U2. From left to right: Larry Mullen Jr., Bono, The Edge and Adam Clayton.
"Ooh, I've got no shame, oh no, oh no..."
—"Windows in the Skies"
U2 are a rock band from Dublin, Ireland. The band consists of Paul Hewson aka Bono on lead vocals, David Evans aka The Edge on guitar, Adam Clayton on bass and Laurence Joseph "Larry" Mullen, Jr. on drums.The band formed in 1976 under the name "Feedback" when the members were teenagers with limited musical proficiency. It soon changed its name to "The Hype." In 1978, when David's older brother Dik left the band, they decided to change their name again; Mullen's friend Steve Averill of The Radiators gave them six suggestions of names, and they settled on "U2" because it was the name they least disliked.By the mid-1980s, the band had become a top international act, noted for their anthemic sound, Bono's impassioned vocals, and The Edge's textural guitar playing. U2 started as one of the early pioneers of Post-Punk and their albums Boy and War were largely college radio hits. Their success as a live act was greater than their success at selling records until their 1987 album The Joshua Tree increased the band's stature "from heroes to superstars," according to Rolling Stone. U2 responded to the dance and alternative rock revolutions, the backlash against their earnest image and their own sense of musical stagnation by reinventing themselves with their 1991 album Achtung Baby and the accompanying Zoo TV Tour. They carried on with their experimental, heavily electronic and satirical Alternative Rock sound for the rest of the 1990s. Starting in the 2000s, U2 pursued a more traditional sound that retained the influence of their previous musical explorations before combining that with the experimental spirit of the '90s on one of their most recent albums, No Line On The Horizon.U2 have sold more than 140 million albums worldwide and have won 22 Grammy Awards, more than any other band. In 2005, the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. Rolling Stone magazine listed U2 at #22 in its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. Throughout their career, as a band and as individuals, they have campaigned for human rights and social justice causes, including Amnesty International, the ONE Campaign, Music Rising and Bono's DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade in Africa) campaign.Looking beyond the current discography, Bono said at the surprise launch for Songs of Innocence that U2 have made a few albums since 2009, and this is just the first one to be released, and a few hours later announced that their next album Songs of Experience should be out soon. Oh, and Bono and Edge worked on the soundtrack to Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Suffice it to say, for a band that's been going for nearly forty years, they don't show any signs of slowing down soon.
Principal Members (Founding members in bold, current members in italic):
Adam Clayton - bass, keyboard, guitar, backing and lead vocals
David Evans (The Edge) - guitar, backing and lead vocals, piano, bass, keyboard, synthesizer
Paul Hewson (Bono) - lead vocals, guitar, harmonica, synthesizer, piano, keyboard, dulcimer
2007 - U2 Go Home: Live From Slane Castle, Ireland
2007 - Live From Paris
2010 - Wide Awake In Europe
2012 - U22
2012 - From The Ground Up: Edge's Picks From U2360°
U2 provide examples of:
Adam Westing: Bono wholeheartedly acknowledges his reputation for being egotistical, and aside from repeatedly lampshading it, appeared in the mock charity video at the end of Brüno as a slight self-parody of his real self.
The Alcoholic: Adam turned to excessive drinking in the latter stages of the Zoo TV Tour to cope with the disintegration of his relationship, and infamously missed the Sydney concert on 26 November 1993 because he suffered from an alcoholic blackout, being replaced with bass technician Stuart Morgan. The embarrassment of missing the concert prompted him to clean up and he has remained sober since.
Digital Piracy Is Evil: Played straight after their manager, Paul McGuiness, declared war to illegal downloaders. Also, Bono made stances against digital piracy and illegal downloaders, specially after the leaking of No Line on the Horizon.
New Media Are Evil: Speaking of piracy, Bono asked governments to police Internet for copyright infringement. Ladies and gentlemen, the man who declared "We shall continue to abuse our position and fuck up the mainstream!" when Zooropa won the 1994 Grammy for Best Alternative Album.
Worth noting that The Edge does not seem to care as much, as he has admitted to downloading bootlegs of their shows. He also defended Negativland when Island Records sued them for copyright infringement for their U2 EP, and stated that U2 were left out of the loop and the lawsuit was entirely the record company's decision.
Subverted when Songs of Innocence was released completely for free on iTunes.
'80s Hair: Bono used to have a giant mullet. Nowadays, he prefers not to talk about it.
In one interview on Irish TV he addressed detractors who took the mickey out of some of their more ... over the top elements, particularly their political statements. He claimed the only thing they had ever done he felt was ill advised, and that he looked back on with regret, in their entire career was The Mullet (yes, you could hear the capitals) and gave full permission for people to endlessly take the piss out of him for it.
Garfunkel: Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. They get a lot of love in the U2 fandom, though.
Stage Names: Bono and The Edge's real names are Paul Hewson and David Evans, respectively.
True Companions: "We'd been campaigning for Dr. King - for his birthday to be a national holiday. And in Arizona, they're saying no. We've been campaigning very, very hard for Dr. King. Some people don't like it. Some people get very annoyed. Some people want to kill the singer. Some people are taken very seriously by the FBI, and they tell the singer he shouldn't play the gig, because tonight, his life is at risk, and he must not go onstage. The singer laughs. You know, of course we're playing the gig, of course we go onstage. And I'm standing there, singing "Pride in the Name of Love," and I've got to the third verse, and I close my eyes, and I know I'm excited about meeting my maker, but maybe not tonight. I don't really want to meet my maker tonight. I close my eyes, and when I look up, I see Adam Clayton standing in front of me, holding his bass like only Adam Clayton can hold his bass. And you know, there's people in this room who tell you they'd take a bullet for you, but Adam Clayton would've taken a bullet for me - and I guess that's what it's like to be in a truly great rock and roll band."—Bono, in his acceptance speech upon being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
Vitriolic Best Buds: Bono and Larry. While sometimes they do genuinely disagree, most of it is humorous.
Adaptation Distillation: The version of "Mercy" played in the Zurich 360 performance had parts of the intro and the chorus changed, causing the song to be somewhat more fast-paced and considerably better.
Rattle and Hum is an odd example, as it's an Album Title Drop from a lyric in "Bullet The Blue Sky", a song from The Joshua Tree... but is on Rattle and Hum too, as a live track.
All That You Can't Leave Behind: A lyric from "Walk On".
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb: Adapted from the bonus track "Fast Cars", the exact line being "They're in the desert to dismantle an atomic bomb".
War: While the album's title is fitting, the word is only mentioned in a line in "The Refugee" (the plural form, "wars," is heard in "New Year's Day").
Boy: Another fitting title, having to do with growing up. The singular is heard in "I Will Follow," "Twilight" and "The Electric Co", while the plural is heard in "Out of Control" and "Stories for Boys" (natch).
Alternative Dance: Starting on Achtung Baby and continuing through Zooropa and Pop, and on the occasional song from later records as well.
Alternative Rock: Arguably one of the genre's key bands. Their Post-Punk albums in the 80s are arguable examples of the genre (depending on whether or not one considers Post-Punk to be part of Alternative Rock), but they embraced it fully on Achtung Baby.
Broken Record: the line "Baby, baby, baby... baby, baby, baby... baby, baby, baby, light my way" from "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)". Even more, the line is repeated numerous times. Bono deliberately did this as he had never previously written a song with "baby" in the lyrics and opted to take Refuge in Audacity, to the point that the album's engineer Mark "Flood" Ellis noticed the other band members wondering if it could be actually pulled off while he was preparing the final mix.
Camp: The entire Pop Mart tour is this, pretty much, culminating in the video for Discothèque.
No Line On The Horizon could also count as a partial examples, as a few of the songs were written from the viewpoints of fictional characters. Notably, "Moment of Surrender" and "Unknown Caller" are from the viewpoint of a heroin addict.
Achtung Baby can be interpreted as the conceptual journey of a man from a fight with his wife to a wild night on the town, through to the morning, as detailed in the book "U2: At the End of the World".
The Joshua Tree is a concept album about the good and bad sides of the USA.
Continuity Nod: The kid from Boy also appears in the covers of War and The Best of 1980-1990.
Cut Song: Tons, most notably a song called "Mercy" cut from the How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb sessions. Hasn't stopped it from becoming (in)famous throughout the fandom when a low-quality version leaked, however. And now they're playing it live!
One such live performance received an official release on the limited edition vinyl Wide Awake in Europe in 2010.
Dan Browned: The lyrics of "Pride (In The Name of Love)" put MLK's assassination in the "early morning". MLK was shot at 6:01 p.m.
Darker and Edgier: Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop. The band themselves described Achtung as "the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree".
"Bullet the Blue Sky" is significantly darker than the rest of The Joshua Tree, and is one of their darkest songs in general.
Downer Ending: Very common on U2 albums, with Achtung 's "Love Is Blindness" being probably the best-known example. No Line On The Horizon's "Cedars Of Lebanon" continues the trend.
From The Joshua Tree, we have the album opener, "Where the Streets Have No Name", while No Line on the Horizon boasts "Magnificent", which while might not have the same distinction, is just as epic.
The extended intro of "Zoo Station" on Achtung Baby counts in a different way: Adam stated that the entire purpose of the song was to cause listeners' first reaction to be that either their stereo was broken, or that they had accidentally purchased something that wasn't the new U2 album.
The title song from "Zooropa'' has a haunting piano-based intro, played over jumbled noise not unlike too many TVs playing at once.
In the studio, they have a handful of songs over six minutes long, including the aforementioned "Bad". The only song they've recorded that's over seven minutes long is "Moment of Surrender" (7:24) off of No Line on the Horizon. Fittingly, this song was used as the set closer during the subsequent tour.
Grief Song: "Tomorrow", from the October album, was written about Bono's mother's funeral. It's become something of a forgotten classic these days.
There's a black car parked
At the side of the road
Don't go to the door
I'm going outside, mother
I'm going out there
Won't you be back tomorrow?
Won't you be back tomorrow?
Will you be back tomorrow?
The lyrics to "I Will Follow," from the earlier Boy, were also written by Bono in tribute to his mother, though the song itself is an aversion of this trope.
"Kite", from 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind, was originally written about Bono accepting his own mortality and the fact that, one day, his daughters would no longer need him. It became a Grief Song after his father passed away in 2001, while the Elevation Tour was still running. He altered a line in the song to make his tribute clear: "The last of the rock stars" became "The last of the opera stars", referencing his father's love of the genre.
His father got a straight example on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb with "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own", which contrasts with the self-sufficiency Bono espoused for his own children in "Kite".
Hidden Depths: There are actually quite a lot of literary references in their songs.
Loudness War: How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was guilty of this.
To an extent, so was No Line on the Horizon.
Lyrical Dissonance: "Mofo", for example, staples together an awesome techno track which sounds like it belongs in The Matrix with dark lyrics about Bono's dead mother.
Man of Wealth and Taste: MacPhisto, a "persona" used by Bono on the Zoo TV tour. He's basically Satan as an aging Vegas crooner.
Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Their Post-Punk records in the 80s tended to stay in the 3-4 range, with a few excursions down to a 1 or 2 (Running To Stand Still, for example) and a few that reach 5. The excursions on both sides become more common on their later albums, which have songs that can be anywhere from 1 to (arguably) 6.
It's been intentionally invoked at least twice; Achtung Baby was recorded with the intention of sounding completely different than The Joshua Tree and All That You Can't Leave Behind (and the stripped-down tour that followed it) was meant to be the polar opposite of Pop, bringing back the optimistic, hopeful atmosphere and The Edge's patented soaring guitar work, after having spent a decade writing sarcastic, genre-bending electronic rock where The Edge deliberately distanced himself from his sound and used heavier distortion. (Essentially, you can say that All That You Can't Leave Behind is more pop than Pop.)
Non-Appearing Title: Definitely applies to a minority of their songs, but there is at least one on every album save Achtung Baby (which is ironically a non-appearing album title) and All That You Can't Leave Behind.
Notably, The Unforgettable Fire is almost entirely comprised of these, with "Pride (In the Name of Love)" being the only exception. This was because the lyrics were often heavily improvised in the studio or written on the spot.
Not Christian Rock: Bono does incorporate some themes into his songs, but more of the peace, happiness, and brotherhood kind.
Christian themes were more explicit in their early albums (Bono, the Edge and Larry all became friends while members of an evangelical students' group in Dublin). Bono continues to be a Christian to this day and in the early 2000's, he visited many churches to address the congregations as part of his campaign for African debt relief. He has consistently spoken of "Christian musicians" in 1st person plural, so they somewhat blur the line.
Ode To Sobriety: "Bad" and "Running To Stand Still" are type 2 lashouts at heroin.
Bono closed "Moment of Surrender" with one of these on the 360° Tour.
"Bullet the Blue Sky"'s last verse, at least up to a point.
Post-Punk: Their early albums such as Boy, October, and War are this. Later followed by a (partial) genre shift to roots rock on The Joshua Tree, before switching again to Alternative Rock/Alternative Dance on Achtung Baby.
Precision F-Strike: "Wake Up Dead Man" from the Pop album, and the only mention of the F word in all of their studio recordings.
Jesus help me
I'm alone in this world
And a fucked up world it is too
"Mofo" had one too, but it's barely audible - the song's vocals are rendered unintelligible by the loud techno-rock.
There's also Bono's infamous "fuck the revolution" speech, delivered during a live performance of Sunday Bloody Sunday at a gig following the IRA bombing of a Remembrance Day parade in Enniskillen.
Protest Song: While they're not exactly protest songs, per se, U2 traditionally puts one pro-peace song in each of their albums. Examples include "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" on The Unforgettable Fire, "Van Diemen's Land" (more like a "traditional" protest song than a few of the others) and "God, Part 2" on Rattle and Hum, "Peace on Earth" (natch) on All That You Can't Leave Behind, "Love And Peace Or Else" (again, natch) on How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, and, most recently, "Stand Up Comedy" on No Line On The Horizon.
"Sunday, Bloody Sunday" on War, "Please" on Pop.
Pretty much all the songs on War count, really. It was probably titled that way for a reason...
"Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Mothers of the Disappeared" from The Joshua Tree are protest songs against the USA's backing of right-wing dictatorships in South America during The Eighties, the former being inspired by the civil war in El Salvador (Bono actually instructed The Edge to "put El Salvador through the amplifier" for the guitar solo) and the latter by the "disappearances" committed by Augusto Pinochet in Chile and the National Reorganisation Process in Argentina.
From the same album, "Red Hill Mining Town" is an indirect protest song, examining the personal difficulties and collapsed relationships of a mining town in the midst of the UK's 1984-1985 mining strike.
Reverse Cerebus Syndrome: In the wake of Rattle and Hum's disastrous critical reception, the band dropped the earnest, serious image they'd developed like a hot potato and spent The Nineties reminding people that they had a sense of humor and a working knowledge of satire and irony. Bono did once note that their more Rule of Cool image was meant to distract people from their still-present heavy subject matter:
Bono, in 1992: "It's a con, in a way. We call it Achtung Baby, grinning up our sleeves in all the photography. But it's probably the heaviest record we've ever made..."
Rock Me, Asmodeus!: MacPhisto. Not as heavy metal-influenced as most appearances of the trope, but definitely an example.
Sentenced to Down Under: "Van Diemen's Land," named after the old name for Tasmania, is about the Irish freedom fighters who were transported, and specifically dedicated to the poet and Irish Republican Brotherhood member John Boyle O'Reilly.
Serial Escalation: After the Zoo TV tour, you wouldn't think that they could go any more over the top, right? Wrong! They came up with Popmart, which was... well... just take a look. And they went past that with their most recent tour, U2 360°, which went over the top of Popmart - literally. As in, the Popmart stage could fit under the stage for 360°.
Achtung Baby is a reference to a line in The Producers, which engineer Joe O'Herlihy had frequently said while recording. Bono admitted later that the title was chosen on purpose to play up the band's new, more humorous image, stating that "the press would have killed us if we'd called it anything else" and that other working titles like Man (a Call Back to their debut Boy), 69 (obvious), Zoo Station (the Berlin Zoologischer Garten railway station, which lent its name to the song "Zoo Station" and coincidentally served the U2 underground line), Adam (a reference to the fact that the inner sleeve includes an image of Adam naked), Fear of Women (a reference to the darker lyrics) and Cruise Down Main Street (a reference to the then-ongoing Gulf War), were rejected because they would've been seen as "another pretentious, Big Statement from U2".
At almost every live show, the band embeds "snippets" into some of their songs - short lyrical or melodic Shout Outs to other songs. These can be anything from references to Beatles songs to callbacks to more obscure songs in U2's own discography.
When Bono's run over at the end of the video for "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me", he's reading The Screwtape Letters.
Live performances of Hold Me Thrill Me (a song off of the Batman Forever soundtrack) on the 360 tour have Bono menacingly asking during the song's intro, "Why So Serious?"
Not to mention the numerous allusions to William Butler Yeats that the lads chuck into their songs and performances rather frequently. Article on the subject here.
The "sad astronaut" face on the cover of Zooropa was apparently meant to represent a hoax story about a Soviet cosmonaut who had been left floating in orbit for weeks after the USSR collapsed, and the back cover includes images of Lenin, Mussolini and Nicolae Ceaușescu.
Step Up to the Microphone: Beyond his usual backing vocal duties, The Edge has sung lead vocals on "Van Diemen's Land" (from Rattle and Hum), "Numb" (from Zooropa) and "Corpse (These Chains Are Way Too Long)" (from the Passengers album), the first two verses of "Seconds" (from War), and shares lead vocals with Bono on the verses of "Discothèque" (from Pop). Adam Clayton sang lead vocals on "Endless Deep", the B-side to "Sunday Bloody Sunday", and also performed a Spoken Word verse on "Your Blue Room" (from the Passengers album), making Larry the only U2 member to never have done lead vocals, although he does sing the occasional backing vocals.
Take That: A classic one at the beginning of Rattle and Hum. Bono introduces U2's cover of "Helter Skelter" by shouting at the audience, "This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles. We're stealing it back!"
Title Track: October, Zooropa, No Line on the Horizon and The Unforgettable Fire, the only times they've had an actual title track, as opposed to an Album Title Drop.
Animated Music Video: "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" and "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight".
The Cameo: American football color commentator John Madden in the US video for "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of".
William S. Burroughs in the video for "Last Night on Earth", which became his last filmed performance as he died only a month after the video was filmed. The video itself ends with a closeup of his eyes.
The band's Music Video for "Where The Streets Have No Name" sees the band draw a large crowd on the streets of Los Angeles while performing live on a rooftop. Meanwhile, the LAPD aims to shut them down.
Actually, the LAPD did shut them down, and the band stopped the moment the LAPD made it very clear that they didn't have a choice. The video, however, is very carefully edited to make it look like the band defied the police and only began playing after being told to shut down.
"All Because of You" is a variant, filmed atop a moving flat bed truck.
Surreal Music Video: Most of their nineties videos have this and Performance Video: "Even Better Than the Real Thing", "The Fly", "Mysterious Ways", "Numb", "Lemon", "Staring at the Sun", "Last Night on Earth", "Please", and so on.