Rock Legends: U2



U2 is an Irish rock band formed Dublin. Led by lead vocalist Bono, the band transformed themselves from a popular touring act to bonafide superstars when their album The Joshua Tree became an international success during the 80s music era. U2 is known for their willful integration of many genres such as classic rock, dance, alternative rock and post-punk, as well as for their spiritual and sociopolitical lyrics. The formula, as well as their knack for reinventing themselves and longevity in the music business, have made U2 as one of the most commercially successful rock bands of all time.

Formation and early career

The foundations of U2 started during the mid-1970s when drummer Larry Mullen posted an ad on the school’s notice board that he was needing for musicians for a new group. Six people responded that included lead singer Paul Hewson (future Bono), guitarist David Evans (future The Edge), and bassist Adam Clayton, and David’s older brother Dik on guitar. At first, they named themselves Feedback, and then The Hype.

Like many other bands, The Hype started by mostly doing covers. Dik Evans left the group in 1978, making the band now a four-piece. After Dik’s departure, Hewson, David Evans, Clayton and Muller started calling themselves U2. By that point, they had started writing and playing original material, and Bono became the primary songwriter.

Career in the 1980s

U2 was signed to Island Records in March 1980, and the following October they released their debut album Boy, which explores the frustrations of adolescence. It received generally positive reviews, and gave them their first US (not UK) hit “I Will Follow” (#20 rock).

The band released their sophomore effort October in 1981 which focused more on spiritual matters in conflict with the “rock and roll lifestyle.” During that time, Bono and The Edge were practicing Christians and their opposing religious views almost made U2 to break up.

U2 released their third album War in 1983, which solidified U2’s position as a politically-conscious band. Not surprisingly, one of the issues tackled there was the ongoing religious and political conflict in Northern Ireland particularly “the Troubles,” which is the focus of the song “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” War also contained the now-classic rock song “New Year’s Day,” which has references to Poland’s Solidarity movement. It became their first UK Top 10 hit, and reached #2 on the US Billboard rock charts.

By then, U2 had been performing sold-out concernts not only in the UK and Europe, but also in the United States. Their War tour was particularly successful.

The band went to work with renowned producer Brian Eno and engineer Daniel Lanois; result was the band’s fourth LP The Unforgettable Fire in 1984. They delved into sonic experimentation that saved them from being just another “arena-rock band.” The Unforgettable Fire enabled U2 to widen their sound without losing their old rock flair. The album gave U2 their first Top 40 US single “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (#33 pop) while it was #3 in the UK. In 1985 the band became more popular that they were named “Band of the Year” by Rolling Stone.

International pop superstardom

In 1987 U2 released their fifth album The Joshua Tree, also produced and engineered by Eno and Lanois. It became a critical and commercial triumph for the band and, more importantly, elevated them to being international pop superstars. It spawned two singles “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” both of which went to #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The Joshua Tree won the band their first two Grammy Awards, for Best Rock Performance and Album of the Year. The band went on a successful The Joshua Tree world tour. The album and the accompanying documentary Rattle and Hum on the other hand, received mostly mixed reviews and some negative reviews were particularly harsh; nevertheless, the album topped the Billboard 200.

Career in the 1990s

Feeling the backlash now, U2 decided to reinvent their sound, which they did so with their following album Achtung Baby, also produced by Eno. It was much funkier than their previous works and featured their light-hearted, self-deprecating side. Achtung Baby became another one of U2’s most successful records. Hit singles in the US include “One” (#10, pop), “Mysterious Ways” (#9 pop), “Whose Gonna Ride Your Wild Horse” (#35, pop) and “Even Better Than Real Thing” (#32 pop). The band’s ZooTV tour was a far cry to the band’s previous austere stage setting, instead becoming an elaborate multimedia show.

In 1993, the band released another album Zooropa, which was leaning more on the electronic side. It also went to #1. Also produced by Eno, the album went to #1 on the US pop albums chart.

The band also contributed to the Batman Forever soundtrack in 1995.

By then, Bono had returned to political activism, but this time he focused more on world poverty. He had meetings with several political and religious figures who included US President Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II. The song he wrote, “New Day,” featured the Fugees’ Wyclef Jean. Proceeds of the song went to the relief efforts in Kosovo.

Career in the 2000’s

In late 2000 U2 released a new album All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which went to #3 on the Billboard pop chart. Among the singles were “Beautiful Day” (#21 pop) and “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” (#52, pop). “Beautiful Day” was awarded with Grammys for Song of the Year and Record of the Year in 2001.

In 2002 the band performed during the halftime of Super Bowl XXXVI. Two years later they released their 11th studio album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb which went to #1 on the US pop album chart. It featured a more conventional, mainstream style.

In 2009 U2 released their 12th album, also another collaboration with Eno and Lanois. It debuted at #1 once more not only the US but in many other countries. This is proof that U2’s magic still hadn’t faded in the ever-changing music industry; they very well survived from their “oldies music” phase in the 1980s. Their summer tour that year proved to be another blockbuster.

In 2014 the band released their latest album to date, Songs of Innocence. It received mixed reviews. Nevertheless, the album debuted at #9 in the US and #1 in other countries. It also received 26 million downloads on Apple’s iTunes.

U2 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. They have won 22 Grammy Awards and sold over 170 million records worldwide.

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