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Why U2 matters

Alexandra Kilpatrick | Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It was a warm St. Patrick’s Day afternoon and everyone on campus was reveling in all things Irish. Off in the distance a stereo could be heard blasting U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” in celebration. No band in the modern rock era has influenced more bands than U2. The Dublin-based band created a new genre of rock music with an atmospheric, layered feel, passionate lead vocals, insightful lyrics, and a longer form than that of the classic rock era. Their anthemic, post-punk sound has influenced most modern rock bands, including acts like Coldplay, Radiohead, the Killers, and Kings of Leon.The Irish rock band first got its start with 1980’s “Boy” but first gained international commercial success with 1983’s “War.” This album included “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” the band’s first overtly political song, whose lyrics contrast the devastating events of the Bloody Sunday incident with Easter Sunday. The subsequent year, Bono and company released “The Unforgettable Fire” with another hit political single, “Pride (In the Name of Love).” The song was written about Martin Luther King, Jr. and is still one of the band’s most easily recognizable singles.In July 1985, Bono jumped off the stage in the middle of U2’s performance of the song “Bad” at the Live Aid concert for Ethiopian famine relief, embracing and dancing with one of the fans. This performance marked a turning point in the band’s career, because it showed the television audience the Irish rock star could make a personal connection with his audiences. As “Rolling Stone” magazine put it in 1985, “for a growing number of rock-and-roll fans, U2 [has] become the band that matters most, maybe even the only band that matters.” And after nearly 30 years in the spotlight, U2 still has a very large fan base and a lot of respect.In 1987, Bono and the band released “The Joshua Tree,” which built on their previous albums’ atmospheric sound but featured more exploration of American roots rock, including blues-rock and country music. The album brought several hit singles to the public, including “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “With or Without You,” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.””With or Without You” became the band’s first American No. 1 hit single, and as one of U2’s most emotional songs, it was featured as Ross and Rachel’s break-up song on “Friends.” The song has a very slow, romantic, mesmerizing sound and insightful lyrics: “Sleight of hand and twist of fate / On a bed of nails she makes me wait / And I wait without you.”As new forms of music such as dance and alternative rock influenced the band, they reinvented their sound for 1991’s “Achtung Baby” with such hits as “One” and “Mysterious Ways.” They then returned to a more traditional sound with the release of “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” in 2000, which included “Beautiful Day” and “Elevation” as successful singles. A personal favorite and one of U2’s most famous songs, “Beautiful Day” is a very optimistic anthem that features a drum machine and a rhythm sequencer. The song contains lyrics about a man who has lost everything yet finds comfort in what he has: “It’s a beautiful day / Sky falls, you feel like / It’s a beautiful day / Don’t let it get away.” President Obama used the song as an inspirational entrance to some campaign events last year.Wanting to present harder-hitting rock, the band released “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” in 2004, which included “Vertigo,” featured on one of the first iPod commercials, as well as “City of Blinding Lights” and “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own,” a tribute to Bono’s father who died in 2001.Bono and company created a new kind of rock that has been influential to so many bands over the past 30 years, but they have also evolved by exploring various kinds of music and incorporating these forms into their albums. Because of their widespread influence, musical experimentation, inspirational lyrics and political activism, U2 is still one of the greatest rock bands around today.