U2

U2 is an Irish rock band that emerged in Dublin’s late-1970s new wave scene. As of 2023, the band contains its four founding members: singer Bono, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton, and drummer Larry Mullen Jr.

U2 released three short-players and signed with Island Records for their 1980 debut album Boy, a strident set with the early staples “Out of Control,” “A Day Without Me,” and “The Electric Co.” Their 1981 second album October gained international ground with the songs “Fire,” “I Fall Down,” “I Threw a Brick Through a Window,” and “Gloria,” their first MTV video hit.

U2 broke into the global mainstream with their 1983 album War, a politicized set with the concert anthems “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Years Day,” “Seconds,” and “Two Hearts Beat as One.” Their ensuing US tour spawned the live mini-album Under a Blood Red Sky, which contains a rousing rendition of the early U2 rarity “11 O’Clock Tick Tock.”

In 1984, U2 linked with producer Brian Eno for The Unforgettable Fire, a mega-seller with spiritual anthems (“Pride (In the Name of Love”) and meladramatic numbers (“Wire”) ballanced with ambient sketches (“Promenade,” “4th of July”). Bono emerged as a leading rock statesman with his participation in the all-star charitable groups Band Aid (“Do They Know It’s Christmas?”) and Artists United Against Apartheid (“Sun City”).

U2 topped global charts with their 1987 fifth album The Joshua Tree, which spawned the hits “With or Without You,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” They embarked on a global tour as journalists dubbed them “band of the decade.” Their 1988 double-album Rattle and Hum combines live numbers from the tour with new studio tracks, including the hits “Desire,” “Angel of Harlem,” and “When Love Comes to Town.”

Members: Bono (vocals, guitar, harmonica, synthesizer, piano), The Edge (guitar, vocals, piano, keyboards, bass, synthesizer), Adam Clayton (bass, guitar, keyboards), Larry Mullen Jr. (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Dik Evans (guitar, 1976-78)


Background

U2 sprung from a jam session arranged in September 1976 by fourteen-year-old drummer Larry Mullen Jr., who posted a musicians wanted ad on the notice board at Dublin’s Mount Temple Comprehensive School. Six teenagers responded to the ad, including singer Paul Hewson (16), bassist Adam Clayton (16), and guitar-playing brothers David (15) and Dik Evans (19). The embryonic band rehearsed for the next six months under the name Feedback. They started as a covers act but soon took inspiration from the nascent new wave movement (The Clash, The Stranglers, The Boomtown Rats).

In April 1977, Feedback changed its name to The Hype and started performing on the Dublin school circuit. Eleven months later, they changed their name a final time to U2, taken from the U.S. spy plane that was shot down over Russia in 1960. The name was suggested by band-friend Steve Averill, then-vocalist of Dublin punks The Radiators from Space.

Around this time, Hewson was given the nickname Bono Vox — derived from bonavox (Latin for “good voice”) — by his friend Gavin Friday. David Evans was nicknamed “The Edge,” purportedly by members of Bono’s surrealist street gang, in reference to his playing style. The older Dik Evans decided to leave the band, thus trimming U2 to its classic four-piece lineup. (Dik and Friday eventually teamed with another Bono pal, Guggi, in goth-rockers The Virgin Prunes.)

U2 got their first break in March 1978 when they won a talent contest sponsored by the Evening Press. Their reward consisted of £500, demo time at Keystone Studios, and an audition with CBS talent scouts. That summer, they were taken under the managerial wing of assistant film director Paul McGuinness, who also managed folk-rockers Spud. Further studio time followed as the band became a live attraction across Dublin. They performed an early concert staple, “Youngline,” on a June 1 RTE TV broadcast.

On September 30, 1978, U2 opened for XTC at the Arcadia Ballroom in Cork.


1979

McGuinness played raw U2 demos to A&R Chas de Whalley of CBS UK. Whalley informed CBS exec Muff Winwood, the onetime bassist of the Spencer Davis Group (with his younger brother Steve Winwood) and recent Island A&R and producer (Sparks, Burlesque, Deaf School). Winwood and Whalley agreed to record professional U2 demos to secure a contract or (if that failed) release the songs as a limited edition EP to recoup costs.

Meanwhile, US gigged tirelessly from May through December of 1979 and gained a loyal following in Dublin, where they had summer residencies at McGonagle’s and Dandelion Market. In August 1979, Whalley produced a batch of U2 originals at Dublin’s Windmill Lane Studios.


Three

On September 26, 1979, U2 released Three on CBS Ireland. It contains one new number (“Boy–Girl”) and two fan favorites from their live set: “Out of Control” and “Stories for Boys.” They aired the songs beforehand as guessed on The Dave Fanning Show on Dublin’s RTÉ Radio 2, where listeners picked “Out of Control” as the a-side.

A. “Out of Control” (3:58) Bono wrote the lyrics on May 10, 1978, his eighteenth birthday (“Eighteen years dawning”). He references his birth (“one dull morning, I woke the world with bawling”) and how he never chose how or when he got there (“I had the feeling it was out of control”). He reckons the natural process (“girls they make children”) broke the mold with him (“Not like this one”). He’s lucky to have made it this far unscathed (“I fought fate, there’s blood at the garden gate”) and acknowledges his powerlessness over when or how life will end (“One day I’ll die, the choice will not be mine”).

B1. “Stories for Boys” (2:39) Bono sings of his escapist realm (“There’s a place I go… it’s a part of me”) in the worlds of TV, books, and comics where he joins adventures (“Sometimes when a hero takes me”). The imagery captures his imagination (“a picture book with colour photographs”) and lifts his spirit (“a comic strip, that makes me laugh”). Now, his realm is music (“There’s a radio and I will go”).

B2. “Boy/Girl” (3:21) Bono depicts the phase when a boy discovers the facts of life (“I’m finding out the things that I’ve been talking about”) and the bird-and-bees slang used by local youth (“The skinheads call it strawberries and cream”). He references first opportunities (“A picture or a disco or a roundabout, I walk you home”) and ends on a suggestive note (“You will sideways to the ground”).

Three appeared as a limited-edition 12″ that sold 1,000 within days. CBS Ireland also released the EP as a 7″ in a picture sleeve with photography by Hugo McGuiness of Peter Rowan, the five-year-old brother of Guggi.

On December 1, U2 played their first UK show at the Moonlight Club in London, where they cut their second single on Whitfield Street.


1980


“Another Day”

On February 26, 1980, U2 released their second single, “Another Day,” a recent London recording backed with the earlier demo “Twilight,” which they subsequently re-recorded for their debut album.

A. “Another Day” (3:24) Bono sings of a mundane Dublin day (“Take up your dreams and on your way”) where youth roam the streets (“night turns to day and the children come out to play”) and wear their facade (“Boy, salute in a street uniform; toy, soldier ripped and torn”)

B. “Twilight” (Demo version) (4:35)

Chas de Whalley produced “Another Day” at Whitfield with engineer Walter Samuel, a soundman on the 1979 French Polydor release The Old Pals Act by songwriter–arranger Peter Bennett, recorded with members of Supertramp. U2 recorded “Twilight” in February 1979 at during a fifteen-minute session at Dublin’s Eamonn Andrews Studios with engineer Dave Freely.

“Another Day” appeared on the same day U2 played before 2,000 attendees at Dublin’s National Stadium, where Island Records A&R Bill Stewart witnessed Bono’s charisma and the band’s musical energy. He signed them to a four-year, four-album contract with an advance of £50,000.


“11 O’Clock Tick Tock”

On May 16, 1980, U2 released their third standalone single, “11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” backed with the exclusive “Touch.” U2 developed the a-side from an earlier tune, “Silver Lining.”

A. “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” (3:44) Bono, who attended a Cramps concert, shares his impressions: the density (“so hot in here”), energy (“boys and girls collide”), noise (“the music in my ear”), style (“painted face”), and emotional reactions (“children crying”). At 11 pm, “it’s time to go.”

B. “Touch” (3:21) evolved from an earlier song called “Trevor.” Bono voices a young male character (possibly a virgin: “I don’t think I’m very good at this”) on a first-time meetup with a female (possibly a call girl: “Let me show you”). He’s curious about sex (“I just wanna know”). She leads him to “the twenty second floor” where the act begins (“touching you, touching you”).

U2 recorded “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” on April 5–6 at Windmill Lane with English producer Martin Hannett, a soundman on recent titles by Durutti Column, Joy Division, and the May 1980 Virgin release The Correct Use of Soap, the third album by Magazine. Island tapped Hannett to produce U2’s upcoming debut album. However, the band felt uncomfortable with his hands-on methods, despite their respect for his past work.


Boy

U2 released their debut album, Boy, on October 20, 1980, on Island. It contains re-recordings of two songs from Three (“Out of Control,” “Stories for Boys”) and the February b-side “Twilight.”

Side One contains their anthemic fifth single “I Will Follow” and the sonorous ballad “An Cat Dubh,” which segues to “Into the Heart,” a dirgy post-punk number. Side Two features “A Day Without Me,” a staccato uptempo cut that preceded the album as U2’s fourth single.

Boy is the first of three U2 studio album’s produced by new wave soundman Steve Lillywhite. Singer Bono and guitarist The Edge play glockenspiel on select tracks for added musical color.

1. “I Will Follow” (3:40) Bono wrote the lyrics as a tribute to his mother Iris, who died in 1974 when he was fourteen years old.
2. “Twilight” (4:22)
3. “An Cat Dubh” (4:46)
4. “Into the Heart” (3:27)
5. “Out of Control” (4:12)

1. “Stories for Boys” (3:04)
2. “The Ocean” (1:34)
3. “A Day Without Me” (3:12) Bono embarks on self-fulfillment (“Starting a landslide in my ego”) and abandons long-time surroundings (“Look from the outside to the world I left behind”). He considers the impact of his absence on loved ones (“What’s at stake? A day without me”) with a pang of regret (“Shed a tear, and let love go…”).

4. “Another Time, Another Place” (4:31)
5. “The Electric Co.” (4:47)
6. “Shadows and Tall Trees” (5:13) contains brief instrumental, “Saturday Matinee”, on some copies

Sessions commenced in July 1980 at Windmill Lane with Lillwhite, who recorded “A Day Without Me” for release as a late-summer followup to “11 O’Clock Tick Tock.” Lillywhite changed methods for the August–September sessions, where he recorded Larry Mullen’s drums in Windmill’s stairwell with microphones hung overhead.

Lillywhite and assistant engineer Kevin Moloney cherry-picked from multiple rhythm and vocal takes to splice together perfect tracks. The band’s tight schedule forced Bono to finalize the lyrics on road-tested songs that he’d changed words on from concert-to-concert. He recorded multiple vocal takes from which Lillywhite spliced the best bits, thereby creating composite vocal melodies that Bono memorized and recorded fresh.

U2 conceived “An Cat Dubh” and “The Ocean” in the studio as work advanced on Boy. For sound effects, Lillywhite smashed glass bottles and ran utensils against spinning bike wheels. Boy marked Lillywhite’s first production of an Island Records act since his work on 1977–78 titles by Ultravox (Ultravox!, Ha! Ha! Ha!), Eddie & The Hot Rods (Life On the Line), and Steel Pulse. More recently, he produced the debut album by Siouxsie & The Banshees (The Scream) and 1979–80 Virgin titles by The Members, Penetration, and XTC (Drums and Wires, Black Sea). He produced Boy in succession with the third solo album by ex-Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel (melt) and the debut album by The Psychedelic Furs.

The engineer on Boy, Paul Thomas, worked on the final two albums by Horslips plus recent titles by Paul Brady and Planxty.

Boy features another photo by Hugo McGuiness of Three model Peter Rowen, now six years old. Adam Clayton’s friend Steve Averill designed the album’s monochrome cover, which features another pic of Rowan on the back beside a column of member pics. The inner-sleeve contains lyrics and a saturated black-and-white live image of Bono. Original copies have clipped zoom-ins of Rowen on the LP labels.

North American copies have an alternate cover with the four member’s xeroxed faces presented as stretched quadrants. Island art director Bruno Tilley created the second cover with photographer Sandy Porter.

Two months ahead of Boy, “A Day Without Me” appeared on August 18 as an advance single backed with the non-album instrumental “Things to Make and Do.” Due to its lyrics about the emotional impact of personal departure, some listeners speculated that “A Day Without Me” concerned the recent death of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. However, Bono used the same lyrics for the song’s live debut in February 1980, three months before Ian’s May 18 suicide.

Things to Make and Do” (2:17)

“A Day Without Me” appeared in a picture sleeve with a tinted monochrome photo of a footbridge in Booterstown, a coastal town outside Dublin. The song remained a U2 concert staple for almost five years. After the Boy Tour, U2 segued “A Day Without Me” with “I Threw a Brick Through a Window,” a track from their second album.

Between the completion of “A Day Without Me” and the release of Boy, U2 embarked on a UK tour that included a September 24, 1980, show at Maxwell Hall in Aylesbury, where they supported compatriot Rory Gallagher.

On October 24, U2 lifted “I Will Follow” as the album’s second single, backed with a live version of “Boy–Girl” from a recent show (September 22) at London’s Marquee Club. “I Will Follow” reached No. 34 in New Zealand and No. 20 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

In the “I Will Follow” video, a black-clad U2 perform as cutouts against a period white-screen backdrop with the Rowen cover image.

Boy sold roughly 200,000 copies on its initially released and peaked at No. 13 on the New Zealand albums chart. It charted modestly in Australia (No. 35) and Sweden (No. 38) and peaked just outside the UK Top 50. U2 played their US live debut on December 6 at the Ritz in New York City.

In North America, Boy appeared on March 3, 1981, and reached No. 12 in Canada and No. 63 on the US Billboard 200. Island’s stateside press kit for the album included a cut-out of the four heads for the Tilley–Porter design. This appears on the studio wall of the CBS sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati in the Season 3 episode “Till Debt Do Us Part.” Boy re-entered the Billboard chart in light of U2’s later stardom and attained Platinum status.


1981

U2 opened 1981 with a January–February tour of the UK and Europe. They performed three songs (“11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” “The Ocean,” “I Will Follow”) on the Feb. 28 broadcast of the BBC music program The Old Grey Whistle Test. On March 3, they embarked on a seven-week North American tour that went well apart from an incident in Portland, Oregon, (3/22: Fog Horn) where Bono’s briefcase disappeared with a notebook of lyrics and music ideas intended for the second U2 album.

In April, they broke to the Bahamas to cut a new track (“Fire”) at Compass Point Studios, an Island-owned Nassau facility recently used by The B-52’s, Nazareth, Robert Palmer, The Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, and Third World.

U2 embarked on a third US tour and appeared on the May 30 broadcast of the NBC late-night talk show Tomorrow with Tom Snyder, where they performed “I Will Follow” and “Twilight.” After a short UK round that included a June 6 show at the Friars Club in Aylesbury with Altered Images, U2 started work on their second album. Once sessions wrapped, they played the inaugural Slane Festival on August 16 with Hazel O’Connor and headliners Thin Lizzy.

On August 29, U2 apeared in England at Gateshead National Stadium for Rock On the Tyne, a Bank Holiday event with Dr. Feelgood, Diamond Head, Doll by Doll, Huang Chung, Lindisfarne, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, and Pauline Murray & The Invisible Girls.

U2 dealt with inner-turmoil as three members (Evans, Hewson, Mullen) immersed in the Shalom Fellowship, a Dublin-based Christian Cult that made them doubt their involvement in the rock lifestyle. They contemplated folding the band (to Clayton’s consternation) but ultimately quit Shalom and renewed their commitment to U2.


October

U2 released their second album, October, on October 12, 1981, on Island. Bono’s echoing free-range vocals dominate “Fire” and “Gloria,” where swaying verses open to a spacious, angelic chorus. The Edge mixes electric and acoustic layers on “I Fall Down” and loose, roaming guitar figures on “I Threw a Brick Through a Window” and “Stranger in a Strange Land,” both marked by semi-improvised mid-sections.

October contains driving uptempo rockers (“Rejoice” “With a Shout (Jerusalem)”) and atmospheric numbers like “Scarlet” and “Tomorrow,” where layered drones build to an anthemic chant. Piano adds color on select passages, including the tender, minimal title track. The album wraps with “Is That All?” — a propulsive post-punk number with churning riffs and winding drums fills.

1. “Gloria” (4:14)
2. “I Fall Down” (3:39)
3. “I Threw a Brick Through a Window” (4:54)
4. “Rejoice” (3:37)
5. “Fire” (3:51)

1. “Tomorrow” (4:39) is a lament to Iris Hewson with guest musician Vinnie Kilduff, who plays Uileann pipes and bodhrán.
2. “October” (2:21)
3. “With a Shout (Jerusalem)” (4:02)
4. “Stranger in a Strange Land” (3:56)
5. “Scarlet” (2:53)
6. “Is That All?” (2:59)

Apart from the April “Fire” sessions at Compass Point, Nassau, U2 recorded the album in July–August, 1981, at Windmill Lane, Dublin, with producer Steve Lillywhite and engineer Paul Thomas. Due to the theft of Bono’s briefcase (which contained months of unrecorded song lyrics), he improvised lyrics in the studio.

Lillywhite produced October in sequence with 1981 albums by The Brains, Joan Armatrading, Urban Verbs, and The Psychedelic Furs (Talk Talk Talk). Thomas also worked with DC Nien (aka Tokyo Olympics), an Irish new wave band with a singer–guitarist named Paul McGuinness (not U2’s manager).

“Fire” appeared on July 27, 1981, as an advance single backed with the exclusive “J. Swallo.” U2 developed “Fire” from the riff of an earlier, unreleased song titled “Saturday Night.” Select pressings of Boy feature a snippet of “Saturday Night” as an untitled thirty-second postlude to “Shadows and Tall Trees.”

J. Swallo” (2:18)

“Fire” reached No. 4 on the Irish Singles Chart and No. 35 in the UK, where U2 mimed the song on the August 20 broadcast of the BBC music program Top of the Pops, which aired their segment amid current hits by The Human League (“Love Action (I Believe In Love)”), Randy Crawford (“Rainy Night In Georgia”), Siouxsie & The Banshees (“Arabian Knights”), and UB40 (“One In Ten”).

U2 accompanied October with a single release of “Gloria,” backed with a live version of “I Will Follow” from their March 6 show at the Rock Club in Boston, Mass.

In the “Gloria” video, U2 perform on a barge off Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock, where fans cheer as Bono waves in a distressed brown leather vest. “Gloria” is the earliest proper video credit of Meiert Avis, a director of many future videos. The clip received high first-year rotation on the fledgling US cable music channel MTV, which aired U2’s song during 1982 in lieu of a title-sake Billboard hit by American singer Laura Branigan.

“Gloria” reached No. 10 on the Irish Singles Chart and No. 15 in New Zealand.

October reached No. 6 in New Zealand and No. 11 on the UK Albums Chart. In U2’s native Ireland, October peaked at No. 17 on the IRMA albums chart. The album also went Top 40 in Australia, Italy, Sweden, and the Netherlands. October peaked at No. 104 on the Billboard 200 but later achieved Platinum status in light of the band’s later success.


1982

U2 did a brief late-January Irish tour and a February–March US blitz. They dropped a non-album single and retreated to a cottage in Howth, Ireland, where they rehearsed and wrote material for a new album. On May 1, U2 performed three songs (“Gloria,” “A Celebration,” “Rejoice”) for the BBC Saturday music program Get Set for Summer. They embarked on a July European tour and then went on holiday as Bono wed and honeymooned with Ali Stewart, his partner since age sixteen. In September, U2 commenced work on their followup to October.


“A Celebration”

On March 22, 1982, U2 released “A Celebration” as a standalone single. The b-side, “Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl,” became a live staple under the shortened title “Party Girl.”

A. “A Celebration” (2:57) Bono acknowledges war and strife (“I believe in the Third World War… the atomic bomb”) but won’t let this dim his spirit (“I believe in a celebration… we can be free”). He honors the Church of Dublin (“I believe in the bells of Christchurch ringing for this land”) and Dublin’s prison (“I believe in the cells of Mountjoy”). He says life’s to short to dwell on turmoil (“we don’t have the time to watch the world go tumbling down”).

B. “Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl” (2:32) Bono profiles teens as they abandon childlike solipsism (“When I was three, I thought the world revolved around me”) and embrace sexuality (“a girl called Party… she wants more than a party”), rock music (“a boy called Trash… he does all that he can, wham bam”), and adventure (“a boy called Trampoline”).

Meiert Avis directed the video for “A Celebration” at Kilmainham Gaol, a 19th century Dublin prison and national museum, where U2 cavort among the cell blocks and perform outside as nearby youth ride horseback. Bono sports red jeans and boots with red plaid and leather.

“A Celebration” reached No. 15 on the Irish Singles Chart. It remained a non-album rarity until its inclusion on the 2004 box set The Complete U2. “A Celebration” faded from U2’s live set within a year of its release. In contrast, “Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl,” became an encore perennial after its first performance (intended as a one-off) on February 26, 1983, in Dundee, Scotland.


1983

U2 embarked on a year-long tour for their upcoming third album on December 1, 1982, at Tiffany’s in Glasgow. Leg 1 wrapped with a pre-Christmas three-nighter at Dublin’s SFX Theatre. Leg 2 greeted the album’s late-February release with a UK round that started at Dundee’s Caird Hall and concluded on March 29 at London’s Hamersmith Odeon. Leg 3 (April 23–June 29) covered the US and Canada. Leg 4 included mid-summer touch-downs in Belgium, Norway, and West Germany. After the autumn release of an album and video document of select US and German dates, U2 carried out Leg 5 in late November with six Japanese shows, including two nights at Tokyo’s Shibuya Public Hall.


War

U2 released their third album, War, on February 28, 1983, on Island. It lifted the band to global fame with the hits “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day,” and “Two Hearts Beat as One,” an exuberant love anthem.

War features strident political numbers like the opening martial-tinged rockers “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (about the horrors of IRA terrorism) and “Seconds” (about nuclear proliferation). Themes of distant romance coarse through the anthemic “New Year’s Day” and the pastoral ballad “Drowning Man,” which both anticipate love reunited after turmoil.

Of the album’s war theme, Bono explained to NME journalist Adrian Thrills that “people have become numb to violence” through the constant bloodshed depicted in back-to-back televised fiction (action films) and reality (newsreels). U2 titled the album War due to the recent Falklands conflict and the ongoing warfare in Africa and the Middle East.

War is their third and final album produced by Steve Lillywight, who minimizes the echo-riffing of Boy and October for tighter sounds. Planxty keyboardist Bill Whelan produced “The Refugee,” a tribal rocker about a young Easterner with eyes on the West.

1. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (4:38)
2. “Seconds” (3:09) contains a sample from Soldier Girls, 1981 film about female military training by the US Army. The Edge sings the first two stanzas.
3. “New Year’s Day” (5:37) Bono conceived this as a love poem to Ali and later moved its setting to the civil unrest of 1981 Poland, where anti-authoritian protests led by the newly formed Solidarność trade union prompted Warsaw to enact martial law.
4. “Like a Song…” (4:48)
5. “Drowning Man” (4:12)

1. “The Refugee” (3:40)
2. “Two Hearts Beat as One” (4:00)
3. “Red Light” (3:46)
4. “Surrender” (5:34)
5. “40” (2:36) Bono based the lyrics on Psalm 40 in which God lifts David from a slimy pit in answer to the latter’s prayer.

U2 recorded War between September and November 1982 at Windmill Lane Studios with Lillywhite, who produced the album amid titles by the Thompson Twins and The Chameleons. He subsequent worked with the Scottish bands Big Country (a spinoff of The Skids, who presaged U2’s martial post-punk sound) and Simple Minds (a veteran post-punk act). Both bands achieved international prominence with appropriations of the U2 sound.

The Edge plays piano and lap steel in addition to guitar on War, which lists Bono as a second guitarist.

In its early draft, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” opened with the line “Don’t talk to me about the rights of the IRA, UDA” — a reference to the paramilitary factions of the Troubles, a thirty-year conflict between nationalists of the Republic of Ireland (unofficially represented by the Irish Republican Army) and Northern Ireland (unofficially represented by the Ulster Defence Association). This song marked Larry Mullen’s first use of a click track, which helped him synchronize with the separately recorded tracks of his bandmates. Mullen — a drummer more attuned to visceral live settings — overcame his aversion to click tracks after meeting onetime Sly & the Family Stone drummer Andy Newmark, a proponent of the audio-cuing method.

Dublin violinist Steve Wickham of then-unsigned Celt-rockers In Tua Nua pitched his talents to the Edge, who invited Wickham to play on “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Drowning Man.” (Wickham surfaced in a mid-eighties Waterboys lineup.)

Three songs (“Like a Song…,” “Red Light,” “Surrender”) feature backing vocalists Cheryl Poirier, Adriana Kaegi, and Taryn Hagey — collectively known as the Coconut’s behind singer August Darnel in the American novelty retro act Kid Creole & The Coconuts, whose autumn 1982 tour hit Dublin during U2’s War sessions. Then-Coconuts trumpeter Ken Fradley plays on “Red Light.”

Clayton exited Windmill Lane in November as sessions wrapped. The remaining three recorded “40” as a last-minute inclusion with the Edge on guitar and bass. On subsequent live renditions, Edge plays bass and Clayton plays guitar.

War is housed in a gatefold sleeve with a monochrome closeup-shot of Peter Rowen, the now-eight-year-old subject of Three and Boy. The image extends halfway across the back between mirrored use of the vertical title letters. The inner-gates present lyrics and a landscape shot of U2 in the winter snow.

“New Year’s Day” appeared as the advance single on January 10, 1983, seven weeks ahead of War. The edited single release (3:53) contains the exclusive b-side “Treasure (Whatever Happened to Pete the Chop).”

Treasure (Whatever Happened to Pete the Chop)” (3:24)

“New Year’s Day” reached No. 10 in Ireland and No. 9 in Norway and the Netherlands. It peaked at No. 10 on the UK Singles Chart.

U2 mimed “New Year’s Day” on the January 20 broadcast of TotP, which twice aired the song amid winter hits by Echo & The Bunnymen (“The Cutter”), Fleetwood Mac (“Oh Diane”), Fun Boy Three (“Tunnel of Love”), Joe Jackson (“Steppin’ Out”), Kajagoogoo (“Too Shy”), Melba Moore (“Mind Up Tonight”), Men at Work (“Down Under”), Phil Collins (“You Can’t Hurry Love”), The Stranglers (“European Female”), Tears for Fears (“Change”), and Toto (“Africa”). Ironically, the 1/20 segment aired back-to-back with Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.”

“Gloria” director Meiert Avis filmed the “New Year’s Day” video (4:17) in December 1982 in Sälen, a skiing locality in northern Sweden, where U2 perform in the winter snow. Avis presents the band from multiple angles (scenic, aerial, zoomed)  amid flashes and overlays of wintage war footage. After a dusk-to-dawn timelapse, U2 ride out into the forest on horseback. MTV put this video in high rotation, which helped propell the single to No. 2 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart.

On March 21, “Two Hearts Beat as One” appeared as the second single, backed with the exclusive “Endless Deep.”

Endless Deep” (2:58)

Avis directed the “Two Hearts” video in March 1983 outside the Basilica of Sacré Coeur de Montmartre in Paris, where U2 appear with intercut scenes of nearby performers (juggler, tight-rope walker) and a wandering, wide-eyed Peter Rowen. Mullen now has blond spiky hair and Bono sports a top-streaked bi-level cut (short sides, collar-length nape). The Edge wears a checker plaid shirt with shades and a fedora.

“Two Hearts Beat as One” reached No. 2 in Ireland, No. 16 in New Zealand, and No. 12 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart. It peaked at No. 18 in the UK, where U2 mimed “Two Hearts” on the March 31 TotP broadcast amid spring hits by Duran Duran (“Is There Something I Should Know?”), New Order (“Blue Monday”), and The Style Council (“Speak Like a Child”).

In the Netherlands and Germany, Island lifted “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in lieu of “Two Hearts” as the second War a-side, also backed with “Endless Deep.”

MTV aired a live performance of the song taken from a June 5, 1983, show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, filmed for a subsequent concert movie. It captures U2 amid flaming columns under slight drizzle and beaming red–white stage lights. In an enactment of the song’s merciful plea, Bono waves a white flag at the audience.

“Sunday Bloody Sunday” reached No. 3 in the Netherlands and No. 7 on the Billboard Top Tracks in the US, where the song became an FM radio staple.

In August, Island Germany lifted “40” as the album’s fourth and final a-side.

War reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart, where it displaced the top Thriller by Michael Jackson for one week on March 12, 1983. War peaked at No. 2 in Sweden and went Top 4 in the Netherlands (No. 3), Canada (No. 4), and New Zealand (No. 5). In the US, the album peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard 200.

War later certified double-Platinum in the UK (600,000 sales) and quadruple-Platinum in the US (4,000,000 sales). As of 2023, the album’s global sales surpass 11,000,000.


Under a Blood Red Sky

On November 21, 1983, Island issued Under a Blood Red Sky, an eight-song document of U2’s War tour. It features renditions of three songs from their current studio release (“Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day,” “40”), two from Boy (“I Will Follow,” “The Electric Co.”), one from October (“Gloria”), plus the non-album staples “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” and”Party Girl.” Side One

Side One draws from three shows: May 6 at the Orpheum Theatre, Boston (“11 O’Clock”); June 5 at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado (“Gloria,” “Party Girl”); and August 20 at the Lorelei Amphitheatre in Sankt Goarshausen, Germany (“I Will Follow” and all of Side Two).

Jimmy Iovine produced Under a Blood Red Sky in sequence with titles by Stevie Nicks, Face to Face, and Dan Hartman. U2 considered the American soundman for their next studio album but opted instead for a European sound. (Iovine — a prior soundman for Flame, Golden Earring, Graham Parker, Dire Straits, and Tom Petty — subsequently produced Once Upon a Time, the U2-influenced eighth studio album by Simple Minds.)

Director Gavin Taylor filmed the Red Rocks show, the source of the “Sunday Bloody Sunday” live video. In July 1984, MCA Home Video released the concert on VHS and Betamax as U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky. The 55-minute video contains renditions of thirteen songs: five from War (“Surrender,” “Seconds,” “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day,” “40”) and three apiece from Boy (“I Will Follow,” “A Day Without Me,” “The Electric Co.”) and October (“Gloria,” “I Threw a Brick,” “October”), and two aforementioned non-album numbers. They affix “Electric Co.” with “Cry,” an instrumental prelude that spawned the October track “Is That All?”

Under a Blood Red Sky reached No. 1 in New Zealand and No. 2 in Australia and the UK. In 2008, Interscope Records re-released U2 Live at Red Rocks as an 82-minute DVD with four additional numbers: “Out of Control,” “Twilight,” “An Cat Dubh–Into the Heart,” and “Two Hearts Beat as One.”


1984

U2 recorded their fourth studio album in the spring–summer of 1984 with producer Brian Eno, the original keyboardist of Roxy Music with a lengthy solo background in art pop and ambient music. As a producer, he worked on 1977–80 albums by David Bowie (Low, Heroes,Lodger), Devo (Are We Not Men?), Talking Heads (More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, Remain in Light), and Ultravox (Ultravox!). U2 picked Eno after initial talks with former Roxy (and early Eno solo) producer Rhett Davies, a soundman on seventies classics by Camel (The Snow Goose, Moonmadness), Free (Heartbreaker), Russ Ballard (Winning), Split Enz (Second Thoughts), Stealers Wheel (Ferguslie Park), and the Eno-involved self-titled album by Quiet Sun, the jazz-rock side group of Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera.

In the lead-up to their new album, U2 launched a world tour on August 29 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Leg 1 (Oceania) wrapped on September 24 at the Perth Entertainment Centre. Leg 2 (Europe) greeted the album with six late-October shows in France and on November 21 at the Westfalenhallen in Dortmund, Germany.

Before Leg 3 (December, North America), Bono partook in Band Aid, an all-star group of UK pop talent assembled by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure for the charitable single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Bono bellows the pre-chorus line “Well tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you” — directed at comfortable Western listeners not subject to the Ethiopian famine. The single topped charts worldwide and raised £8 million for famine relief.


The Unforgettable Fire

U2 released their fourth studio album, The Unforgettable Fire, on October 1, 1984, on Island. This is their first of five albums co-produced by Brian Eno, whose ambient work reflects on the quiet passages.

The Unforgettable Fire contains strident rock anthems (“Wire,” “Indian Summer Sky”) and buoyant folk numbers (“A Sort of Homecoming,” “Bad”) balanced with quiet, pastoral sketches (“Promenade” “MLK”) and the melodramatic title epic. The album spotlights Bono’s emotive, sonorous vocal range; entwined with the Edge’s multi-layered guitar textures and Larry Mullen Jr’s polyrhythmic drum patterns.

Bono pays tribute to Martin Luther King on “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “MLK.” Other songs concern drugs (“Wired,” “Bad”) and urban congestion (“Indian Summer Sky”).

1. “A Sort of Homecoming” (5:28)
2. “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (3:48)
3. “Wire” (4:19)
4. “The Unforgettable Fire” (4:55)
5. “Promenade” (2:35)

1. “4th of July” (2:12) emerged from an after-session jam between the Edge and Clayton, who Eno taped without their knowledge and processed the finished result into an ambient prelude akin to Music for Films.
2. “Bad” (6:09)
3. “Indian Summer Sky” (4:17)
4. “Elvis Presley and America” (6:23) stems from an improv set to a slowed backing track from “A Sort of Homecoming.”
5. “MLK” (2:31)

Sessions commenced on May 7, 1984, at Slane Castle, a 17th-century estate in County Meath, Ireland, on the grounds of the annual Slane Festival. U2 lodged at Slane to write, rehearse, and record material for the album, which they finished with Eno on August 7 at Windmill Lane.

Eno co-produced and co-engineered The Unforgettable Fire with Quebecois musician Daniel Lanois, a soundman for Canadian new wavers Martha & The Muffins, The Arrows, and The Parachute Club. The pair collaborated on the 1983 EG–Polydor ambient release Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks with Brian’s younger brother Roger Eno.

The production teamed lodged with U2 at Slane, where they installed 24-track equipment in the castle library. U2 played in the nearby ballroom as Eno used the spacious ambience to enhance their sound. A waterwheel on the River Boyne (backed by a diesel generator) powered the proceedings. They produced roughly ten album tracks and fifteen additional pieces.

The Edge generates echoing and ambient tones through multiple processors (AMS harmonizer, Lexicon Prime Time delay, reverb chamber). His guitar arsenal includes EBow, slide, and alternate-tuned models. He taped the bridge in one guitar used for sustain-free passages.

Eno plays the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer and (alternating with the Edge) Yamaha CP-70 electric grand piano on select passages. As U2 demoed the album’s material, he used a Fairlight CMI to plot certain textures.

Mullen adds timbales and piccolo snare to his drum kit. At Lanois’ suggestion, he embraced brushes and distant miking.

Bono finalized the lyrics as word sketches to suit the album’s impressionist nature. He improvised “Wire” at the microphone and drew inspiration for “Pride” and “MLK” from Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., a 1982 biography on the martyred civil rights leader by Amherst history professor Stephen B. Oates.

Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde (credited as “Mrs. Christine Kerr” in reference to her recent marriage to Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr) sings backing vocals on “Pride (In the Name of Love).” Irish jazz pianist Noel Kelehan handles string arrangements on the album’s title track. The Unforgettable Fire credits two assistant engineers: Randy Ezratty (Bob Welch, Pat Metheny) and Kevin Killen (Howard Jones, Mr. Mister).

Filmmaker Barry Devlin documented the castle sessions for an RTÉ-TV documentary. Lanois oversaw the final mix and granted Bono’s wish for a last-minute vocal take on “A Sort of Homecoming.”

Longtime U2 friend Steve Averill designed The Unforgettable Fire cover, which shows monochrome imagery in maroon framework with gold brush lettering. NME photojournalist Anton Corbijn photographed the cover image: a view of Moydrum Castle, a 19th century baron’s estate gutted during the Irish War of Independence. Corbijn used filters with infrared film to capture the castle’s moss-covered ruins in a stark, torrential light. The back cover shows U2 spread across the castle field. (A near-identical Moydrum Castle image is the cover subject of In Ruins: The Once Great Houses, a 1980 coffee-table book by photographer Simon Marsden.)

U2 titled the album after a recent exhibition at Chicago’s Peace Museum of Japanese art by survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“Pride (In the Name of Love)” appeared on September 3 as an advance single backed with the non-album “Boomerang II.” They made three videos to “Pride,” the first directed by Scottish filmmaker Donald Cammell, who filmed the band in sepia on an off-hour at Dublin’s SFX Hall, where Bono takes stage in a sheep-collar leather jacket and sings before empty seats that soon fill with small boys. Corbijn directed the second video at Heathrow Airport. U2 assembled the third video from session footage at Slane Castle.

Boomerang II” (4:48)

“Pride” also appeared on 12″ with a longer edit of “4th of July” (2:38) and an instrumental version of the b-side titled “Boomerang I.”

“Pride (In the Name of Love)” reached No. 1 in New Zealand, No. 2 in Ireland, and No. 3 on the UK Singles Chart. U2 mimed “Pride” on the September 13 broadcast of TotP, which twice aired the song amid late-summer hits by Animal Nightlife (“Mr Solitaire”), Aztec Camera (“All I Need Is Everything”), Big Country (“East of Eden”), Depeche Mode (“Master & Servant”), Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (“Tesla Girls”), Prince (“Purple Rain”), Sade (“Smooth Operator”), Stephanie Mills (“The Medicine Song”), Stevie Wonder (“I Just Called to Say I Love You”), and UB40 (“If It Happens Again”).

“Pride” also went Top 10 in Australia (No. 4), the Netherlands (No. 5), Belgium (No. 6), Norway (No. 7), and Poland (No. 9). In the US, it reached No. 2 on the Billboard Top Rock Tracks chart.

On April 22, 1985, U2 lifted “The Unforgettable Fire” as the second single, backed with a live rendition of “A Sort of Homecoming” from Wembley (11/15/84).

“The Unforgettable Fire” video intermixes dark-room scenes and blue-projection footage with blurred aerial nighttime cityscapes and translucent-layered scenery of U2 afoot in valley snow.

In the British Isles, “The Unforgettable Fire” also appeared as a double-7″ with three non-album tracks: “Love Comes Tumbling,” “Sixty Seconds in Kingdom Come,” and “The Three Sunrises.” An alternate 12″ version (UK, Germany, Canada) swaps “Sixty Seconds” for another exclusive, “Bass Trap.”

Love Comes Tumbling” (4:45)
Sixty Seconds in Kingdom Come” (3:15)
The Three Sunrises” (3:52)
Bass Trap” (5:17)

“The Unforgettable Fire” reached No. 1 in Ireland, No. 3 in New Zealand, No. 4 in the Netherlands, and No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart.

The Unforgettable Fire went to No. 1 in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, where it ousted Tonight by David Bowie on October 13, 1984, and held the summit for two weeks and bowed for Steeltown, the second album by U2’s like-minded rivals Big Country.

The Unforgettable Fire peaked at No. 5 in Canada and No. 6 in Norway and Sweden. In the US, it peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard 200. The album later certified double-Platinum in the UK (600,000) and triple-Platinum in the US (3,000,000).

In 2009, Interscope released a 25th-anniversary remaster of The Unforgettable Fire as a double-CD+DVD set. The second disc contains b-sides and remixed versions of the original album’s songs, including an alternate Lanois mix of “A Sort of Homecoming” with Peter Gabriel on vocals. The deluxe set also contains the Unforgettable session outtakes “Disappearing Act” and “Yoshino Blossom.”

Disappearing Act (4:34)
Yoshino Blossom” (3:39)


1985

On December 16, 1984, U2 wrapped Leg 3 of the Unforgettable Fire Tour in California to a sold-out crowd at the 14k-seat Long Beach Arena. Leg 4 (Europe) commenced on January 23, 1985, at Norway’s Drammenshallen and ended on February 10 at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy. Their second North American round (Leg 5) spanned ten weeks between February 25 at Reunion Arena, Dallas, and May 3–4 at the Hollywood Sportatorium in Pembroke Pines, Florida. They played to their biggest crowd across three nights (April 12–15) at the 61.7k-seat Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

On Saturday, July 13, U2 played London’s Wembley Stadium as part of the UK event of Live Aid, an all-star multi-venue charitable concert arranged as an outgrowth of Band Aid for Ethiopian famine relief. The Wembley event included sets by Status Quo, Queen, The Style Council, Spandau Ballet, Nik Kershaw, Elton John, Paul McCartney, and a reformed Who. Actor Jack Nicholson and British radio personality Tommy Vance introduced the Who and U2 sets.

U2 took the Wembley stage at 17:19 BST and played two numbers: “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Bad,” the latter interpolated with snippets of songs by Lou Reed (“Satellite of Love,” “Walk on the Wild Side”) and The Rolling Stones (“Ruby Tuesday,” “Sympathy for the Devil”). Due to the extended length of “Bad,” they were forced to cut the intended third number of their set, “Pride (In the Name of Love).” During “Bad,” Bono stage-dived to rescue a distressed female fan from an over-eager swarm of fellow concertgoers.

U2 appeared between sets by Paul Young and Dire Straits, who performed their 1985 mega-hit “Money for Nothing” with guest Sting, who recreated his high-pitched studio voice for the “I want my MTV” lines that open the song.

The Wembley Live Aid event concluded at 21:57 BST with an all-star performance of the Band Aid anthem “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Live Aid aired to an estimated 1.9 billion people across 150 nations and raised £150 million in famine relief.

U2’s Live Aid appearance was one of multiple European summer festivals in the final round (Leg 6) of the Unforgettable Fire Tour, which also included a June 29 show at Dublin’s Croke Park with Squeeze, The Alarm, and R.E.M. The tour closed on August 25 at Lee Fields in Cork.

Also in August, Bono participated in Artists United Against Apartheid, an international all-star group assembled by E Street guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt to call an international boycott of the South African tourist resort Sun City. Bono bellows the line “We’re stabbing our brothers and sisters in the back” on the fourth pre-chorus of the AUAA single “Sun City.” In the video, he appears (with a goatee) at the 4:20 mark, where he’s joined by Ashford & Simpson on the call-and-response chorus. For the parent album, Bono wrote “Silver and Gold,” recorded with Stones guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood and future Stones auxiliary percussionist Steve Jordan. Bono also sings on “In a Lifetime,” a track on the 1985 RCA release Macalla by Irish family folksters Clannad.

In November, U2 reconvened at Larry Mullen Jr.’s newly purchased home to work on material conceived during the Unforgettable Fire Tour.


1986–1987

U2 worked on their firth studio album throughout 1986 with three spring–summer breaks.

On May 17, they performed Dublin’s Self Aid benefit concert for Ireland’s unemployed citizens. Their set featured the Bob Dylan chestnut “Maggie’s Farm,” aimed at then-UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

In June, they partook in Conspiracy of Hope, a series of six benefit concerts for Amnesty International headlined by U2, Sting and Bryan Adams with select appearances by Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Joan Baez, and the Neville Brothers. Sting reformed The Police for the final three shows (Atlanta, Rosemont, East Rutherford). At the final show (the last Police concert for twenty-one years), Bono joined Sting at the mic for “Invisible Sun.” When the Police finished, they handed U2 their instruments for an all-star rendition of the Dylan standard “I Shall Be Released.”

On July 3, news arrived that U2 roadie Greg Carroll died in a Dublin motorcycle accident. U2 traveled to Carroll’s native New Zealand for the 26-year-old’s Māori-style funeral, which inspired Bono’s lyrics to “One Tree Hill.” Afterwards, Bono and Ali visited Central America and witnessed the spoils of US intervention on peasant populations in Nicaragua and El Salvador — observations reflected in the lyrics to “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Mothers of the Disappeared.”

Meanwhile, the Edge cut recorded music for the 1986 Anglo-French film Captive, based loosely on the exploits of kidnapped American heiress Patty Hearst. Virgin Records issued the film’s soundtrack album, which the Edge composed and self-recorded with Canadian musician–composer Michael Brook. The track “Heroine” features Larry Mullen Jr and vocals by Irish newcomer Sinéad O’Connor.

(Brook created the Infinite Guitar, an infinite-sustain instrument that the Edge would use on the upcoming U2 album.)


The Joshua Tree

U2 released their fifth album, The Joshua Tree, on March 9, 1987, on Island. This is their second album co-produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. It topped ten national charts and cemented U2 as one of the biggest acts of the eighties. Musically, The Joshua Tree combines their recent embrace of ambient textures with a newfound fascination of Americana.

Bono plays harmonica on the rootsy cuts “Trip Through Your Wires” and “Running to Stand Still,” which concerns heroin addiction. He uses his upper register on “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” a gospel-tinged number with backing vocals by Eno, Lanois, and the Edge. He explores the theme of America as the promised land on “In God’s Country” and wrote “Red Hill Mining Town” as an anecdotal reflection on the 1984 UK mining strike.

Other songs concern neighborhood status (“Where the Streets Have No Name”) and the killer mind (“Exit”). Bono titled “One Tree Hill” after a New Zealand volcano: a symbol of the emotional impact of Carroll’s funeral. “With or Without You” reflects his struggle to curb wanderlust and fulfill his role at home.

The Edge makes further use of the ambient guitar textures first explored on The Unforgettable Fire. He employs delay for the arpeggiated effect on “Where the Streets Have No Name” and uses a prototype Infinite Guitar for the layered sustain on “With or Without You.”

1. “Where the Streets Have No Name” (5:38)
2. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (4:38)
3. “With or Without You” (4:56)
4. “Bullet the Blue Sky” (4:32)
5. “Running to Stand Still” (4:18)

1. “Red Hill Mining Town” (4:52)
2. “In God’s Country” (2:57)
3. “Trip Through Your Wires” (3:33)
4. “One Tree Hill” (5:23)
5. “Exit” (4:13)
6. “Mothers of the Disappeared” (5:12)

Work commenced in the winter of 1985–86 when U2 demoed embryonic versions of “With or Without You”, “Red Hill Mining Town”, and “Trip Through Your Wires” at Larry Mullen’s property. They titled one unused track “Womanfish.” Additional pre-sessions took place at Dublin’s STS Studios, where producer Paul Barrett watched them develop “Bullet the Blue Sky.”

For the proper sessions, U2 chose engineer Mark “Flood” Ellis, a soundman noted for his work with the Virgin Prunes and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. U2 slated their upcoming album for a late-1986 release with two provisional titles: The Desert Songs and The Two Americas. They installed recording equipment at Danesmoate House, a Georgian mansion in outer Rathfarnham, County Dublin.

In an effort to capture a live in-studio feel, Lanois urged U2 to finalize their arrangements during rehearsals and record each song in one take. This contrasted prior sessions where the members recorded separate layers that soundmen combined into final mixes. At Danesmoate, they first developed “Heartland,” an Unforgettable Fire outtake that remained unfinished until their sixth album.

U2 halted the album in-progress to partake in benefit shows Self Aid benefit concert and the June 1986 Conspiracy of Hope tour.

After Carroll’s New Zealand funeral and Bono’s stay in Central America, U2 reconvened on August 1 in Dublin to commence proper sessions for their fifth album at Melbeach (the Edge’s Monkstown property) and Danesmoate, where ex-Band frontman Robbie Robertson visited U2 amid sessions for his debut solo album, a concurrent Lanois project. The two parties collaborated on the songs “Sweet Fire of Love” and “Testimony,” which appear on the October 1987 Geffen release Robbie Robertson.

As sessions stretched into autumn, U2 struggled to finalize “Where the Streets Have No Name,” which involved countless edits as they mauled over its key shifts and meters. Bono revised his lyrics through multiple takes while the production team screened out words that jarred with corresponding cadences.

In October, as U2 finalized an album’s worth of material, new ideas flew and prompted further sessions. Bono suggested they make a double-album: possibly half American-style blues rock (Bono’s vision) and half European art rock (the Edge’s preference). Eno cautioned that such an undertaking would keep them studio-bound through spring. U2 dropped the idea and shelved the newer songs for future development.

Sessions wrapped on The Joshua Tree in November 1986, at which point Eno and Flood cleared for returning soundman Steve Lillywhite, who handled the album’s mix-down. U2 selected eleven songs from thirty candidates. At this stage, they withdrew the track “Sweetest Thing,” an original front-line contender. Of the chosen songs, Lillywhite mixed four at Windmill Lane with engineer Mark Wallis while Lanois mixed seven at Melbeach with engineers Dave Meegan and Pat McCarthy.

On the eve of Island Record’s January 15, 1987, submission deadline, Lillywhite delegated the album’s running order to his wife, singer Kirsty MacColl, who arranged the tracklist under the proviso that Joshua Tree start with “Where the Streets Have No Name” and end with “Mothers of the Disappeared.”

Between the completion and release of The Joshua Tree, U2 finished the newer songs with Meegan and McCarthy, including the upcoming b-sides “Spanish Eyes,” “Walk to the Water,” and “Luminous Times (Hold on to Love).” They singled out one track, “Birdland,” as a possible future a-side.

The Joshua Tree is housed in a gatefold sleeve with gold-lined black framework and grayscale images of U2 at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park (front) and near a joshua tree in in the Mojave Desert off Route 190 near Darwin (back and inner-gates). Photographer Anton Corbijn accompanied the band on a site-scoping journey of the Mojave Desert and other Southwest US scenic sites before they stumbled on the California landscape and the distinct standalone tree, which early settlers named in honor of the Old Testament prophet Joshua because its branches conjured imagery of Joshua’s praying hands. One day after the December 1986 cover-shoot, Bono suggested they name the album after the tree.

This was the first major-label album to appear simultaneously on compact disc as well as LP and cassette. Early CD copies use a blurred version of the cover photo while cassettes sport an alternate pic from the same photoshoot.

Island promoted The Joshue Tree with an unprecedented $100,000 investment in store displays. In the UK and Ireland, record stores opened at midnight on March 9, 1987, to accommodate round-the-block queues of eager first-day purchasers.

U2 lifted “With or Without You” as the first single on March 21 with the b-sides “Luminous Times (Hold on to Love)” and “Walk to the Water.” It went Top 10 in thirteen nations and reached No. 1 in Ireland, Canada, and all three US charts (Cashbox, Billlboard, Album Rock Tracks). “With or Without You” peaked at No. 2 in the Netherlands and No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.

Luminous Times (Hold on to Love)” (4:33)
Walk to the Water” (4:49)

As the single and album soared the charts, U2 launched the Joshua Tree tour on April 2 in Tempe, where they played before 25,113 fans at across two nights at Arizona State University. Leg 1 covered thirteen US cities with five-night stands at Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena and New Jersey’s Brendan Byrne Arena.

U2 intended “Red Hill Mining Town” as the second single but rejected video clip to the song, which strained Bono’s voice in live settings. They instead lifted “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on May 25 with the non-album b-sides “Spanish Eyes” and “Deep in the Heart.”

Spanish Eyes” (3:16)
Deep in the Heart” (4:31)

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” reached No. 1 in Ireland, No. 2 in New Zealand, and No. 6 in Canada, the Netherlands, and the UK. In the US, it topped the Cashbox Top 100 and the Billboard Hot 100.

Meanwhile, Leg 2 of the Joshua Tree Tour (Europe) commenced on May 27 at Stadio Flaminio in Rome, where The Pretenders, Big Audio Dynamite, and Lone Justice played opening sets. This leg covered eleven Continental cities and included fourteen shows in the UK and Ireland, where Leg 2 wrapped on August 8 with openers UB40 at Cork’s Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Additional Leg 2 openers included World Party (7/18: Espace Richter, Montpellier, France), The Alarm and The Silencers (7/25: Cardiff Arms Park), Hue and Cry (7/30: Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, Glasgow), and The Pogues, The Mission, Love and Money, and Runrig (8/1: Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh).

On August 31, “Where the Streets Have No Name” became the third Joshua Tree single backed with “Sweetest Thing,” “Race Against Time,” and U2’s version of “Silver and Gold,” Bono’s contribution to the Sun City project. The single reached No. 1 in Ireland and New Zealand and peaked at No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.

Sweetest Thing” (3:03)
Silver and Gold” (4:36)
Race Against Time” (4:04)

Leg 3 of the Joshua Tree Tour commenced on September 10 at Nassau Coliseum and covered Canada and the US, where the tour wrapped on December 19–20 in Tempe, Arizona, at the 110.5k-seat Sun Devil Stadium. Notable Leg 3 openers included Los Lobos (11/1: Hoosier Dome, Indianapolis) and blues legend B.B. King, who opened the Tempe shows and an earlier two-nighter in Fort Worth (Nov. 23–24: Tarrant County Convention Center).

On November 11, U2 added a free show at Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco. The event (dubbed “Save the Yuppies” in reference to the recent Stock Market crash) gained infamy when Bono spray-painted “Rock N Roll Stops The Traffic” on the plaza’s fountain art display: a precast concrete tubular sculpture called Vaillancourt Fountain. His action sparked criticism from city officials but support from younger fans and the sculpture’s creator, Armand Vaillancourt.

On November 17, “In God’s Country” became a regional-exclusive fourth single in North America, where it reached No. 6 on the US Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart.

The Joshua Tree reached No. 1 in Austria, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK, where it later certified ten-times Platinum for 3,000,000 copies sold. The album peaked at No. 2 in Ireland and No. 3 in Australia and Spain. It also went Top 10 in Norway (No. 4), Portugal (No. 6), and Italy (No. 7).

In the US, The Joshua Tree reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, where it ended the seven-week blitz of Licensed to Ill by the Beastie Boys on April 25 and held the summit for nine weeks before Whitney Houston took the honors with her second album. The Recording Industry Association of America later certified The Joshua Tree with a Diamond record for 10,000,000 copies sold.

In March 1988, “One Tree Hill” became the album’s fourth and final single in Oceania, where the Kiwi-themed song reached No. 1 in New Zealand, the home country of its late subject, U2 roadie Greg Carroll.

By the time of the album’s 30th anniversary in 2017, The Joshua Tree exceeded global sales of 25 million copies.

In 2007, Interscope released a 20th anniversary four-disc Joshua Tree remaster. Disc 4 contains fifteen b-sides and outtakes, including the seven original b-sides and a re-recorded “Birdland” titled “Wave of Sorrow (Birdland).” The rarities disc also unearths the Joshua Tree outtakes “Desert of Our Love,” “Rise Up,” “Drunk Chicken” (suffixed with an excerpt of Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 poem “America”) and “Beautiful Ghost” (suffixed with the introduction to William Blake’s 1789 poem “Songs of Experience”).


1988–1989


Rattle and Hum

U2 released their sixth album, Rattle and Hum, on October 20, 1988, on Island. It contains nine studio tracks and eight live recordings from their Joshua Tree Tour. The album coincided with a namesake rockumentary film with twenty-two numbers from the 1987–88 tour.

The studio songs include “Desire,” a three-chord rocker set to the Bo Diddley beat. They collaborate with Bob Dylan (“Love Rescue Me”) and B.B. King (“When Love Comes to Town”) and pay tribute to Billie Holiday (“Angel of Harlem”) and John Lennon (“God Part II”).

Rattle and Hum appeared as double-album and a near-capacity single compact disc (72:27 minutes). The album’s title comes from the first line in the second verse (“In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum”) in The Joshua Tree track “Bullet the Blue Sky.”

1. “Helter Skelter” (live, 3:07) is a Beatles rocker by Paul McCartney (credited to the Lennon–McCartney partnership) that originated on their 1968 self-titled album (aka “the white album”). Cult leader Charles Manson, who interpreted the song as a race-war clarion call, used it as motivation for the 1969 Tate–LaBianca murders. In a preface to U2’s version, Bono states “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.”
2. “Van Diemen’s Land” (3:06) The Edge penned the lyrics.
3. “Desire” (2:58)
4. “Hawkmoon 269” (6:22) features Hammond organ by Bob Dylan and backing vocals by Billie Barnum, Carolyn Willis, and Edna Wright.
5. “All Along the Watchtower” (4:24) originated on Bob Dylan’s 1967 album John Wesley Harding. Jimi Hendrix popularised the song with his hard-rock version on the 1968 third Experience album Electric Ladyland. U2 performed it live as part of their November 11, 1987, “Save the Yuppies” show at Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco.
6. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (live, 5:53) performed at Madison Square Garden with The New Voices of Freedom, a New York gospel choir that demoed the song in a choral arrangement prior to meeting the band. George Pendergrass and Dorothy Terrell are the vocal soloists.
7. “Freedom for My People” (excerpt, 0:38) a snippet by the blues duo of Sterling Magee and Adam Gussow (aka Satan and Adam).
8. “Silver and Gold” (live, 5:50) introduced by Bono as an attack on Apartheid. He wrote this for the 1985 all-star rock-activism release Sun City (recorded with members of the Rolling Stones) and re-recorded it with U2 as a Joshua Tree b-side.
9. “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (live, 4:27)
10. “Angel of Harlem” (3:49) is Bono’s tribute to jazz singer Billie Holiday.
11. “Love Rescue Me” (6:24) evolved from “Prisoner of Love,” which Bono co-wrote with Bob Dylan when the two met during an LA stop on the Joshua Tree Tour. Dylan wrote the lyrics.
12. “When Love Comes to Town” (4:14) is a collaboration between U2 and blues legend U2 with B.B. King. Features backing vocals by Rebecca Evans Russell, Phyllis Duncan, and Helen Duncan.
13. “Heartland” (5:02) Eno guests on keyboard.
14. “God Part II” (3:15) is a semi-sequel to “God,” a song by John Lennon on the 1970 Plastic Ono Band album.
15. “The Star Spangled Banner” (excerpt, 0:43) a snippet of the Jimi Hendrix Woodstock rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which Bobo referered to in a 1987 Rolling Stone interview as the “The Star Strangled Banner.”
16. “Bullet the Blue Sky” (live, 5:37)
17. “All I Want Is You” (6:30) features string arrangements by Van Dyke Parks and Hammond organ by Heartbreakers guitarist Benmont Tench.

Jimmy Iovine produced the studio material between late 1987 and mid-1988 at locations in Dublin (Danesmoate, Point Depot, STS) and Los Angeles (A&M, Ocean Way). U2 recorded three songs (“Angel of Harlem,” “Love Rescue Me,” “When Love Comes to Town”) in Memphis, Tennessee, at Sun Studio, the site of early rock ‘n’ roll recordings by Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Organist Joey Miskulin plays on “Angel of Harlem,” which features the Memphis Horns (also heard on “Love Rescue Me”).

U2 titled “Hawkmoon 269” in reference to a book (Hawk Moon, a 1973 poetry book by Sam Shepard), a location (Blackhawk, misread as ‘Hawkmoon’ as U2 drove through Rapid City, SD), and the number of mixes (269) that the song involved in its three-week mix-down stage.

Aside from he tracks featured on Rattle and Hum, the studio sessions produced multiple tracks reserved for later releases, including the b-sides “Hallelujah Here She Comes” and “A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel” and two classic-song covers recorded with Lone Justice frontwoman Maria McKee: the Credence Clearwater Revival chesnut “Fortunate Son” (released as the b-side to the 1992 U2 single “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”) and the William Bell soul number “Everybody Loves a Winner” (a bonus on the 20th anniversary reissue of their 1991 album Achtung Baby).

Hallelujah Here She Comes” (4:12)
A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel
(5:29)

Paramount Pictures distributed the Rattle and Hum movie to theaters on October 27 in Ireland and November 4 in the US. The 88-minute movie contains fourteen numbers from November–December dates on Leg 3 (North America) of their 1987 Joshua Tree Tour:

  • November 8: McNichols Arena, Denver, Colorado — “Helter Skelter,” “Exit”–”Gloria,” “Silver and Gold,” “In God’s Country,” “Bad”–”Ruby Tuesday”–”Sympathy for the Devil,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and “Pride (In the Name of Love).”
  • November 11: Justin Herman Plaza, San Francisco, California — “All Along the Watchtower.”
  • November 24: Tarrant County Convention Center, Fort Worth, Texas — “When Love Comes to Town.”
  • December 19: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona — “With or Without You.”
  • December 20: Sun Devil Stadium — “MLK,” “Bullet the Blue Sky,” “Running to Stand Still,” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

The corresponding album contains three of the seven numbers represented in the black-and-white Denver footage (“Helter Skelter,” “Silver and Gold,” “Pride”) and one from the color Tempe show (“Bullet the Blue Sky”). Midway through the Denver performance of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” Bono shouts “Fuck the revolution!” in reaction to news of the Remembrance Day bombing: an IRA attack that caused eleven deaths at a ceremony in Enniskillen, Ireland.

The movie also contains footage set the the studio tracks “Van Diemen’s Land” and “Desire” (both recorded in May 1988 at Point Depot in Dublin) and “Angel of Harlem” (from the November 1987 Sun Studio sessions). Additional footage shows a September 1987 Harlem church rehearsal of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” between U2 and The New Voices of Freedom,

Other songs heard in the film inlcude the U2 studio track “Heartland” and excerpts of Hendrix rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and the group-original “All I Want Is You” (over the end credits), plus the New York acoustic-blues duo Satan and Adam with their number “Freedom for My People.”

U2 preceded Rattle and Hum with the September 25 single release “Desire” (b/w “Hallelujah Here She Comes”). It reached No. 1 in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, and the UK. “Desire” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In December, “Angel of Harlem” became the second single backed with a version of “A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel” that segues into “Love Rescue Me.” It reached No. 1 in Canada, New Zealand, and on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart (No. 14 Hot 100).

In April 1989, U2 lifted the B.B. King duet “When Love Comes to Town” as the third single backed with as cover of the 1979 Patti Smith song “Dancing Barefoot.” It reached No. 1 in Ireland and No. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

The final Rattle and Hum a-side, “All I Want Is You,” appeared in June 1989; backed with covers of sixties ballads by the Righteous Brothers (“Unchained Melody”) and Love Affair (“Everlasting Love”).

Rattle and Hum went to No. 1 in Australia, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the UK, where it later certified quadruple Platinum (1,200,000 copies sold). The album spent six weeks at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 and was later certified quintuple-Platinum by the RIAA (5,000,000). As of 2020, global Rattle and Hum sales exceed 14,000,000 units.

Select vinyl copies have “We Love You A.L.K.” etched onto Side One in honor of U2 production manager Anne Louise Kelly.

Eleven months after the album’s release, U2 launched the Lovetown Tour, a four-month tour of Oceania and Japan (Leg 1: September 21–December 1, 1989) and Europe (Leg 2: Dec. 11–January 10, 1990). They performed every Rattle and Hum studio track on Lovetown apart from the US-themed “Heartland.” Leg 1 included seven nights (October 7–16) at Melbourne’s National Tennis Centre. B.B. King opened all dates apart from the final two shows in Rotterdam. The Australian and Japanese dates also featured Melbourne folk-rockers Weddings Parties Anything.


Discography (1980s):


Sources:

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