SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello's Must-Hear U2 Tracks

Elvis Costello hosts Bono and The Edge on SPECTACLE.

Our esteemed host has a discerning ear. For the second season of Spectacle, we asked him to choose a track or two from his guests’ sizable songbooks. Not “the greatest” or most iconic tunes necessarily, but pieces that have always knocked him out. We’ll update the list each week.

I really became a true fan of U2 after the release of Achtung Baby, and particularly dig both the Zooropa and Pop albums.
Perhaps what really pulled me in were those occasional melodic references to David Bowie, and what I take to be the most overtly audible influence of Brian Eno in all of U2’s recordings.
After all, during our U.S. tours of late ’77 and early ’78, the Attractions and I had ridden around in a station wagon listening to little else than ABBA and Bowie and Iggy Pop’s Berlin records, so these most European U2 albums naturally appealed to me. 
Perhaps I was too involved with the pace of my own life and work to spend much time with the earliest U2 records. I can’t pretend that I understood what the band was doing when I first heard them.
That’s not to say that I don’t like any of those great early songs; in fact I love the way they take their place in U2′s stage shows.
I’ve seen the band play many times and give stellar performances of songs such as “Bad,” “Mysterious Ways,” “Gone,” “Kite” and especially, the magnificent “One,” which utterly dwarf the scale and impact of the recorded renditions.
Those shows are the work of U2, the four-piece band. My conversation with the singer and guitarist took in the whole band’s approach to music making, but gave a little more idea of their personal contribution to particular songs.
Here are two of U2’s tunes that I like for different reasons.
“Please” – from Pop (1997)
Having seen the band play this in concert several times, I was delighted to find a re-mixed single which seemed to allow the song to speak with similar clarity.
The cover of that E.P. release featured Warhol-style portraits of four major figures of the political conflict in Northern Ireland. The relationship of this song to the painful, self-defeating progress towards peace needed no further underlining than the appeal, “Get up off your knees.”
I’ve recorded and performed the song before in a solo arrangement based on an open-tuned acoustic guitar figure. The Imposters and I attempted to combine this with a rhythm section approach during the opening set of songs taped at the Spectacle episode with Bono and The Edge.
Not everything can make it into 52 minutes, and that version didn’t make the cut, but my appreciation of the song was only deepened by the fact that it remains both fluid and elusive.
“In A Little While” – from All You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)

I remember visiting U2’s Dublin H.Q. around the time the band had finished the studio recordings for Rattle and Hum. Edge played me mixes of “Angel of Harlem” and “Desire,” and I recall being surprised at U2 employing these more conventional songs structures to such good effect.
Since that time, they’ve done it as the mood and material suited, while at other times their songs seem not to have any ancestors at all. Either approach will work.
“In A Little While” seems to have echoes of Curtis Mayfield or Jimi Hendrix ballad, while ultimately sounding like nothing other than U2.
In richer days, I could have imagined some great R&B singer making this one their property. Perhaps it’s not too late.