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"With or Without You" is a song by rock band U2. The third track from their 1987 album, The Joshua Tree, it was released as the album's first single on 21 March 1987. It became the group's first Americanmarker #1 hit, spending three weeks at the top. The song, which prominently makes use of infinite guitar, features lyrics describing the conflicted feelings that one has for his love.

The song has since become highly-acclaimed as one of the band's most popular songs. "With or Without You" is frequently performed on the band's tours, and it has appeared on many of the band's compilation albums and concert films. "With or Without You" is U2's second most frequently cover song. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed the song at #131 on their list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".


A rough version of what was to become "With or Without You" had been put together by late 1985. By the beginning of the recording sessions in August 1986, it was still a basic chord pattern from Bono with no melody or guitar parts. Guitarist, The Edge, had been sent a prototype infinite guitar by Michael Brook that made an infinite sustain. The Edge's sustained guitar part is achieved using a device dubbed "Infinite Guitar". The Edge explained, "It has a similar effect to the E-Bow, but the disadvantage of the E-Bow is that it's either on or off, whereas this gives you all the mid-points between no sustain and infinite sustain, and different levels of 'emergence' of the note." A breakthrough came while The Edge was first testing the new guitar, Bono and friend Gavin Friday were listening to the backing track of With or Without You was being played in the control room when they realised the infinite guitar suited the track. Bono credits Friday as rescuing the song and restructuring it believing it could be a big hit. Brian Eno added the keyboard arpeggio. The band then promptly recorded the combination.

"With or Without You" is written in the key of D major. There are large sections of the song where the harmony rests on the D chord; in the sections it does not, the band implies a D - A/C# - Bm7 - Gsus2 chord progression. This chord progression is implied by the roots notes played by bassist Adam Clayton and the guitar parts of The Edge. According to Bono, the song was heavily influenced by Scott Walker's album Climate of Hunter. It was U2's first single to be widely issued on CD.

Live performances

"With or Without You" was first played live at the second show on the Joshua Tree Tour on 4 April 1987, and was a regular for the rest of that tour. It was played at most shows on 1989's Lovetown Tour. During these tours, two extensions to the song not present on the studio version were played: an extra verse with lyrics that typically read "we'll shine like stars in the summer night/we'll shine like stars in the winter light/one heart, one hope, one love" or modifications thereof, which appears on the Rattle and Hum movie; and a snippet of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" which can be heard on the iTunes exclusive "Live from Paris" along with the lyrics "we'll shine like stars..." and is also part of the Bonus DVD released with the remastered box set version of The Joshua Tree. Since the PopMart Tour, it has been more common for Bono to repeat the "Ohh" at the climax of the song, with the "shine like stars" verse sung rarely.

"With or Without You" was played at most Zoo TV Tour concerts and every concert on the PopMart Tour. It was dropped from the setlist during the third leg of the Elevation Tour, it was last played on the 13th of October 2001 at the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. It was initially a rare inclusion during the Vertigo Tour - over the two months of the tour's first leg, it was only played four times. It became a regular concert inclusion during stadium concerts on the second leg in Europe and remained in the setlist for the third leg. It has been played on every night of the U2 360° Tour, occasionally with the "shine like stars" coda.

Unlike most songs in U2's live catalogue, this song has been played with several different guitars, with Edge seeming to pick a new model for each tour. Over the Joshua Tree Tour, Lovetown Tour and early legs of the Zoo TV Tour, he used a Fender Stratocaster equipped with an Infinite Guitar system. For later legs of the Zoo TV Tour, he switched to the Gibson Les Paul Custom, and used an E-bow to generate the song's sustained notes. He started on the PopMart Tour his now trend of using Fernandes guitars to perform the song. On the PopMart Tour, Elevation Tour and Vertigo Tour, he has used (respectively) the Decade, Native Pro and Retrorocket Elite models. Each one is equipped with a special sustainer, which is why they are used for this song. The Fernandes models have frequently been the only guitars Edge purchases new, as opposed to the rest of his guitar collection, which are all vintage models.

Track listing

Chart positions

"With or Without You" reached #1 in the United States and #4 in the UKmarker and #2 on the Dutch Top 40. In addition to topping the Billboard Hot 100, the song reached #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and was the second U2 song to enter any other Billboard chart (specifically, the Adult Contemporary chart) after "Pride ". In addition, the song spent eleven weeks in the top 75 of the UK Singles Chart. The song also re-entered the UK Singles Chart at number 43 based on download sales alone on the week ending May 31 2009.

Chart (1987) Position
Austrian Singles Chart 15
Canada RPM Top 100 1
Dutch MegaCharts 2
French Singles Chart 10
Irish Singles Chart 1
New Zealand Singles Chart 5
Swedish Singles Chart 13
Swiss Singles Chart 10

Chart (1987) Position
UK Singles Chart 4
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 1
U.S. Mainstream Rock Tracks 1
U.S. Adult Contemporary 23
Chart (2009) Position
UK Singles Chart 63

Sampling and parodies

Appearances in other media

  • It was used extensively during the fourth season episode of 21 Jump Street, "La Bizca" in which Doug Penhall and Tom Hanson go El Salvador to find Penhall's wife. The song was replaced by generic instrumentals in the DVD release due to copyright issues.
  • The song was played during a scene in the Tommy Lee Jones movie, Blown Away, during a bomb building scene.
  • The song was used in an episode of Cold Case.
  • "With or Without You" was used in the funeral scene of the the Australian film Looking for Alibrandi.
  • The song was played in the French thriller Tell No One during a pivotal point in the plot.
  • It was featured two times on the hit TV show Friends. It was the song for two of the characters Ross and Rachel and was played on both occasions when Ross and Rachel broke up.
  • The Canadian teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation named an episode after this song.
  • It was also featured in the episode "Valentine's Day" of NBC's The Office in the background of an amateur video compilation of office life at Dunder-Mifflin entitled "Faces of Scrantonmarker".

See also



  • McCormick, Neil (ed), (2006). U2 by U2. HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-00-719668-7

External links

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