songs The Hidden Meanings Behind Popular U2 Songs  

Mike Rothschild
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With a difficult songwriting process that involves writing lyrics to fit melodies, U2's songs can almost all be interpreted in a number of ways. While some are straightforward and obvious, others lend themselves to be looked at as simple love songs, tributes, or religious allegories. Many artists and rock bands are known for having hidden meanings scattered throughout their songs, and U2 is no exception.

In addition to their difficult song writing process, throw in lead singer Bono's habit of making up stories to fit song origins, and you have a band with numerous hidden meanings to their songs. From "I Will Follow" to "Vertigo" there's plenty to unpack when it comes to U2 songs and their song lyrics.

These U2 tracks all have hidden (or alternate) meanings, and might not mean exactly what you think they mean. Maybe you think you know what Bono, The Edge, Clayton, and Mullen are on about, but you might be surprised.

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While on the surface, U2’s first hit seems like a fairly straightforward song about not letting go of a lover, according to Bono, the lyrics actually reference the unconditional love between a mother and child, and that no matter what the child does, the mother will not give up on the child.

Bono’s own mother died when he was 14, and it’s easy to see the trauma of this reflected in lyrics like “a boy tries hard to be a man/his mother takes him by the hand.” see more on I Will Follow

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The band’s 1981 hit came from their second album October, which was the most overtly religious of any they’ve done. The song “Gloria” reflects Bono’s spirituality, most especially in the Latin chorus. More hidden are the explicit Biblical references, working in lines from Colossians 2:9-10 ("Only in You I'm complete") and James 5:7-9 ("The door is open / You're standing there").

Conversely, Bono has claimed the song is about a female image of God – and is also a reference to the Van Morrison song of the same name.

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While inspired by the anti-Communist Solidarity movement in Poland, “New Year’s Day” actually began as a love song from Bono to his wife. But as they were recording, Bono had a mental picture of Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity, leading a workers strike on a snowy New Year's Day.

So the lyrics were rewritten on the fly and the track became much more political than personal. The mixture of the two meanings is still in evidence, judging by the sometimes glaring contrast in the lyrics between “gold is the reason for the wars we wage” and “I want to be with you night and day.”
see more on New Year's Day

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While Bono is clear that he based the lyrics of the last track on War on Pslam 40, (the first line of the song is a direct lift from the Bible) he muddied the waters just a bit later on. In 1987, he declared during a concert that, “we had one more song to do. We wrote this song in about ten minutes, we recorded it in about ten minutes, we mixed it in about ten minutes and we played it, then, for another ten minutes and that's nothing to do with why it's called '40.'”

Whether any of that is true is anyone’s guess.