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U2 - Profile of the '80s College Rock Superstars

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Bono performing with U2 at the Live Aid charity concert, Wembley Stadium, London, 13th July 1985
Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Formed:

1976 in Dublin, Ireland

Group Members:

  • Bono (born Paul Hewson on May 10, 1960 in Dublin, Ireland) - Lead vocals, frontman, messianic figure
  • The Edge (born David Howell Evans on August 8, 1961 in Barking, Essex, England) - Guitar, backing vocals
  • Adam Clayton (born March 13, 1960 in Chinnor, Oxfordshire, England) - Bass guitar, backing vocals
  • Larry Mullen, Jr. (born October 31, 1961 in Artane, Dublin, Ireland) - Drums

Significant U2 Facts:

  • Members formed the band as classmates in high school, starting off as a cover band called Feedback and then taking the name The Hype.
  • By 1985, even before the band's first No. 1 album The Joshua Tree, Rolling Stone had declared U2 the "Band of the '80s" and perhaps even "the only band that matters."
  • Following a critically revered stint as leading lights in the new forms college rock and post-punk, the group began a string of six consecutive No. 1 albums with 1987's breakthrough to superstardom, The Joshua Tree.
  • Has sold more than 50 million records in the U.S. and more than 170 million worldwide.

Early Years:

U2's righteous desire to spread the word musically started early for the band's four core members and a few of their friends, in 1976. After winning a talent contest sponsored by Guinness in 1978, the developing quartet soon recorded its first demo and settled on a name. In March 1980 the band signed with Island Records, having forged a unique driving rock sound based largely on the innovative, textured guitars of the Edge and Bono's passionate vocals.

Spiritual & Political Consciousness:

Aside from its rousing, joyful take on rock and roll, U2 immediately distinguished itself another way, through the band's thematic emphasis on spiritual and social concerns. By 1983's War, this focus had become even more palpable, as Bono's lyrics took a blunt approach toward dissecting the Troubles in Northern Ireland on "Sunday Bloody Sunday." The band's follow-up album, The Unforgettable Fire, yielded U2's most ambitious, epic political tune yet in "Pride (In the Name of Love)."

Activism & Stardom:

Pretty soon Bono & Co. translated this emerging social conscience into action, appearing prominently at 1985’s Live Aid charity concert as well as participating in Bob Geldof’s Band Aid project. But the band was never one to rest on its laurels in its sweeping existence, and so in 1987 U2 entered another level of the stratosphere with The Joshua Tree, probably one of the best albums in rock history. The record spawned two No. 1 singles but stood out for its consistency and impressive scope.

U2 - Chameleonic Masters of Success:

U2 closed out the '80s somewhat quietly with 1989’s Rattle & Hum, a live album featuring some eclectic explorations. This was an appropriate transitional record for the band, followed by complete reinvention on 1991’s equally successful Achtung Baby. Subsequent albums continued to explore various musicial territories, but over the last 20 years U2’s output has implemented elements of dance-pop while staying true to the anthemic pop-rock that took them to the top in the first place.

Key Albums & Songs of the '80s:

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