#371: Even Better Than The Real Thing by U2
Peak Month: September 1992
14 weeks on CKLG’s Vancouver Chart
Peak Position ~ #5
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #32
YouTube.com: “Even Better Than The Real Thing”
Lyrics: “Even Better Than The Real Thing”
U2 is a band formed in Dublin, Ireland, in September 1976. Its members include lead vocalist and rhythm guitar player Bono, lead guitar and keyboard player the Edge, synthesizer and guitar player Adam Clayton, and drummer and percussionist Larry Mullen Jr. The band formed when its members were all teenagers. The band had several name changes before they settled on U2 in 1978. By 1980 they had been awarded a contract with Island Records and released their debut album Boy. With the release of their second album in 1981, October, and the lead Top Ten single in Ireland called “Fire”, the band were emerging as a force.
Paul David Hewson was born in 1960 in Dublin, Ireland. He had a Protestant mother and a Roman Catholic father. In his teens he was part of a street gang and of the many nicknames he was given, the last were Bon Murray, Bono Vox of O’Connell Street, and finally just Bono. Bono Vox is an alteration of Bonavox, a Latin phrase which means “good voice.” After school, he was working at a garage on Airport Road in Dublin, and dreaming about being a rock star.
David Howell Evans 1961 in Dublin. His family lived in England during his early childhood, and Evans grew to have both an English and an Irish accent. He was given a Spanish guitar by his mother at the age of seven, and by the age of nine he took to playing acoustic guitar. Early in the band’s career, Evans was given the nickname “the Edge” by members of the Lypton Village surrealist street gang that Bono also was a member of. Some biographers contend that this nickname was given because of the angular shape of Evans’ head. Yet, other writers have suggested that descriptions of his guitar playing, and his preference for not becoming fully involved and therefore remaining on the edge of things, are two other possibilities.
Adam Charles Clayton in 1960 in the Oxfordshire village of Chinnor in Southeast England. His father was a Royal Air Force pilot and the family lived in Nairobi, Kenya, early in his childhood. In 1965 his family met the Evans family and he got to be acquainted with David “The Edge” Evans. Clayton was sent to a private boarding school at the age of eight located in County Dublin. At the school students weren’t allowed to listen to popular music, so he became familiar with classical music. At the age of 13 he bought a £5 acoustic guitar from a junk-shop near the Dublin quays. Shortly afterward he joined a school band and began to play bass guitar.
Lawrence Joseph Mullen Jr. was born in 1960 in Dublin. He began to learn piano at a school of music at the age of eight. And when he was nine, Mullen began to play the drum. At his father’s suggestion, Mullen joined a marching band for young musicians called The Artane Band. However, the band required him to cut his hair. After three weeks in the marching band he dropped out after refusing to have his hair cut any shorter than he’d initially consented. In September 1976 Mullen posted a notice at the Mount Temple Comprehensive School where he was studying. The notice read “drummer seeks musicians to form band.” Those responding to the notice gathered with Mullen in his kitchen at his north Dublin suburb in Artane, on September 25, 1976. Present with Larry Mullen Jr. were Paul “Bono” Hewson, David “The Edge” Evans, Dik Evans – the Edge’s brother, Adam Clayton, and Mullen’s friends Ivan McCormick and Peter Martin.
Mullen recalls he’d suggested in the first ten minutes calling the band The Larry Mullen Band. But that suggestion was clearly a non-starter. McCormick and Martin left the gathering. The five who remained settled on the name Feedback. According to biographer Matt McGee, the band changed its name to The Hype, and finally to U2 when they entered a talent contest in Limerick, Ireland. The entry was as a four-piece-band, which they won. Shortly after Dik Evans was cut from the lineup as the band paired down from five to four bandmates.
In 1978 U2 performed in concert in Ireland with Thin Lizzy. And in 1979 and 1980 they opened several concerts for the Talking Heads and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, as well as Slade. And in 1980 they performed their first concert in Canada at the El Mocambo in Toronto, returning to Hogtown on March 11, 1981, at Maple Leaf Gardens, and on May 19, 1981, at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. In between concerts in Toronto, on an ambitious 146-concert tour in 1981, U2 appeared in Vancouver (BC) for the first time at the Commodore Ballroom on March 24, 1981.
In 1983 U2 released its third studio album titled War. The album contained the #2 hit singles on the Irish pop charts “New Year’s Day” and “Two Hearts Beat As One”. Inspired by the Polish Solidarity Movement, “New Year’s Day” also climbed to #9 in the Netherlands and Norway, and to #10 on the UK singles chart. It also made the Top 20 in Belgium, France and Sweden. U2’s accompanying War Tour included a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver on May 25, 1983.
A third single from the album, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was about the January 30, 1972, incident in Derry, Ireland, where British troops shot and killed unarmed civil rights protesters. British soldiers shot 26 civilians during a protest march against internment without trial. Fourteen people died: 13 were killed outright, while the death of another man four months later was attributed to his injuries. Many of the victims were shot while fleeing from the soldiers, and some were shot while trying to help the wounded. The single climbed to #3 in the Netherlands and #11 in Belgium. However, the song did not chart as a single on either the Irish or UK singles charts. Nonetheless, the political edge to both “New Year’s Day” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” earned U2 an expanded fan base and interest from music critics.
In October 1984 U2 released their fourth studio album, The Unforgettable Fire. It contained the lead single “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”. It peaked at #1 in New Zealand, #2 in Ireland, #3 in the UK, #4 in Australia, #5 in the Netherlands, #7 in Norway, #9 in Poland and #12 in Sweden. In Canada the single climbed to #5 in Ottawa and #20 in Vancouver. However, it stalled at #33 on the Billboard Hot 100. Next, the title track, “The Unforgettable Fire” was released as a single in April 1985. It climbed to #1 in Ireland and Poland, #3 in New Zealand, #4 in the Netherlands and #6 on the UK singles chart.
In March 1987 U2 released their fifth studio album The Joshua Tree. The album cover featured a scene from American desert landscape taken from Joshua Tree National Park in southeastern California, near Palm Springs. The album was the breakthrough for the band in North America. It topped the album charts in Canada, the United States, Austria, Netherlands, France, West Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK. The album won two Grammy Awards, including for Album of the Year. The lead single, “With or Without You”, topped the singles charts in Canada, Ireland and the United States. It also climbed into the Top Ten in Australia, Belgium, Finland, France, West Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. It peaked at #5 in Vancouver (BC).
The next single from the album, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, also topped the singles charts in Ireland and the Billboard Hot 100. In 1987 the single also made the Top Ten in Austria, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the UK, but stalled in Vancouver at #11. The song was nominated for two Grammy Awards: Song of the Year and Record of the Year. A third single from The Joshua Tree, “Where The Streets Have No Name”, topped the singles charts in Ireland and New Zealand. It also made the Top Ten in the UK, the Netherlands and #4 in Vancouver (BC). The song won a Grammy Award for Best Performance Music Video. While the single was still on the charts, on November 12, 1987, U2 appeared in concert with Los Lobos at the BC Place Stadium in Vancouver.
In 1988 U2 released a live/studio album titled Rattle and Hum. The lead single, “Desire”, was another international success topping the pop charts in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and the UK. Locally, it peaked at #1 in Vancouver. It won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. A follow up single, “Angel Of Harlem”, peaked at #3 in Vancouver, topping the charts in New Zealand, and making the Top Ten in Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK. It received a Grammy Award nominated for Best Song Written for Visual Media.
A third single from the Rattle and Hum album featured B.B. King called “When Love Comes To Town”. It also topped the pop chart in Ireland, and did very well in New Zealand, the Netherlands and the UK. Both the single and Rattle and Hum received Grammy Award nominations for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. And a fourth track, “All I Want Is You” also topped the pop chart in Ireland, and climbed into the Top Ten in Australia, Finland, New Zealand and the UK. But in North America it barely registered.
Then in late November 1991 U2 released the studio album Achtung Baby. In English this meant “Watch Out (or Look Out) Baby.” The album was nominated for Album of the Year, and won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The lead single from the album, “The Fly”, was a number-one hit in Australia, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the UK. It also climbed into the Top Ten in in other international markets. But in North America the single stalled at #61 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #27 in Vancouver. However, the second track from the album, “Mysterious Ways”, climbed to #1 in Vancouver, Ireland, Portugal, and the Top Ten in nine other international markets including the United States. A third single, “One” also peaked at #1 in Vancouver and Ireland, and climbed into the Top Ten in six other countries.
As “One” was released, U2 appeared in concert at the Pacific Coliseum on April 23, 1992. The third song in their set list was “Even Better Than The Real Thing”.
“Even Better Than The Real Thing” was written by Bono. The song is about chemistry and sexual arousal, with the singer promising a sexual partner that they’ll be satisfied, and won’t be denied. “We’ll slide down the surface of things. You’re the real thing,” the band sings. The much acclaimed music video for the single, featured band members doing 360 degree back flips.
In popular culture soft drink manufacturer Coca-Cola launched an advertising campaign in 1969 titled “It’s The Real Thing.” Coke’s brand manager, Ira C Herbert, lauded it as a new direction that “responds to research which shows that young people seek the real, the original and the natural as an escape from phoniness.” The ad campaign continued until 1975 when Coke started using the slogan “Look Up, America.” (During the mid-70s a new creative challenge was thrown at Coca-Cola after the political uncertainty in the U.S. from The Watergate Scandal and the resignation of President Nixon. Coca-Cola was determined to remind Americans of their country’s positive values, so the “Look Up, America” campaign was born). However, “It’s the Real Thing” was a slogan Coca-Cola had been using since the 1940s.
In 1990 Coca-Cola relaunched a “Real Thing” advertising campaign, telling viewers “Can’t Beat The Real Thing.” The ad campaign was still in full swing when U2 released “Even Better Than The Real Thing”, and continued into 1993. U2 may have meant to suggest that a certain individual sexual partner is “better than the real thing,” meaning other previous sexual partners. But it was inescapable to note that the sexual connection being lauded in the song was even better than a bottle of Coke. Here was a sexual connection that was even better than what had been variously billed for over a century as “The Pause that Refreshes,” the “Passport to Refreshment,” “Things Go Better With Coke,” and “Can’t Beat the Feeling!” And that is saying a lot!
“Even Better Than The Real Thing” peaked at #1 in San Francisco, #2 in Dallas and #5 in Vancouver (BC). Outside of North America the single peaked in the Top Ten in Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal and Sweden. However, it stalled at #32 on the Billboard Hot 100.
On November 18, 1992, fresh from “Even Better Than The Real Thing” charting in Vancouver, U2 performed at BC Place Stadium for three concerts on November 3rd and 4th. A final single from Achtung Baby was “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”. While the single stalled at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100, it climbed to #8 in Vancouver, and into the Top Ten in six international markets.
In 1993 U2 released their eighth studio album Zooropa. The album a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Performance, and for Best Music Video Long Form. The single “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)”, from the film Faraway, So Close!, climbed into the Top Ten in nine international markets in Australia and Europe.
In 1995 U2 contributed the single “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” to the film soundtrack Batman Forever. The song was nominated for a Grammy Award in the categories for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, and for Best Rock Song. It also received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Original Song. Later in 1995, U2 released the single “Miss Sarajevo”, the theme song for the documentary film of the same title. Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti made a guest vocal appearance singing an operatic part in the song. Though “Miss Sarajevo” was not a hit in North America, it peaked in the Top Ten in ten international record markets in Europe and Australia.
In March 1997, U2 released the album Pop. It topped the album charts in over twenty international markets. The lead single, “Discothèque”, climbed into the Top Ten record charts in over twenty countries, peaking at #1 in seven. The album’s second single, “Staring at the Sun”, peaked at number-one in Canada, Iceland, and climbed into the Top Ten in seven other nations. Both “Last Night On Earth” and “Please” also did well internationally as additional singles from the album. On December 9, 1997, U2 returned to Vancouver to perform at BC Place Stadium with Smash Mouth as the opening act.
In the winter of 1998-99 U2 released The Best of 1980–1990. They re-recorded a B-side from that era titled “Sweetest Thing”. The single climbed to #1 in Canada, Iceland, Ireland and Poland, and also a Top Ten hit in 14 other international markets in Australia and Europe.
In 2001 U2 released their tenth studio album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind. It won a Grammy Award in 2002 for Best Rock Album. Its singles included “Beautiful Day”, “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”, “Elevation” and “Walk On”.
In 2001 U2’s “Beautiful Day” won three Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The bands’ 2002 single “Elevation” also won a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. This despite the single not cracking the Billboard Hot 100, though it topped the pop charts in Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands and Poland. A similar feat was achieved with “Walk On” in 2003, winning a Grammy Award for Record of the Year, and receiving two other nominations. That year “The Hands That Built America”, from the film Gangs of New York, won a Golden Globe Award, and received an Academy Award.
Since 2004, U2 has received Grammy Award nominations for Best Rock Album for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (won in 2005), No Line on the Horizon (2010), and Songs of Innocence (2015). It also won Grammy Awards for its singles “Vertigo”, “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own” and “City of Blinding Lights”, and received nominations for six more singles. Over the years U2 has won 22 Grammy Awards, and been nominated for an additional 24 awards.
On April 13, 2001, U2 performed at General Motors Place in Vancouver (BC) as part of their Elevation Tour. And on April 28th and 29th, 2005, the band returned to General Motors Place as part of their Vertigo Tour. On October 28, 2009, U2 appeared in concert with the Black Eyed Peas at BC Place Stadium as part of their 360 Degree Tour. And on the 14th and 15th of May, 2015, U2 was back in Vancouver at the Rogers Arena as part of their Innocence and Experience Tour. A subsequent tour in 2017 found U2 back in Vancouver to perform on May 12 at BC Place Stadium.
Over the years U2 has charted – for example – 21 singles to the top of the pop charts in Ireland (plus 44 more Top Ten hits), 16 singles to the top of the pop charts in Canada (and 25 more Top Ten hits), 8 number-one hits in New Zealand (and 24 more Top Ten hits). This contrasts with only two number-one singles in the USA (and six more Top Ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100).
December 24, 2020
Matt McGee, U2: A Diary, (Omnibus Press, 2008).
Mick Wall, Bono: In The Name Of Love, (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2005).
Cormac McSherry, “Bono’s Teenage Kicks,” Guardian, June 17, 2007.
Steve Stockman, Walk On: The Spiritual Journey Of U2, (Relevant Books, 2008).
Neil McCormick, U2 by U2, (It Books, 2009).
Robert Vagacs, Religious Nuts, Political Fanatics: U2 in Theological Perspective, (Cascade Books, 2005).
Niall Stokes, U2: The Stories Behind Every U2 Song, (Sterling Publishing, 2010).
“13: Coca-Cola (1940s) – It’s the Real Thing,” creative review.uk.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.