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U2 are an Irish rock band featuring Bono (Paul
David Hewson) on vocals and guitar, The Edge (David Howell Evans) on guitar and
pianos, vocals, and bass, Adam Clayton on bass and guitar, and Larry Mullen Jr
U2 have been one of the most popular rock bands in the world since the 1980s.
The band is also very politically active in human rights causes.
Formation and breakthrough (1976 – 1980)
The band was formed in Dublin in October 1976. 14-year-old Larry Mullen, Jr.
posted a note on his secondary school bulletin board seeking musicians for a new
band. The response that followed that note resulted in a 6-piece band, known at
the time as Feedback, with Mullen on drums, Adam Clayton on bass guitar,
Paul Hewson (Bono) on vocals, Dave Evans (The Edge) on guitar, his brother Dik
Evans on guitar, in addition to Ivan McCormick on guitar. Although known as an
Irish band, two members - The Edge and Adam Clayton - are actually British by
Hewson was nicknamed Bono Vox (allegedly meaning 'good voice' in Latin,
though a more accurate translation would in fact be vox bona), after a
hearing aid company's advertising sign on the corner of Dame Street and South
Great Georges Street in Dublin's city centre. The sign is still in place today.
The Edge got his name from Bono who thought it was an accurate description of
his head. (Another theory on Edge's nickname is that he is called after a
hardware shop in Fairview, Dublin, outside of which he used to catch the bus
After 18 months of rehearsals, Feedback changed their name to The Hype.
The band performed with their new name at a talent show in Limerick, Ireland on
17 March 1978. One of the judges for the show happened to be CBS Records' Jackie
Hayden; they won the contest, earning a £500 prize. Hayden was impressed enough
with the band that he gave them studio time to record their first demo.
The Dublin punk rock guru Steve Averill (better known as Steve Rapid of the
Radiators from Space) suggested that "The Hype stinks, at least as a name."
Someone offered "What about U2? It's the name of a spyplane and a submarine, and
it's got an endearing inclusivity about it."1
Some suggest the meaning of the name "U2" is based on their philosophy. They
believe that the audience is part of their music and the concert and that "you
too" (U2) are participating in the music. Although, in an interview with Larry
King, Bono is quoted as saying "I don't actually like the name U2", "I honestly
never thought of it as 'you too'".
Dik Evans announced his departure in March 1978. Preceeded by him was Ivan.
The hallowed sixth (others argue fifth) member was dismissed by Adam Clayton who
told him that he was too young to play at the bars which U2 was booked in. The
Hype performed a farewell show for him at the Community Centre in Howth. Dik
walked offstage halfway through the set and later joined the Virgin Prunes, a
fellow Dublin band. In May, Paul McGuinness became U2's manager.
Now a four-piece with a local fan base in place, U2 released their first
single in September of 1979, U2-3. It topped the Irish charts. In
December of that year, U2 travelled to London for its first shows outside of
Ireland, but failed to get much attention from foreign audiences and critics.
U2 made their first appearance on US television on The Tomorrow Show hosted
by Tom Snyder. It aired on June 4, 1981. They performed I Will Follow, and
Twilight, along with an interview.
Boy and October (1980 – 1981)
Island Records signed the band in March of 1980. U2 released Boy the
following October. That album's release was followed by U2's first tour outside
the United Kingdom The band's second album, October, was released in
1981. Fans and music critics quickly made note of the band's spiritual lyrics.
Bono, the Edge and Larry were committed Christians and made little effort to
hide that fact. The three band members joined a religious group in Dublin called
"Shalom", which led all three to question the relationship between the Christian
faith and the rock and roll lifestyle. After nearly throwing in the towel on U2,
they decided it was possible to reconcile the two by continuing to make music
without compromising their personal beliefs. (In recent years a book of sermons
based on U2 songs has been published: "Get Up Off Your Knees" ed. Whiteley &
Maynard, ISBN 1561012238)
In 1983, U2 returned with apparently a newfound sense of direction and the
release of their third album, War. The album included the song "Sunday
Bloody Sunday", which dealt with the situation in Northern Ireland. The song
starts off by expressing the anger felt in Ireland over Bloody Sunday incident
of 1972, but in successive stanzas moves through different imagery that disown
that anger and place the song in a religious context, using imagery from Matthew
10:35 ("mother's children; brothers, sisters torn apart") , and a twist on 2
Corinthians 15:32 ("we eat and drink while tomorrow they die") before finishing
off with a call for Christians to stop fighting each other and "claim the
victory Jesus won, on a sunday bloody sunday". The ability to use such a range
of images, taking a song initially about sectarian anger, and turn it into a
call for Christians to unite and claim the victory over death and evil that
Christ achieved in the ressurrection, showed the depth of the band's songwriting
ability. When some Irish-Americans tried to misrepresent the song as a rallying
call for the Provisional IRA Bono responded with what became one of his most
recognizable phrases in concerts, notably the performance on the live EP
Under a Blood Red Sky - "this song is not a rebel song. This song is
Sunday Bloody Sunday." Furthermore, as captured in the concert film U2:
Rattle and Hum, during the perfomance of the song on November 9, 1987, the
day after the IRA bombing in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, in
which 11 people were killed during a Rememberance Day service, Bono bluntly
denounced the violence in Ireland and the Irish expatriates who supported it.
His anger and passion were palpable as he shouted: "F... the 'revolution'!"
The album's first single, "New Year's Day", was U2's first international hit
single, reaching the #10 position on the U.K. charts and nearly cracking the Top
50 on the U.S. charts. MTV put the "New Year's Day" video into heavy rotation,
which helped introduce U2 to the American audience. For the first time, the band
began performing to sold-out concerts in mainland Europe and the U.S. The band
recorded the Under a Blood Red Sky EP on this tour and a live video was
The Unforgettable Fire and Live Aid (1984 – 1986)
The band began their fourth studio album with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois
producing. The experimental The Unforgettable Fire (named after a series
of paintings made by survivors of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki)
followed in 1984. The album featured the tribute to civil rights leader Martin
Luther King, Jr., "Pride (In the Name of Love)". "Pride" became the first single
from the album, cracking the U.K. Top 5 and the US Top 50.
The album represented a turning point in the band's career, as Bono's lyrics
became more complex, subtle and experimental, the Edge's guitar explored new
sonic landscapes, and the rhythm section got looser and funkier. However, the
material, although less overtly so, remained political. Songs include "Indian
Summer Sky" a social commentary on the prison-like atmosphere of city living in
a world of natural forces, and "MLK", a second song honoring Martin Luther King,
Jr.. The album's release coincided with a photo exhibit at the Chicago Peace
Museum featuring images of the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings;
Bono would later contribute a poem entitled "Dreams in Box" to the museum's
The centrepiece of the album is "Bad", a long, experimental song which, while
never released as a single, provided the album's defining moment: a cathartic
exploration on the theme of heroin dependency - a problem particularly prevalent
in the Dublin of the mid-1980s. During the tour to support the new album, Bono
took to wrapping his microphone cable around his arm in imitation of a junkie
looking for a vein.
Miles Davis is reputed to have asked to be played the album on his deathbed.
The Live Aid concert for Ethiopian famine relief in July 1985 was seen by
more than a billion people worldwide. U2 were not expected to be one of the main
draws for the event, but the band provided the show with one of its most
memorable moments, a relentless 13-minute version of "Bad" in which Bono left
the stage and walked down into the Wembley Stadium crowd to dance with a fan. U2
went on to a headlining spot on 1986's "Conspiracy of Hope" tour for Amnesty
International. This 6-show tour across the U.S. performed to sold-out arenas and
stadiums, and helped Amnesty International triple its membership in the process.
Rolling Stone magazine called U2 the "Band of the 80s", saying that "for a
growing number of rock-and-roll fans, U2 has become the band that matters most,
maybe even the only band that matters."
The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum (1987 – 1988)
In 1987, U2 released The Joshua Tree. The album debuted at #1 in the
U.K., and quickly reached #1 in the U.S. The singles "With or Without You" and
"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" quickly went to #1 in the U.S. U2
was the fourth rock band to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine (The
previous three had been The Beatles, The Band, and The Who), declaring that U2
was "Rock's Hottest Ticket". The Joshua Tree tour sold out stadiums around the
The band began to film and record various shows from the tour for the
documentary and album Rattle and Hum in 1988 and released on video in
1989. That album became a tribute to American music, when the band recorded at
the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, performed with Bob Dylan and B.B. King,
and sang about blues great Billie Holiday. The band also covered The Beatles
song Helter Skelter, declaring "This is a song Charles Manson stole from The
Beatles, well we're stealin' it back."
Live footage from Joshua Tree Tour concerts at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, AZ
and McNichols Arena in Denver, CO featured prominently in the film. The
McNichols footage, shot in black and white, included performances from the back
catalog while color material from Sun Devil mostly comprised (then) current
material. Two shows were filmed in Tempe. To ensure a full stadium, tickets were
discounted to $5.00 a piece.
Despite a positive reception from fans, Rattle and Hum received
mixed-to-negative reviews from both film and music critics,
Achtung Baby, Zoo TV and Zooropa (1991 – 1994)
After taking some time off, the band met in Berlin in late 1990 to begin work
on their next studio album, again with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois producing.
The original sessions did not go well, but following the inspirational
completion of the hit song 'One,' the band eventually emerged from the studio
with renewed energy and a new album under its belt. In November of 1991, U2
released the heavily experimental and distorted Achtung Baby. The album
was enthusiastically received by fans and critics alike, with Rolling Stone
magazine declaring that U2 had "proven that the same penchant for epic musical
and verbal gestures that leads many artists to self-parody can, in more inspired
hands, fuel the unforgettable fire that defines great rock & roll."
In early 1992, U2 began its first American tour in more than four years. The
multimedia event known as the Zoo TV Tour masterfully confused audiences with
hundreds of video screens, upside-down flying Trabant cars, mock transmission
towers, satellite TV links, subliminal text messages, and over-the-top stage
characters such as "The Fly", "Mirror-ball Man" and "MacPhisto". The tour was
among other things U2's attempt at mocking the excesses of rock and roll, by
appearing to embrace greed and decadence - even at times, away from the stage.
Some missed the point of the tour and thought that U2 had "lost it", and that
Bono had become an egomaniac. Following the same theme, U2 went back into the
studio to record their next release during a break in the "Zoo TV" tour. The
album was intended as an additional EP to Achtung Baby, but soon
Zooropa expanded into a full-fledged LP and released in July of 1993.
Zooropa was an even greater departure from the style of their earlier
recordings, incorporating techno style and other electronic effects.
After some time off, and a few side projects (the Batman Forever and
Mission: Impossible soundtracks), the band returned under the radar in 1995
with Brian Eno under the moniker "Passengers", and released an experimental
album called Original Soundtracks No. 1. The album, including a
collaboration with Luciano Pavarotti, "Miss Sarajevo", was not largely noticed
in the industry, and received little attention from the critics and public
Pop and Popmart (1996 – 1998)
In early 1996, U2 began work on their next record. The recording of this
album was fraught with difficulty. U2 were once again attempting to change their
musical direction, this time the band were experimenting with heavy post
production of their music, utilizing tape loops, programming and sampling. This
gave the album a techno/disco feel. Pop was released in March of 1997.
The album debuted at #1 in 28 countries, and earned U2 mainly positive reviews.
Rolling Stone Magazine even went so far a claiming U2 had "defied the odds and
made some of the greatest music of their lives". However, audiences and fans
felt that the music industry had exceeded the limits of tolerance in promoting
Pop, and the album was seen as something of a disappointment by many.
One of the main problems the band had when the recording the album was the
time constraint placed upon them by the impending "Popmart World Tour". The band
has admitted they were hurried into completing the album and say that a number
of tracks on the album were not finished as well they would have liked. It is
not surprising that all the tracks from the Pop album to feature on U2's
second greatest hits album The Best of 1990-2000, Gone, Discothèque, and
Staring At The Sun, were all remixed for inclusion on that album.
With the "Popmart Tour", U2, once again continued the "Zoo TV" theme of
decadence. The show hit the road in April, 1997, the set included a 100-foot
tall golden yellow arch, a large 150 foot long video screen, and a 35 foot tall
mirrorball lemon. It was to be U2s most colourful show to date. The "Popmart
tour" was the second-highest grossing tour of 1997 (behind the Rolling Stone's
Bridges to Babylon Tour) with revenues of just under $80 million, but it cost
more than $100 million to produce.
The band played a brief concert in Belfast in May of 1998, three days before
the public voted in favour of the Northern Ireland Peace Accord. Also that year,
U2 performed on an Irish TV fundraiser for victims of the Omagh, Northern
Ireland bombing which killed 28 and injured hundreds more earlier in the year.
In late 1998, U2 released its first greatest hits compilation, The Best of
All That You Can't Leave Behind and Elevation (2000 – 2001)
U2 went back into the studio in early 1999, yet again with Brian Eno and
Daniel Lanois producing. After the overwhelming extravagance of the "PopMart"
tour, critics and music industry insiders felt that U2 was trying to return to
the days of The Joshua Tree in order to keep its audience of loyal fans.
During these sessions, the band collaborated with author Salman Rushdie, who
wrote the lyrics to a song called "The Ground Beneath Her Feet", based on his
book of the same name. That song, and others, eventually appeared on the
soundtrack to The Million Dollar Hotel, a movie based on a story written
All That You Can't Leave Behind, released in late October, was
received widely as U2's return to grace, and was considered by many to be U2's
"third masterpiece" (after Achtung Baby and The Joshua Tree, according to
Rolling Stone). It debuted at No. 1 in 22 countries and spawned a world-wide hit
single, "Beautiful Day", which also earned three Grammy Awards. U2 followed that
release with a major tour in the spring of 2001. The Elevation tour saw
the band performing in a scaled down setting, on a heart shaped stage. The
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 nearly led U2 to cancel the tour, but
they decided to continue, starting the second American leg of the tour at the
University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, home of the "Fighting Irish".
The tour was the top concert draw in North America, where the band's 80 shows
(out of 113 worldwide) grossed $110 million, the second-highest total behind The
Rolling Stones' "Voodoo Lounge Tour" in 1994. Following such an accomplished
album, and a hugely successful tour, many fans felt that U2 had been successful
in "re-applying for the job of the biggest band in the world", an application
Bono had made a year earlier.
After the Elevation tour ended in late 2001, the culmination of U2's
resurrection came when the band performed a spectacular three-song set in New
Orleans, Louisiana during halftime of Super Bowl XXXVI. The undisputed highlight
of the show was an emotional performance of "Where the Streets Have No Name" in
which the names of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, projected onto
a pair of backdrops, floated up towards the sky behind the band. At the end of
the performance, Bono opened his jacket to reveal an American flag printed on
the lining. That image would appear on numerous magazine covers and newspapers.
A few months later, All That You Can't Leave Behind picked up four more
Bono continued his campaigns for debt and HIV/AIDS relief throughout the
summer of 2002. In late 2002, U2 released part two of its greatest hits
collection, The Best of 1990-2000. Dance artists LMC sampled "With or
Without You" for their track "Take Me To The Clouds Above" which also features
lyrics from "How Will I Know" by Whitney Houston. All four members of U2 had to
clear the track, which was released under the title of LMC vs U2. Adam Clayton
said of the track: "It's a good beat and you can dance to it. I especially like
the bassline." The track went to the top of the UK singles charts in February
2004 and also went top 5 in Ireland and top ten in Australia.
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and Vertigo (2004 – 2005)
A rough-cut of the band's follow-up album was stolen in Nice, France, in July
2004 . Shortly thereafter, Bono stated that, should the album appear on P2P
networks, it would be released immediately via iTunes and be in stores within a
month. No such pre-release of the album occurred, however, and the first single
from the album, titled "Vertigo", was released for airplay on September 24,
2004. The song received extensive airplay in the first week after its release
and debuted at #18 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart at #46 on the
Billboard Hot 100, at #1 on the UK Singles Chart, and #5 on the Australian
ARIAnet singles chart. The album, titled How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,
was released on November 22 in much of the world and November 23 in the United
States. The album debuted at #1 in 32 countries, including the United States,
Canada, the United Kingdom and the band's native Ireland. It sold 840,000 units
in the United States in its first week. This was a record for the band, nearly
doubling the first-week sales of All That You Can't Leave Behind in the
U2 promoted How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb heavily. They made
appearances on TV shows like CD:UK and The Jonathan Ross Show in
Britain and Saturday Night Live in America. In another first, the band
allowed the single "Vertigo" to be used in a widely-aired iTunes television
commercial; though the band did not receive any royalties for the use of the
song, due to the commercial the song was well known even before the release of
the album. In a further partnership with Apple Computer, the band licensed a
special version of the iPod music player with a U2 design (black faceplate with
red click wheel, echoing the color scheme for the new album) and facsimilies of
the bandmembers' signatures etched on the back plate. The band made a video for
the second North American single, "All Because Of You," while riding on a
flatbed truck through the streets of Manhattan on November 22. They then played
a free concert at a Brooklyn park, attracting over 3,000 fans who had learned of
the show on various U2 fan websites.
In April 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed U2 in its fifty "greatest
rock & roll artists of all time". On March 14, 2005, U2 was inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.
In Europe, the next single released from the album - "Sometimes You Can't
Make It On Your Own" - once again featured a Bono/Pavarotti performance on the
B-side. The performance is a Jacknife Lee remix of "Ave Maria" sung by Bono with
Luciano Pavarotti.The B-Side of the single also includes a remix of the hit
"Vertigo" and a Jacknife Lee remix of "Fast Cars." Fast Cars is an album track
available only on the UK and Japan versions and American deluxe editions of
Atomic Bomb. The single will be available on 2 CD formats and a DVD single. The
DVD carries a video of an exclusive live performance of "Sometimes You Can't
Make It On Your Own" from the band's Dublin studio, and a Trent Reznor remix of
The first leg of the Vertigo Tour kicked off in the United States, with the
band performing 26 sold-out shows. The first leg started of in March in San
Diego, California and finished in May in Boston, Massachusetts. The band
performed well-known hits, songs from the current album, and early rarities to
adoring fans. The second leg was a summer European stadium tour, which started
on June 10th in Brussels and finished on August 14th in Lisbon. The band will
return to the United States in the fall and will finish up December 19, in
Portland, Oregon. There are currently rumors of a United States stadium/European
arena tour in the summer of 2006.
U2 have smashed Irish box office records with ticket sales for their 2005
Croke Park, Dublin concerts, after more than 150,000 were sold within 50
minutes. In Belgium, France and Austria the tickets were sold within 60 minutes.
U2's third single from the album, "City of Blinding Lights," entered the UK
singles chart at #2 on June 12. They performed alongside Coldplay, Paul
McCartney, and Pink Floyd, among others, in the Live 8 concert in London on July
The U2 Vertigo Tour European Leg climaxed at the Estadio Jose Alvalade XXI,
in Lisbon on August 15th after the band received the country's most prestigious
honour, the Order of Liberty from Portugal's President Jorge Sampaio regarding
the band's hugely influencial work for action in Africa and across the world
concerning extreme poverty. Commenting on the award, which had never previously
been awarded to a foreign music group, Bono said, "It is of course for the four
of us a great, great honour... ... if we really believed that an African life
was equal to a European life we would not stand by with watering cans while an
entire continent was bursting into flames."
Before presenting the award, the President said: "Over the last 25 years you
have shown that it is possible to combine the pleasure of artistic creation with
civic and humanitarian intervention to help build a better world."
Action against poverty has been a major feature point of the Vertigo 05
Next album recordings (2006 – 2007)
In mid-2005, a source (Anti-Music) has reported that U2 have plans for new
album and are keen to record more. According to Bono there are 24 songs that
came out of sessions, of which the band took 11 for their subsequent record. The
Vertigo tour kicked off in San Diego on 28 March and is expected to go well into
2006, so there aren't plans to go into the studio to record. Most likely a new
record would surface in 2007 but the possibility of a new U2 record in 2006
cannot be ruled out entirely. In 1993, during a break in the massive Zoo TV
Tour, U2 recorded what was to be Zooropa. The album was released only a
year and half after their groundbreaking album Achtung Baby. There has
also been talks of U2 re-recording their 1997 album, Pop.
Beside their band-project, U2 and its members also worked with other
musicians, such as the Irish band Clannad with which Bono recorded the song "In
A Lifetime." Together with The Edge, Bono wrote the song "GoldenEye" for the
James Bond movie of the same name, which was performed by Tina Turner. They also
wrote the song "She's A Mystery To Me" for Roy Orbison, which was released on
his album Mystery Girl, while Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. did a
remix of the title track of the movie Mission: Impossible in 1996.
While working under the pseudonym "Passengers," U2 gave producer Brian Eno
quite a bit more creative control and cranked out the album Original
Soundtracks No. 1. The work is a compilation of film music for nonexistent
movies, and a bit of a step back from the usual style of the band. Two of the
tracks, Miss Sarajevo and Your Blue Room, even made it to their best of album
U2 also worked together with other artists, like the U.S. author William S.
Burroughs who had a guest appearance in their video of Last Night on Earth
shortly before he died. His poem 'A Thanksgiving Prayer' was used as video
footage during the bands Zoo TV Tour in the early 1990's.
Also many other musicians were influenced by the work of U2 - there are
several cover versions of U2 songs by bands including Pet Shop Boys and The
Chimes and musicians such as Cassandra Wilson, Mica Paris and Johnny Cash. U2
has enjoyed reciprocal influential relationships with artists including REM and
Anton Corbijn, as well as exerting influences on others, including the Austrian
painter Kave Atefie who dedicated successfully two art-series ('Like a promise
in the year of election' and 'Outside it's America') to the work of the Irish
Since 1982, Anton Corbijn has been photographing U2. He "invented" U2’s
public image and he is still shaping it. Since their first encounter in February
1982 in New Orleans to their April 2004 Lisbon shooting for "How to Dismantle an
Atomic Bomb", their longstanding friendship, mutual inspiration, and shared
experience of rock history is part of the history of photography.
For a complete discography, see U2 discography.
- 1980 - Boy
- 1981 - October
- 1983 - War
- 1984 - The Unforgettable Fire
- 1987 - The Joshua Tree
- 1988 - Rattle and Hum
- 1991 - Achtung Baby
- 1993 - Zooropa
- 1995 - Original Soundtracks No. 1
- 1997 - Pop
- 2000 - All That You Can't Leave Behind
- 2004 - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
- 1983 - Under a Blood Red Sky
U2 is almost as well known for its humanitarian nature as it is for its
music. Bono is perhaps the best-known advocate for finding a cure for AIDS and
helping the impoverished in Africa. Some human rights causes helped by U2
- Amnesty International
- African Well Fund
- Support for Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi
- DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade in Africa)
- Chernobyl Children's Project
- Jubilee Debt Campaign
- The ONE Campaign
- Live 8