Everything was already in place for greatness. A few years before, guitarists everywhere were floored by what Eddie van Halen was doing, but it seems that no one noticed the Edge doing something every bit as innovative. The difference is that the Edge didn’t have to carry his band. His playing was no more nor less than the song needed. Bono was already an engaging singer and the lyrics had more substance than a lot of bands have in their prime. Boy has a lot of the energy of punk, yet the songs are better written and far from raw. In addition to the well-known “I Will Follow” and “Electric Co,” there are a lot of great album tracks including “Out of Control” and “A Day Without Me.”
This album gets a lot of flak for some reason. It doesn’t quite live up to the promise of Boy, but it isn’t a step backward either. Perhaps it could be considered a holding pattern. October has more low-key songs than its predecessor, but it also has a few breakouts as well. “Gloria” gets some radio play from time to time, but “I Threw a Brick Through a Window,” “Fire” and “Rejoice” are also worth getting to know.
I’m often torn between this one and The Unforgettable Fire as U2’s best album. Right now, I’m siding with War. A broader set of influences comes together here without watering down the band’s identity. Everything takes a step forward without becoming so refined that it loses any energy. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Years Day” never get old despite staying in steady radio rotation for 24 years. “Two Hearts Beat as One,” “Seconds” and “40” should also make your playlist.
Under a Blood Red Sky (1983)
Live albums are seldom essential, but this one might be. It’s not that it’s a great live recording so much as it captures why U2 was so important: They connected with people. An added bonus is the inclusion of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” and “Party Girl” which don’t appear on any of the regular studio LPs.