Thursday, 23 April 2015

U is for U2

There are few musicians with names beginning with U so it was natural that the first one that popped into my head was the Irish rock band.  The band was originally formed in 1976 by Larry Mullen, Jr., Paul Hewson, David Evans (The Edge) and his older brother Dik Evans, and Adam Clayton.  They went through two names and several lineup changes before settling on the name U2 because it was the name they "disliked the least".  On Saint Patrick's Day 1978 the band won a talent show where part of the prize was the chance to do a demo recording for a record label.  This proved to be a major step forward for them, but their early singles were distributed mainly in Ireland and performances in England didn't gain much attention.

Luckily their 1980 debut album "Boy" demonstrated their potential to international audiences.  A setback occurred when a briefcase containing working lyrics for several songs was stolen during a 1981 performance in Oregon; this and lukewarm reception to their second album "October" motivated them to improve.  By the time they released their third album "War" in 1983, U2 had polished its "deep and meaningful songwriting" to become a major player on the rock and roll stage.  Their subsequent tour was sold-out.

Their works through the remainder of the 1980s experimented with various styles, underlaid with the themes of pacifism, cultural richness, and anti-politics.  On the way they developed friendships with other artists such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Keith Richards.  Now they were performing in arenas and were described as "the band that matters most" by Rolling Stone magazine.  However at the end of the decade they felt as if they were stagnating and sought to transform themselves again.

Recording sessions in the early 1990s were difficult, because each of the founding members had a differing opinion on their musical direction and the quality of their material.  They very nearly broke up, but finally had a breakthrough with the improvised song "One".  The 1991 album "Achtung Baby" was a marked departure from their earlier style: darker and more introspective.  The tours became more flashy and elaborate to satirize the escalating pervasiveness of the media and commercialism.  One highlight of this era was a 1997 performance in Sarajevo, where they were the first major music group to perform since the Bosnian War.

Heading into the 2000s the band changed again, hearkening back to a conventional rock sound.  The aptly titled "All That You Can't Leave Behind" released in 2000 debuted at Number One and won three Grammy Awards.  They scaled down their productions and designed stages that allowed them to get closer to their audiences; band members said later that doing so made the tours more memorable and emotional.

Today the band continues to record albums and their tours are commercial successes.  When not on tour the band members support issues such as poverty, disease, and social injustice.  U2 has performed at many benefit concerts and were awarded Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award for their work in promoting human rights.  Also they've composed and performed music for film and TV.  They are one of the best-selling music artists in history and members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The following song was one of their first Number One hits in the United States.
With Or Without You

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