Our Top 10 U2 Albums list scopes out the incredible landscape of fabulous U2 albums the band has released since their 1980 debut album Boy. The band formed in 1976 when they were all still in high school in their native home of Ireland. A few years later as a group of very young lads, U2 released their first album entitled Boy in 1981. The band has been a consistent presence in classic rock history ever since. From 1980 to 2017, they have never gone more than six years in between records. The 1980’s was their most prolific period as they released six albums throughout the decade. After the release of Boy in 1981, they released Octoberr in 1981, War in 1983, The Unforgettable Fire in 1984, their land mark album The Joshua Tree in 1987 and their film soundtrack Rattle and Hum in 1988.
In the 1990s, U2 took a dramatic musical turn as they began to explore alternative styles of music and experimentation with the release of three albums within the decade. The brilliant and ground breaking album Achtung Baby was released in 1981. That album was followed by Zooropa in 1993 and Pop in 1997.
U2 left the 1990s behind along with their experimental records and released three new albums in the 2000s that saw the band returning to their roots while still taking multiple steps forward with their music. In 2000, U2 released the album All That You Can’t Leave Behind. That album was followed up with 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Their final album of the decade was released in 2009 entitled No Line on the Horizon.
In the 2010s. U2 only released two studio albums. Songs of Innocence was released in 2014. It had been six years since the release of their last album No Line on the Horizon making it the longest stretch of time U2 had ever taken in between albums. Their final album of the decade and also the last studio album the band has released as of this writing in 2020 was the record Songs Of Experience.
Below are our picks for the Top 10 U2 Albums.
# 10 – Songs Of Innocence.
We open up our Top 10 U2 Albums list with an album that was so unfairly attacked by many people simply because it was given away for free by Apple. The promotion of the album overshadowed the great music on the album. U2 had taken a long break in between albums. It was six years since the band had released a record. U2’s last album before 2014 Songs of Innocence had been 2009’s No Line on the Horizon.
The Songs of Innocence album was a long time in the making. U2 wanted to release a great album but it took them a while until they were completely satisfied with what hey had. Their deal with Apple actually forced the band to finish the record because of the deadline Apple imposed on them. In the end, the band released a great record with standout songs such as ” Every Breaking Wave,” “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” and “Song For Someone.”
# 9 – Rattle and Hum
The U2 album Rattle and Hum stood as the follow up to the album of their career in The Joshua Tree. U2 faced a monumental task in following up an album as brilliant as The Joshua Tree. Instead of trying to follow up the album in similar fashion, U2 decided to record an album that stood as a tribute to American music performed by an band bathed in Irish and European culture. It was a move that some loved while others were highly critical of, which is pretty much the pattern U2 has faced throughout their career. Nonetheless, we thought it was a really good album that combined some great cover versions of classic songs from the American cannon of music while at the same time delivering some great originals.
Rattle and Hum was released on October 10 1987. The album also served as the soundtrack to the documentary film Rattle and Hum which was released on October 27th 1987. It was a heavily promoted film and album which actually aggravated U2’s old fan base. The album has stood up well over time when one only pays attention to the music without being surround by the hoopla that had co-existed with the album and film release in 1987.
Standout tracks included great cover versions of The Beatles “Helter Skelter,” and Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower. Additionally, U2 released some great new original songs on the album including the record’s Grammy Award winning single “Desire.” Other great originals included “When Love Come To Town,”which featured B.B. King, “Angel of Harlem,” featuring The Memphis Horns and “Love Rescue Me,” which featured Bob Dylan who also co wrote the song.
# 8 – October
U2’s October album was the follow up to their debut album Boy. The album October was released on October 12 1981. Interesting that an album named October was actually released during the month of October. This is a great album that is often overlooked because it was released between their fantastic debut album and their critically praised third album entitled War. Standout tracks on the album included the first two singles “Fire,” and “Gloria.” U2’s “Gloria,” was a completely different song from the Van Morrison classic.
# 7 –How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
The great U2 album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was released on November 22, 2004. The band went back to their old sound on the album. That transition had begun on the previous album All That You Can’t Leave Behind. However the All That You Can’t Leave Behind album veered more towards The Joshua Tree sound as opposed to How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’s return to their roots.
I became incredibly excited to hear the new record when I first heard the track “Vertigo,” that was being promoted heavily by Apple during their iPod commercials. The album did not disappoint. The band rocked harder on the album than they had in years. Standout tracks included the great single “Vertigo,” “All Because of You,” “City of Blinding Lights,” and “Love In Peace.”
# 6 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind
The arrival of U2’s album All That You Can’t Leave Behind actually seemed to be an attempt to leave behind the experimentation of the band’s last three albums Pop, Zooroopa and Achtung Baby. It was a period that lasted the entire decade of the 1990s. While the U2 album All That You Can’t Leave Behind did signify a break from their 1990’s sound, there was still episodes of experimentation within the record. Yet, style means nothing if an album does not contain great songs. All That You Can’t Leave Behind was full of great songs, some even would stand as the best of their career. Songs like “Beautiful Day,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” “Elevation” and “Walk On.” These would be songs that would become U2 classics making All That You Can’t Leave Behind a classic U2 album.
# 5 –The Unforgettable Fire
U2’s album The Unforgettable Fire just seems to get better over time.The Unforgettable Fire was released on October 1st 1984. It was released at the end of a year in which the music industry was celebrating huge albums by Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Madonna, Huey Lewis and the News, Van Halen and The Cars. Its seems like it might have gotten a little lost among all those big records at the time. Nonetheless, The Unforgettable Fire stands as a big time fan favorite. It is often chosen as the favorite U2 album among many U2 fans. Songs like “Bad,” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” would become all time U2 classics. The Unforgettable Fire was an album of depth that continued to build upon the legacy that U2 was developing with their first four brilliant albums.
# 4 – War
After releasing two fantastic albums, the release of U2’s War album laid down the argument that U2 would become one of the all time great rock and roll bands in classic rock history. While one could find some form of political statements on their first two records, War’s title alone was a political statement. U2 would become a band that was not afraid to speak their minds. Their Irish history rooted in war would guarantee that. War was a stunning album bathed in brilliant compositions and recordings. This was the album when U2 stopped becoming a band of young kids with amazing talent and became a band of men ready to be heard on all fronts. The album War was released on February 28th 1983.
# 3 – Boy
U2’s ‘debut album entitled Boy was released on October 20th 1980. I will never forget the day I was standing in a record store and heard the clerk play “I Will Follow.” Everyone in the store ran to the counter asking who is that playing? It blew us all away. No guitarist had ever sounded like that before, Everything about the band’s sound was original. That also pretty much sums up U2’s debut album Boy. Its a brilliant record that is often forgotten or over looked by fans who got into the band in the mid 80s and beyond. Every track on the record is powerful and highly addictive to listen too. Personally this will always be my favorite U2 record.
# 2 – Achtung Baby
In similar fashion to the creativity we all heard when U2 first arrived on the rock and roll scene with Boy, U2’s albums Achtung Baby greeted fans with an entirely new and exciting U2 sound that would last for the entire decade of the 1990s. Many fans and critics have connected Achtung Baby as part of a trilogy that also contained the albums Zooropa and Pop. However, Achtung Baby was by far the strongest of the three and actually stands as one of the best U2 albums ever released. There are many who believe it is the best.
Achtung Baby was released on November 22 1991. The album was released about two months after Nirvana’s breakout album Nevermind. Music began to change dramatically that year and U2 stood right in the middle of it in great contribution. Five singles were released from Achtung Baby with the most successful of the five being the great song “One.”
# 1 – The Joshua Tree
Released in 1987, U2’s The Joshua Tree has become known as the band’s musical and lyrical masterpiece. The band’s fifth album presented U2 fans and the rest of the world with an album that looked to define the American landscape through the lens of its social and political institutions witnessed through the eyes of an Irish rock band. A band who had fallen in love with the music of America. A band who had witnessed the country first hand on the road while promoting its previous albums. This was an album filled with genuine songs that reverberated messages of hope formulated from an understanding of despair form both sides of the Atlantic. It simply was a work of art. The Joshua Tree stands as one of the greatest albums ever made.
U2 Studio Albums Discography
Released in 1980
Released in 1981
Released in 1983
The Unforgettable Fire
Released in 1984
The Joshua Tree
Released in 1987
Rattle and Hum
Released in 1988
Released in 1991
Released in 1993
Released in 1997
All That You Can’t Leave Behind
Released in 2000
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Released in 2004
No Line on the Horizon
Released in 2009
Songs of Innocence
Released in 2014
Songs of Experience
Released in 2017
Updated March 1 2021
Top 10 U2 Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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