Synopsis of Pop Music
You got to do what you should...”
They began as Irish teenagers with a punkish bent and Christian beliefs. They became all-out rock stars, using their time at that elusive media-darling podium to raise political awareness, fund charities and satirize the big-money factory that rock and roll can feel like on its worst bad-hair days. And when these guys get an itch to try something new, they don’t stop at a new look or a new record producer--they completely re-concoct themselves--they create a whole new mythology. Sure, they dated some supermodels and yes, they even dabbled with the sex symbol spotlight themselves, but they also kicked off one of their tours at K-Mart. They were friends with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Salman Rushdie, but seemed to pal around with some everyday people too. There were songs about violence in Northern Ireland and the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., but hilariously memorable arena touring and goofball antics too. This is a band that's both ultra-serious and ultra-self-deprecating, both intimate and don't-even-think-about-getting-close. Their tiny little band name, it turns out, fronts a lot of churning personality and ideas that are anything but tiny.
Drummer Larry Mullen, Jr., hung a poster up at his high school that advertised a need for band members. Paul Hewson, David Evans, Adam Clayton and Dick Evans responded, and in Mullen’s kitchen, so it began. They covered Rolling Stones and Beatles songs, calling themselves Feedback (which apparently, they had a lot of), then Hype (which they didn’t have a lot of). When Dick Evans left to form the Virgin Prunes, the remaining four—perhaps wanting something subtler—chose the new name U2.
A buddy started calling Hewson “Bono Vox,” after a hearing aid advertisement. The hearing aid stigma wasn’t the most appealing, but the Latin meaning of the phrase—“good voice”—was, so Hewson stuck with Bono. And Bono, in turn, named David “The Edge,” which also stuck. In 1978, the foursome won both a talent show sponsored by Guinness beer and their very own manager, who helped them release an EP that was available only in Ireland. In 1980, they signed with Island Records and released Boy. They went back to the U.K. to tour (and to make sure their posters read “U2” this time, not “V2”) and crossed the Atlantic to the States.
Their second album, October, told of their strong Christian faiths, and though the Polish Solidarity movement-inspired “New Year’s Day” was popular, it wasn’t the hit the band was looking for. That came with 1983’s War. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was about the tumult in Northern Ireland, and Bono was known to wave a white flag in live shows—early political imagery for a soon-to-be political band. They filmed their concert at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater, and released the show as an EP called Under a Blood Red Sky.
1984’s Unforgettable Fire gave U2 their first U.S. Top-40 hit with “(Pride) In the Name of Love.” The release of The Joshua Tree in ’87 solidified their rock star status, and from it came the number one hits “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With Or Without You.” Firm political stances and themes of spiritual salvation coursed through the record’s veins, but so did a healthy sense of fun. They hung out with the late great Frank Sinatra when their tour passed through Vegas, for instance—the beginning of a ten-year friendship with the permanent Chairman of the Board. The cover of Time magazine followed in its wake (they were only the third bunch of rockers to peer out of that hallowed red frame, by the way… preceded only by The Beatles and The Who). The double record and accompanying concert film Rattle and Hum came soon afterward—a project that clearly spoke to the band’s American blues, soul and country influences.
With its dance and electronic bent, 1990’s Achtung Baby was one of the band’s much-chronicled re-inventions. Recorded in Berlin, the album contained the beguiling hits “Mysterious Ways” and “One.” The accompanying tour was called “Zoo TV,” and it unleashed playful mass-media gimmickry on its audiences. Bono sang, dressed, spoke and vamped as “The Fly,” an invented, over-the-top alter ego who was meant to poke fun at the idea of inflated rock stardom.
In the middle of the Zoo TV tour, the band stole away to record Zooropa in 1993, to piqued (but favorable) critical eyebrows in 1993. Yet again, the band’s old sound had molted and something new was in its place. On this stadium tour, Edge got behind the mike with his monotone single “Numb,” and Bono’s “Fly” persona was shed, replaced by the wicked and horned “Mister MacPhisto.” MacPhisto was deemed the “Last Rock Star,” and was known to ring up politicians from a cell phone onstage and harangue his callers, much to the delight of himself and his crowd.
The business of arena rock, however, especially when it’s woven with this kind of satire, tends to tire its rockers out. And so the glittery MacPhisto suit went into storage and took a hiatus. Clayton and Mullen spent time in New York (the former, for a time at least, as the fiancé to supermodel Naomi Campbell) and worked on a theme for the film Mission Impossible. The band recorded “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” for the movie Batman Forever, Bono and Edge penned the theme for the James Bond flick Goldeneye, they collected various awards (one of their many MTV trophies conveniently allowed Bono a shot at criticizing French president Jacques Chirac for allowing nuclear testing) and gave various awards (like a Lifetime Achievement Grammy to Sinatra, in a speech that saw the oft-wisecracking Bono turn downright reverential). The band recorded with artists like Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Johnny Cash and B.B. King for the collaborative album Original Soundtracks, Volume 1 (a.k.a. the Passengers project).
Their next record, Pop, culled an industrial dance sound from the British club scene and infused it with rock. To kick it off, and to make sure no one thought they were done with the theatrics after Zoo TV, U2 began their “Pop-Mart” tour at a New York City K-Mart. It was the second highest-grossing tour of that year.
When not in the studio or up on stage, the boys focus on family and film projects and a plethora of political, social and environmental causes. Even though the arena extravaganzas have concluded for now, one gets the feeling these guys have new cards up their sleeves. Re-invention does mean new wardrobes, after all, and new wardrobes mean a lot of sleeves, so there’s really no end to the possibilities.
Artist Release History1980 - Boy
1981 - October
1983 - Under a Blood Red Sky
1983 - War
1984 - The Unforgettable Fire
1987 - The Joshua Tree
1988 - Rattle & Hum
1991 - Achtung Baby
1993 - Zooropa
1997 - Pop
2000 - All That You Can't Leave Behind
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsBest of 1980 - 1990 (Island)
Band MembersBono vocals
The Edge guitar
Adam Clayton bass
Larry Mullen Jr. drums