U2 are an Irish rock band formed in Dublin in 1976. The group consists of Bono (vocals and guitar), The Edge (guitar, keyboards and vocals), Adam Clayton (bass guitar), and Larry Mullen, Jr. (drums and percussion). U2's early sound was indebted to post-punk but eventually grew to incorporate influences from many genres of popular music. Throughout the group's musical pursuits, they have maintained a recognisable sound built on melodic instrumentals, highlighted by The Edge's textural guitar playing and Bono's expressive vocals. Their lyrics, often embellished with spiritual imagery, focus on personal themes and sociopolitical concerns.
The band formed at Mount Temple Comprehensive School when the members were teenagers with limited musical proficiency. Within four years, they signed to Island Records and released their debut album Boy. By the mid-1980s, they became a top international act. They were more successful as live performers than they were at selling records, until their 1987 breakthrough album The Joshua Tree, which, according to Rolling Stone, elevated the band's stature "from heroes to superstars". Reacting to a sense of musical stagnation and a late-1980s critical backlash against their earnest image and musical direction, the group reinvented themselves with their 1991 hit album Achtung Baby and the accompanying Zoo TV Tour. U2 integrated dance, industrial, and alternative rock influences into their sound and performances, and embraced a more ironic and self-deprecating image. Similar experimentation continued for the remainder of the 1990s with reduced levels of success. U2 regained critical and commercial favour after their 2000 record All That You Can't Leave Behind. On it and the group's subsequent releases, they pursued a more conventional sound while maintaining influences from their earlier musical explorations.
U2 have released 12 studio albums and are among the best-selling groups in popular music. They have won 22 Grammy Awards, more than any other band, and they have sold more than 150 million records. In 2005, the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. Rolling Stone ranked U2 at number 22 in its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time". Throughout their career, as a band and as individuals, they have campaigned for human rights and philanthropic causes, including Amnesty International, the ONE/DATA campaigns, Product Red, and The Edge's Music Rising.
The band formed in Dublin on 25 September 1976.Larry Mullen, Jr., then a 14-year-old student at Mount Temple Comprehensive School, posted a note on the school's notice board in search of musicians for a new band—six people responded. Setting up in his kitchen, Mullen was on drums, with Paul Hewson (Bono) on lead vocals; David Evans (The Edge) and his older brother Dik Evans on guitar; Adam Clayton, a friend of the Evans brothers on bass guitar; and initially Ivan McCormick and Peter Martin, two other friends of Mullen. Mullen later described it as "'The Larry Mullen Band' for about ten minutes, then Bono walked in and blew any chance I had of being in charge." Soon after, the group settled on the name "Feedback" because it was one of the few technical terms they knew. Martin did not return after the first practice, and McCormick left the group within a few weeks. Most of the group's initial material consisted of cover songs, which the band admitted was not their forté. Some of the earliest influences on the band were emerging punk rock acts, such as The Jam, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, and The Sex Pistols. The popularity of punk rock convinced the group that musical proficiency was not a prerequisite to being successful.
In March 1977, the band changed their name to "The Hype". Dik Evans, who was older and by this time at college, was becoming the odd man out. The rest of the band was leaning towards the idea of a four-piece ensemble and he was "phased out" in March 1978. During a farewell concert in the Presbyterian Church Hall in Howth, which featured The Hype playing covers, Dik ceremoniously walked offstage. The remaining four band members completed the concert playing original material as "U2". Steve Averill, a punk rock musician and family friend of Clayton's, had suggested six potential names from which the band chose "U2" for its ambiguity and open-ended interpretations, and because it was the name that they disliked the least.
On Saint Patrick's Day in 1978, U2 won a talent show in Limerick, Ireland. The prize consisted of £500 and studio time to record a demo which would be heard by CBS Ireland. This win was an important milestone and affirmation for the fledgling band. U2 recorded their first demo tape at Keystone Studios in Dublin in May 1978.Hot Press magazine was influential in shaping the band's future; in May, Paul McGuinness, who had earlier been introduced to the band by the publication's journalist Bill Graham, agreed to be U2's manager. The group's first release, an Ireland-only EP entitled Three, was released in September 1979 and was their first Irish chart success. In December 1979, U2 performed in London for their first shows outside Ireland, although they failed to get much attention from audiences or critics. In February 1980, their second single "Another Day" was released on the CBS label, but again only for the Irish market.
Island Records signed U2 in March 1980, and in May, the band released "11 O'Clock Tick Tock" as their first international single. The band's debut album, Boy, followed in October. Produced by Steve Lillywhite, it received generally positive reviews. Although Bono's unfocused lyrics seemed improvised, they expressed a common theme: the dreams and frustrations of adolescence. The album included the band's first United States hit single, "I Will Follow". Boy's release was followed by the Boy Tour, U2's first tour of continental Europe and the United States. Despite being unpolished, these early live performances demonstrated U2's potential, as critics noted that Bono was a "charismatic" and "passionate" showman.
The band's second album, October, was released in 1981 and contained overtly spiritual themes. During the album's recording sessions, Bono and The Edge considered quitting the band due to perceived spiritual conflicts. Bono, The Edge, and Mullen had joined a Christian group in Dublin called the "Shalom Fellowship", which led them to question the relationship between the Christian faith and the rock and roll lifestyle. Bono and Edge took time off between tours and decided to leave Shalom in favour of continuing with the band. Recording was further complicated when a briefcase containing lyrics for several working songs was stolen from backstage during the band's performance at a nightclub in Portland, Oregon. The album received mixed reviews and limited radio play. Low sales outside the UK put pressure on their contract with Island and focused the band on improvement.