“Bad” by U2 (1984)

By 1995, I was already very much a U2 fan. At that point, however, my knowledge of them was just beginning to expand to the years before The Joshua Tree, the album that marked the first time they crossed my radar.

I owned The Unforgettable Fire on cassette, but hadn’t given it more than cursory listen. Then my co-worker Steve (fun fact: Steve later went on to provide one of the voices on MTV’s Daria) came over to hang. I was making 7 bucks an hour, this was pre-internet, and we didn’t have much to do other than drink beer (Fosters was his poison of choice) and listen to music. He was the biggest fan of U2 that I knew up until that point, and as soon as he saw my copy of The Unforgettable Fire, he grabbed it, asked if I was familiar with “Bad”, told me the back story (it’s about a friend of Bono’s who died of a heroin overdose), and played it for me.

Listening to “Bad” in a semi-dark, very quiet room definitely sets a certain mood. Although all of the elements that make U2 U2 are there, it’s more hushed than a lot of the material that brought the boys to superstardom. Hearing Bono shriek “I’m wide awake” was and still is a bit jarring. It’s like he’s trying to scream his friend back to life. But one thing I’ve always thought is that Bono is a soul singer in an Irish rocker’s clothing, and this performance sealed the deal for me. “Bad” is haunting in all the right ways, and The Edge’s signature guitar feels urgent and emotional and not like “The Edge is playing like this because that’s what U2 records are supposed to sound like.”

U2 is probably the highest-placed active artist or band on my “see them in concert” bucket list. Maybe if their ticket prices weren’t “bankrupt” level…

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