Stay (Faraway, So Close!), U2
Unless you don’t own a radio, TV, or computer, or you have been entirely unaware of the music / celebrity philanthropy world for the past three decades, chances are you’ve heard of U2. In honor of their upcoming 20th anniversary rerelease of their 1991 megasmash reinvention Achtung Baby, I’ll be regularly posting songs in the future from U2′s 90′s period, containing some of their most underrated, misunderstood, and obscure work. Sure, Achtung Baby was a revelation, finding an amazing way to mix U2′s trademark anthemic guitar sound with a heavy dose of German Kraftwerk disco. It yielded massive hits like “One” and “Mysterious Ways,” but after that point, the rest of the 90s got a little bit weird for the band, with 1993′s bizarrely psychedelic Zooropa and 1997′s straight up dance record Pop. Although some fans were turned off by this phase of their career, it contains some of the best work, most notably Zooropa‘s slow burning torch ballad, “Stay (Faraway, So Close!),” a Sinatra-channeling track with vague references to domestic abuse and guardian angels. Surrounded by an album of some pretty weird stuff (see: “Babyface,” “Lemon”), it’s understandable why this song might have been lost in the shuffle, but it’s never too late to check it out. It features some of Bono’s best singing, with his vocal delivery alternating between smooth crooning on the verses, hushed whispers on the bridge, and his trademark throat-lacerating belts on the chorus. The Edge ditches the sky-scraping layered guitar technique that made him famous and instead opts for a trippier, distorted sound that ultimately leads to one of the most deeply melodic riffs of his career. “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” may not be as bombastic as some of the band’s most famous material, but it’s one of their finest.
Stay (Faraway, So Close!), U2
This is one of the most covered songs of the 20th century and one of the greatest love songs of all time. First made popular in the 1960s by the Righteous Brothers, it has since been performed Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, the Supremes, Cyndi Lauper, the Smashing Pumpkins, and so many others. However, I’m posting this version because I feel that U2 simply takes it to another level. Released as a B-side for the 1989 Rattle and Hum single “All I Want Is You,” U2′s cover of “Unchained Melody” is an incredibly underrated and relatively obscure gem in their deep catalog. Bono, the Edge, and company have written some pretty epic declarations of love in the past thirty years, including the aforementioned A-side, “With Or Without You,” and “The Sweetest Thing.” They bring the same intensity and passion to this cover, which is what makes it so compelling.
In the Righteous Brothers’ version and numerous covers after, “Unchained Melody” was a sweetly sung pop waltz, the kind of song Marty McFly’s parents would have slow danced to at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. What I love about U2′s version is that they turn “Melody” into a full-on rock ballad, with Larry Mullen Jr.’s thundering drums and the Edge’s spectacular layered guitar lines. I love the thirty second intro in which the Edge is the only one playing and his wall of guitar sound sets an epic tone for the song. Never has feedback sounded so beautiful. Bono doesn’t have the smoothest crooning voice in the world, but then again, that’s never been his appeal. What makes him such a great singer is his guttural wails, filled with so much passion and emotion. By any doo-wop singer’s standards, Bono butchers it, but any rock standards, Bono makes this song his own, as evidenced by his throat-lacerating delivery of “I need your love! Godspeed your love to me!” U2 takes this song to new heights and completely reinvents it.