In dark, humble Dublin, 1977, a young man by the name of Paul Hewson better known as Bono, decided to form a band. He enlisted David Evans, a unique guitarist, later to be known as The Edge from Barking in Essex. They teamed up with Adam Clayton from Oxfordshire and Larry Mullen (Jr) also from Dublin.
At first, U2 (named after an American spy plane) were just another cover band. They were to spend the next thirty years writing together, as a group, but in these early years, they thought that the best way to gather popularity was to perform everyone elses records. They were right, and as a conclusion to this, there names became known enough to then launch themselves as acclaimed songwriters on the worlds ears.
U2 have been a band that has had little competition. No one so far has even come near to walking along side them on the worlds stage. With 14 Grammys, 5 U.S number ones and in total, their albums have sold 120 million worldwide, they were also responsible for forming the British music hall of fame and the only musical act in 70 years to have received the award of the Freedom of Dublin.
1981 saw their first album release. Boy hosted eleven tracks, although none of these charted and the album created poor success. It has only been in recent years that this album has held any worth. No unlike the earlier recordings of say, The Beatles.
Renowned for their political stance even in the beginning, they, after Boy quickly released October in the same year. A smart move for an up and coming group. This decision showed the industry that they were ready to work hard for where they wanted to go. October reached a fairly decent number 11 in the album charts and has been rated their best non-hit single featuring album in their history. Somehow it was a breaking success for the band. It was the first album to be heard properly by the public and it featured U2, as we know today. The Edges double riff guitar playing was to become legendary whilst the crying, painful and emotional voice of Bono took equal recognition. Already, within this slightly punk/rock album, we could hear that this band was destined for stadium authority. Their political opinions were arriving at a time when the Thatcher years were at their height and days in Northern Ireland was gloomy and unhopeful. U2 in that sense struck a defiant chord heard by not just the people from across the sea and back again, but the politicians of governments involved. Their government and world ill health themes strongly put them on the map as being a political party within themselves.
It wasnt until the release of War in March 1983 that we saw the birth of U2 officially. The album included Sunday, Bloody Sunday and New Years Day. The latter single reached number 10 and the album shot straight to number 1 and stayed a staggering 147 weeks in the album chart. This was a decade now when U2 found their world audience. They preached their strong opinions. These were anything from the Polish Solidarity Union to the assassination of Martin Luther King. None of us need to be reminded that this was the shock killing that inspired Pride (In The Name Of Love) this single was released in September of 1984. Since then, despite its original theme, it has become the anthem for any political and rebellious undoing.
In October of that same year, U2 released The Unforgettable Fire and the title single reached number 6 in the chart. With this and their increasing live performances, they were becoming the kings of live stage. Their stadium reaching lyrics and dominating themes were to be sung, or even shouted by audiences in their thousands, thus, giving the songs strength and meaning to a further degree.
With their now world famed status, they recorded and released the incredible and perhaps the epitome of the whole U2 creation, The Joshua Tree in 1987. It was the long awaited album of all and the critics fell over themselves to report on it at its very minutes release. On this timely presentation to the charts, their audience expanded 100 fold to Universal proportion. It was the very defining moment in the bands fast growing career; the point of no return. There was now no way that the world could let U2 slink away without a trace. U2s voice had been heard and unlike other political slanted artists of that time, they were listened to and taken seriously. Where The Streets Have No Name and Still Havent Found What Im Looking For were the monsters breathing life and passion through this album. With Or Without You was a deeply sensitive love song. The first that the band had actually written. Still, it managed to have all the charm and poignancy of a Luther Vandross track.
One thing we did start to notice is that this was a band that were working together no just musically but each and every track was written not just by one of two of the band members but all of them. Quite unheard of then and even today. There was a certain style of The Joshua Tree, it was quiet, thoughtful and at times, introspective. At most it was poetic and uniquely arranged both musically and lyrically. U2 were showing all the attributes of many bands who may have had accomplished one or two but not all. Their creations captured soul-searching longings of love and the shallow thoughts of the normal human being in search of material gain and wealth. U2 showed us our good sides, but mostly what was wrong with the world and the human race. We sing along to U2 tracks, but nearly all of us try not to actually listen to the words. It would be too embarrassing.
Rattle And Hum, a brilliant title for a rock album. It was a shame that this half live, half studio release wasnt any where near The Joshua Tree strength. Released in October 1988, it was enough to turn the once disciple critics against them. Dublin based fans argued that it far too pro American when their previous work had been so anti U.S. It was snubbed hard and the tracks were poorly chosen. It was little surprising that the album was no greeted with as much enthusiasm as the last, but then it was going to take a lot to top the Tree. Some even marked it as the downfall of the world domination era of U2, but it was in 1991 when after a period of reflection and perhaps a good hard rethink, they re emerged with The Fly. Underground since the rather embarrassing Rattle And Hum, many had felt they were finished. The Fly was somewhat of a shock at first. Moving with the times, Bonos appearance had changed. He looked slicker and dare I say it, more American. Despite this, it hit number 1 immediately and hung around for six weeks. It was followed quickly by the massive release of Achtung Baby (a line from the original film, The Producers.)
All of a sudden, U2 were proving that they could do electric dance tracks and get away with them. This was already to influence other artists in an alternative market. U2 had marked the start of a decade featuring a mix of indie and dance music. U2 were there first. Critics failed to get the point; the genius of this creative album was that on a personal note, the band were frightened of becoming aging rock stars like The Stones. Humorously they decided to link up with the sounds that were coming through the charts during the Nineties. It just wasnt U2s style, they hungered for their continuous fan base and politically they still had a lot to say.
The single releases from Achtung Baby were big in a word; Mysterious Ways and One (March 1992). The latter was a sombre song with tragic undertones. The Edge found his marriage was drawing to a close. It was heart wrenching and even more depressing when noted that it was penned out of fact rather than imagination. His personal experiences with love lost reflected throughout the album. U2 had never sounded so miserable.
The release of Zooropa in July 1993, shot, again to number 1 and U2 had seemed to finally grasp the grunge disco feel to the decade. The band, unfortunately, did have to take some criticism for this album. Some heralded it as a naff B-sides equivalent to Achtung Baby. Personally, I think it was released too much in the same vein, although the funky beats were more prominent and it certainly was not their finest moment but then this was the time when U2 could release a crap album and it still wouldnt have put a dent in their polished career.
It was another 4 years before U2 released another album. Perhaps they had been licking their wounds. Pop was a slightly better success and the public thought that the band were back on an even keel again. It is hard when you are that big, the world wants to jump on you constantly for album after album. The single Discotheque did get to the top slot. Staring At The Sun reached number 3 in August and Last Night On Earth reached number 10.
U2 then found the delights of movie soundtrack, (probably by that time, it didnt seem so much like hard work.) After the success of his contribution to Batman Forever, Bono spread his wings on a classical note and collaborated with Pavarotti and with others, released an album in 1995 Original Soundtracks and Miss Sarajevo. Projects that Bono may have wanted to get off the ground for sometime.
1998 and the band had seen a calling for a hits album, but in stages (!). Released in two parts first, and within seven days of each other we received 1980 1990 & B sides and then 1980 1990 both on the Island label. These last few years had been unproductive as one of them had said, they had given up recycling second hand ideas It was time perhaps, to leave an electronic era behind and get back to their roots.
All That You Cant Leave Behind, released in 2000 was the start (obviously) of the new century and the start of a new era for U2. This album was a welcomed sigh of relief for their fans and their critics. It was to be their 10th studio album but sooner enough criticised for being an amalgamation of the last three albums. It was hoped, to be more relaxed and thoughtful after the racy recent recordings, the front sleeve was a photograph showing the band hanging around with luggage at an airport. What we heard was U2 being U2 again, despite the critics. They had discarded their dancing shoes and opted for the true rock sound in its basic form.
U2 had for the first time, unknowingly, written a statement album. This time it was the people coming forth to adopt the tracks rather than U2 actually writing the songs to be themes.
Walk On became the candle for all who suffered and lost at the World Trade Centre disaster. Beautiful Day was seen as the hope from the disaster to move forward and conquer all that is dark. This song was the most optimistic song ever written by the band. It was full of wishes, dreams and a brighter future. In 2002, this album won a Grammy for best rock album. They had done it. They had gone off, done some crazy albums, come back and in the words of Bono, reapplied for the top job It would have appeared that they skipped the short list and were hired that day.
Since then they have released two more hits albums featuring the last decade and in December 2004, they released How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. For a band with endless experiences, records and years to their name, they will continue not just to grow, but to become a voice for one, two, perhaps three generations. As well as the very tracks we know about, they were also responsible for Golden Eye for Tina Turner, and co wrote Roy Orbisons last living album, Mysterious Girl. With these in mind, we see not a pinioned, self-righteous band, but a modest, unassuming group of songwriters and performers who, unarguably, have worked damn hard to get there!
Thanks for reading.