Did U2 Start as a Punk Band?



We listened to U2’s early demos and were floored by what we heard.

In 1980, U2 seemed to emerge as a fully-formed musical entity with their debut album, Boy. This is not to say that they reached mega-stardom and started filling stadiums right away (Boy reached No. 63 in the U.S. and No. 52 in the U.K. charts). Almost no one, it seemed, had heard of this band prior to their first album coming out. And yet somehow they managed to release a well-produced, thematically coherent, near-concept album for their debut – a gutsy move that gave the world a glimpse of how ambitious this band would be.

In retrospect, it’s pretty understandable that U2 was not lumped in with the punk bands of the the day in the early 80’s, given that U2 worked hard to encourage the image that their musical output started with 1980’s Boy. Perhaps U2 thought it would be more impressive if they were a game-changing rock band that materialized, as if out of nowhere, similar to The Beatles’ near-instant ascent to stardom 3 years after forming. (Never mind the clunky, formative years – we’re all polished and ready to go, so pay attention to us now.)

U2’s early sound fit pretty clearly into the same mold as contemporaries like Echo & the Bunnymen and the Psychedelic Furs. They didn’t exactly radiate punk aesthetics, either – the band’s look in those early days was a mix of suit jackets and “Flock of Seagulls” hair teased to the high heavens.

Bono himself would proclaim just a few years ago that U2 were “more punk rock now than when [they] started”. Bear in mind that this is the same band that did the most unpunk thing possible in 2014 – forcing a free copy of their album, Songs of Innocence, on everyone who had an Apple account, whether they wanted it or not.

That’s some interesting evidence against U2 ever having been an actual punk band. But is that really all there is to say on the subject? Well… without spoiling things too much, I think that you should probably make sure you’re sitting down and that there’s nothing breakable nearby if you decide to read on and find out what we have come to think.

So, Did U2 Start as a Punk Band?

Reasons to think that U2 were once a punk band:

Reasons to think that U2 were never a punk band:

Our Verdict

This might come as a shocker given what we’ve stated above… but U2 were actually pretty clearly a proper punk band in their very earliest incarnation. We’re inclined to say that, yeah, at one point very early on in their existence had we seen U2 play live we’d have figured they were a punk band. Those very early U2 demos really speak for themselves. We were pretty shocked when we heard them too – in fact, those demos are literally all of the weight on the scale in favor of U2 having started out as a punk band.


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