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There is no argument that for five decades the sound of U2 has been dominated by The Edge’s guitar work. Born David Evans, The Edge has painted U2’s sound landscape with sonic themes, multiple guitar harmonic chimes, and rhythmic arpeggios, underpinned with Celtic tones. He has bathed the band’s texture in a tsunami of sound, relentlessly coming at the listener from all directions. Jimmy Page has christened The Edge as “The Sonic Architect.”
But we should not consider The Edge as a lead guitarist in the classic sense; he only takes a handful of solos in the traditional way. Beyond the memorable guitar themes that stand out in many of the band’s best-known songs, it’s rare when U2’s rhythm section drops down, Bono stops singing, and The Edge is left to do his thing. When he does, it’s unlike the classic guitar hero, as he’s short on quick razor riffs or fretboard prowess (see Page, Beck, Van Halen, and Clapton). Instead, we’re blessed with a hodgepodge of focused sounds designed to take the listener through a gauntlet of emotions. Gratefully, no two are alike.
Bullet the Blue Sky- (1987, Joshua Tree)
As the lyrics address 1980’s American imperialism in South America, Bono asked The Edge to make his solo sound like war and to “put El Salvador through an amplifier.” Upon Bono’s recorded spoken words, “Outside is America,” listeners are hoisted into a war scene by The Edge’s building slide guitar that climbs and climbs every four beats. Its open notes urgently move faster and faster, seemingly getting ahead of the cadence of the song when it reaches its climax. Then the guitar descends into feedback-ridden drops that sound like fighter pilots discharging their payload. Finally, The Edge goes into a series of hard chord strokes, sounding unmistakably like bombs exploding upon the huts of El Salvador. The solo ends with the uneven vibrato of his guitar fading away like a landscape that has been flattened, with only the smoke billowing from the ruins of destruction.
The Fly- (1991, Achtung Baby)
A massive block of sound, taking up 30% of the bars of this tune, this is The Edge’s most elongated solo and serves as the centerpiece for this mid-career industrial rocker. Starting with 4 whammy bar hits that bend his sound around Larry Mullen’s snare drum brakes, The Edge then advances into one of the guitarist’s few (but deadly) moments of fancy fretboard work while he descends the tune’s scales. Soon, the guitar lines gain a hard-edge waw-waw effect that meets up with Bono’s repeated falsetto line: “Love, we shine like a burning star. We’re falling from the sky.” To say this is ‘sonic’ is an understatement. The Edge has said “part of the reason why (the song) sounds so dynamic is that it was a real hands-on performance mix. The guitar sounds were created by mixing additional guitar on top of the existing guitar, creating a “really crazy natural phasing effect”.
Surrender- (1983, War)
We all knew that things were going to happen for U2 after the release of 1983’s War, and “Surrender” served as a sign of things to come. Once the beat drops out in the middle of this tune to spotlight the guitar, we are treated to the joyous kitchen sink! Here on The Edge’s canvas, we began to experience the techniques we will get to know quite well (and even anticipate) in the coming years; reverb through digital delay effects, soaring slide, squeaks, and flanged tones while producing electric harmonics all rolled into a short but dynamic solo.
All Because of You- (2004, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb)
“Atomic Bomb” was U2’s most stripped-down album since their days of the early 1980s, and although there is a battery of guitar sounds on “All Because of You,” The Edge keeps things fairly simple. The tune opens with a pre-recorded repeated effect that gives the tune a percussive nature. Once this is established, the instrumental section could be considered The Edge’s closest “traditional” solo. The band drops out of the beat, builds back up, and then the door is open to the solo. Bono gives us his best John Lennon-like scream, just one beat before the guitarist goes into a repeated dynamic picking pattern.
Sunday Bloody Sunday – (1983, War)
Such a serious subject for such a jaunty tune. Larry Mullens establishes a military march beat while The Edge opens the tune with hooky arpeggios. For his solo, The Edge continues to support the picture of the Belfast “troubles” by depicting an electric Irish jig in his picking technique. This lifts the tune to the point of releasing the spotlight back to Bono. While he sings “Wipe your tears from your eyes, wipe your tears away,” The Edge mirrors Mullen’s beat by scraping his strings in the same rhythm. This same percussive scraping shows up later on the album in the tune “New Year’s Day” which also closes out his solo.
Photo: The Edge (U2 Start via Wikimedia Commons)
Ummm…tough to choose, but you missed Acrobat & Until the End of the World….those should be in the tops 5
Yes, sure, they could also be considered…. thanks for the interest!-SV
I had forgotten how righteously “The Fly” rocks! Brilliant band, brilliant solos, and brilliant descriptive writing Steven, capturing the very essence. I would add the early single “A Day Without Me”, The Edge already perfecting his delirious widescreen falling off a cliff sound!
Thanks for the kind words, Mark. -SV
This will be interesting. Two unmentioned solos that are up there for me? Until The End of the World and Unknown Caller. Both emote imensely and show just what The Edge is capable of, solo wise. Nice write up!
Thanks Dan…I actually had “End of the World” on my list, but there is only some much writing space!!… but ye, the sonic king can bring it! -SV
Agree w the slight on Acrobat. Also honorable mention for two others from HTDAAB — Miracle Drug and Love and Peace or Else.
Yeap: Achtung Baby had: Until the End Of The World, The Fly, Acrobat and Love is Blindness. That last one, a song that Edge wrote with Bono at the End of his first marriage…..The Solo screams pain and dispair….What can you say!!!!…Achtung Baby I think was U2’s Joy Division’s Closer.
And On Love is blindness its a solo that hits you like a brick in the middle of the song……feels unfinished…but then at the end of the song it demolishes what was built….Harrowing.
Some great choices… Love Is Blindness, Acrobat, Unknown Caller beat everything by A LOT. Also New Years’s Day has the best solo on War, though SBS has the best hook. The following also have great solos: Exit, Love And Peace or Else, Until the End of the World, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Cedarwood Road and In A Little While (a departure, it has a 50s pop Motown vibe that has such feel)
I always loved Edge’s simple but unique and beautiful solo on “New Year’s Day” — I’m surprised to see it omitted.
Agree with others about Until Of The World. Would also add his solo from Walk On (two in fact). The absolute pinnacle is the solo on Love Is Blindness from the Zoo TV tour. Utterly mesmerising. Find it on YouTube.
Honourable mention for his solo on Breathe from No Line On The Horizon, an otherwise underwhelming album.
Totally agree with thé u2 zoo tv version of « love is blindess » …simply an epic version illustrate thé greatest of u2 and the edge to push à their songs on thé top !!
Surprised that nobody has mentioned Gloria, Rejoice, or Fire. Great solos in those songs. The Crystal Ballroom deserves a mention too.
Nice to read such an article. I am sure there are many other songs that could have been considered, many that were mentioned in the comments, but I would add All I Want is You and the live version from Sydney of Love is Blindbess.
And the Moment of Surrender solo? Actually Edge has so many great solos that it’s impossible to mention them all. And he is the most original guitarist, with a recognizable sound among thousands
The Edge’s chimming 🎸 riffs/solos are so captivating That echoing sound that hits your soul! From 11 O’clock Tick Tock (UABRS) Mini Album to Electric Co New Years Day A Day Without Me I Threw A Brick….Gloria. The Edge’s layered guitar style are so texted with surrealism that draws you in 😁 Too many guitar solos to mention From Gloria Rejoice SBS Surrender Wire Pride Streets Bullet The Blue Sky In God’s Country Exit The Fly UTEOTW Mysterious Ways – Live Love Is Blindness – Live Zooropa Dirty Day Discotheque Gone – Live. For me…HTAAB album 🎸 is truly soul sweeping guitar sound throughout the whole album… especially Miracle Drug! NLOTH – Breathe 🎸 To the more recent albums This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now. Little Things That Give You Away. Book of Your Heart (From 2 mins 56 seconds)🎸
Awesome article. Might I add, the Jimi Hendrix style live version of Bullet and Love is Blindness (b-sides out there somewhere) from Zoo TV tour are incredible and, arguably, better than the originals. Some great suggestions here SV, thanks. Listening to the last big tour Acrobat, and UTEOTW really stood out too. Finally ‘New Years Day’ is a master class.
Thanks to you and all others for the kind words!…yes, there are many additional solos that need to be on the list…but (I’ll say it again) there is only so much space!…will consider to come back at the end of the year and do a “part 2” if CS would like me to!! -SV
* Until the End of the World
* 11 O’clock Tick Tock
* The Electric Co.
Amazing article. Absolutely love “All because of you” Saw it live in 2018, even better in person.
Nice choices, hard to argue. But I’ve always loved The Edges solo at the end of All I Want Is You. Bono belts out “YOUUUUUU-UU” and The Edge comes in with an absolute face melter of a solo before the songs fades out to the strings. Class.
I’m a fan and all (up to Joshua Tree) but U2 are some of the worst musicians to ever hit it big. Props to Larry Mullen Jr as an actual pro level drummer but Adam Clayton is THE WORST bass player ever and the “Edge” couldn’t loose jam his way out of a wet paper bag. Dude is all rhythm chording couldn’t solo to save his life.
If I want sonics I’ll listen to the late great Marc Moreland and WoV’s cover of Ring of Fire.