In this song, Bono describes a tortured relationship that he can't escape. The lyric can be interpreted many ways; Bono explained that he wanted to write a love song that dealt with real issues.
In 1987 Bono explained that everybody in the group knows what the line "And you give yourself away" means: "It's about how I feel in U2 at times - exposed. I'm not going to do many interviews this year. Because there's a cost to my personal life, and a cost to the group as well."
In 2005 Bono called the refrain most important part of the song because it signifies a release of mental tension, "which is when the 'Aah-aah' comes out. That is what giving yourself away is, musically."
Kristine - Davenport, IA
This was U2's breakout hit in America, where they had only modest success until The Joshua Tree
album. They had long been stars in their native Ireland, and with their previous album, The Unforgettable Fire
, they broke through in the UK, but until "With Or Without You" their biggest US hit was "Pride (In The Name Of Love)
" at #33. When they did conquer America, they did so swiftly and thoroughly; "With Or Without You" went to #1, and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
" followed to the top spot.
The Edge used a distortion device called an "Infinite Guitar" to create the wail. It was invented by Michael Brook, whom The Edge worked with on the soundtrack for a 1986 film called The Captive. Brook created the Infinite Guitar by replacing the pickup on a guitar with a magnetic device that vibrates the strings. Co-producer Daniel Lanois told Mojo magazine January 2008 about the recording of this song: "'For 'With Or Without You' we had the rhythm and the chords then we were testing Michael Brook's Infinite Guitar Invention. I asked Edge just to play a little something with it. He did two takes and those are the ones in the ultimate mix of 'With Or Without You.' Beautiful sounds, stratospheric."
The title is a more sincere variation of the "can't live with them, can't live without them" idiom, which is typically used to describe something or someone that is frustrating, but hard to give up.
The video, directed by Meiert Avis, is rather artsy, showing the band performing the song in a rather affected manner. It did very well on MTV, where it was nominated for seven Video Music Awards, including Video Of The Year. It won for Viewer's Choice, beating Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer
Bono intended this as part of a trilogy with two other songs that did not make the album, which explains the rather vague imagery. At the time, Bono didn't think it made any sense without the other two songs, but listeners were happy to fill in the gaps with their own interpretations.
Bono, who had already been married to Alison Stewart for five years by the time The Joshua Tree was released, described the lyric as "pure torment."
While on tour in the French Riviera, he wondered if domesticity would stand in the way of being an artist. "I was at least two people: the person who is so responsible, protective and loyal and the vagrant and idler in me who just wants to run from responsibility," he explained in the book U2 by U2. "I thought these tensions were going to destroy me but actually, in truth, it is me. That tension, it turns out, is what makes me as an artist."
On the Rattle and Hum
tour, Bono added the lyrics at the end... "Yeah, we'll shine like stars in the summer night, We'll shine like stars in the winter night, One heart, One hope, One love."
Bill - Johnstown, PA
This was the first single that U2 released on CD. The single also appeared in CD Video format and is a rare collectible. About 50 copies were made to demo the Philips CDV system.
U2 played this for the first time in Tempe, Arizona on April 4, 1987, the second night of The Joshua Tree
tour. Bono mixed in parts of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart
" during this performance.
This was used in the movies Cousins
(1989), Blown Away
(1994) and Looking for Alibrandi
Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 3
This was a song that caught Bono torn between a life of domesticity and free spirited artistry. "I had some difficult emotional stuff going on," he confessed to Mojo. "I didn't understand at that point the freedom that I would receive from a committed relationship. I was feeling guilty if I was talking to somebody in their record company who was really attractive. I was you know, just everything was at 11. But that's why 'With or Without You' is so operatic and that's OK."
This was played on two episodes of the TV series Friends, first towards the middle of the second season (1995, "The One with the List"), then in the middle of the third season (1997, "The One Where Ross And Rachel Take A Break"). It became the anthem of the characters Ross and Rachel, with both scenes coming at pivotal moments in their relationship.
The song returned twice to the UK Top 75 within the space of eight months, both due to performances by reality show contestants. In October 2008 following a performance by contestant Diana Vickers on X Factor and again in May 2009 thanks to Shaun Smith's rendition of the song during a semi-final edition of Britain's Got Talent.
This was voted best single of 1987 in a Rolling Stone magazine readers poll.
The woman who appears fleetingly in the video is Morleigh Steinberg, a dancer who in 1992 joined the band on their Zoo TV tour, belly dancing during the song "Mysterious Ways
." She and The Edge got friendly during that tour; they got married in 2002 and had two children together.
This plays in one of the closing scenes of the TV series The Americans, which ran 2013-2018. It was used in a section where the family of Russian spies was separating as FBI closed in.
In The Office episode "Valentine's Day" (2006), Michael Scott uses this song as background music for his "Faces of Scranton" presentation.
The band brought Steve Lillywhite, who produced their first three albums, on board to remix the singles to boost their commercial appeal. On this track, his treatment of the drums was controversial among producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Lanois told Rolling Stone in 1987: "'With or Without You' was the one that there was the most discussion about, because Brian certainly had a very different idea of how it should go. I had yet another idea, and Steve pushed the mix in a direction that was a little more mainstream in its approach. When the drums came in, they were a little more crash, bang, which is a sound that Steve is known for. Certainly, Brian would have preferred to have the drums be more mysterious and more supportive."
In a 1987 interview with Music Technology, Lanois explained the drum sequence was put through an amp "because it sounds more like people playing in a room, rather than a machine." He went on to speak about computer-based equipment, saying: "It's just a toolbox, isn't it? The sequencers, the samplers, the drum boxes. It should be used when it applies. It's a matter of serving the song. For example, if you're looking for a mood of discipline or speed, then a machine can offer you that much easier than live playing. That's why we used a sequencer on the beginning of 'With Or Without You,' we wanted a feeling of discipline. And then when the drums kick in halfway, they mean something."