On this day in music history: October 20, 1980 – “Boy”, the debut album by U2 is released. Produced by Steve Lillywhite, it is recorded at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, Ireland from March – September 1980. The Irish rock band’s first album was originally to have been produced by Joy Division producer Martin Hannett, but he drops out of the project, still bereaved over the suicide of JD’s lead singer Ian Curtis. Many of the songs focus on the trials and tribulations experienced during adolescence. The album spins off two singles including “I Will Follow” which givea the Irish band a toehold in the US, peaking at #20 on the Mainstream Rock charts. They support the album by touring the UK and US. The original European release of the album features a photograph of a young Irish boy named Peter Rowen. He is the younger brother of Virgin Prunes vocalist “Guggi” (aka Derek Rowen), a childhood friend of lead singer Bono. Peter is also featured on the cover of several other U2 albums and singles over the years including on the cover of “War” in 1983. The original US LP cover instead includes a photo of the band when the American arm of Island Records fears the band will be accused of pedophilia by featuring a bare chested, waifish looking pre-pubescent child on the cover. The album is remastered and reissued on CD in 2008, with a deluxe boxed edition (issued in Europe and South America only) featuring a bonus with single edits, B-sides and live tracks. The set also comes packaged with a T-shirt featuring the original album cover photo printed on the front, and the members of U2 on the back. First released on CD in 1986, it is remastered and reissued in 2008. The US reissue is a two disc set with the first containing the original twelve song album. The second disc contains fourteen additional bonus tracks including alternate mixes, single edits and previously unreleased live performances. The UK release features the same track listing, with a limited edition set containing a T-shirt which is sold exclusively through HMV record stores in the UK. The album is also reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP the same year. “Boy” peaks at number sixty three on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 12, 1981 – “October”, the second album by U2 is released. Produced by Steve Lillywhite, it is recorded at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas in April 1981 and Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, Ireland from July – August 1981. Immediately after the end of the tour in support of their debut album “Boy”, U2 begin writing material for their sophomore release. The song “Fire” is actually written and recorded while the band are taking a break from their first tour, recording it at Island Records’ founder Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. The remainder of the sessions take place over the Summer at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin. With Bono, the Edge and Larry Mullen, Jr. involved in the Shalom Fellowship, a Christian faith group that three members belong to, is influential in the songs written for the new album. With bassist Adam Clayton not sharing the same spiritual values as the other three, and with Bono, Edge and Larry torn between the “rock & roll lifestyle” they’re living and their faith, it threatens to tear the band apart. Having come from a family where his parents were Catholic and Protestant respectively, Bono is able to reconcile the differences between his religious beliefs and drive to be a successful musician after manager Paul McGuinness convinces him not to leave the band. U2 suffer another set back during the recording sessions when Bono loses a briefcase filled with lyrics for the in progress songs, leading him to largely improvise new ones during the two months it takes to complete the recording. The album is initially met with a mixed and decidedly less enthusiastic response than their debut “Boy”, and for many years is the lowest selling album of U2’s career. In later years, the transitional release is reassessed more favorably and is seen as the bridge to their next album “War” and beyond. It spins off two singles including “Fire” (#35 UK, #4 IRE) and “Gloria” (#55 UK, #10 IRE). In the US, the music video for “Gloria” is the first clip from U2 to receive significant airplay on MTV, which helps increase their exposure and growing fan base. “October” is remastered and reissued on CD in 2008, as a standard single disc, a deluxe two disc edition with the second CD containing live tracks and the songs “A Celebration”, “Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl”, and “J. Swallo”, previously released on singles only. A remix of the track “Tomorrow” issued on the compilation album “Common Ground” is also included. “October” peaks at one hundred four on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 10, 1988 – “Rattle And Hum”, the sixth album by U2 is released. Produced by Jimmy Iovine, it is recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis, TN, Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, Ireland (studio tracks), Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, AZ, Justin Herman Plaza, Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, CA and McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, CO (live tracks) from Mid 1987 – Early 1988. Named for a lyric in the song “Bullet The Blue Sky”, the seventeen-track double LP serves as an accompanying soundtrack to the film documenting the US leg of the “Joshua Tree Tour” in 1987. It combines live recordings along with several new songs recorded in the studio both in Ireland and in the US, including a collaboration with blues legend B.B. King on “When Love Comes To Town” (#68 Pop, #2 Mainstream Rock). The album and film receive mixed reviews from critics, feeling that it is “misguided and bombastic”, and that the band come across as “pretentious”. But both are well received by the public, and is and major success for U2. It spins off four singles including “Desire” (#3 Pop) and “Angel Of Harlem” (#14 Pop). Much like the singles for “The Joshua Tree”, Island Records issues the 7" singles with standard paper picture sleeves and printed on heavier cardboard stock. The release of the first single “Desire” comes in a limited edition gatefold picture sleeve with the inner spread featuring a black and white photo of the band taken by photographer and video director Anton Corbijn. “Rattle And Hum” spends six weeks at number one on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 5x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 1, 1984 – “The Unforgettable Fire”, the fourth album by U2 is released. Produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, it is recorded at Slane Castle in County Meath, Ireland and Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, Ireland from May 7 – August 5, 1984. The band’s first collaboration with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, it marks the beginning of a dramatic shift in U2’s sound, showing a greater willingness to experiment with different sonic textures than before. Initially, Island Records boss Chris Blackwell tries to talk them out of working with Eno, feeling that he will divert them into “avant-garde nonsense”, but the band eventually prevail in their choice of producers. The collaboration turns out to be an inspired one, with U2 pushing their musical boundaries further, as their popularity continues to rise. The albums’ title is inspired by art exhibit about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima that band sees while touring Japan. It spins off four singles including “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” (#33 US Pop #2 Mainstream Rock), a tribute to Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.. U2 also release a long form video titled “The Unforgettable Fire Collection” that includes versions one and two of the music videos for “Pride”, the title cut and “A Sort Of Homecoming”. It also includes a live performance clip of “Bad” as well as a thirty minute long documentary on the making of the album. The documentary is later reissued on DVD in 2003 as part of the release “U2 Go Home: Live from Slane Castle”. The album is remastered and reissued in 2009 for its twenty fifth anniversary on CD in standard, deluxe editions, as a limited edition box set, also reissuing it on vinyl for the first time in many years. “The Unforgettable Fire” peaks at number twelve on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 3x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 1, 1979 – “Three”, by U2 is released. Produced by U2 and Chas de Whalley, it is recorded at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, Ireland in Summer 1979. The three song 7" and 12" EP (all written by U2) is the first release by the fledging Irish rock band, and is initially issued on CBS Records only in Ireland as a limited edition of 1000 individually numbered copies. Consisting of the songs “Out Of Control”, “Stories For Boys” and “Boy/Girl”, the former two are re-recorded for their debut album “Boy” in 1980. The EP is reissued several more times (six in all) by CBS in the UK after U2’s breakthrough success with “War”. “Boy/Girl” and “Stories For Boys” become staples of their early live performances, but are dropped not long after the “Boy” tour in 1980. “Out Of Control” however, is performed consistently by the band over the years, mostly recently on the “Elevation”, “Vertigo” and “U2 360° Tour” shows. “Three” receives its first CD release in 2008 as part of the remastered release of their first album “Boy”.
On this day in music history: August 8, 1987 – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2 hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks. Written by U2, it is the second chart topping single for the rock band from Dublin, Ireland. The song originates as a demo recording built up from a drum pattern created by drummer Larry Mullen, Jr.. Lyrically, much of the song is influenced by gospel music that Bono is listening to at the time, and begins writing the lyrics based on themes of questioning personal faith, and looking for spiritual enlightenment. From there, guitarist The Edge comes up with the songs main chord sequence, with the rest of song coming together in short order. The track is recorded at Danesmoate House just outside of Dublin, an 18th century Georgian styled home, and the former residence of Irish politician William Southwell (now owned by U2 bassist Adam Clayton). Initially, “I Still Haven’t Found” wasn’t in the running for release as a single. The band had originally intended “Red Hill Mining Town” to be issued as the follow up to “With Or Without You”. They change their minds when they are unhappy with the music video shot for “Red Hill”, and also end up dropping the song from the upcoming “Joshua Tree Tour” when Bono has difficulty singing the song in pre-tour rehearsals. A video for “I Still Haven’t Found” is quickly shot on the Fremont Street casino strip in Las Vegas in one evening (on April 12, 1987) with director Barry Devlin, after a concert performance in the city. The single is released as the follow up to their first chart topper “With Or Without You” on May 25, 1987. Entering the Hot 100 at #51 on June 13, 1987, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” receives Grammy nominations for both Record and Song Of The Year in 1988.
On this day in music history: July 24, 1993 – “Zooropa”, the eighth studio album by U2 hits #1 on the Billboard Top 200 for 2 weeks. Produced by Flood, Brian Eno and The Edge, it is recorded at The Factory, Windmill Lane Studios and Westland Studios in Dublin, Ireland from February – May 1993. Recorded during breaks in U2’s “Zoo TV World Tour”, it is originally intended to be only an EP release to promote the European leg of the tour. The band take a different approach than with previous albums, jamming and then having Eno and Flood piece together sections, forming them into finished songs. Bono would then write lyrics, and record his vocals as the compositions came together. In spite of the unconventional method of writing and recording, the sessions are so productive that they yield a full albums worth of new material. Continuing in the vein of U2’s previous album “Achtung Baby”, it is even more experimental in its sound and scope. The album is led by the minimalist track “Numb”, featuring a monotone lead vocal by The Edge. Island and the band promote the single in part by issuing it, as a non-descript vinyl 12" single with only the title printed on the label, crediting the producer as “Fee Dognoodle”
(an anagram of Edge, Eno, Flood).
“Zooropa” also features a guest appearance by Johnny Cash on the final track “The Wanderer”. Though it is well received upon its release, it trails far behind its predecessor in sales. It spins off three singles including “Lemon” (#3 Modern Rock) and “Stay (Faraway, So Close)” (#15 Modern Rock, #61 Pop). The album also wins the band a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 1994. “Zooropa” is certified 3x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: May 16, 1987 – “With Or Without You” by U2 hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks, also topping the Mainstream Rock chart for 5 weeks on April 4, 1987. Written by U2, it is the first chart topping single for the rock band from Dublin, Ireland. The song originates as a demo recording in late 1985 following the world tour for “The Unforgettable Fire”. Bono is inspired by the contradictions of being a musician, touring and traveling the world and his life at home with his wife Alison. Initial attempts to record “With Or Without You” are not to U2 or co-producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois’ liking, and the song is nearly discarded. Their mutual friend, former Virgin Prunes singer Gavin Friday feels otherwise, making suggestions on what changes to make in order to realize its hit potential. The track is completed with the rest of the band in 1986 during sessions for “The Joshua Tree” at the Danesmoate House and STS Studios in Dublin, Ireland. “With Or Without You” sounds unlike anything on the radio at the time, beginning with a virtual gentle whisper before building to a crescendo during the last third before closing with an understated and minimalist guitar solo from The Edge. Released simultaneously with the album on March 9, 1987, “With Or Without You” is an instant classic, having an immediate impact with fans and radio programmers alike. Entering the Hot 100 at #64 on March 21, 1987, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. “With Or Without You” becomes U2’s biggest single in the US, and one their most popular and best known songs.
On this day in music history: March 9, 1987 – “The Joshua Tree”, the fifth studio album by U2 is released. Produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, it is recorded at STS, Danesmoate House, Melbeach and Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, Ireland from January 1986 – January 1987. After the release of U2’s previous album “The Unforgettable Fire” and the extensive world they undertake in support of it, the band take their first extended break from the road, sitting out much of 1985 to rest and begin writing material for their next album. Many of the albums songs are influenced by the bands travels while touring the US in 1984-85, as well as their participation in the Amnesty International “Conspiracy Of Hope” tour in mid 1986. The albums cover photos are taken by photographer Anton Corbjin at the Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert in California. Corbijn tells the band about the trees, which are named (according Mormon legend) after the prophet Joshua (in the Old Testament in the Bible), as the trees reminded them of the prophet with his hands raised in prayer. Out in the park, they find one tree by itself (unusual since they normally grow in groups), and take several pictures standing next to the lone tree. Intrigued by the underlying religious significance, Bono decides to name the album after the tree. The album is an immediately huge critical and commercial success, cementing the bands fame on a worldwide basis. It breaks sales records in the UK, selling over 300,000 copies in just two days. In the US, it enters the Top 200 at #7 on April 4, 1987, making it the highest chart album debut since the Eagles’ “The Long Run” in 1979. It spins off four singles including the chart toppers “With Or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. U2 tours extensively in support of “Joshua”, with it being documented in the film and album “Rattle And Hum” issued in late 1988. In February of 1988, it wins two Grammy Awards including Album Of The Year in 1988. The album is remastered and reissued on vinyl and CD in 2007 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of its release. For its thirtieth anniversary, new reissues of the landmark album are released in June of 2017, including a Super Deluxe box set featuring extensive bonus tracks including a full live concert recording. "The Joshua Tree" spends nine weeks at number one on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 10x Platinum in the US by the RIAA, receiving a Diamond Certification.