U2’s “With or Without You” Lyrics Meaning

The easiest way to interpret “With or Without You” is as it being based on a troubled romantic relationship. The addressee appears to be the lover of the singer, whom he quarrels with abundantly. And he is expressing something like resignation concerning the trajectory of their romance. Or stated otherwise, at this point he is ready to move forward “with or without” her. Indeed conclusively, given either scenario, he feels as if he is damned.

But the true conflict which is recognized as being the basis for Bono penning this tune was the internal struggle between his family and professional life. In fact one of its most-prominent lines – “and you give yourself away” – is actually meant to point to the lack of privacy U2 were subjected to as the price of their celebrity.

So arguably this is, overall, a love song. But its sentimental foundation isn’t necessarily romantic in nature. Rather the allusions presented throughout are theoretically intended to illustrate that the narrator is caught between two different, disagreeable lifestyles. And based on the conclusion we have already come to above, he views his both domestic and professional life as being equally detrimental.

Lyrics of “With or Without You”

Music Video

Meiert Avis directed the music video to this track. It was nominated for seven MTV VMAs in 1987 and took home the Viewer’s Choice Award during the ceremony.

Facts about “With or Without You”

This song was released on 21 March 1987 as the lead single from U2’s fifth-studio album which was entitled “The Joshua Tree”. The label that put it out is Island Records.

“With or Without You” was the first song which U2 released using compact discs.

“With or Without You” marks the first time U2 was able to top the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, as well as the RPM 100 Singles in Canada. The song also topped the singles chart in their homeland of Ireland and charted in over 15 countries in general. This includes peaking at number four in Britain (i.e. the UK Singles Chart).

And the countries in which it has been certified Platinum are the United Kingdom, Italy and Denmark.

A reader poll conducted by Rolling Stone in 1987 concluded that “With or Without You” was the Best Single of that year.

The first time U2 played this hit live was during their The Joshua Tree tour, specifically on the date of 4 April 1987.

This classic made an appearance on both the second (1995) and third (1997) seasons of the hit television show “Friends”.

Imagine Dragons covered this tune in 2014.

Live Performances

U2 often cover snippets of Joy Divisions’ classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart” during the live performances of “With Or Without You”. Bono would often sing the chorus of the Joy Division classic towards the tail end of the live performances of this song.

Who wrote “With or Without You”?

This classic U2 track was written by Bono and produced by Brian Eno in conjunction with Daniel Lanois.

3 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I believe a journey of the sea on a ship with mother natures wrath of beauty and destruction to unknow paths of discovery.

  2. Alee says:

    I don’t know, I always took this song as spiritual….Living with Catholicism , the doubts, the questions unanswered, trying to follow a life of morality, as defined by the church, but finding always things that takes him away and his decisions to constantly compromise, tires him…..loses the battle to be what he thinks is demanded upon him to the compromises that he must deal with…references to Christ’s life and I think Bono is multi leveled

  3. Brett says:

    I agree with Alee. The “thorn in your side” line is the giveaway to Jesus. The Catholic Church was often referred to as “she” and “her” in older writings, like an overarching mother/caregiver.

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