the most popular rock act of the 80s in Britain, Irish unit U2
began their musical career at school in Dublin back in 1977. Bono
(b. Paul David Hewson, 10 May 1960, Dublin, Eire; vocals), The
Edge (b. David Evans, 8 August 1961, Barking, Essex; guitar),
Adam Clayton (b. 13 March 1960, Chinnor, Oxfordshire, England;
bass) and Larry Mullen Jr. (b. Laurence Mullen, 31 October 1961,
Dublin, Eire; drums) initially played Rolling Stones and Beach
Boys cover versions in an outfit named Feedback. They then changed
their name to the Hype before finally settling on U2 in 1978.
After winning a talent contest in Limerick that year, they came
under the wing of manager Paul McGuinness and were subsequently
signed to CBS Records Ireland. Their debut EP U2:3 featured "Out
Of Control" (1979), which propelled them to number 1 in the
Irish charts. They repeated that feat with "Another Day"
(1980), but having been passed by CBS UK, they were free to sign
a deal outside of Ireland with Island Records. Their UK debut
"11 O'Clock Tick Tock", produced by Martin Hannett,
was well received but failed to chart. Two further singles, "A
Day Without Me" and "I Will Follow", passed with
little sales while the group prepared their first album, produced
by Steve Lillywhite.
a moving and inspired document of adolescence, received critical
approbation, which was reinforced by the live shows that U2 were
undertaking throughout the country. Bono's impassioned vocals
and the band's rhythmic tightness revealed them as the most promising
live unit of 1981. After touring America, the band returned to
Britain where "Fire" was bubbling under the Top 30.
Another minor hit with the impassioned "Gloria" was
followed by the strident October. The album had a thrust reinforced
by a religious verve that was almost evangelical in its force.
In February 1983 the band reached the UK Top 10 with "New
Year's Day", a song of hope inspired by the Polish Solidarity
Movement. War followed soon afterwards to critical plaudits. The
album's theme covered both religious and political conflicts,
especially in the key track "Sunday Bloody Sunday",
which had already emerged as one of the group's most startling
and moving live songs. Given their power in concert, it was inevitable
that U2 would attempt to capture their essence on a live album.
Under A Blood Red Sky did not disappoint and, as well as climbing
to number 2 in the UK, it brought them their first significant
chart placing in the USA at number 28.
the summer of 1984, U2 were about to enter the vanguard of the
rock elite. Bono duetted with Bob Dylan at the latter's concert
at Slane Castle and U2 established their own company, Mother Records,
with the intention of unearthing fresh musical talent in Eire.
The Unforgettable Fire, produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois,
revealed a new maturity and improved their commercial and critical
standing in the US charts. The attendant single, "Pride (In
The Name Of Love)", displayed the passion and humanity that
were by now familiar ingredients in U2's music and lyrics. The
band's commitment to their ideals was further underlined by their
appearances at Live Aid, Ireland's Self Aid, and their involvement
with Amnesty International and guest spot on Little Steven's anti-Apartheid
single, "Sun City". During this same period, U2 embarked
on a world tour and completed work on their next album. The Joshua
Tree emerged in March 1987 and confirmed U2's standing, now as
one of the most popular groups in the world. The album topped
both the US and UK charts and revealed a new, more expansive sound
that complemented their soul-searching lyrics. The familiar themes
of spiritual salvation permeated the work and the quest motif
was particularly evident on both "With Or Without You"
and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", which
both reached number 1 in the US charts.
such a milestone album, 1988 proved a relatively quiet year for
U2. Bono and the Edge appeared on Roy Orbison's Mystery Girl and
the year ended with the double-live album and film, Rattle And
Hum. The band also belatedly scored their first UK number 1 single
with the R&B-influenced "Desire". The challenge
to complete a suitable follow-up to The Joshua Tree took considerable
time, with sessions completed in Germany with Lanois and Eno.
Meanwhile, the band members appeared on the Cole Porter tribute
album Red Hot + Blue, performing a radical reading of "Night
And Day". In late 1991, "The Fly" entered the UK
charts at number 1, emulating the success of "Desire".
Achtung Baby was an impressive work that captured the majesty
of its predecessor, yet also stripped down the sound to provide
a greater sense of spontaneity. The work emphasized U2's standing
as an international rock act, whose achievements since the late
70s have been extraordinarily cohesive and consistent. Although
the critics were less than generous with Zooropa and the dance-orientated
Pop the band remain one of the most popular "stadium"
attractions of the modern rock era. In the mid-90s Bono devoted
much of his time to writing songs for others. With the Edge he
wrote the James Bond film theme "Goldeneye" for Tina
Turner and became involved in the Passengers project.
verbal lashing of the French president Jacques Chirac at the MTV
Awards in Paris created the biggest news, however. Obviously upset
by the recent nuclear tests, Bono came onstage smiling to accept
an award. The audience were brilliantly fooled by his perfectly
delivered sarcasm: "What a city" (cheers and applause),
"what a night" (cheers and applause), "what a bomb"
(confused laughter and applause), "what a mistake" (mixed
response), "what a wanker you have for President" (sporadic
boos). A re-recorded b-side, "Sweetest Thing", reached
UK number 3 in October 1998, and was followed by the release of
the band's first compilation album. In March 2000, the Bono-scripted
movie The Million Dollar Hotel was released. The soundtrack included
the new U2 track "The Ground Beneath Her Feet", featuring
lyrics by novelist Salman Rushdie. The song was featured on All
That You Can't Leave Behind, an album which eschewed the band's
preoccupation with electronica to return to the epic rock sound
they championed in the late 80s. The chart-topping "Beautiful
Day" won three Grammy awards, including Song Of The Year,
the following February.