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Profile of U2
Irish Rockers U2
Introduction to U2
Pop quiz: What was U2's original band name?
If you answered Feedback or The Hype you are incorrect.
It is true that the band first performed under the name Feedback, and then quickly morphed into The Hype.
But when they first got together to practice in a kitchen located in Dublin, Ireland, they were, according to band members, known for about five minutes as The Larry Mullen Band.
The Beginning of The Larry Mullen Band
So why would U2, with Bono its arguably most recognized member, originally be named for their drummer, Larry Mullen, Jr.?
Because it was Larry Mullen, Jr. who founded the band.
Back in 1976, Larry decided he wanted to start a band. A student at the Mount Temple Comprehensive School, he put up an on the school's notice board.
Several students answered the ad.
Four of those respondents passed the Larry Mullen Band test and went on to become the mega-band U2.
Two other Larry Mullen Band hopefuls went on to become famous U2 dropouts.
Mount Temple Comprehensive School
U2 Founder and Drummer, Larry Mullen, Jr.
Edge, Friday, and Bono
Founding Members and U2 Dropouts
Adam Clayton, David Evans, Dik Evans, Paul Hewson, and Ivan McCormick answered Larry Mullen's ad. Adam, David, (The Edge), Paul (Bono) and Larry ultimately became the four lads known as U2.
Dik Evans, The Edge's brother, quickly left the band deciding to join with a few other Dubliners in putting together another band.
Together with Fionan Harvey, Derek Rowan, Trevor Rowan, and Anthony Murphy--better known as Gavin Friday, Guggi, Strongman, and Pod--he became part of the lineup of the post-punk band The Virgin Prunes .
Ivan's story as a U2 dropout is particularly poignant as he did not voluntarily leave U2, In fact, for years Ivan never knew that his brother torpedoed the chance for fame he had dreamed of as a young man growing up in Dublin.
What Ivan never knew for years was his audition was a success and the Larry Mullen Band wanted him for a member. What he also never knew was that this information was passed along to his brother, Neil.
But Neil was planning on chasing fame himself had designs for making Ivan part of a band he hoped to put together himself.
Unfortunately for Ivan, Neil, angry that his brother had tried out for a band other than the one he was planning to form, told the Larry Mullen Band members that Ivan wasn't interested in their offer.
Ivan, however, had no idea that Neil RSVP'd in the negative to U2's invitation.
The story of Ivan and Neil McCormick, who ultimately formed The McCormick Brothers , is the basis for the novel, I Was Bono's Doppelganger, which chronicles The McCormick Brothers as they watch U2 soar to arena rock status while they peak at playing strip clubs and malls.
BONOVOX OF O'CONNELL STREET
More Name Changes
True or False? Bono (or Bono Vox) was the original pseudonym by which Paul Hewson was known?
Like U2, Bono underwent a few name changes before settling on the one by which he in now famously known.
Why so many names? Why so many name changes?
Prior to joining a rock band, some of the members were part of another band, a fanciful band of friends who played at being part of a surrealist place called Lypton Village.
Part of the play was taking on different names: Fionan Harvey became Gavin Friday, Trevor Rowan was Guggi, and Paul Hewson, well, he was a number of names before Bono.
So what was Bono's first nickname? Unbelievably, this was the pseudonym first donned by U2's front man: Steinhegvanhuysenolegbangbangbangbang.
That name became shortened to Steinvic von Huyseman, then Huyseman, then Houseman, Bon Murray, Bono Vox of O'Connell Street, then finally the name by which most people, even his wife know him: Bono.
Trying to pin down how David Evans ended up The Edge is a bit more difficult than tracing Bono's metamorphosis.
Some sources claim that the names of the Lypton Villagers originated from certain facial characteristics that members had and David Evans was known for having quite angular features, hence The Edge.
Other sources claim that David Evans was always sort of an outsider, or that he never really fully participated in events and activities, preferring to stay on "the edge" of things.
Still other sources promote the theory that it was Evans's intelligence, his sharpness, that led to him becoming "a man so smart, even his mother calls him The Edge" as Bono has said.
Origin of the Final Name
Stories often circulate that the name the band ultimately settled on, U2, was meant to pay homage to the U-2 spy plane/Francis Gary Powers incident.
However, Steve Averill, a longtime friend of the band, has a different story on the band's metamorphosis into U2:
"Adam liked names like XTC, which were short and crisp and could mean a lot or mean very little. So I made a list of ten and I put U2 on the bottom.
I thought it was strong graphically and it had a variety of connotations without meaning something specific.
It was short and stood out from the band names common at the time.
After we discussed the list we decided to go for U2 for all those reasons." Hot Press, 2001
According to Averill's story, the U2 name was more of a creation involving sound and graphic presentation rather than an homage to a spy plane or geopolitical event.
Play the Blues, Edge
Early U2 From "Three" to "War"
Spirituality and religion are subjects that have consumed three of the four U2 rockers. Larry, The Edge, and Bono were always searching for, as Bono puts it, "A church [we] could receive in."
With the members growing up in war torn Ireland where part of the violence stemmed from conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, finding such a church proved difficult. But when the boys found the non-denominational "Shalom" group, they finally felt they had a spiritual home.
U2's early music reflects the band's experiences as charismatic Christians. While their sound is raw, and Bono likes to compare U2 to a punk act, the lyrics to many early U2 songs reflect unabashed Christian themes. For example, "40" is almost a verbatim copy of Psalm 40.
The influence of charismatic Christianity was such a force on the three that for a while they considered labelling themselves a Christian rock band.
However, the Shalom group to which the three belonged did not believe that rock-n-roll and Christianity were compatible. To keep true to their faith, the group almost disbanded, but ultimately decided they could find a way to make Christ a part of their group.
Another consideration early U2 had to consider whilst trying to plot the band's future was bassist Adam Clayton's belief system which did not include Christ or God at all--Clayton considered himself an atheist.
Clayton was more or less being ostracized by the other band members, or at least not being fully included in the band's decisions regarding their musical direction. Once this was pointed out to the three by the band's manager, Paul McGuinness, Bono took the lead in including their doubting friend. He talked with Adam, telling him how much the three valued him not only as a band mate, but as a friend, ultimately asking him to be best man at his wedding.
The Unforgettable Fire and Live Aid
The Unforgettable Fire was the first album produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, both of whom would also produce The Joshua Tree.
The Unforgettable Fire gave the band a more polished, instrumentally haunting and atmospheric sound and was a marked departure from raw, punkish early U2. U2 found a world stage to introduce their new sound in the rock benefit, Live Aid.
It was an introduction that Bono felt he blew, believing he had personally ruined U2 with the world watching.
After the performance, Bono isolated himself, refusing to talk to anyone, and drove around Ireland. He stayed in this solitary state until he came across a sculptor who, according to "U2" by Mark Taylor, was working on an interesting project:
"Ironically, the man was working on a piece which he called "The Leap", an attempt to reproduce the spirit of Live Aid through an image that U2 had themselves provided for him."
Bono left the sculptor and his fears of failure behind in the Irish countryside and returned home looking forward to the future of U2.
Adam Clayton, The Rhett Butler of U2
Eno and Lanois
The Joshua Tree
The band followed up their electric world introduction at Live Aid with their break out album, The Joshua Tree.
The Joshua Tree is still, to date, U2's biggest selling album. Produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, the album gave the band what many believed would be a lasting definitive sound.
That sound was one that was a synthesis of the band's Irish musical heritage combined with a mixture of classic rock, blues, and gospel.
While Bono's vocal style was a bit more refined over his previous punk sound, it still delivered an earthy, passionate performance. The Edge also worked on his guitar sound, opting for what has become his trademark, echo-chiming style.
Partly due to the band's appearance of the cover of Time magazine where they were labelled "Rock's Hottest Ticket," U2 became a household word.
Dreaming It All Up Again
U2, however, were a bit unprepared for international rock superstar status.
The band were still coming to terms with their sound, who they were as individuals, who they were as a musical act, and where they wanted to go in their careers.
They were also unprepared for dealing with the public on a grand scale and came across as dour, overly dramatic, pretentious, self-absorbed, lacking a sense of humor, and full of themselves.
Their documentary film, Rattle and Hum, did little to dispel the unfavorable backlash descended on "God's Favourite Sons."
While the band intended to show themselves as fans of many of America's iconic rock musicians, to many critics, U2's visits to places such as Graceland or showing themselves performing with B.B. King, only solidified the view that the band was attempting to prematurely claim they had achieved the status those stars had actually attained.
Super success lead to the beginning of the band's floundering and at a live performance at the end of 1989, Bono made a statement that many interpreted as the end of U2: "This is just the end of something for U2....It's no big deal, it's just -- we have to go away and...and dream it all up again."
U2 Masterpiece Achtung Baby
While Bono has claimed that his remarks at the end of the Lovetown Tour were not meant to imply an impending breakup, the comment proved to be a near prophecy.
Needing to get a grip on themselves, needing to come to terms with their new found status, and needing a new album, U2 left the comfort of Ireland, where they often recorded, and headed off to Berlin.
The idea was to go to an unfamiliar place, to be immersed in a completely different sound, and to find inspiration in a place that was leaving the past behind for an uncharted future.
Fittingly, the band were on the very last flight that flew into East Berlin, with the wall coming down shortly after their arrival.
It was a precarious place to be, leaving everything they knew behind for a complete unknown. It was a huge gamble, not just musically, but personally as well.
As Bono says in From the Sky Down, "You have to reject one expression of the band, first, before you get to the next expression, and in between you have nothing, you have to risk it all."
At first the gamble seemed a losing proposition.
The recording sessions went horribly. The band argued constantly, unable to come to any kind of consensus or find any kind of cohesiveness in their music. Even their lifelong personal relationships with each other were suffering, and the Edge's marriage fell apart.
Finally, when a break up seemed a very real possibility, perhaps, the only possibility if the band intended to keep the personal relationships they treasured, the song that would become "One" somehow came together.
Almost like magic, the sound the band was seeking, the direction they were heading coalesced and the album that became Achtung Baby was born.
To promote Achtung Baby, U2 staged the unabashed spectacle they called ZooTV.
The stage consisted of huge television sets broadcasting various shows, through which Bono would channel surf.
Various messages were broadcast on the screen as the band played, most famously the message informing viewers that "Everything you know is wrong."
In addition to the televisions, there were several Trabant automobiles hanging suspended from the stage that would move in time to the music.
Instead of treating concert goers to an earnest performance filled with preachy soliloquies and state-of-the-world driven angst, U2 delivered caricatures of themselves.
During part of the show, Bono took on the persona of the "Fly"-- his own version of an ego-maniacal rock star -- the same entity that he had previously been criticized of being.
At other times, Bono wore gold lame suits and cowboys hats, calling himself the "Mirror Ball Man" who often looked at himself in a mirror and marveled aloud at his own beauty.
For their encore, Edge, Larry, and Adam donned matching blue suits and played the techno-pop "Daddy's Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car" while Bono took on the role of Mr. MacPhisto. The character wore a red shirt, gold lame jacket, pants, and shoes, and horns atop his head.
The show was fun and funny and U2 had finally found a way to be who they were--by making fun of who they had been.
Bono's Alter Ego Mr. MacPhisto at ZooTV
Pop and PopMart
Following the success of the ZooTV Tour, U2 tried a follow-up stage spectacle. As an encore to ZooTV, it failed somewhat miserably.
The PopMart Tour, designed to promote the album Pop, marked the first time that U2 failed to sell out their venues.
Part of the problem was the Pop album itself.
At the time, Pop was the band's most experimental endeavour. They played with techno riffs, trying to fuse rock with electronica.
They also composed many of the songs without Larry Mullen, who had to have back surgery. When Larry returned, he had to attempt to compose drum beats to rival the loops the band had been using during composition.
While many critics actually praised the endeavour, fans were less than impressed.
For many, the problem was not the experimental musical quality of the album, it was the lyrical content.
Whereas Achtung Baby was hauntingly dark and introspective, many of the lyrics to the songs on Pop were simply pitch black. The band expressed fear that God wasn't listening, anger if He was, and even questioned if God was there at all.
Fans simply did not want to hear God's cheerleaders expressing doubt.
All That You Can't Leave Behind and the Elevation Tour
For their next album and tour, U2 stripped everything down and went back to a basics.
They called the album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, and for U2, that is precisely what their new endeavour was--a compilation of songs born out of the minds of four men rekindling the magic they had by simply coming together to play music.
Gone were the attempts at techno-fused rock music. Out went any attempts to experiment with their sound. Down came all the screens for the supporting tour.
In short, off went the horns, on went the show, to paraphrase Bono.
The Elevation Tour, as the supporting tour for the album was called, was similarly a bare bones experience. Instead of playing outdoor stadiums or huge rock arenas, the band chose more intimate venues.
The major extravagance of the show was the stage, which was designed in the shape of a heart that extended out into the audience.
The design allowed a small group of fans to spend the concert in the center of the heart, the place where the band had always placed them.
U2 were not only hoping to reconnect with their fans, they were hoping to be who they had previously been: a band noted for its longevity, its dependability as a force to be reckoned with, to be those four men who produced music that made the world listen. They were, according to Bono, "Reapplying for the job of best band in the world."
U2 also incorporated global activism into the new album. The album's fourth track, "Walk On," was written for and dedicated to prisoner of conscience, Aung San Suu Kyi, who at the time was still under house arrest in Burma.
Aung San Suu Kyi
U2 in 360 Degrees
No Line on the Horizon and the 360° Tour
For their latest studio album, No Line on the Horizon, U2 returned to musical experimentation.
However, unlike the band's Pop foray into experimentation, No Line on the Horizon, managed to break new ground while still staying within the classic U2 sound and lyricism fans expected from the Irish band.
No Line on the Horizon had an elusive, mystical resonance that sometimes managed to whisper and roar at the same time. For example, on the track, Magnificent, Bono's vocal humming melded into The Edge's guitar playing so seamlessly that it was difficult to separate one from the other.
To support the album, U2 put together a show that rivaled both the ZooTV and the PopMart shows. They called the tour the 360° Tour.
The highlight of the tour was the giant "Claw" stage that reached down over the circular stage, a stage that allowed the band a 360 degree performance space. Fans as well, could encircle the stage, making the show on where there were basically no bad seats to be had.
Another spectacular manner U2 chose to bring their 360° Tour to life was via YouTube.
On 25 October 2009, U2 brought their tour not only to the 97,000 plus fans at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, but also chose to stream the concert live over the internet via YouTube.
That stream marked the first time any band had broadcast a concert via the internet and more than 10 million viewers tuned in to watch the show.
The Rose Bowl concert and YouTube extravaganza showed fans that U2 could be counted on to continue to break new ground--even in their 3rd decade of recording and performing as they became, in essence, the first band to play live to the world.
The Band Affectionately Known as "My Boys"
U2 Discography - Studio and Live Albums
A complete U2 discography could easily be the subject of its own article. What follows is only list of all U2 studio and official live albums with each compilation's release date. Not included are any of the member's solo projects, such as The Edge's Captive, any work on musical scores, or the band's collaborative work with Brian Eno and Luciano Pavorotti, Passengers.
- Boy, November 1980
- October, November 1981
- War, February 1983
- Under a Blood Red Sky, November 1983
- The Unforgettable Fire, September 1984
- The Joshua Tree, March 1987
- Rattle and Hum, October 1988
- Achtung Baby, November 1991
- Zooropa. July 1993
- Pop, March 1997
- Best of 1980 - 1990, November 1998
- All That You Can't Leave Behind, October 2000
- Best of 1990 - 2000. November 2002
- How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, November 2004
- No Line on the Horizon, February 2009