Discovering The Band U2

Discovering U2

Photo: MelicansMatkin at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

The first time I ever heard the band U2, was while I was browsing vinyl in a well-known record store on Long Island called appropriately Record Stop. It was late October 1980 and I was 19 years old. In my hand I was holding Springsteen’s just released “The River;” album. It had been a while since “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” had been released two years earlier, and the joy of buying a new Springsteen album was overwhelming. While looking at some of the store’s new releases, I heard a guitar sound that that was unlike anything I had ever heard before. However, it was not just the sound of the guitar, it was the rhythmic play between the bass, drums and guitar that sounded completely original and vastly different from the new wave sound that had been drowning the airwaves in the early 1980s.

Listening more closely, one could hear a deeply resonating ethnic quality to the music that seemed masked by the urgency of the rock rhythm. As I looked around the store, I noticed most people were staring at the front counter with mesmerized looks on their faces. It was the first time any of us were hearing the band U2 and it was having a chilling emotional effect on the whole store.

Upon asking the clerk at the counter what was playing, the store owner responded by saying he had also never heard anything like U2 before. The mystery grew deeper as we were presented with an album cover of just line-drawn faces. It was perfect! Even the names of the band members were mysterious. A guitar player named the Edge? The enigmatic quality of the guitarist’s name further shrouded the cloak of secrecy that enhanced the album’s cover art. Rock and Roll in the seventies was about mystery and desire. No internet, no MTV, and for many people no cable TV.

The year 1980 was pre Bruce “57 channels and nothing on,” time. In 1980, we still had only about twenty television channels. It wasn’t Robert De Niro holding that antenna until you get a clear picture anymore, but cable TV was still in the early stages. What all of this meant was, you never really knew what the bands looked like that you heard on the radio.  Of course there were magazines and newspapers, but unless you were reading Rolling Stone, or Cream, you just did not see many pictures of the rock legends in the making.

In 1980, we had no idea of the legendary band that U2 would become. We could not have imagined that the group world follow up the Boy album with the great record October. We did not foresee the masterpiece The Joshua Tree released later in the decade. Who know that line drawing of Bono on the back of he album cover would represent a man who would contribute to social issues and charitable causes for the rest of his life.  We could not have gotten all of that from that one song, or could we?

Staring at U2’s debut album in 1980 while listening to “I Will Follow,” in a small independent record store with a group of rock and roll fanatics in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon was an experience that will never be forgotten. We all have those moments in life where discovery bathes us into a spiritual awakening that can change the course of a lifetime. For rock fans, that simply comes down to the discovery of a band that becomes a lifetime personal favorite. We follow those bands forever, buying every album, reading every review, and seeing as many shows as we can afford. Just like  Bono sang, “I Will Follow.”

One Response

  1. Avatar Joanna C Bristow-Watkins March 11, 2020

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