Bono Celebrates 60th Birthday With 60-Song Playlist, Writes ‘Fan Letters’ to David Bowie, Billie Eilish, Kraftwerk

Chris Willman

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Bono celebrated his 60th birthday Sunday by posting a playlist of what he described as “60 Songs That Saved My Life,” with the promise to write a “fan letter” to all 60 artists. He posted the first six of these 60 mash notes on the U2 website, kicking off with his praise for Billie Eilish, David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Daft Punk, Luciano Pavarotti and Massive Attack.

His list of 60 life-savers includes the artists you’d most expect, such as Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, the Clash, Van Morrison and Johnny Cash. It also includes a few more recent or pop-oriented songs that might not be as predictable from a rock-hero-honoring statesman, like Coldplay’s “Clocks,” Madonna’s “Ray of Light,” Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” the Bee Gees’ “Immortality” and even Peter Frampton’s “Show Me the Way.”

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“These are some of the songs that saved my life,” the singer writes. “The ones I couldn’t have lived without… the ones that got me from there to here, zero to 60… through all the scrapes, all manner of nuisance, from the serious to the silly… and the joy, mostly joy.” He adds, “I am writing a fan letter to accompany each song to try and explain my fascination.” The gallery of letters to his heroes will expand over the coming days on U2’s website.

Billie Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted,” released as a standalone single last November, is the newest track on Bono’s list. “Dear Billie (Finneas too),” he writes, “My ears long for such empty spaces to wander, to sneak away from the density of digital surfaces with too much information. I step inside your song and it’s a black beauty, achingly awesomely vulnerable and terrifying, fearless and worrisome… but you are not worried by all that. You express it so you can own the feeling that nags. I think of Carole King. I think of Roy Orbison. But just like them, this never existed before you did. Your fan, Bono.”

Eilish’s is not the only 2019 inclusion on his list. For Bruce Springsteen, surprisingly, he picks not a classic song from the canon but “There Goes My Miracle,” a song from the “Western Stars” album released last year (annotation by Bono to come later).

Kraftwerk has been in the news due to its co-founder Florian Schneider’s death this past week. “‘I gave (wife) Ali a copy to romance her on her 17th birthday in 1978,” Bono writes. “‘Neon Lights’ is a song that brought into being a future that has now become so familiar, it is easy to forget just how strange it was.” He thanks the surviving members “for the loan of Florian all these years. May he Rest In Peace.”

His letter concerning “Life on Mars?” is addressed to Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones. “‘When I heard your Dad’s song ‘Life on Mars?’ on the radio in 1973, I was hiding under the covers of my bed in 10 Cedarwood Road listening to a pirate radio station called Radio Caroline. I wasn’t thinking about the question mark in the title. I wasn’t bothered about the dramatic inquiry ‘Is there life on Mars?’ The song was answering a much more important question when I was 13. Is there intelligent life on earth? It was proof as far as I’m concerned.”

Bono writes separate messages to Daft Punk, Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams about their song “Get Lucky.” To Rodgers, he says, “‘You wrote songs so you could be in them. And that light touch is never better than on this one.” To Williams, he writes, “You are a reason to believe in what’s possible. You are a reason to believe in THE IMPOSSIBLE.”

Bono includes three songs on which he collaborated with other artists — Pavarotti, Kendrick Lamar and Frank Sinatra. He addresses Alice Pavarotti, the singer’s daughter, about one of those partnerships, “Miserere,” which he lists first: “I can hardly remember what it was about… other than forgiveness that is… and a toast to being alive.”

Bono’s full list of “60 Songs That Saved My Life”:

1. Luciano Pavarotti, Bono & Zucchero – Miserere
2. Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK
3. Kanye West  – Black Skinhead
4. Billie Eilish  – Everything I Wanted
5. David Bowie – Life on Mars?
6. The Beatles  – I Want to Hold Your Hand
7. Ramones  – Swallow My Pride
8. The Clash  – Safe European Home
9. Public Enemy – Fight the Power
10. Patti Smith – People Have the Power
11. John Lennon – Mother
12. The Rolling Stones – Ruby Tuesday
13. Elton John – Daniel
14. Andrea Bocelli – Con Te Partiro
15. Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel
16. Johnny Cash – Hurt
17. This Mortal Coil – Song to the Siren
18. Kraftwerk – Neon Lights
19. The Fugees – Killing Me Softly With His Song
20. Prince – When Doves Cry
21. Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgers – Get Lucky
22. Madonna – Ray of Light
23. JAY-Z featuring Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind
24. Talking Heads  – Love Goes to Building on Fire
25. Lou Reed – Satellite of Love
26. The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony
27. Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart
28. New Order – True Faith
29. R.E.M. – Nightswimming
30. Adele – Chasing Pavements
31. Arcade Fire – Wake Up
32. Pixies – Monkey Gone to Heaven
33. Oasis – Live Forever
34. Iggy Pop – Lust for Life
35. Gavin Friday – Angel
36. Massive Attack – Safe from Harm
37. Kendrick Lamar featuring U2 – XXX
38. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Redemption Song
39. Echo and the Bunnymen – Rescue
40. Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
41. Pearl Jam – Jeremy
42. Bob Dylan – Most of the Time
43. Beyoncé featuring Kendrick Lamar – Freedom
44. Depeche Mode – Walking In My Shoes
45. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Into My Arms
46. Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence
47. Coldplay – Clocks
48. INXS – Never Tear Us Apart
49. New Radicals – You Get What You Give
50. Angélique Kidjo – Agolo
51. Lady Gaga  – Born This Way
52. Frank Sinatra & Bono – Under My Skin
53. David Bowie – Heroes
54. Simple Minds  – New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84)
55. Sinéad O’Connor – You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart
56. Van Morrison – A Sense of Wonder
57. Bruce Springsteen – There Goes My Miracle
58. Daniel Lanois – The Maker
59. Peter Frampton – Show Me the Way
60. Bee Gees – Immortality – Demo Version

The playlist is available for listening via Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify and YouTube Music.

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