U2 Biography - The Band
Indisputably one of the most popular rock acts in the world, 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, England; guitar), Adam Clayton (b. 13 March 1960, Chinnor, Oxfordshire, England; bass) and Larry Mullen Jnr. (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. Boy, 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.
By 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.
After 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 remained one of the most popular "stadium" attractions in the world during the 90s.
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. He also established himself as a highly respected and shrewd political advocate for a number of causes. His verbal lashing of the French president Jacques Chirac at the 1995 MTV Awards in Paris created headlines. Obviously upset by the country's 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). Of more particular note is the singer's tireless work in helping to solve the financial and health crisis in Africa. In 1999 he joined the Jubilee 2000 (later renamed Drop The Debt) movement dedicated to erasing the public debt of 52 of the world's poorest countries, many of them located in Africa. In his role as a Jubilee 2000 ambassador, Bono has met with Pope John Paul II, US president George W. Bush, former US president Bill Clinton, US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In 2002, he founded DATA (Debt, Aid, Trade for Africa).
What many critics and fans regard as the musical renaissance of U2 began in October 1998 when a re-recorded b-side, "Sweetest Thing", reached UK number 3. The single 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 the same year's 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. The album's enduring appeal was confirmed when the band won four more awards at the following year's Grammy Awards, including Best Rock Album and Record Of The Year ("Walk On").