U2 is a rock quartet from Dublin, Ireland. At fourteen years old, Larry Mullen posted a sign on the school notice board to start a band, and among the six respondents were the three boys destined to start a lifetime musical partnership. The band went through a couple name changes, and “phased out” Dik Evans, Dave’s brother, to form the final quartet by March, 1978. They were encouraged by winning a national talent contest; by 1980 they moved from CBS records to Island Records, who distributed their music internationally, and jump started their slow ascendance to stardom.
Founded in 1976, U2 has maintained the same lineup for nearly forty years. They are:
U2 achieved critical acclaim after their first album, Boy, in 1980. Here in America, maybe you heard them on college and new wave radio stations. I first heard them on M. Dung’s morning show KFOG 104.5 FM in 1984. I bought the 45 for “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”, back when hit songs cost less than a buck. Although The Joshua Tree made them worldwide stars, it was Achtung Baby in late 1991 that moved me. Always a late adopter of technology, Achtung Baby was one of my first hundred compact discs (CDs), and is still a favorite. U2 is perhaps the most famous band in the English speaking world these last twenty odd years, a creative quartet with a great front man and a gifted guitarist.
“Because U2 had such a grandiose sound long before its lyrics had anything especially grand to say, some listeners immediately assume that this Irish quartet was self-impressed and shallow. And, to be honest, there is some truth in that. But despite the occasional eloquence of issue songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”, most U2 songs emphasize the sound of the band over the sense of the lyrics, an approach that, at its best, lends a certain naive majesty to the group’s albums.”
— J. D. Considine, “The Rolling Stone Album Guide”
U2 is best appreciated loud, their sound well suited for arena size performance. They generate a big, bright sound with only four musicians, one of whom sings almost exclusively. Clayton and Mullen provide compelling rhythms, and The Edge adds the shimmering, high frequency textures so recognizable in their music. Notes are chosen sparingly, and though The Edge performs the occasional guitar solo, everything is geared to accentuate the drama in Bono’s earnest lyrics. All three musicians are groove makers, adding syncopation and volume as needed. Among the artists in my countdown, U2 started their career latest, with Boy in 1980. By the time I complete a list of favored artists, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings may hold that distinction. In many ways, they are like The Who, another famous rock quartet with a dedicated lead singer. Both bands write anthems for the people, but The Edge and Pete Townshend use the guitar differently. U2’s music lacks improvisation, but the band packs some giant dance grooves.
U2 are the unusual group that reached an artistic peak in mid-career. The critics generally cite The Joshua Tree as their best. It has both of U2’s #1 hit songs, “With Or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. In this video, Bono seduces a lucky fan with his voice and his tenderness:
“Have you come here for forgiveness?
have you come to raise the dead?
have you come here to play Jesus?
to the lepers in your head.
Did I ask too much?
more than a lot.
You gave me nothing,
now it’s all I got.
We’re one, but we’re not the same,
see we hurt each other,
then we do it again.
You say Love is a temple,
love a higher law,
love is a temple,
love a higher law.
you ask me to enter,
but then you make me crawl,
and I can’t keep holding on,
To what you got,
when all you’ve got is hurt…
you got to do what you should.
One life, with each other,
One life, but we’re not the same.
We get to carry each other, carry each other.”
Presently, I would rather hear “Mysterious Ways” or the dark “Until The End Of The World”, which I consider first class free form dance music. The band at their 2005 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame:
Bono is such a ham. He embraces the spotlight, and his position as the lead vocalist for the biggest band in the world. Overall, Bono, and U2 as a whole, handle their fame with uncommon grace and dignity.
Few rock bands have possessed the ability to exhilarate huge crowds like U2. Another example is this performance of “Beautiful Day”, where the band builds the intensity to a fever pitch. It appears that everyone raises their arms, and jumps to the beat on cue:
Other modern bands may inspire this type of group exaltation, but they are outside my sphere of music. I will guess that hard rock bands like Guns ‘n Roses, Metallica, and Kiss all inspire their fans to rejoice together.
U2 reaches for the grand statement. They aim high, and sometimes they succeed brilliantly. Their lyrics are thought provoking at times, while the musical structures tend to be simple in comparison to other great artists. They are superb at creating a sound which inspires. Bono has a beautiful voice, but it’s The Edge, and the way he creates sound with his guitar, that is the key characteristic of their music.
U2 Song Notes:
1. A special thanks to unofficial eighties music consultant Jon Spaulding for an hour long conversation about U2. He used “All I Want Is You” for his first dance at his wedding.
2. During their career, the band covered Robert Knight’s “Everlasting Love”, which received some FM radio attention. Their version is not included in the collection, but the original song is among my favorites, and the marching beat of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” sounds inspired by this wonderful song.
3. The band Coldplay owes a debt to U2. “Beautiful Day” seems a precursor to “Clocks”.
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, U2 ✭✭✭✭
Mysterious Ways, U2 ✭✭✭✭
One, U2 ✭✭✭✭
Until The End Of The World, U2 ✭✭✭✭
Pride (In The Name Of Love), U2 ✭✭✭
Even Better Than The Real Thing, U2 ✭✭✭
Desire, U2 ✭✭✭
Beautiful Day, U2 ✭✭✭
In God’s Country, U2 ✭✭✭
Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World, U2 ✭✭
Electrical Storm (Alt) (William Orbit Mix), U2 ✭✭
Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own, U2 ✭✭
With Or Without You, U2 ✭✭
Running To Stand Still, U2 ✭✭
Sunday Bloody Sunday, U2 ✭✭
Ordinary Love, U2 ✭✭
New Year’s Day, U2 ✭✭
When Love Comes To Town (Live), U2 & B.B. King ✭✭
I Will Follow, U2 ✭
Sweetest Thing, U2 ✭
Angel Of Harlem, U2 ✭
Gloria, U2 ✭
All I Want Is You, U2 ✭
Lemon, U2 ✭
Where The Streets Have No Name, U2 ✭
Song For Someone, U2 ✭
Raised By Wolves, U2 ✭
The Troubles, U2 ✭
Gloria, Them ✭✭✭✭✭
Gloria (Live), Van Morrison ✭✭✭
Gloria, Van Morrison ✭
Gloria, The Doors ✭