Sweetest Thing by U2: Great B-Sides

Irish rock band U2 peaked with their 1987 album The Joshua Tree. Their fifth record, it combined Bono’s fervour with a sweeping sound from The Edge’s effect-laden guitar and atmospheric production from Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. It’s also the band’s peak as songwriters – deep cuts like ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’, ‘One Tree Hill’, and ‘Running to Stand Still’ are among U2’s finest songs.

Among this embarrassment of riches, there was no room on The Joshua Tree for the soulful, piano-based ‘The Sweetest Thing’. It was written to Bono’s wife, Ali Hewson, as an apology for working in the studio on her birthday. It doesn’t fit the cinematic grandeur of The Joshua Tree, but it’s a fine song.

In 1998, when U2 released the compilation The Best of 1980–1990, producer Steve Lillywhite was called in to add gloss to ‘The Sweetest Thing’. He re-recorded vocals and guitar parts. ‘The Sweetest Thing’ was released as the project’s single. Ali Hewson agreed to feature in the song’s video, provided its proceeds went to The Chernobyl Children’s Project.

The ‘Sweetest Thing’ single failed to crack the top 50 on the Billboard singles charts. It topped the charts, however, in Iceland, Ireland, and Canada. Coming from their early years, it sounds more effortless than anything U2 have released in the 21st century.

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39 Comments

  1. Ya, it’s their best album, followed closely by ahtung baby (Eno/Langlois collaboration).

    Interestingly, their two best live recordings are not from songs on these two albums – Bad (wide awake in America live EP) and Kite (live from Sydney – for Kate Blanchett).

    The best U2 cover is the Killers – ultraviolet light my way. Better than the original.

    • I’m not actually big on Achtung Baby – IMO it suffers from release in the CD bloat era, and 55 minutes is too long. Some great singles though. Boy is my other favourite U2 album, along with Joshua Tree.

      • I kind of agree with penalizing albums for being too long. Re achtung baby and rattle and hum.

        “Stadium Arcadium “ seems endless whereas “wish you were here” is short and sweet.

  2. While I really dig “The Joshua Tree”, “The Sweetest Thing” isn’t among my favorite U2 songs. That said, I love the concept of music for a cause, so kudos to Bono’s wife!

    Let me also use this opportunity to commend you for another year of great blogging. And Happy New Year to you and your loved ones!🍾🥂

    • Agreed. I love U2 but I don’t really fancy “Beautiful Day” or “Sweetest Thing”. They are so much better/ more complex than these songs.

      • I actually enjoy Beautiful Day. Not huge on 21st century U2, but they got some of their old spark with that one.

    • It’s a pretty atypical U2 song – it’s as much blue-eyed soul as anything.

      Have a great new year! I just realised I posted about a U2 song on New Year’s Day (NZ time). Also I put on my Itunes onto random this morning, and the first tune had “2023” in the lyrics.

    • For sure, U2 had three years between albums between 1984 and 1987, so not surprising they had a surfeit of material.

  3. I could be talked into unforgettable fire as no 2. As far as 21st century, how to dismantle is extremely solid – esp walk on, Yahweh, city of blinding lights, etc. it’s at least top 5 all time.

    • My wife has How To Dismantle on CD, and I covered it back in the day for a magazine column. It is pretty solid, I just find it hard to get excited about 21st century U2.

      • IDK. I think it’s great. After that it went downhill with no line on the horizon etc. believe it or not there was a time in the 90s when they weren’t so popular and played smaller venues. Around the time of grunge Vs zoorpa Dismantle was an excellent comeback.

  4. When I read the first sentence of the photo caption, I thought, that’s really surprising – but then the 2nd line cleared it up, surprising it wasn’t as big around the world as it was in Canada!
    So simple, yet so effective

  5. It was recorded when U2 members were looking for serious achievements. The best moment of the group. The Joshua Tree and before that, The Unforgetable Fire, were pure magic. Before that they were energetic but too young and simplistic. After that only Achtung Baby is interesting but not great. Regsrding the song, is fine for a B side. Nothing extraordinary about it.

  6. I like this better than Joshua Tree, I’ll tell ya that. I hate that album. I never was a big fan of U2 but they started out okay and I like I Will Follow and New Year’s Day and then I didn’t like them again until Discotech and some songs on Zooropa. And then even later when they did A Beautiful Day, which I really like too. My favorite one by them is the one from Batman Returns, which is a great song. That’s about it.

    • I have been a fan of them for my whole life, pretty much.

      I get why people might like “staring at the sun” and “numb” etc, (which are both a bit out there – but cool).

      And obviously, people love Beautiful Day and and Sweetest thing, but I’m ok If I don’t hear those two songs again.

      1. Joshua Tree
      2. The Unforgettable Fire
      3. Achtung Baby
      4. How to Dismantle an atomic bomb
      5. Rattle and Hum.
      6.Boy

      “Wide awake in America” is their singular greatest achievement- but it’s not really an album.

      • Rattle and Hum is a weird one – I like a lot of the studio stuff, but I guess it might have seemed like too modest of a followup to Joshua Tree.

        • Right, so it’s a bit of everything- at their peak when they were doing a lot of touring.

          The homage to the Beatles (Helter Skelter) doesn’t really work. But some of the original songs on Rattle and Hum are great. “MLK”, “all I want is you”.

          It’s kind of in -between being an original album and not. But I’ll put it on my list anyway.

    • I got really sick of the first three Joshua Tree songs for a while there, but there are a lot of strong deep cuts.

      • I get that people rebel against things that are too successful/overplayed. That’s the under-narrative of the whole U2 history (and Coldplay, RHCP, Radiohead and many others).

        But if you were Tom hanks in castaway you would love the music once you got home (if nobody told you to like it or not to).

        Running to stand Still and Red Hill mining town – I find it hard to find songs on this album that aren’t great.

  7. I know I’m in the minority but I was never a huge fan of the Joshua Tree…I was odd… I liked Rattle and Hum. I love this song though…one of my favorites by them.

    • I got a bit sick of the big singles, but Joshua Tree has a lot of good deep cuts like ‘Trip Through Your Wires’ and ‘In God’s Country’.

      • I need to listen to it again….I was burned out at the time but it might be time to revisit. My biggest problem was The Edge’s delay…I know that sounds so tiny but I was so happy he changed that tone…and that tone made them famous.

  8. I never was a big fan of U2 but they started out okay and I like I Will Follow and New Year’s Day and then I didn’t like them again until Discotech and some songs on Zooropa. I liked Rattle and Hum. I love this song though…one of my favorites by them.

    • Thanks for writing in! I generally like the mid-1980s stuff best, like War, the best bits of Unforgettable Fire, and Joshua Tree.

    • I quite like ‘Beautiful Day’. I generally think they stopped being interesting after Pop in 1996 – most of their best stuff is before that.

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