Saturday, May 16, 1987

U2 hit #1 with “With Or Without You”

With Or Without You


Writer(s): Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr. (see lyrics here)

Released: March 16, 1987

First Charted: March 20, 1987

Peak: 13 US, 13 CB, 12 GR, 13 RR, 23 AC, 15 AR, 1 CO, 4 UK, 11 CN, 9 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, 1.2 UK, 2.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 406.79 video, 821.84 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

In the early ‘80s, U2 became one of the bands at the forefront of college rock and the alternative scene. Videos for “New Year’s Day” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” caught the attention of MTV viewers and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” gave the group their first taste of U.S. mainstream success when the song went top 40.

There were bigger things ahead, though, as they were “steadily expanding their reputation as the most exciting rock band of the decade.” SS After growing their audience with their first four albums, they exploded in 1987 as the biggest grossing concert act of the year MTV on the strength of #1 album The Joshua Tree and its chart-topping lead-off single, the “brooding, haunting rock ballad” SS “With Or Without You.”

As seems to be a pattern with songs that go on to be iconic, U2 wasn’t sold on the song originally. Not only were they unsure about releasing it as a single, but questioned putting it on the album. MTV Bassist Adam Clayton said, “We’re never going to get that on the radio.” SS While the group agreed it had a strong melody, they considered their initial efforts too sentimental. They experimented with more bass and a drum kit, MTV eventually crafting “a slow burner, with The Edge’s understated guitar and Bono’s subdued vocals building gradually towards a towering climax.” BBC

Lyrically, the song showcased an ambiguity that allowed for multiple interpretations. For a group considered “the world’s most earnest Christian rock band” TB there was an obvious spiritual interpretation, but there were other possible meanings as well. The Edge, the band’s guitarist, said the lyrics “were sparked by civil-rights heroes and the ‘new journalism’ of the 1960s.” RS500 Meanwhile the band’s lead singer, Bono, has offered different takes on it. He told Billboard’s Timothy White “there’s nothing more revolutionary than two people loving each other” TC but has also shared that lines like “you give yourself away” delve into how he felt baring his soul via lyrics and interviews; BBC as he said, it is “about how I feel in U2 at times: exposed.” RS500


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Last updated 3/26/2023.

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