Once the biggest band in the world? Once the best band in the world? The biggest and the best band in the world, still? One could argue that these are all true of U2, a group that built tremendous popularity and influence throughout the latter decades of the 20th century and, despite all odds, have maintained both to this day. It all started, quite famously, in 1976 in Dublin, Ireland, where schoolmates Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., David Evans (a.k.a. The Edge) and Paul Hewson (a.k.a. Bono) formed the kind of band that schoolmates do. Things progressed quickly, however, and the band was signed to Island Records in time to release their debut album, Boy in 1980.
It was with their third album, 1983’s War, that U2 started to make a name for themselves. Songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” provided a not-so-sneak preview of the grand political statements and activism for which the band would come to be known.War topped the charts in the U.K. and peaked at No. 12 in the U.S., as was exactly the case for The Unforgettable Fire (1984). It was 1987 album The Joshua Tree, however, that turned the band into the legends they are today. Rightly considered one of the greatest albums of all time, The Joshua Tree has sold over 25 million copies worldwide to date. And while that represented U2’s apex, the band hasn’t slowed down much at all. Bono remains one of the world’s foremost social activists, and the band has released four 21st-century albums; most recent is 2014’s Songs of Innocence.