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ALSO! Don't miss parts one and two of our U2 Deep Cuts and our list of essential U2 songs.

The band now known as U2 started in 1976, when a 15-year-old drummer named Larry Mullen, Jr. put a flyer up on a high school bulletin board in order to form a band. Adam Clayton, Paul Hewson (now known as Bono), David Evans (now known as The Edge) and Dick Evans (now known as the worst decision-maker of all time) responded to the ad, and the quintet formed a Beatles/Stones cover band called the Feedback. In 1977, Evans left the band – earning his worst decision-maker moniker – to form the Virgin Prunes, an avant-garde punk band. In 1978, the four remaining members won a talent contest sponsored by Guinness and later that year Paul McGuinness (no relation) offered to manage the group after seeing them play.

In the early ‘80s, the group released a pair of critically acclaimed albums (Boy and October) that, along with constant touring and MTV airplay of the singles “I Will Follow” and “Gloria,” earned U2 a considerable cult following in the U.S. and at home. The group broke through in 1983 with the release of the politically charged War, elevating them to amphitheater and arena status in the United States. In a stroke of brilliance, the group filmed its show at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado and released the concert as an EP and a video titled Under A Blood Red Sky. The clip of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” received heavy airplay on MTV and soon the image of Bono marching around on stage with a white flag permeated homes across the globe. U2 returned to the studios, working with co-producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois for the first time. The result of their work was The Unforgettable Fire, which was released in 1984. The album’s biggest hit was a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. – “Pride (In the Name of Love).” Following an international tour, the group stole the show at Live Aid. During the benefit concert, Bono decided to leap into the crowd during a performance of “Bad.” After the show, he felt his self-indulgence had cost his band dearly and took time off to reflect. Instead, the memorable stunt vaulted the group into the forefront of rock and positioned U2 for superstardom.

It wasn’t until the 1987 release of The Joshua Tree that the group reached that coveted superstar status. With singles like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “With or Without You” and “Where the Streets Have No Name,” along with a multitude of strong album tracks, fans and critics called the album a masterpiece. Remembering the success of Under a Blood Red Sky, the group filmed their subsequent U.S. tour and recorded new music concurrently. The result of this work was Rattle & Hum, which served as a title for a documentary and its double-album soundtrack. The album sold well, but both it and the film received mixed reviews.

It wasn’t until 1990 that the group (along with Eno and Lanois) started working on their next album, Achtung Baby. U2 decided to reinvent itself and the band described the effort as “the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree.” The group mixed dance and electronic beats with rock & roll riffs and the result was an album that was both ambitious and risky. The gamble paid off; the change in sound didn’t affect the group’s popularity – the singles “One” and “Mysterious Ways” quickly found chart success. It can be argued, with or without the studio work on Rattle & Hum, that U2’s creativity and success during the five-year span from 1987-1991 is one of the greatest feats in rock history.

After Achtung Baby, the band entered an experimental phase, releasing Zooropa and Original Soundtracks, Vol. 1 (under the name “the Passengers”). While the former is an all-around solid album, it failed to produce any big hits and it was understandably a bit of a disappointment to many of the fans that the band won during the Joshua and Achtung years. The group released Pop in 1997 and held a press conference to announce their resulting tour at a Kmart in Greenwich Village in New York City. The album was more song-oriented (highlighted by the single, “Discotheque”) and less experimental, but the over-the-top marketing surrounding the album and the “PopMart” tour rubbed many fans the wrong way.

After a couple of perceived missteps, the band went “back to the basics” on their next effort, All That You Can’t Leave Behind. This album was meant to please the masses and with the singles “Beautiful Day” and “Elevation,” it succeeded in that mission and is considered a resounding success. The tour stripped the glitz and the glamour away from the previous tours and simply featured the band on a mostly-bare stage. Fans loved the intimacy and at the time, the tour garnered the second highest gross ever behind the Rolling Stones’ “Voodoo Lounge Tour” in 1994.

In 2004, the group released How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Like ATYCLB, it was fairly conservative and risk-adverse. Marketed via an Apple iTunes commercial (using the first single, “Vertigo”), the album had its moments of brilliance intermixed with moments of mediocrity. However, the effort – along with the supporting tour, which is ongoing – are considered successes and the fanatical energy surrounding their last two albums and tours has once again anointed U2 as the “biggest band in the world.” While the fans of the Rolling Stones, Coldplay and a few others might argue, U2 is nothing if not big, so the moniker seems appropriate, at least for now.

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U2 on the Web

The official website for the band.

Bono Saves the World

"Whenever I start working on a song, I immediately try to forget everything, to empty my hands and head of anything that may be hanging over from another song or album. I try to approach it like this is the first time I've ever played guitar. What am I going to do?" - The Edge

"The question is, 'What are you saying with the guitar?' - Not 'Can you play this link?' or 'What's your speed like?' It's, 'What are you saying with your instrument? What is being communicated in this song?'" - The Edge

"As a rock star, I have two instincts, I want to have fun, and I want to change the world. I have a chance to do both." - Bono

"It's so sweet, I feel like my teeth are rotting when I listen to the radio." - Bono

"Rock 'n' roll is ridiculous. It's absurd. In the past, U2 was trying to duck that. Now we're wrapping our arms around it and giving it a great big kiss." - Bono

"If you're writing songs, there are two things that you just don't write about: politics and religion. We write about both." - Bono