"With or Without You" - U2


Track Listing:

Background Information

“With or Without You” was released worldwide as the first single to promote The Joshua Tree album. It was also the first U2 single to be issued by Island Records in Ireland, following the completion of U2’s agreement with CBS Records to release singles in that country (the final U2 single on CBS being “The Unforgettable Fire”). The song first began to take shape at the conclusion of The Unforgettable Fire Tour in 1985, when U2 gathered to review songs that had not been completed for that album. “With or Without You” was further developed in sessions at STS Studios, and later, Danesmoate House. The song was almost abandoned at one point during the recording of The Joshua Tree, but Bono and Gavin Friday continued to work on it. A breakthrough came when The Edge was given a prototype Infinite Guitar by the instrument’s creator, Michael Brook (whom he had worked with on the Captive movie soundtrack). The Infinite Guitar gave the song the magic touch that had been missing, and the finished version was considered so strong that it was selected as the album’s first single.

Upon release, “With or Without You” quickly climbed the charts in most countries and rewarded U2 with their first number 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. A listing for the single on U2Songs.com’s previous incarnation, U2Wanderer, mistakenly reversed the US and Canadian chart positions, placing “With or Without You” at #2 in the US and #1 in Canada. This error was unfortunately picked up and used in the liner notes for the U218 Singles compilation.

The single sleeve, shot by Anton Corbijn, featured a black-and-white photo of The Edge sitting on arid, sandy ground with his shadow stretched behind him. On vinyl and cassette formats, The Edge is looking forward. For CD (as well as the outer “long box” housing the cassette version in some territories), an alternate photo was used, with The Edge looking to one side. “With or Without You” was the first U2 single to be released on CD concurrently with other formats.

In most territories, the 7-inch, 12-inch, cassette and CD formats included the same three tracks: the album version of “With or Without You” along with two non-album tracks, “Luminous Times (Hold on to Love)” and “Walk to the Water.” In Australia, only “Luminous Times” was on the 7-inch single, and in South Africa, Zimbabwe and The Philippines, only “Walk to the Water” was on the 7-inch single. In Guatemala, a 7-inch single was released with the album track “Mothers of the Disappeared” as the b-side, while in Ecuador, the 7-inch b-side was “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

There are two videos for “With or Without You.” The first was directed by Matt Mahurin, This version was entirely black-and-white, uses very dark band performance footage and includes more footage of the nude dancer throughout. This version was released on the DVD accompanying the super deluxe version of The Joshua Tree reissue. The video was reshot by Meiert Avis, which is the more common version of the video. This version features footage of the band performing the song in both black-and-white and in colour. The black and white band footage is taken from Mahurin’s video. Interspersed with this is some footage of shadows of tree branches and of a woman—wrapped in a sheet at first, and later naked, again taken from the Mahurin video. Because the Avis video featured footage from the first video, you will often see Mahurin and Avis listed as directors for this second version. This version of the video can be found on The Best of 1980-1990 and U218 Videos compilations. The woman in the video is Morleigh Steinberg, a professional dancer and choreographer, who was filmed separately from the band. The members of U2 would not meet her until 1993, when she took over the role of belly dancer on The Zoo TV Tour. She would marry The Edge in June of 2002.

“With or Without You” debuted during The Joshua Tree Tour and has been played extensively on every tour since that time. It was performed on more than 75 percent of the LoveTown shows, and at the majority of the Zoo TV and PopMart concerts. During The Elevation Tour it was played nightly on the first two legs, and then dropped from the set after only three shows on the third leg. It remained absent from the set during many of the shows on the first leg of The Vertigo Tour, but returned to make nightly appearances on the remaining legs. For The U2360° Tour, 2015’s Innocence and Experience Tour and The Joshua Tree 2017 tour “With or Without You” was performed every night. Live versions of the song can be found on Live from Paris (Paris France, July 4, 1987); the promo-only “Excerpts from Rattle and Hum” (Tempe AZ, December 20, 1987); Zoo TV Live (Sydney Australia, November 27, 1993); the “PopHeart Live” EP and “Please” single (Edmonton AB, June 14, 1997); the Hasta La Vista Baby! fan club CD and PopMart: Live from Mexico City video (Mexico City, December 3, 1997); Go Home: Live from Slane Castle (September 1, 2001); and the fan-club release “U2.Communication” and the U218 Singles bonus DVD and digital album (Milan, July 21, 2005). A version of the song performed at the Glastonbury Festival on June 24, 2001 was streamed through U2.com as part of “U23: Exclusive Tracks Live from Glastonbury.” In 2011, members of the U2 Fan Club were given the opportunity to vote on 46 live tracks recorded during The U2360° Tour, with the top 22 songs to be included on a live album, U22. “With or Without You” was one of these choices. The song received enough votes, and a recording from London, England on August 14, 2009 was included on U22.

As one of U2’s most popular songs, “With or Without You” has been included on numerous compilations over the years. It appeared on both The Best of 1980-1990 and U218 Singles commercial releases. It was also included on promotional compilations such as “U2 Sampler 1987,” “Special Collection 1980-1987,” and “Previous Day.” It was the lead track on a US-only CD and cassette single (backed with “In God’s Country” and, on CD only, the Under a Blood Red Sky version of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”) in 1990. This single was issued as part of the short-lived “Island Treasures” series, which also included CD/cassette singles for other Island artists such as Robert Palmer. The song can also be found on the soundtrack album to the film Blown Away, and was featured in the movie Tell No One (but does not appear on a soundtrack release). “Walk to the Water” was included on The Best of 1980-1990 & B-Sides collection, and was used on the soundtrack of the movie The Courier. It can also be found on deluxe versions of the remastered, reissued version of The Joshua Tree. Likewise, “Luminous Times (Hold On to Love)” was released on The Best of 1980-1990 & B-Sides collection and on deluxe versions of The Joshua Tree reissue. It was also included as an additional track on the “Trip Through Your Wires” promotional single.

Liner Notes

With or Without You:
Written by U2. Produced by Lanois / Eno. Recorded by Flood. Assisted by Pat McCarthy. Mixed by Steve Lillywhite.

Luminous Times:
Written by U2 / Eno. Produced by Lanois / Eno / U2. Recorded by Flood. Assisted by Pat McCarthy. Mixed by Dave Meegan.

Walk to the Water:
Written by U2. Produced by Lanois / Eno / U2. Recorded by Joe O’Herlihy. Assisted by Pat McCarthy. Mixed by Dave Meegan.


Sleeve design by Steve Averill, The Creative Dept. Ltd, Dublin.
Photography by Anton Corbijn.

Recognition and Awards

  • #17 on 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (Q Magazine, October 2006)
  • #47 on 100 Greatest Songs (Q Magazine, Voted by Readers, January 1999)
  • #131 on 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Rolling Stone, December 2004)
  • #132 on 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Rolling Stone, April 2010)
  • #8 on 100 Greatest Pop Songs (Rolling Stone, December 2010)
  • Winner, Best Single (Rolling Stone Readers Picks, 1987)
  • #268 on Top 500 Songs Since You Were Born (Blender, Feb 2005)
  • #7 on Best Tracks Ever as Voted by Listeners (Radio 1, Christmas 1998)
  • #66 on 100 Best Tracks of the 1980s (NME, April 2012)
  • Video of the Year Nomination (MTV Video Music Awards, 1987)
  • Best Overall Performance in a Video Nomination (MTV Video Music Awards, 1987)
  • Viewers Choice Best Video Nomination, and Win (MTV Video Music Awards, 1987)
  • Best Group Video Nomination (MTV Video Music Awards, 1987)
  • Best Cinematography Nomination (MTV Video Music Awards, 1987)
  • Best Direction Nomination (MTV Video Music Awards, 1987)
  • Best Editing Nomination (MTV Video Music Awards, 1987)

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