An important debut for me today, the first album from Ireland’s legendary band U2. Ultimately, I was very excited to embrace U2 as an up-and-coming act that was on the ascent of their career, versus most of the acts I was listening to at this time that were at their peak in the 1960s and 1970s. This album, “Boy”, which was recorded when they were approximately 19 years old, didn’t immediately capture my attention. It took until their third album until I joined the U2 train, but looking back at it then and now, there is a lot to appreciate from their first release. Modern day music fans will often accuse U2, particularly lead vocalist Bono, of being overly theatrical, overly produced, overly political, but all of that has grown from these raw roots, and if you want to hear U2 and their most intense early days, any of the first three albums will show many a side of the band they probably haven’t seen or heard before.
The album opens with the breakthrough song of their early era, “I Will Follow”. Like many U2 songs, they make a complete song out of one simple chord sequence, but embedded in that simplicity was a raw energy and clear talent that shined through, even at this early age. For me, a lot of the first album was good, not great, but it did foreshadow of better and stronger songs to come. I love the slower and driving “An Cat Dubh”, and “Out of Control” is one of the best up-tempo songs on the album. Songs like “Twilight” and “Stories for Boys” also stand out to me, and I really like the way the songs blend into each other on the first side. The complexity of this production and arrangement belies their youth and inexperience.
Without question, my favorite song on this album, as well as one of their best songs from their entire catalog, is “The Electric Co.”. The combined performance of all four band members is impressive. The last 45 seconds, where guitarist The Edge takes complete control, is a rhythm and chord explosion reminiscent of Peter Townshend at his best. Bass player Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. are also at their best on this song. The sound is electric, new and unique, and along with “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”, which was released at the same time as a single but not included on the album, this is some of the best new music of the early ‘80s.
There will be a LOT more on this list from this band, but you have to start somewhere, and “Boy” was an impressive debut for this young and ambitious band.