“With or Without You” is a song by Irish rock band U2. It is the third track on their fifth studio album, The Joshua Tree (1987), and was released as the album’s lead single on 16 March 1987. The song was the group’s most successful single at the time, becoming their first number-one hit in both the United States and Canada by topping the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks and the RPM national singles chart for one week, with a further three weeks at number two.
“With or Without You” features sustained guitar parts played by guitarist the Edge with a prototype of the Infinite Guitar, along with vocals by lead singer Bono and a bassline by bassist Adam Clayton. The song originated from a demo recorded in late 1985 that the group continued to work on throughout The Joshua Tree sessions. Ostensibly a troubled love song, the track’s lyrics were inspired by Bono’s conflicting feelings about the lives he led as a musician and domestic man.
Critics praised the song upon its release. It is frequently performed on the band’s tours, and it has appeared on many of their compilation albums and concert films. “With or Without You” is U2’s second most frequently covered song. In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine placed the song at number 132 on their list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
“With or Without You” was first played live at the second show on the Joshua Tree Tour on 4 April 1987, and was a regular for the rest of that tour. It was played at most shows on 1989’s Lovetown Tour. During these tours, two extensions to the song not present on the studio version were played: an extra verse with lyrics that typically read “We’ll shine like stars in the summer night/We’ll shine like stars in the winter light/One heart, one hope, one love” or modifications thereof, which appears on the Rattle and Hum movie; and a snippet of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (along with the “shine like stars” lyrics) which can be heard in the live album and concert film Live from Paris. Since the PopMart Tour, it has been more common for Bono to repeat the “Ohh” at the climax of the song, with the “shine like stars” verse sung rarely.
“With or Without You” was played at most Zoo TV Tour concerts and every concert on the PopMart Tour. It was dropped from the setlist during the third leg of the Elevation Tour. It was initially a rare inclusion during the Vertigo Tour – over the two months of the tour’s first leg, it was only played four times. It became a regular concert inclusion during stadium concerts on the second leg in Europe and remained in the setlist for the third leg. It has been played on every night of the U2 360° Tour, occasionally with the “shine like stars” coda. The song regularly closed out the main set on the Innocence + Experience Tour, again occasionally with the “shine like stars” coda.
Live performances of the song also appear in the group’s concert films Zoo TV: Live from Sydney, PopMart: Live from Mexico City, Elevation 2001: Live from Boston, U2 Go Home: Live from Slane Castle, Vertigo 05: Live from Milan, U2 3D, and U2 360° at the Rose Bowl.
The song has become one of U2’s most well-known songs, and it often appears in music critics’ rankings of the best songs of all-time. In 2000, the song appeared at number eight on Rolling Stone‘s list of “100 Greatest Pop Songs”, compiled by Rolling Stone and MTV music critics to rank songs released since The Beatles’ breakthrough. In 2005, Blender ranked the song at number 268 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born”. The following year, readers of Q voted “With or Without You” the 17th-greatest song in history. In 2012, Slant Magazine listed “With or Without You” as the 40th best single of the 1980s. Music television network VH1 ranked the song number 13 on the “100 Greatest Songs of the 80s” countdown in its series The Greatest. In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine placed the song at number 132 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. The song appeared as one of seven U2 songs in Toby Creswell’s 2006 music reference book 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories, and Secrets. Creswell said the song struck a perfect balance between the “vigor and spit and attitude” of the group’s teenage years and their new-found appreciation for the “power of understatement”. U2 have included the song on two of their compilation albums, The Best of 1980–1990 and U218 Singles.
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