U2 kicked off How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb with the loud and brash “Vertigo”. Inspired by a night at an “awful nightclub” Bono starts the song with a little Spanish countdown - "Unos, dos, tres, catorce!”. For non-Spanish speakers, that’s “One, two, three, fourteen”. Questioned about his counting skills by Rolling Stone, Bono said, "There may have been some alcohol involved."
Bolstered by an appearance in an Apple iPod commercial, the album’s lead single made it to the top 10 on the Billboard charts in Canada and won three Grammy Awards for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group, Best Rock Song, and Best Music Video. The song was ranked at number 64 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Songs Of The Decade, 2000-2010.
Written about the late paraplegic Irish poet Christopher Nolan, the song title comes from the “miracle drug” that allowed Nolan to move one muscle in his neck so he could learn to type using an instrument attached to his forehead.
The song also features rare background vocals by Larry Mullen Jr.
‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own’
Bono first wrote what would become “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” in 2000 while recording All That You Can’t Leave Behind. With his father Bob Hewson dying from cancer, Bono wrote the song about their relationship, singing it at his funeral in 2001. He would revisit the song and add the chorus in 2004. The emotional track would eventually top the charts and take home two Grammy Awards for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group and Song Of The Year.
‘Love And Peace Or Else’
Inspired by the conflict between Palestine and Israel, “Love And Peace Or Else” was another song with roots in the recording sessions for All That You Can’t Leave Behind. The song is a plea for peace in the vein of the band’s earlier tracks “Please”, “Peace On Earth” and “Miss Sarajevo”. During live performances the song is usually segued into the opening of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” with Mullen Jr. joining in on the chorus.
‘City Of Blinding Lights’
The origins of the fourth single released off the album date all way back to the Pop recording sessions in 1997. Bono drew inspiration from both his first trip to London as a young man and U2’s first gig in New York City following 9/11. The music video for “City Of Blinding Lights” was filmed in Vancouver. As a result of the 2004-2005 NHL lockout, the band had access to General Motors Place, inviting members of the general public into the arena for filming where U2 performed the song live multiple times along with other album singles.
The song is one of former U.S. president Barack Obama’s favourite songs, using it during his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. U2 also performed the song live at his 2009 inaugural celebration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
‘All Because Of You’
The music video for “All Because Of You” recalls the 1987 video for “Where The Streets Have No Name”, which saw the band play on a public rooftop. This time around, Bono, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr. and the Edge hop on a flatbed truck, circling the streets of New York City like pied pipers as surprised fans flock to the group. Travelling from Manhattan to Brooklyn, U2 played a surprise mini-concert for fans at the end of the route.
‘A Man And A Woman’
The seventh track on the album was created after a sound engineer was trying to mix something U2 had previously recorded. The acoustic guitar by the Edge came from a completely different track. Bono liked it so much, he started playing bass and singing.
The song has only been played live once at the Clinton Foundation in 2011.
‘Crumbs From Your Table’
Bono and Edge penned this track after a night of drinking, according to the singer in the book U2 by U2. The song is meant to be a plea to wealthy countries -- the U.S., in particular – who only give third-world countries very little towards debt relief.
‘One Step Closer’
The liner notes in the album give thanks to Oasis’ Noel Gallagher with the title of the song stemming from a conversation between Bono and Gallagher. Discussing his dying father Bob, Bono asked "Do you think he believes in God?" to which Gallagher simply replied, “Well, he’s one step closer to knowing.”
‘Original Of The Species’
Influenced by John Lennon, Bono has reportedly called “Original Of The Species” the “best song” on How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, frequently dedicating the song to his daughters during live performances. The live recording of the song at a 2005 Chicago concert was used to promote the new video-capable iPod. Until 2015, the image of Bono singing the song in Chicago was used as the icon for the artist tab on Apple devices.
While the Edge already had the music planned, Bono recorded the emotional vocals spontaneously during the song’s first take, which is what is heard on the final track.
The UK, Ireland, and Japan versions of the album include a twelfth song, “Fast Cars”. "We did this on the very last day in the studio. It was really just for fun, but it came out so well it'll be an extra track on the record in some countries,” Bono told Q magazine in 2004.