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.