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Old 02-10-2009, 03:48 AM   #1
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Did U2 start recording records too early?

This occurred to me last night as I was listening, intently, to Boy and October for the first time in ages (due to seeing the earlier thread about how Boy was named, absurdly, the best debut album ever).

U2 were a functional band (with manager and some gigs) for all of a year and a half (less than two anyway) when they signed with Island records, an international distributor. When they signed on the dotted line, Larry was 18, as he was when they made Boy.

To compare this with The Beatles, for example, the youngest, George Harrison, was 19 when they made Please Please Me, so that's almost as young as Larry (although Ringo and John were 22). But the Beatles had years of experience, and had played 7 hours a night to violent fans in Hamburg, Germany, going back two-and-a-half years before their debut. They'd already played something crazy like 1000 gigs before they made their first record.

To compare with U2's peers, let's take The Police and R.E.M. When The Police made their first record, they'd all been in previous bands and Andy Summers was a 60s' holdover, so that's a different story -- Sting was 26 or 27, Stewart 26, and Andy 35 or 36. With R.E.M., Michael Stipe was 23, still four years older than Larry and three older than Bono. And Peter Buck was already 26, seven years older than Larry.

Granted, a lot of other groups of the post-punk cauldron were comparably young (Sex Pistols, Depeche Mode), and there's something kind of genuine and touching about the youthful zest of Boy and October . . . still, I can't help wondering what the U2 recorded history would have been like if their first album had come in 1983 or something (when they were still very young). The musicianship on those two albums is a bit amateurish in places (esp. Adam's bass on Boy), and in the early days there was a huge gap between U2 live and U2 on record.

In a way, it's a shame that very young rock bands aren't given time to develop like they were in the post-punk era. U2 were fortunate to spring from that fertile cauldron, when musicanship was not a valued priority.
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Old 02-10-2009, 04:08 AM   #2
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Seems to have worked for them.
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Old 02-10-2009, 04:55 AM   #3
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I think there's nothing absurd about "Boy" being named one of the best debut albums ever. In my opinion, it is the best rock debut album. It's not an album trying too hard to impress that it falters immediately. Nor is it a copy-cat album. It stands out as unique in sound and quality and the songs still measure up nearly 30 years later.

One thing I hate about this site is that when U2 aren't listed at the top or at least amongst the top in these various "Best Of Whatever" type of rankings, U2 fans complain endlessly, repeatedly belittling those who are above U2. But when U2 is listed, fans complain that it's absurd for U2 to be there.

As for your topic, what exactly would have been a good age? Even if you don't think "Boy" is the best debut album ever, I hope you would agree it is ONE of the best debut albums ever. If not, then we can end discussion right now. Because that shows to me that you felt U2 needed a LOT more.

Back in the Beatles' era, 2 minute songs (maybe 3 minutes top) were possible. They did tons of covers. All they had to do was something "rock-ish" and they were different. Some fans hated that, some fans loved it.

By U2's time, the world was quite different. And clearly Island saw something about U2 that was worthy of signing them.

Fortunately for U2 (and us), Island didn't drop them when their first album didn't become #1 and sell 10M copies. Back then, bands could mature and develop a following. And U2 more than made up for the touring by performing endlessly those first few years, building up their fan base. Finally, they started to break through with "War" and then got their first Top 40 hit in the U.S. with UF. These days, if a band took 4 albums to get a song in the Top 40, well, let's just say, it wouldn't happen - they would have been cut after the second album.

The benefit for Island is that when U2 did break through, their catalog then went on to see tons more copies. U2 finally did get those million+ selling albums for all their prior releases, just took a bit longer.

But I really don't see the difference in U2 compared to all the teen acts signed today. U2 had a great debut album and were known as a great live band early on. As indra stated, it seems to have worked for them.
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Old 02-10-2009, 05:11 AM   #4
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were known as a great live band early on.

My sister saw them in 1981 (at Bogarts in Cincinnati) and said they were amazing. She wasn't a fan either -- she was in college and just went for something to do -- so they were making a strong case as performers very early on.
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Old 02-10-2009, 05:49 AM   #5
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If they hadn't jumped into action when they did some other band may have gotten in there first and then god knows where we'd be.
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Old 02-10-2009, 06:12 AM   #6
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I don't get the point of this question.
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Old 02-10-2009, 08:14 AM   #7
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Old 02-10-2009, 08:16 AM   #8
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No.
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Old 02-10-2009, 09:31 AM   #9
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I don't get the point of this question.
You're quite right. My thread is pointless. Lock it!
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Old 02-10-2009, 02:42 PM   #10
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I don't think that U2 started recording too early. It's an amazing achievement that 4 unknown musicians, who didn't know how to play anybody else's songs yet, managed to put out a solid album like Boy, and follow it up with an even solider album like October. And most bands don't put out their best album first, it's usually a few albums later. Radiohead's best album isn't Pablo Honey, Yes's best album isn't Yes, The Smashing Pumpkin's best album isn't Gish, etc...
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Old 02-10-2009, 05:47 PM   #11
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boy is a brilliant album, it's the best of their first 3.

one could argue they didn't start soon enough.

wait, what?
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Old 02-10-2009, 05:54 PM   #12
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I agree, until Unforgettable Fire, it was their best album, so no, they started right on time. Maybe The Beatles were late????
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Old 02-10-2009, 07:40 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by doctorwho View Post
I think there's nothing absurd about "Boy" being named one of the best debut albums ever. In my opinion, it is the best rock debut album. It's not an album trying too hard to impress that it falters immediately. Nor is it a copy-cat album. It stands out as unique in sound and quality and the songs still measure up nearly 30 years later.

One thing I hate about this site is that when U2 aren't listed at the top or at least amongst the top in these various "Best Of Whatever" type of rankings, U2 fans complain endlessly, repeatedly belittling those who are above U2. But when U2 is listed, fans complain that it's absurd for U2 to be there.

As for your topic, what exactly would have been a good age? Even if you don't think "Boy" is the best debut album ever, I hope you would agree it is ONE of the best debut albums ever. If not, then we can end discussion right now. Because that shows to me that you felt U2 needed a LOT more.

Back in the Beatles' era, 2 minute songs (maybe 3 minutes top) were possible. They did tons of covers. All they had to do was something "rock-ish" and they were different. Some fans hated that, some fans loved it.

By U2's time, the world was quite different. And clearly Island saw something about U2 that was worthy of signing them.

Fortunately for U2 (and us), Island didn't drop them when their first album didn't become #1 and sell 10M copies. Back then, bands could mature and develop a following. And U2 more than made up for the touring by performing endlessly those first few years, building up their fan base. Finally, they started to break through with "War" and then got their first Top 40 hit in the U.S. with UF. These days, if a band took 4 albums to get a song in the Top 40, well, let's just say, it wouldn't happen - they would have been cut after the second album.

The benefit for Island is that when U2 did break through, their catalog then went on to see tons more copies. U2 finally did get those million+ selling albums for all their prior releases, just took a bit longer.

But I really don't see the difference in U2 compared to all the teen acts signed today. U2 had a great debut album and were known as a great live band early on. As indra stated, it seems to have worked for them.
this post =

I love Boy. Boy established their sound. Maybe you don't like Boy and October, but it's not like they would have skipped straight to War or UF if they hadn't recorded Boy. And if they had, we wouldn't be able to compare how they evolved.

As for the playing being amateurish... sure they all got better, but I don't have any problem with any of the playing on either albums in fact, songs like The Electric Co and Tomorrow are pretty ambitious, and pulled off perfectly. can you give any specific examples?
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Old 02-10-2009, 09:43 PM   #14
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OH NO NO NO NO NO!

That's the charm of "Boy", at 17 myself, it's the album I most relate to. I just "get it"...does that make sense?

The were young and making serious music, we need more of that
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Old 02-10-2009, 10:06 PM   #15
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... in the early days there was a huge gap between U2 live and U2 on record.
I don't really feel like getting involved in a broader discussion of the thread's topic, but this point in particular is rot. Since the band had spent so much time honing most of the songs live before recording them, Boy is actually one of the U2 albums that has the least gap between studio and live. Later albums have evolved much more and probably would have benefited from some time on stage before being recorded, but Boy songs have been changed little since 1980.
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Old 02-11-2009, 12:51 AM   #16
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The were young and making serious music, we need more of that
Word.
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Old 02-11-2009, 08:28 AM   #17
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I don't really feel like getting involved in a broader discussion of the thread's topic, but this point in particular is rot. Since the band had spent so much time honing most of the songs live before recording them, Boy is actually one of the U2 albums that has the least gap between studio and live. Later albums have evolved much more and probably would have benefited from some time on stage before being recorded, but Boy songs have been changed little since 1980.
We don't disagree. When I say "the early days", I refer to the general period 1979 to 1983. But yeah, Boy's songs are pretty well-realized.


By this thread, I wasn't attempting to argue that U2's early music is bad -- quite the contrary, I like it quite a lot. I was just interested in the matter of how young they were when they started recording. We seldom hear bands that young getting big distribution nowadays, and U2 were quite 'green' when they started -- not necessarily a bad thing. . .
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Old 02-11-2009, 08:34 AM   #18
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NO WAY!!!!

Boy is one of their best album, top3 for me
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Old 02-11-2009, 08:49 AM   #19
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boy is a brilliant album, it's the best of their first 3.

one could argue they didn't start soon enough.

wait, what?
1978 punk album with Street Missions, The Fool, etc. ...
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Old 02-11-2009, 09:05 AM   #20
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I don't think this is a pointless thread at all, in fact, excellent, excellent, excellent question.

Just because most people have politely disagreed, does not mean this question was not worth asking, it's a great question.

Many in Australia asked the same question about silverchair when they released their first record at 15/16 and there is no doubt, whatever your opinions on their music (if you have heard them) they are far, far better musicians and will have a much greater longevity for the fact that they started the rigours of the recording process at such a young age.

And most Australian rock fans and critics regard their lead singer Daniel Johns as a musical genius. I tend to agree.

On our favourite band which formed with members at the ages of 15-16 in Dublin, I have little doubt that part of their extraordinary longevity and time at the top (which may well continue again throughout 2009 if No Line knocks the pretenders, especially the ones whose lyrics are ridiculously weak despite good music, off their perch................) is due to the fact they started early.

From an early age where it seemed the only way they really wanted to, or could, earn a living, despite all being relatively bright lads, was through their love of music. Their love of making music. Their love of making music together. Their self belief and their belief that their particular kind of somewhat bizarre, echoey, strangely sci-fi even, music would capture cross-generational ears and propel them into timelessness.... strangely enough, it did. And it still does.

I have often pondered the starting age of good rock bands, and you can become a timelessly, never forgotten rock star, no matter how old you were, or recycled you were when you started. Look at the fact that Bon Scott was significantly older than the rest of AC/DC when they started, and the fact at the other end of the scale that Angus Young was much younger than the rest of the same band.

What actually, in my opinion, got U2 through those early years, was the fact that they played the same original songs many, many times over, for about three years live, before they committed them to record. Hence, Boy, one of the best debut albums ever, was a ready made corker of an album.

Also, despite the many comments from Bono and co that the band were "still learning their instruments on Boy" don't be fooled too much. Bono as a singer was raw but enthusiastic, and Adam knew enough to work his way around the bass. Edge was great at the guitar and had effects to back him up, but he had a musical background as a singer and had piano lessons as a kid... giving him a solid understanding of chords and chord progression.

Then there is the ready made top class musician of the band, Larry. The kid was already a full time drummer. He formed the band and he already knew EXACTLY how to play drums..... Not only explains the absolutely exgtra-fucking-ordinary drumming on Boy despite his age of 17 when it was recorded... also explains how, the bloke had become by 1991 and remains the very, very best drummer in rock music in the world, by a country mile. He can play all styles, understands other types of percussion, can immitate John Bonham (or maybe channel him) at the drop of a hat and can drum rock, hip hop, trip hop, trance, disco, techno and did I mention rock? Often all in the one song!!!

Larry was the ready made backbone of U2 who made the band's sound so much more deep and heavy, right from the start. Unlike other early 80s bands who went for the 80s effects, echos and post punk sounds, U2 had a ROCK AND ROLL drummer.... a drummer who seemed to want to be a HARD ROCK METAL drummer on the first album..... Listen to Boy again.

Don't get me wrong, I am not a Larry-ophile, Edge is my hero and Bono is a legend, and Adam earns huge respect. They have all gone on and had eras and periods where their input has driven, indeed saved, the band. But at the very start, Larry was already in front of the pack.

So, no, the band did not get together too early. Without their first few albums, they could not have gone on and done Joshua, Rattle, Achtung, Pop, Atomic or the rest....

....I will finish by declaring my utter dedication to their first album, Boy, although Achtung is my personal favourite and I love How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.... But back to Boy, I will ask, how the heck did a band of 17-18 year olds record a song with the musical integrity and depth and intensity, of The Electic Co.... The same band who at 30-odd, gave us Until The End Of The World.

Something else going on here.... some other shit!!! Maybe Larry was right about where the music comes from........................ The End Of The World....???
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