New U2 records are always an event, and the recent release of their album Songs of Surrender was no exception. That, despite the fact that these are songs we already know. Milestones are always an opportunity to reflect upon past experiences. In anticipation of the album, I have been re-examining U2 and what really defines the band for me. The band’s guitarist, The Edge, uses reverb and effects to create U2’s instantly recognizable sound. He is not a flashy player, but I thought it would be interesting to go through their songs and “isolate” the solos from the rest of the songs. I have always viewed him as a guitarist who feels obligated to serve the song, and his economical manner seems to back this up. So this ignited the idea of searching for the best U2 guitar solos.
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My Favorite U2 Guitar Solos (The Edge Solos)
It was not as easy as I thought to find true guitar hero solos in U2’s canon. Therefore, I have come up with a rather unconventional list. It is based on my preference for simplicity, which I feel is true to the spirit of the band and represents The Edge’s finest moments.
#1: Love is Blindness (Achtung Baby, 1991)
The solo on Achtung Baby’s obscure closing song is Edge’s finest moment. It happens fast yet feels long in the same way as the stretched moment between the bumping of a glass and its shattering on the floor. This solo starts off with a scream, is thumped down to a whimper, and then murmurs like a heartbeat, unraveling until finally, there is nothing. This is the blues and the ache that drips from each note is an unsettling ending to one of U2’s bleakest albums.
#2: All I Want is You (Rattle and Hum, 1988)
This is U2’s most cinematic song, and not only because it was used in the film Reality Bites. It is a wide angle look at love across emotional borders. Edge’s solo is a stormy outburst that is totally incongruous in tone from what you would expect from what is, in essence, a short country ditty. The suggestion of a desperate man resonates from his guitar strings and, when combined with Van Dyke Parks’ reconciliatory string arrangement, from a striking juxtaposition that is unmatched in U2’s songs.
#3: Pride (In the Name of Love) (The Unforgettable Fire, 1984)
U2 picked some heady subject matter for this single. “Pride” is a lyrical tribute to Martin Luther King. In response, the band conjured up a glorious soundtrack whose ambition and harmony with its subject matter is awe-inspiring. Edge manages to imbue his solo with the impressions of church bells ringing, people marching, and a glimmer of hope in the twinkle of millions of disillusioned eyes.
#4: Mysterious Ways (Achtung Baby, 1991)
Edge’s turn here is a simple outburst that is pure magic. Its pleasure is drawn from the power that this solo is entirely expected. If it were spliced out from the song and I was challenged to sketch in my own solo, I would come up with the same funky potion. It is like being served your favorite lemon cake during a joyful birthday celebration. You anticipated exactly what would be served for dessert but waited patiently anyhow. Could anything be better?
#5: Sunday Bloody Sunday (War, 1983)
War is a guitar album. It is the sound of winter, of things scraping against each other, of fighters and refugees. Edge’s solo here is a surprise. “Sunday Bloody Sunday’s” militant march is thrilling and urgent, and its muted invocation of a 1972 Irish massacre lends poignancy. Edge’s solo manages to diffuse the weightiness while still falling time with the steady march of the beat. It turns the song on its head and points it in a new direction. Mixing Celtic movements, waving flags, and national pride. It is this solo and its emotional remedy that urged Bono to raise that white flag onstage in 1983.
#6: If You Wear That Velvet Dress (Pop, 1995)
Edge has never sounded more elegant. This is the sound of U2 at midnight, of waltzing rhythm sections, of champagne glasses set on a nightstand that are either half empty or half full. Edge’s playing is cosmic, understated blues that dances between lust and restraint and ultimately ends up with the protagonist pensively gazing out the window while slow dancing alone to Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.”
I can guarantee that most U2 fans would outright reject some of the entries on this list. That’s fine, since this is my list of the best U2 guitar solos, after all. I wanted to end this article with an honest recommendation for their new album. Go and give it a listen. It is amazing.
At the time of posting this article, I’m reviewing The Edge’s favorite guitar pick, the Nylon Herdim. As a part of this review, I’m trying to see what type of effect it has on his composing. This is not ready yet, but if you’re interested in this type of content, check out our other guitar pick reviews.
See you next time!