Lessons From U2’s Coffee Table

I’ve been enjoying reading U2 by U2. Made up entirely of interviews with the band (and manager Paul McGuinness) it’s full of insight into what makes them one of the world’s greatest bands despite not being able to play anyone else’s songs. Their productivity is remarkable considering that they write songs in the most painfully awkward way possible.
They have, as you would expect, a gift for a pithy quote -

Songwriting: self editing

BONO: All writers think their feelings are important but a great writer realizes that, though his feelings may be important, they’re not all important enough to share. (p196)

How universal are your songs?

EDGE: I once said to Bob Dylan, ‘People are going to playing your songs for thousands of years.’ He said, ‘Man, they’re going to be listening to your song too. It’s just that no-one’s going to know how to play them.’ (p.228)

Bad mix or bad song?

EDGE: If you can’t mix [a song], it generally means there’s something wrong with it (p.270)

Limit your options

PAUL McGUINNESS: [The ‘Pop’ album] was the first time I started to think that the technology was getting out of control. When people are trying to choose between mix 26 and mix 27…the sheer range of possibilities [creates] a form of paralysis. (p.270)

Ask an audience

BONO: When you’re playing something live, there’s no time for whimsy. It either works or it doesn’t. Your decision-making is made so much simpler, because you can tell when you’re losing people. (p.273)

The worst songwriting method in the world?

EDGE: Sometimes it seems the way we work is like building a house from the roof down…the production approach almost comes before the song itself – and the lyrics are the last thing. So you start with a sound and end with a song. (p.289)

“Ladies & Gentlemen! On tambourine…”

BONO: We always spend some time in prayer before we go on, we pause and ask for a blessing on the show. Some people do it in a very showy, kind of theatrical way, like they want to get Jesus to play the tambourine. (p.342)

Why you should record your next album in Berlin/Seattle/Grimsby

BONO: When you are in place like Nassau, you don’t really want to go in and work. You realise why all these great groups make crap records when they go to record there – who wants to go to the Bahamas and sit in a studio? (p.113)

Be warned if you’re paying postage, it’s huge! It’s called a ‘coffee-table book’ because you could attach some legs and USE it as a coffee table!

Related Posts:

Songwriting advice from Joseph Pulitzer
Write Better Lyrics (Brenton Brown)

About mattblick

Songwriter/Singer from Nottingham, UK. My 2nd EP, Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky, is out now. I'm blogging (& podcasting) through the entire Beatles catalogue at Beatles Songwriting Academy. In my spare time I wish I had some spare time.
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  • Paul

    FYI – There is an episode of Seinfeld where Kramer publishes a coffee table book that is about coffee tables, that comes with legs so that you can use it as a coffee table.

  • Matt Blick

    So that would be art imitating art imitating er…furniture…

    gotta love it!