(The Joshua tree, 1987)
With or Without You is the lead single from U2’s 1987 album, The Joshua Tree. It has since become highly acclaimed as one of the bands most popular songs. Released as a single in March 1987, it became the groups first American #1 hit, spending three weeks at the top.
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.
The lyrics ostensibly describe a troubled relationship between two lovers, although the lyrics have been interpreted in religious contexts. The Washington Post interpreted the song as both an acerbic love song and a tune lamenting the moral contradictions one faces with their religious faith. Toby Creswell echoed these sentiments, saying it “can be read as a song about either marital romance or spiritual need”. Bono explained that the lyrics had romantic intentions, saying, “there’s nothing more revolutionary than two people loving each other. One, ’cause it’s so uncommon these days, and two, ’cause it’s so difficult to do.” In 1987, Bono explained that “And you give yourself away” lyric refers to how he sometimes feels exposed being in U2, and that his openness, both to the public and music press, can do damage to the group. Author Niall Stokes interpreted the line as encompassing the theme of “surrendering the ego” to one’s love and spiritual faith.
In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed the single at number 131 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.