Personalities | U2 | Eighties | Rock

One of the world’s most successful rock groups, U2 are unique in having kept a stable line-up throughout a lengthy career. Singer Bono (b. Paul Hewson, 10 May 1960), guitarist The Edge (b. David Evans, 8 August 1961), bassist Adam Clayton (b. 13 March 1960) and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. (b. 31 October 1961) formed a band at school in Dublin in 1977. Settling on the name U2 in 1978, they came to England in 1980 after two Irish chart-topping singles.

Gathering Momentum

Three flop singles preceded their debut album Boy (1980), a well-received work concerning adolescence. Constant gigging, including a first visit to America, helped establish their formidable reputation as live performers. Minor hits ‘Fire’ and ‘Gloria’ were taken from the religiously themed October (1981), regarded one of U2’s least satisfying albums. The long-awaited chart breakthrough came with the typically passionate ‘New Year’s Day’ from 1983’s War, an album about conflict. The live mini-album Under A Blood Red Sky (1984) was a largely successful attempt to capture U2’s live act, its version of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ eclipsing the original on War. The album earned them their first US Top 30 placing.

U2 continued to gather momentum with The Unforgettable Fire (1984), featuring ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’. The band’s anthemic music acquired a new depth via the atmospheric production by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. It cracked the Top 20 in America, fittingly for an album which revealed U2’s growing fascination with the United States.

Adding A Touch Of Irony

Live Aid proved a pivotal moment in the band’s ascension into the major leagues. An unforgettable performance at Wembley Stadium was capped by Bono’s unscripted foray over the lip of the stage and towards the crowd to the bemusement of his colleagues. U2’s next album, the eagerly anticipated The Joshua Tree (1987) did not diappoint. Again produced by Lanois and Eno, a widescreen element was added to the band’s stirring rock music. The first three tracks were all hit singles – ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ and ‘With Or Without You’ – all encapsulating the album’s themes of spirituality and soul-searching. The Joshua Tree went on to sell 25 million copies worldwide.

It was quickly followed by Rattle And Hum (1988), a part-live/part-studio double set which also served as the soundtrack to U2’s documentary film of the same name, a memento of the Joshua Tree tour. Although it sold well and gave the band their first UK No. 1 single, ‘Desire’, Rattle And Hum’s apparently haphazard sequencing resulted in a lack of cohesion.

Achtung Baby (1991) was a deliberate attempt to forge a new direction, incorporating elements of dance and electronica, which caused much conflict within U2’s ranks. Containing ‘The Fly’ and ‘One’, Achtung Baby was lyrically darker than its predecssors but a touch of irony was beginning to temper the earnestness. The result rivals The Joshua Tree as U2...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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