- 08 Aug 22
35 years ago today, U2's 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' reached No.1 in the U.S. – occupying the top spot in the charts for weeks. To mark the occasion, we're revisiting Niall Stokes' insights into the story behind the iconic song...
Some things stick in the memory. The Edge held a party in his newly reconstructed house in Monkstown on the south coast of Dublin, on New Year’s Eve, 1986. By this stage the bulk of the work on The Joshua Tree was done and the band were relaxing. But Bono couldn’t quite let go…
One of the U2 singer’s most attractive qualities is the naked enthusiasm he shows for his own band’s music. And so he explained to me that this was an album of songs, that U2 had finally learned what the word meant, and that he was convinced that they had just made by far their best album to date as a result.
“There’s one in particular,” he explained, “that’s amazing.” And then he started to sing it. “It goes like this: ‘I have climbed/ highest mountain/ I have run/ through the fields/ only to be with you/ only to be with you.’ And it’s got this refrain,” he expanded and sang on until he came to the moment. “‘But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’” The bass drum of some thumping dance track was whacking away next door, and the hubbub of party voices reigned all around – and yet the song was that catchy I could hum it the next day.
It had entered the world under another title, ‘Under the Weather’. It also had a different melody. But once The Edge had come up with the title and the theme of spiritual doubt had crystallized in Bono’s imagination, the momentum became inescapable. Dermot Stokes had given him a tape of blues and gospel music, including tracks by The Swan Silvertones, The Staples Singers and Blind Willie Johnson. Eno, something of an authority on gospel himself, further stimulated his enthusiasm. Now Bono knew that ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ had to have its roots in gospel. But he also sensed that the theme was big enough to allow him to write an anthem.
“I used to think that writing words was old-fashioned,” Bono confessed. “So I sketched. I wrote words on the microphone. For The Joshua Tree, I felt that the time had come to write words that meant something, out of my own experience.”
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