U2 Vs. Bruce Springsteen: The Battle Of Rock’s Most Critically Acclaimed Acts

Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna may have sold the most records in the 1980s, but — as anybody who lived though the decade can tell you — these acts were controversial at their peaks. Therefore, although they were huge superstars, neither of these acts were universally loved.

The same can’t be said about Bruce Springsteen and U2. In the 1980s (and a big part of the 1990s for U2), Springsteen and U2 were universally loved by music fans and music critics. If you said you didn’t like either of these acts in the mid and late 1980s, you were probably shunned. The universal love may have faded, but the impact and success of both Springsteen and U2 have continued for decades. Let’s take a look:

Album Sales

Since its release in 1984, Springsteen’s Born in the USA has sold over 15 million units in the United States. The album produced seven top 10 hits. Bruce’s next album, 1987’s Tunnel of Love, showed a steep decline by selling only 3 million units. His subsequent albums, with the exception of 2002’s The Rising, haven’t been blockbusters, but they have sold consistently well.

U2 is the biggest selling band since The Beatles

Even though U2 hasn’t released an album as commercially successful as Born in the USA, they have experienced significantly more commercial success than Springsteen. 1987’s The Joshua Tree has sold more than 10 million in the United States. According to Diffuser, that album has sold more than 18 million copies worldwide. In the early 1990s, U2 proved their relevancy with Achtung Baby. However, U2’s 1997 album Pop is considered one of the biggest album flops of the 1990s.

In the 2000s, U2 proved they were relevant again with 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which some sites have as selling over 12 million copies worldwide. 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb sold 3 million in the United States according to Ultimate Classic Rock. Since then, U2’s commercial success has taken a huge downward slope. As the Independent noted in October of 2014, U2’s attempt to even give away their latest album led to a huge worldwide backlash.


Let’s face it, if Springsteen’s “Born In The USA Tour” happened today, it would have become the biggest in music history. It wasn’t normal to charge a huge amount of cash for a concert ticket back in 1985. Still, Bruce Springsteen filled any stadium he wanted to at the sound of a penny, and that just wasn’t in the United States.

Even though Springsteen’s record sales haven’t kept up, he remains a top touring artist. His “Tunnel of Love Express Tour” in 1988 saw him downsizing to arenas, but he filled multiple dates in each one. When Springsteen started touring as a solo act in the 1990s, he lost his touch. But that didn’t last long when he reunited with the E Street Band in 1999 and had another successful tour. Springsteen was second to Madonna in terms of ticket sales in the 2000s. According to Gigwise, Springsteen’s 2016 tour brought in $262 million.

However, U2 is definitely the winner in this category due to two major tours. According to MSN, U2’s “Vertigo Tour “(2005-2006) grossed $389 million, and the “360 Tour” (2009-2011) grossed an incredible $736 million.

Critical Acclaim

Bruce Springsteen continued to impress in 2016

It has been joked that a critic giving U2 or Springsteen a bad review in the 1980s meant that they would never work in music journalism again. When both acts faltered in the 1990s, it became okay not to love Bruce or Bono.

Both Springsteen and U2 were riding high in terms of critical acclaim with their albums in the early 2000s as Springsteen’s The Rising and U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind were considered a return to form for these veterans.

It temporarily looked like U2 pulled ahead of Springsteen in the critical acclaim dept. when How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb won several Grammy awards and universal critical acclaim in 2006. However, by 2009, U2 faltered. No Line on the Horizon was considered a joke by many, and the free giveaways of Songs of Innocence in 2014 turned the band into a punchline.

Bruce Springsteen wins in this category, and this is mostly due to his consistency. However, U2 has certainly learned their lesson with the 2014 debacle, and could easily win back the hearts of music critics in the near future.

Which act is your favorite — Bruce Springsteen or U2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

[Featured Image by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images]