This song is about the ambition and dedication required to be a successful band. It also criticizes American preachers who swindle followers out of their money.
This features the "Bo Diddley beat", a rhythm made famous by Diddley. Other songs featuring this beat include George Thorogood's "Who Do You Love" and The Rolling Stones' "Not Fade Away."
The song incorporates a blues style. U2 became interested in American forms of music - gospel, blues, folk - after touring there in the early and mid '80s.
The Edge has said the guitar riff is influenced by The Stooges' (Iggy Pop's band) "1969."
This was U2's first #1 hit in the UK.
The first single from the album Rattle And Hum, "Desire" was also the first song performed in their tour documentary Rattle And Hum.
The Edge (Hot Press, October 1988): "Music's become too scientific, it's lost that spunk and energy that it had in the '50s and '60s. When I listen to most modern records I hear a producer, I don't hear musicians interacting. And that quality, that missing quality is something we were trying to get back into our own music. What I like about Desire is that if there's ever been a cool #1 to have in the UK, that's it because it's totally not what people are listening to or what's in the charts at the moment. Instead it's going in exactly the opposite direction. It's a rock and roll record - in no way is it a pop song."
On the Zoo TV tour, Bono would perform this as Mirrorball Man, wearing a shiny preacher's suit that looked like a disco ball and kissing his image in a mirror. He used the character only in the US, where scandalous preachers were prevalent.
In concert, Bono changes the lyrics a bit to "And the feeling when I'm inside her" instead of "And the fever when I'm beside her."
Bill - Johnstown, PA
This won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by Duo or Group in 1989. It was also the 1988 Rolling Stone Readers Pick for Best Single.
"The rhythm is the sex of the music," Bono says of the song in the band's book U2 by U2. "I wanted to own up to the religiosity of rock 'n' roll concerts and the fact that you get paid for them. On one level, I'm criticizing the lunatic fringe preachers 'stealing hearts at a traveling show' but I'm also starting to realize there's a real parallel between what I am doing and what they do."
Miami Vice was one of the few TV series that could consistently secure the rights to popular songs like this one while they were still fresh. "Desire" appears in the 1989 episode "Fruit of the Poison Tree." Other TV shows to use the song include Top Gear ("Episode #20.1" - 2013) and The Romanoffs ("The One That Holds Everything" - 2018).