The songs a band covers are just as much an indication of its musical tastes as its musical abilities.
With U2, a band far from being shy about its preferences on any number of subjects, a quick glance through their repertory of cover songs indicates they're fans of The Beatles, The Ramones, and Bob Dylan, to name but a few.
For better or worse, U2 hasn't yet covered the Spice Girls, but even that flame-out wasn't off Bono's radar when, during an Elevation Tour performance in Montreal, he introduced The Edge as Sporty Spice (or was that Scary Spice?), Adam Clayton as Posh Spice (but of course), and Larry Mullen, Jr. as Baby Spice.
A comprehensive list of songs U2 has covered live would be exhausting (although it must be said Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" is a personal favorite), so here's a simple survey of official, readily available recordings. Even this abbreviated catalog serves as something of a history of rock 'n' roll.
Perhaps most famously, U2 covered The Beatles' "Helter Skelter," immortalized on "Rattle and Hum" with Bono's introduction, "This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles, we're stealin' it back." Also on "Rattle and Hum" are their scorching, live renditions of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and Van Morrison's "Gloria."
Much like "Helter Skelter," U2 chose another unlikely track from The Beatles' incendiary "White Album," "Happiness is a Warm Gun," for a "Pop" B-side. Featuring the same electronica-inspired embellishments found on "Pop," the track is an interesting take on one of The Fab Four's darker tunes.
On a far lighter note, the PopMart Tour turned M's "Pop Muzik" into a spiffed-up sonic orgy. While the live performances featured sampling from M's version, U2's B-side take in some ways outdoes the original with its thunderous beat and Bono's throaty vocals before it drifts into a mellow, overlong fade out of electronic overindulgence.
In a similar vein, during the over-the-top mayhem of the ZooTV Tour, Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" became more than just a simple cover song, it took on a whole new meaning in the clever world of "Zooropa" and Bono's cyber duet with Reed's static-riddled image was enough to give the audience goose bumps.
U2 also loves The Ramones. The band's admiration is far from a secret and this appreciation of The Ramones' work shines bright in U2's renditions of "I Remember You" and "Beat on the Brat." "I Remember You" is sweet and tender New York soul while "Beat on the Brat" is unadulterated CBGB punk. The former song took on a deeper resonance when U2 chose to perform it on several Elevation Tour dates after Joey Ramone's death in 2001.
Then there was the Man in Black, Johnny Cash, the legendary country artist with a rocker's edge. Bono penned "The Wanderer" off of "Zooropa" for Cash, who appeared on the album, and the band went on to return the favor with a nifty cover of "Don't Take Your Guns to Town."
Another legend of a different sort was the one-of-a-kind songwriter Cole Porter, to whom U2 brought modern sensibilities with its (for lack of a better term) "horny" take on "Night and Day," featured on the "Red Hot + Blue" Porter tribute, and AIDS benefit, album. It's a classic love song given a big, expansive update of U2 proportions.
For some, a person's taste in rock 'n' roll can be summed up in one question: The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? For U2, it would appear they're in The Beatles camp, but even so, "Ruby Tuesday" and "Sympathy for the Devil" are Stones tracks that garnered a bombastic U2 nod.
The band indulged its fun-loving side with a rollicking spin on "Everlasting Love." When they do it, unlike Gloria Estefan's later rendition, it ain't disco and simply listening to it makes you see Bono's ear-to-ear smile. Similarly, U2's take on "Unchained Melody," made famous by The Righteous Brothers, is an early look at the notion of Bono as soul man.
Every once in a while the boys go off on their own separate projects. The release of Tom Cruise's first contribution to the "Mission: Impossible" franchise, it was a chance for Clayton and Mullen to take on the ubiquitous instrumental theme song and elevate it to chart-topping success.
Veering yet into another direction, Bono teamed up with fellow Irish band The Corrs for an up-tempo version of Ryan Adams' soulful, introspective tune, "When the Stars Go Blue."
The only fitting way to round out this survey is with the pure, unabashed pop and holiday cheer of U2's exuberant take on legendary producer Phil Spector's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," off the first "A Very Special Christmas" album. With that, it can truly be said, from the Wall of Sound approach to Posh Spice, this band's got ya covered.
• Originally published at Interference.com.
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