Born out of the postpunk hangover but packing tsunami-size riffs as well as seizing hooks and a vocal tenderness unknown to that genre, U2 borrowed its foundation from the Clash and from the Sex Pistols and built an alternative rock-and-roll empire on top of it. Playing a musical card that isn't afraid to be spiritual and that's oftentimes fragile and introspective - so long as it's set to a monster echoing riff - Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. remain as important in 2007 as they were in 1987, when their seminal album, The Joshua Tree, catapulted them from semiunderground critical darlings to the biggest band in the world.
U2's success is partly due to the band's fortunate rise: Rather than being built up in an overnight media frenzy as the greatest thing since color television (only to be ripped out of the wall and tossed out of a hotel room a few years later by those same scribes), the band's ascent was slow and methodical. Despite producing a catalog of albums in the '80s, of which any band would have been pleased to have recorded a mere one (Boy, War, The Unforgettable Fire), U2 didn't become a household name until its fifth studio album. Switch the decade to our current decade, and U2 never would have gotten a chance to make The Joshua Tree; the band would have been dropped long before its debut made it to the bargain bin.
Citing both world affairs (the Cold War, for example) and more homegrown concerns like the troubles in Northern Ireland in his lyrics, Bono used the microphone as a pulpit from which to further a rock crusade laced with roaring political battle cries and whispering calls to arms. Furthermore, the '80s are best known for two musical genres (new wave and hair metal) that are undeniably fun but not particularly well respected in the general evolution of music (they're more like bouts of narcoleptic outbursts along the way), and the fact that U2 was able to stay its polemicizing postpunk course in their wake is both astonishing and, perhaps sadly, a thing of the past.
U2 is a musical powerhouse even today, and that can be attributed to many reasons - not least among them, an uncanny ability to craft a perfect pop song - but it is indisputable that the days of a band maintaining 30 years of relevant longevity are over. In an era of ADD tastes from both fans and record labels, and with the Internet, which will probably kill off the album concept altogether, U2 is the last band standing.
Our Signature Track: "Pride (In the Name of Love)"
The Underdogs: (Translation: You may or may not have heard of them; either way, they weren't as famous [or as rich] as the group above. But they were just as cool.)
Joy Division, "Love Will Tear Us Apart"
The Alarm, "Rain in the Summertime"
Melvins, "Raise a Paw"