Capitalizing on the success of War, in 1984 U2 released The Unforgettable Fire, which was named for an art collection that was drawn by WWII survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The song “Pride (In the Name of Love)” which was written for Martin Luther King, Jr. broke into the UK top five chart and pushed the band into the top 50 in the US. The album tour sold out in many cities across the US and Rolling Stone Magazine bestowed U2 with the title of “The Band of the 80’s”, going on to say that, “for a growing number of rock and roll fans, U2 has become the band that matters most, maybe even the only band that matters.”
An increasing social activism won U2 a spot in two well-promoted charitable events. In 1985, Live Aid for Ethiopian famine relief was seen by over a billion people worldwide. U2’s riveting 13-minute performance of Bad literally stole the show as well as secured them a spot in Amnesty International’s 1986 Tour, Conspiracy of Hope. This six-show tour lit the flame of International Stardom for the band.
In 1987, that flame burned with a new sizzle at the release of U2’s fifth album, The Joshua Tree. Even Time Magazine put the band on their cover under the headline “Rock’s Hottest Ticket”. "With or Without You" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" became U2’s first US #1 Singles, echoing the confused social values of the 80’s. The Joshua Tree was one of the albums that crushed the musical cotton candy that had blanketed the airways for nearly a decade. Songs like, "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "In God's Country" put a valid, if controversial, message back into music and propelled U2 to super-stardom. Stadiums around the world sold out for the Joshua Tree tour. Rolling Stone magazine gave them the title, “the biggest band in the world.”
Ten years is a long flight for any rock’n roll band, but U2 wasn’t content to stay even with the horizon. Instead, they searched for ways to broaden their vista and audience with the full-scope project, Rattle and Hum released in 1988. This panoramic documentary and double album paid homage to the stars that had influenced U2’s rise to the top. B.B. King, Elvis, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, and the Beatles were featured in pictures, words and music. Although big at the box office, critics panned Rattle and Hum as being pretentious and excessive. It was by far the least-focused record U2 ever made and it is little wonder that they retreated for three years after its release to rethink their whole approach.
In late 1989, Bono told a Dublin audience that they had to “go away and dream it all up again”. The band took a break from music and each other until late 1990.
In late November 1991, U2 came out with Achtung Baby, an album that Bono would describe as “the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree,” but it drew accolades from both fans and critics. In 1992, U2 traded grunge for glitz and hit the road with the “Zoo TV” tour. The next several years were quiet ones for U2 except for the hit single on the Batman Forever Track, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”.
When the Pop album was finally released in March of 1997, the fans were ready and pleasantly surprised. The PopMart tour was the second highest grossing tour of 1997. Although Pop reached #1 on the charts it received a cool reception from the critics.
U2 soared into the new millennium promoting "All that You can't leave Behind" with the Elevation tour in 2001. The highlight of the tour being two concerts at Slane Castle outside of Dublin. After the September 11 attacks, the band changed its sets to reflect current events. The Elevation Tour was near sold-out and finished as the top concert draw in North America.
Late in 2004 they continued on this path with How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which yielded the heady hit “Vertigo” and contained some of Bono’s most personal lyrics. In a sense, the album brought U2 full circle, returning them to the autobiography of Boy. Yet in the years between those albums they’d grown from teenagers to adults, inevitably losing friends and relatives along the way. Bono suggested that How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album could have well been titled Man.
U2 is on the road again with their 2005 Vertigo world tour. Most concert sites worldwide were sold out in a matter of minutes after tickets went on sale.
While much had changed, important things remained the same: U2 still together with the same four musicians, still holding fast to principles and making inspirational music a quarter century after their humble beginnings in a Dublin high school.
U2 inducted into the