U2 have released twelve studio albums, sold over 150 million records worldwide during a career spanning thirty years and collected countless prestigious awards, including a whopping 22 Grammys, more than any other band. Known for extravagant and energetic live shows and political activism, the group fronted by Bono is arguably the biggest band on earth.
In 1978, a young drummer called Larry Mullen pinned a 'musicians wanted' ad to the notice board at Dublin's Temple Mount School. Among those who answered the call were Adam Clayton on bass, Dave Evans (later called The Edge) on guitar, and Paul Hewson (later Bono) on vocals. They had a pretty limited grasp of musical techniques and played together under the name 'Feedback.' They could be found rehearsing in Larry's kitchen in Dublin, and changed their name twice more in their early years, before finally settling on U2. The teenagers began to build a steady local reputation, mainly for the sheer passion of their live shows.
It was a fairytale St Patrick's Day in 1978 that U2 got their first big break, winning a talent show in Limerick that got them studio time and £500. It wasn't long before their first Irish chart success, 1979's EP Three.
U2 were eventually snapped up by Island records, and their first full album Boy was released by the end of 1980. After a tour of Europe and the US, the band quickly put out a second album October in 1981.
War and The Unforgettable Fire
A bold and confident step, 1983's War was an album packed with political energy. The most enduring hit was 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' which, along with 'New Year's Day' earned the band recognition in the UK. A huge tour followed, the world was introduced to U2's trademark stage passion.
Live Aid and Band Aid
An event that was to define U2's image for a lot of people was their involvement in the legendary Live Aid concert in July 1985, which raised money for victims of the Ethiopian famine. Ahead of that, Bono and Adam Clayton were involved in the Band Aid single 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' (Bono later sang again on the re-recording, 2005's Band Aid 20 effort).
The Joshua Tree
A step into American traditions of folk and blues music, as well as a statement about political injustice, 1987's The Joshua Tree was the fastest-selling record in British chart history up to that point, including singles 'With or Without You' and 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.' The resulting stadium tour was taped and released as a documentary film and double album in 1988 named Rattle and Hum.
Achtung Baby, Zoo TV, and Zooropa
After overcoming some internal wrangling about what direction to take, the band completed Achtung Baby in 1991. Singles 'Mysterious Ways', 'The Fly' and, above all, 'One,' helped the album to become another big hit.
Zoo TV is probably the most memorable of U2's over-the-top tours. With an extravagant battery of TV screens, bizarre giant props, stage characters and visual effects, it was purportedly an ironic comment on the excesses of rock and roll extravagance. Right in the middle of the Zoo TV tour, the band recorded another record, named Zooropa which developed into a full-blown electronic-influenced album.
Full of electronic samples and experimental loops, 1997's album Pop received good reviews, but poor sales. Its thumping beats and heavy funk such as on song 'Discotheque' were perfect for a full-blown tour, and thus came the intentionally overblown Popmart shows, featuring the now-infamous giant lemon.
All That You Can't Leave Behind
U2 realised that in order to reclaim the title of biggest band on the planet, it was time to get a bit more commercial. Their album All That You Can't Leave Behind debuted at number one in a staggering 22 countries in the year 2000, helped hugely by single 'Beautiful Day.' After another massive tour, U2 were also booked for the halftime show of the Superbowl in 2002.
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Now back in the driving seat, the band aimed for a harder hitting rock sound than ever before on 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. The track 'Vertigo' was used in an iPod advert, leading to some cries of U2 selling out to big corporations. However, the album did well, and the tour was the band's biggest so far. Eight Grammy Awards followed, as did an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a groundbreaking concert film U2 3D.
No Line on the Horizon
In 2006, U2 began work on their twelfth studio album, No Line on the Horizon which was released some three years later. It took several early experimental turns and featured the likes of 'Get on Your Boots,' 'Magnificent' and 'I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight' . It was met with a lukewarm reception and despite topping the charts in over thirty countries, it sold around half the number of copies in its first week as its predecessor. It went on to sell nine million copies worldwide and received two more Grammy Award nominations.
Following the release of No Line on the Horizon, U2 embarked on a worldwide stadium tour which lived up to their reputation for insane staging. The 360° Tour featured a giant overhanging 'claw' which allowed band members to be seen properly from any angle. And in April 2011, the tour was confirmed as the most successful ever, beating the record set by The Rolling Stones in 2007, after U2 sold almost £430 million of tickets. When the tour ends in July 2011, it will have been seen by more than seven million people in 30 countries, again beating the Stones' earlier record for their Voodoo Lounge Tour. Before they bring their two year long tour to a close, U2 will headline Glastonbury in June 2011.
Away from music
All members of U2 have been involved in charity work, but none more than Bono. His high-profile championing of causes and a close relationship with politicians is well known. As well as involvement in Band Aid and Live Aid, Bono co-founded the project (RED) campaign. He has been a campaigner for AIDs charities and the cancellation of third world debt. The band together worked on relief work for victims of Hurricane Katrina, as well as supporting War Child and Amnesty International.