It’s 20 October 1980. The last MGB roadster rolls off the production line. The Police dominate the British bestsellers, Queen reign in America, and Private Benjamin rules the big screen. Into this world comes the first album by a confident young Irish band who have already been paying their dues and building their reputation for quite some time. U2’s Boy is born.
It would be another ten months before the record, or the band, made their first showing on the British charts, as Boy gave U2 their initial inroads to an audience that will soon multiply beyond all measure. By then, the next album October and its flagship single ‘Fire’ were giving the quartet sophomore momentum.
But in October 1980, U2 marked the release of their first long player by setting off on an extensive British tour and played their first European shows in Belgium and Holland, before their opening US dates, in clubs on the East Coast. “Steam was dripping off the ceiling,” Bono later remembered. “I just looked at Edge and said ‘Hey, wow, if this is America, I want some more.”
Boy was the album that laid the exciting ground rules for what U2 could be. It began the extraordinary journey of 14 studio records that has seen the band maintain their highly productive and imaginative persona with 2017’s Songs Of Experience. At the other end of one of the most storied careers in modern music, Boy evokes U2’s formative social and musical years, their education on the cusp of the new wave in Dublin and their love of bands like The Clash, Television, the Ramones and others.
U2 crafted the debut record at Windmill Studios in their hometown for a large block of time in 1980, as they cemented their relationship with fast-emerging English producer Steve Lillywhite. Boy contained such subsequently celebrated songs as ‘I Will Follow’ and ‘A Day Without Me’ as well as perhaps lesser-known but equally personal observations on the young band’s life and surroundings, such as ‘An Cat Dubh’ and ‘The Electric Co.’
“A glorious roar of hope, drenched in emotion,” wrote Trouser Press approvingly, soon after the album’s release. “U2 singer and main songwriter Bono Vox, 20, projects warmth and openness from the moment you meet him.” The frontman told the magazine: “What we were looking for in Boy was a sort of cinema sound, a Panavision — really textured and big, like a huge screen in a cinema.”
In an early sign of the remarkable transatlantic span that U2 would soon confirm, Boy made the American charts well before showing on the British equivalent, entering the Billboard 200 in March 1981 and climbing to No. 63. In November 1982, the album was certified both gold and platinum there on the same day.
Read much more about U2’s album history in our Behind The Albums series.