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U2

U2


If the Rolling Stones were the "World's Greatest Rock Band" in the late '60s and early '70s, then U2 owned the title in the '80s. From Ireland, the band was also known for making potent social and political statements - death for most Rock groups.

U2 got together in the mid-'70s when drummer Larry Mullen posted a notice at his school looking for band members. At the same time, Paul Hewson was writing songs. Being in a band sounded like a good idea. Brothers, Dave and Dik Evans, also joined as did Adam Clayton. Later on, figuring the band was going nowhere Dik bailed. U2 started out, as Feedback, then The Hype. Paul Hewson gave himself the name Bono Vox, taken from a hearing aid company. Guitarist Dave Evans became The Edge. The nickname was provided by Bono and had something to do with the shape of Evans' head. After winning a talent contest, the band got a chance to record a demo and by early '80 they were signed to Island Records.

U2's "War" CD was their breakthrough. The powerful riff rocker "New Year's Day" and the fierce "Sunday Bloody Sunday" showed a band with a conscience. The latter is a protest song against the seemingly endless violence in Northern Ireland.



U2 went on to record the incredible "Joshua Tree." Released in '87, the album had "With Or Without You," "Where The Street Have No Name" and "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." It defined U2 as a challenging and creative force. In the '90s, U2 stretched out with the "Achtung Baby" (industrial), "Zooropa" and "Pop" (techno).

Prior to the release of "All That You Left Behind" the music press was full of stories about this album being a return to the group's roots. The sonic density of "Pop" had given way to a leaner, airier sound. In many ways, Bono's vocals and The Edge's guitar, U2's two most recognizable entities, harked back to the glory days.

Bono is known for his involvement in notable causes, like the elimination of crippling third world debt and combating AIDS, especially in Africa. Not that it was all social issues and politics for U2. They cranked it up for the Super Bowl XXXVI ('02) halftime show, reaching an estimated audience of 80 million in the U.S.

'04 saw U2 roar to the top of the album charts (again) with "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" containing ipod favorite, "Vertigo." They followed that with a much anticipated tour and induction into the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame.

It was not uncommon to see Bono meeting with presidents, politicians and religious leaders in an effort to mitigate suffering around the world. He even launched a product line in '06, RED (with participation from Converse, The GAP and Apple, among others), to benefit the fight against AIDS in Africa. But a few weeks before that, Bono and the rest of U2, along with Green Day performed during the pre-game show on ESPN's Monday Night Football to celebrate the reopening of the Louisiana Superdome (severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina) in New Orleans. They played a live version of their recently recorded hurricane charity single, a cover of Scottish Punk band, the Skids, "The Saints Are Coming." In a bit of a switch, it was The Edge who was out in front. "Every musician owes a little bit of a debt to New Orleans," he said.

The two bands also played "Beautiful Day," and Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends." Performance footage was sold online to benefit Music Rising, an organization co-founded by The Edge that replaces musical instruments lost in '05's Gulf Coast storms.

The Rebirth Of Cool: U2 In The Third Millennium, released in '08, contained a 68-minute documentary DVD with band member interviews, live footage and commentary from music journalists. Also, the '83 concert video Live At Red Rocks - Under A Blood Red Sky was reissued on DVD. The new disc included five performances not featured on the original release, plus commentary from the director Gavin Taylor.

U2 began work on their twelfth album in '06 with legendary producer Rick Rubin. But those tracks were shelved and the band started fresh with their veteran production team of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno.

Meanwhile, U2 signed 12 year, reportedly $100 million agreement, with concert promoter Live Nation, who also gained control of U2's merchandising, sponsorships and website.

"No Line On The Horizon" was finished in late '08 and released the following March. Giving the world a taste of their upcoming album, U-2 opened the 51st Grammy Awards ('09) show in L.A. with the single "Get Your Boots On." The Edge said the track had themes of female empowerment. "It's based around the idea that men have f***ed things up so badly . . . that it's really time we handed things over to women," the guitarist explained. Bono called "Get Your Boots On" a "blazing, fuzzed-out Rocker.

The Grammy appearance was pretty good exposure but U2 captured more.

A rooftop concert - The Beatles famously did it first, at Apple headquarters in London, for "Let It Be" ('67). Then U2 used the roof of a downtown L.A. building to film the video for "Where The Streets Have No Name" ('87). And in '09, U2 did it again. The band performed a surprise 20-minute set atop BBC Broadcasting House in London to promote the album. An estimated 5,000 people witnessed the brief show.

U2's "No Line On The Horizon" promo blitz just kept rolling. On the day before the album dropped, U2 began a five-night run on CBS' Late Show With David Letterman. It was the group's first performance on Lettermen since '01. The next day, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg honored the group by rechristening a section of the city's 53rd Street "U2 Way" for the day. Band members were given replica U2 Way street signs at the ceremony. Three days later, the group visited ABC's Good Morning America for their first ever appearance on a U.S. morning show - guess they're not early risers.

Before "No Line On The Horizon" was released, Bono told a reporter that another U2 album, containing songs recorded during the "No Line" sessions, would be out before the end of '09. "{It'll be} a more meditative album on the theme of pilgrimage," said Bono.

In the meantime, Bono had a cameo in Sacha Baron Cohen's '09 comedy Bruno. The celebrity-wannabe title character lamented that all the great social causes had been taken. "Sting has the Amazon and Bono's got AIDS," said Bruno, totally unaware of how it came out.

Taking time off from recording, touring and saving the world Bono showed up later in the film. He, Slash, Sting, Elton John and "Bruno" performed the film ending sarcastic take on "inspirational/make the world a better place" songs - with an "age" joke at Bono's expense. Only Cohen would dare such a thing.

U2 spent a large part of '09 on their 360-worldwide stadium trek in support of "No Line On The Horizon." The huge stage, nicknamed "The Claw," allowed the group to play in the round. There was also a cylinder-shaped video screen. "The crowd will be all around us," said The Edge prior to the tour. "That energy will just make the performances fly."

The first stop was Barcelona, Spain. The 90,000 in attendance heard a 22-song set that included a two song-tribute to the recently deceased Michael Jackson. "We wrote this one for Billie Holiday but we are going to play it tonight for Michael Jackson," said Bono before the group performed "Angel Of Harlem." "Angel" morphed into Jackson hits "Man In The Mirror" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." "Unspeakable talent, that's all there is to say, really," concluded the U2 frontman.

The North American edition launched in September at Chicago's Soldier Field. "There is nowhere else we'd want to be this evening than here, the heart of America," said Bono.

As part of the tour, U2 broadcast their concert from Pasadena's Rose Bowl stadium on YouTube. "The band has wanted to do something like this for a long time," said U2 manager Paul McGuinness in a statement. "As we're filming the L.A. show (for a planned DVD), it's the perfect opportunity to extend the party beyond the stadium. Fans often travel long distances to come to see U2 - this time U2 can go to them, globally." Over 100,000 attended the sold out concert (a record for the venue) with an estimated 2.5 million viewing the webcast. The 360 world tour concluded a couple days later in Vancouver, B.C. (with a 2010 edition planned - see below).

Just as the trek was winding down, U2's '84 release "The Unforgettable Fire' got a 25th anniversary reissue with b-sides, alternate takes and a new song -"Disappearing Act." The track was originally recorded during the '83 sessions but set aside. The band did additional work on the tune for inclusion on the album.

Amid all this stunning success Bono admitted that he was disappointed by "No Line On The Horizon's" lagging sales. The average U2 album sells 3-4 million copies but "No Line On The Horizon" did just over one-million. Bono's theory was the group didn't "pull off the pop songs." Of course, most bands would kill to sell a million CDs but they're not U2.

Even when album sales drop, there's always the road. According to Billboard magazine, U2 remained a top concert draw between 2000-2009. They made $822 million with 288 shows - all of which sold out. Their tour income during that period was second only to the Rolling Stones ($869-million).

Recording again in early '10, The Edge had promising words for the group's 13th studio effort. "We are working on a lot of new songs," he said. "Some of them are really, really happy. We're convinced that we have something really special."

"We are experimenting with a lot of different arrangements," he added. "The thing we haven't figured out yet is where this album is going to end up."

The ongoing 360 tour had a setback in '10 when Bono underwent emergency back surgery in Munich. He suffered an injury during the band's rehearsals for the extraordinarily popular tour. The procedure forced tour dates to get shuffled.

"Knowing him, he'd probably want to take some short cuts [to recovery] and get ahead of himself but from what I understand he needs to do this in a methodical way, so we'll be there to chain him down if need be," said The Edge who speculated that something in Bono's "intense preparation" for the tour likely triggered the injury. "Thankfully {he} sought medical help before the injury got any worse."

Turned out Bono had another pain in the back. In their three decade career, he and The Edge guided U2 avoiding a major misstep. So they were probably overdue to take a hit. The Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, featuring music by Bono and The Edge, looked like a train wreck. The show, with its aerial acrobatics became, at $70 million, the most expensive production in Broadway history.

It was marred by accidents (actors flying around is not always safe), cast changes (some due to injuries), massive script rewrites and financial woes.

Meanwhile, Green Day had a Broadway run with American Idiot, featuring songs from the album of the same name. With a lower budget and already known/popular songs the show was a success.

When Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark had preview performances at Broadway's Foxwoods Theatre the reviews were not good.

The score was deemed "joyless" and neither "melodic or memorable." Ouch! So the show was pulled for yet another retooling. The director, Julie Taymor, who had made Lion King a Broadway smash, was sent packing. Bono and The Edge took a greater role in the production and composed new songs.

"Music From Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark," recorded by the Broadway cast, was released in '11.

In another theatrical move, the Davis Guggenheim directed U2 documentary, From the Sky Down, opened the '11 Toronto International Film Festival. It was the first time a documentary had kicked off the festival in its 36 years. "In the terrain of Rock bands -- implosion or explosion is seemingly inevitable," said Guggenheim in a statement. "U2 has defied the gravitational pull towards destruction; this band has endured and thrived. The movie From the Sky Down asks the question why."

Through it all, U2's 360 tour continued to roll. When the dust settled the three year trek had broken all records grossing $736 million. "It just leaves a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and is without a doubt one of the greatest experiences in the business that I've ever had," said Arthur Fogel, the chairman of Live Nation Global Touring, the company that orchestrated the tour. "When you can capture the attention and imagination and enjoyment of seven million people, that's what this business is all about." After receiving Billboard's Top Tour of the Year honor, the 360 tour was also #1 on Pollstar.com's list of the most profitable tours of 2011.

The good news kept coming for Bono and The Edge. Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark broke the record for the highest gross in its debut week, earning almost $3 million. The previous record holder was the Wizard Of Oz spin off, Wicked. Even so, the show was still a long way from breaking even.

Following the '12 elections, Bono spent three-days in Washington D.C. to encourage Congress and the Obama administration to keep funding relief efforts in poverty stricken countries. Speaking on behalf of his own ONE Campaign, Bono urged the U.S. government to spare funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs as well as nutrition and emergency food projects across the world. Bono also gave the keynote address at the Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown University. "Cuts can cost the lives of the poorest of the poor. It shouldn't be a hard case to make, but it is right now. But I put it to you: we must not let this economic recession become a moral recession. That would become a double cruelty."

Many were paying attention, but it took the French, of all people, to provide due recognition. Bono received the Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, France's highest cultural honor, for his contribution to music and commitment to humanitarian causes. Stating that the '13 award belonged to the entire group, Bono added, "I've got the biggest mouth and the loudest voice but the music we make comes from each other."

Months later, U2 was the first musical guest on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. They performed "Invisible" live, on the roof of Rockefeller Center - home of NBC. Later in the show, U2 was interviewed by Fallon before launching into an acoustic version of "Ordinary Love." "Play the song everyone wants to hear," Fallon asked The Edge. He obliged plucking the opening notes to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven." When the laughter subsided, The Edge, and the rest of U2, got down to business.

How do you top that? Perhaps an Oscar for Best Original Song? They were nominated for "Ordinary Love," from the film Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. And during the '14 Oscars the group took to the stage to play their entry and earned a standing ovation. A nod from the Academy seemed perfunctory. But no. U2 lost the Oscar to "Let It Go" from the film Frozen.
U2 Discography

U2 Discography

1980 Boy
1981 October
1983 War
1984 The Unforgettable Fire
1987 The Joshua Tree
1988 Rattle And Hum
1991 Achtung Baby
1993 Zooropa
1997 Pop
2000 All That You Can't Leave Behind
2004 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
2009 No Line On The Horizon

U2 is the most important group of the'80s. They made their debut with the exceptional "Boy" album. "October" followed, building their audience. "War" is an undeniable classic. The live "Under A Blood Red Sky," the EP "Wide Awake In America" and the near classic "The Unforgettable Fire" came next. U2 hit their absolute '80s peak with "Joshua Tree." The next year, '88, U2 presented another great album, the live/studio soundtrack to their documentary "Rattle & Hum."

With the '90s, U2's sound changed significantly. The largely sparse sound gave way to dense production. The basic elements were still there among the double tracked guitar/vocals and other production devices. "Achtung Baby," produced by Lanois and Eno, is a masterpiece. "Zooropa" follows "Achtung Baby's" lead. "Pop," unveiled in '97, is a solid effort but not really in the same league with earlier works.

"All That You Left Behind" is not U2's greatest CD but there's more than enough to recommend. The follow-up, ""How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb," proves U2, a quarter century after their debut, are still vibrant creative force. But just as Grunge bands wore out the "soft verse/loud chorus" song structure, U2 has their own rut. There's the slow opening, giving everybody a chance to warm up and allow Bono to emote on the track's best verse. After a bit of that, the song kicks into a U2 Rocker. This is all well and good, but in a world of instant gratification it is far better to come out swinging and keep it rolling until the whole thing either runs out of gas or comes crashing down. The only songs that manage it are "Vertigo" (no wonder it was the set's first single) and "All Because of You." That said, this album has a handful of great songs and enough good ones to make anyone (fan or not) happy. Check out "Miracle Drug" and "Love And Peace Or Else." As with their previous effort, U2 needs to Rock more. They can you know, they really can.

Given the state of the world economy in '09, it seemed obvious the lead track from "No Line On The Horizon" would be a scorching screed against greed. But playing against expectations the first single was the hedonistic "Get Your Boots On," which owes its soul to Escape Club's '80s hit "Wild, Wild West."

The garage-Rock title track leads-off the set shows U2 is still rough and ready. Good omen. Electronic warbles open "Magnificent" before The Edge's sharp chords take control. The track kicks as Bono sings the narcissistic lyrics ("I was born to sing for you. I didn't have a choice but to lift you up"), actually written by The Edge, with undeniable conviction.

Bono told a reporter that the song "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight," was "kind of like this album's 'Beautiful Day' -- it has that kind of joy to it." While the song does not possess "Beautiful Day's" inspirational power it's obvious where Bono is coming from.

"Get Your Boots On" is a killer track and got tons of attention. But don't forget the cut that immediately follows, "Stand Up Comedy." It's too good to be overlooked.

Early in their career, U2 was an undisputed master at seamlessly melding Rock and politics. Can't argue with "War's" one-two punch of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" and "New Year's Day." Those days may be over, but U2 still delivers flashes of brilliance - and even some political insight.

If you don't own their '90s albums, "U2: 1990-2000" is probably the best way to catch up on one of Rock's all-time great groups. Any album with "Even Better Than The Real Thing," "Beautiful Day," "Mysterious Ways" and "One" is worth owning. There are also remixes of four songs including "Staring At The Sun" and a batch of B-sides (for the faithful). Who could ask for more? Well, the hits just keep coming.

"U218," released in '06 (just in time for holiday shopping), is a collection of 18 singles (see title) with the expected, "Pride (In The Name Of Love)," "New Year's Day," and "One," plus more current tracks including, "The Saints Are Coming," the group's charity (Hurricane Katrina) collaboration with Green Day. There is also an accompanying DVD.

Gotta Haves: The Joshua Tree - 1987: The album opens with three churning, tormented Rockers, "Where The Streets Have No Name," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "With Or Without You." The politically anguished "Bullet The Blue Sky" and "Red Hill Mining Town" are especially memorable. "In God's Country" and "One Tree Hill" Rock while "Trip Through Your Wires" has a driving Blues feeling. This is U2's best 80's album.

Achtung Baby - 1991: With the distorted repetitive guitar riff and Bono's heavily processed vocals, "Zoo Station" represents a change for U2. Aside from the production effects, obviously influenced and implemented by producers Lanois and Eno (with mixing by Flood), "Achtung Baby" has some of U2's best crafted songs. There's the bombastic "Even Better Than The Real Thing," the mournful "One" and the churning "Until The End of the World." "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" breaks from the din and Rocks lean through the verses. Excellent lyrics. "Mysterious Ways" with Edge's commanding guitar and Bono's double tracked vocals is another powerful Rocker. The rhythm track (bass, drums and cowbell) is the perfect center for the song to swirl around.


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