured in multiple films and tv shows. Also, The Guardian’s appreciation for the music by ranking it fourth on the “40 greatest U2 songs” is the icing on the cake.

Conclusion

“With or Without You” is a timeless song, proving U2’s talent and performance. The band may have had conflicting ideas about the lyrics, production, and recording, but everything worked unexpectedly. Bono and his colleagues need a standing ovation for it.

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