Go on, who had this down as the song that finally gave U2 their first #1…?
Desire, by U2 (their 1st of seven #1s)
1 week, from 2nd – 9th October 1988
For as good as this record is, and it’s a great little rocker, it’s not the first U2 song that springs to mind for most people. There haven’t been many bluesy chart-toppers, and the ones that have appeared came in the mid-sixties for the likes of the Stones and the Animals. But this one bangs straight in with a Bo Diddley beat, and a tale of an irresistible woman – She’s the candle, In my room… Or is it about drugs – I’m the needle, Needle and spoon…? Either way, it’s about something you just can’t say no to.
For a band not afraid of grandiosity this is a simple song; and all the better for it. They were influenced in recording it by The Stooges, and released what had been the demo version after deciding that the finished take was too polished. It’s short, sharp, and possibly one of Bono’s best vocal performances. Say what you want about Bono (and I just might, over the course of U2’s seven #1s) he’s a great rock star, when he remembers that he is a rock star, and not Jesus. Here he stutters, he growls and he soars, and sounds genuinely like a man crazed with desire.
Then there’s the harmonica which, after ‘He Ain’t Heavy…’ makes it two #1s in a row that have been heavy on the tin sandwich. And whisper it, but is 1988 turning out to be a good year for rock music…? I wasn’t expecting it in the era of SAW and house music, but chart-toppers for Fairground Attraction and Billy Bragg, Beatles covers, glam rock samples, a re-release for the Hollies, now this… It feels like it’s come out of nowhere, but it’s certainly welcome!
‘Desire’ was the lead single from ‘Rattle & Hum’, the follow-up to U2’s worldwide breakthrough album ‘The Joshua Tree’. They were probably the biggest rock band on the planet in 1988, and so whatever they released first from their new album may well have rocketed to the top. I’m glad it was this, though. A lot of U2’s music suffers, in my eyes, from the same problem ‘He Ain’t Heavy…’ suffered: grandiosity, and not a little pomposity. Not this one (and to be fair, not too many of their UK #1s – they usually like to announce a new album with a rocking single).
And so, U2 are up and running as a chart-topping force. Off the top of my head, they’re the 4th most successful rock act in terms of #1s, behind only the Beatles, the Stones and Oasis. But sadly, after me making such a big deal of it, this is where 1988 stops rocking… A block-busting ballad looms over the horizon.