The band first got together in school in 1976, went through a few name changes including Feedback before settling on U2, and just four short years later they were signed to Island Records and put on the path that would inevitably catapult them into the upper echelon of defining 1980s bands.
It’s something of a whirlwind story and these four guys from Dublin armed with a few chords borrowed mostly from bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash before them had no real choice but to learn and grow before their audience’s very eyes. They took the raw energy of punk and perhaps the ambience and soulfulness of Irish roots music and the danceable groove of the post-Punk New Wave movement and out came what we know as the sound of U2. A sound so distinct that you instantly recognize one of their songs the second it comes out of the speakers.
My experience with U2 throughout the 1980s was mostly confined to what I heard on the radio and MTV. Their hits. They initially wore their influences on their sleeves – as most young bands do – and so you got hints of The Clash for sure. The politics and the vocal wailing served up on a powerful driving groove in songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday. But by the time The Joshua Tree came out in 1987 the evolution was complete. They had defined a sound all of their own and Bono had grown into an amazing songwriter. Able to effortlessly deliver the powerful punch of social consciousness and love and longing through masterfully crafted lyrical imagery. The band was tight-knit and in sync. All the ingredients were in place for the 1988 concert movie U2: Rattle and Hum.
Directed by Phil Joanou (Three O’Clock High, Final Analysis), Rattle and Hum is essentially a journey for the band as they tour America and explore the defining traits of American music, allowing themselves to grow and change from the experience on screen for us all to see.
We move with them from city to city, but we take side roads with them between the gigs. In my opinion this is where the real magic happens. They record at Sun Studio in Memphis and pay a visit to Graceland. They collaborate with the legendary B.B. King, and drop in on and perform with a gospel choir in Harlem. And throughout all of this we also see amazing live concert performances of some of their biggest songs. It is during these concert scenes that we see what U2 truly does best – energize and command a crowd of thousands with just the power of music. Not bad for a couple of kids from Dublin.
Below are just a few video highlights from U2: Rattle and Hum.