“Vertigo” is a song by Irish rock band U2. It is the opening track on their eleventh studio album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004). The song was released to radio as the album’s lead single on 24 September 2004, and upon release, it received extensive airplay. It was an international hit, bolstered by its usage in a television advertisement featuring the band for Apple’s iPod digital music player. The song lent its name to the band’s 2005–2006 Vertigo Tour. The song peaked at number 31 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and number one on the US Alternative Songs chart. It also topped the charts in Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, while reaching the top 10 in Australia, Austria, Belgium (Wallonia), Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. “Vertigo” won Grammy Awards for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, Best Rock Song, and Best Short Form Music Video at the 2005 ceremony. “Vertigo” ranked 64th on Rolling Stones list of the 100 Best Songs of the Decade (2000 to 2010).
During the How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb recording sessions, “Vertigo” was originally recorded as a song called “Full Metal Jacket”. Bono said during a webchat that the song was “the mother of all rock ‘n’ roll tunes. I don’t know where it came from but it’s a remarkable guitar thing. You want to hear it – it’s a reason to make a record. The song is that good!” The title was later changed to “Native Son”. The lyrics in this iteration are about a native man who was against his country due to his lack of freedoms, an idea originally inspired by Leonard Peltier. The song went through several different musical and lyrical arrangements, but the band struggled to find a version they liked. Steve Lillywhite was brought in to try to find a mix that worked while Bono took a break from the album sessions; on his return, Lillywhite asked him if he would be able to sing the “Native Son” lyrics in front of an audience, and Bono found the experience too uncomfortable. New lyrics were written and Lillywhite helped the band rearrange the song. It was at this point that the song was rewritten into “Vertigo.” At 3:08 long, “Native Son” is just a few seconds short of the run time of “Vertigo.” The track has since been released on the digital album Unreleased and Rare, which was only available through purchasing the entire digital box set, The Complete U2, as well as the album Medium, Rare & Remastered. U2 performed “Vertigo” in a television commercial for the Apple iPod as part of a cross-marketing plan to promote both the album and Apple’s music products (especially the U2 Special Edition iPod and the iTunes Music Store’s exclusive digital box set for U2, The Complete U2). At the beginning of the song, Bono counts off in Spanish “Unos, dos, tres, catorce!” In English, this translates to “some, two, three, fourteen!” When asked about this oddity in an interview for Rolling Stone, Bono replied “there may have been some alcohol involved”. Some sources have suggested that as the first words spoken on the album, the lyrical choice was a deliberate nod to Exodus 3:14 (the first Testament (Old) of the Christian Bible, second book, third chapter, fourteenth verse), whereby after Moses asks God’s name, God responds “I Am that I Am”. This theory is supported by the fact the final track on the How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album is titled “Yahweh”, another name for the Abrahamic god. The count off was parodied by novelty singer Richard Cheese on his version of U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” on his 2005 album Aperitif for Destruction. A Spanish reply of “¡Hola!” is also heard behind the “Hello, hello” of the refrain, as well as “¿Dónde está?” (“Where is it?” or “Where is he?” depending upon if this is intended as a question to the location of Vertigo or Bono himself) after the line “I’m at a place called Vertigo”. The “Hello, hello” line itself is reminiscent of similar lyrics in the song “Stories for Boys” from U2’s debut album Boy; in Vertigo Tour concerts, the band frequently included a section of the latter song in their performances of “Vertigo.” These concerts have also sometimes featured “Vertigo” played twice, once early in the show and again as a final encore; this also looks back to U2’s early days, when they did not have enough songs to fill out an entire performance and had to repeat some at the end.
Upon release, “Vertigo” debuted at number 18 on Billboards Modern Rock Tracks chart and number 46 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the following weeks, the track jumped to number one on the Modern Rock Tracks chart, moved from number 27 to number three on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and from number 35 to number nine on the Adult Top 40. It also debuted at number one on the Hot Digital Tracks chart and, after falling to number 4, returned to the top position. The track later moved into the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 31. It spent 20 weeks on the chart. At the time of the song’s release, Billboard did not count digital downloads as part of a single’s overall sales. “Vertigo” recorded strong digital sales, and had these been incorporated into physical sales and airplay, would have seen a much stronger placing on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In the United Kingdom, the song moved from BBC Radio 1’s B-list in the first week of its airplay release to the A-list in the second week. The song was released commercially on 15 November, and debuted at number one on the UK Singles Chart, and remained there for one week. In total, it spent nine weeks in the top 40.In Australia, the track debuted at number five on the ARIA Charts, and was ranked number 38 on Triple J’s Hottest 100 of 2004. In the Netherlands, “Vertigo” reached number two on the Mega Top 100. In Brazil, the single went gold with more than 50,000 downloads. The digital single holds a Gold status in the United States.The video for the song features U2 performing in a featureless desert as black jet streams emit from behind each band member; on the ground is a huge white bulls-eye symbol used as a motif for the album graphics. The circular platform that the band performs on constantly elevates up and down in a spiral pattern, as the wind blows the band’s face. It was directed by the team of Alex & Martin. It was recorded in Punta Del Fangar (Ebro Delta), in Spain.Nathaniel Willemse released a cover version of Vertigo as his debut single in 2008, after having performed it on Australian Idol series four in 2006. Bon Jovi performed a snippet of the song during Bad Medicine on their 2011 Live 2011.