The Irish frontman lamented his performance on U2’s 1980 debut LP, Boy, in a recent appearance on the Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast. When asked why he finds the album difficult to listen to, Bono replied, “It’s the voice. The band sound incredible, though I just found the voice very strained and kind of not macho, and my Irish macho was kind of strained by that.
“I’ve been in a car when one of our songs has come on the radio, and I’ve been the color of — as we say in Dublin — scarlet,” he continued. “I’m just embarrassed. And yeah, I do think U2 pushes out the boat on embarrassment quite a lot. And maybe that’s the place to be as an artist, is right at the edge of your level of pain, for embarrassment, your level of embarrassment. And the lyrics as well. I feel that on Boy and other albums, it was sketched out, very unique and original material. But I don’t think I filled in the details.”
Some of Bono’s rock ‘n’ roll peers had a bone to pick with his singing style as well. He said the late “Addicted to Love” singer Robert Palmer once met with U2 bassist Adam Clayton during the ’80s and asked him, “God, did you ever tell your singer to just take down the keys a little bit? He’d do himself a favor, his voice a favor, and he’d do us all a favor who have to listen to him.”
Bono confessed that he “was singing out of my body because I wasn’t thinking about singing” when U2 got started. “That’s the thing: We didn’t know enough about music. We were making it up. When you don’t have music theory at that level, you write your own.”
“We knew we’d be playing these songs in front of an audience, so the songs were written for the stage more than they were written for the radio,” guitarist the Edge chimed in. “In a small venue, to generate that kind of energy and excitement, it relies on everyone to be kind of fully committed, to be at a 10, and what that meant for Bono was probably singing at the top of his range more often than he would if we’d learned to write songs in a comfortable living room.”
Bono also admitted that neither he nor the Edge was particularly happy with the name U2, which they chose in 1978 after briefly performing as first Feedback and then the Hype. The idea came from friend and fellow musician Steve Averill. “He came to us with a few suggestions, one of which was U2,” the Edge said. “And of the suggestions, it wasn’t that it jumped out at us as the name we really were looking for, but it was the one that we hated the least. And what we loved about it was that it was not obvious from the name what this band wound sound like or be about.”
While the Edge eventually came around to the name, Bono said he still doesn’t care for it. “I was late into some kind of dyslexia, I didn’t realize that the Beatles was a bad pun either,” he said with a laugh. “If we’d thought the implication of the letter and the number, in our head, it was like, the spy plane, it was a U-boat, it was futuristic. But then, as it turned out to imply this kind of acquiescence, no, I don’t like that name. I still don’t really like the name.”
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U2 don’t inspire weak reactions in people. There are passionate U2 fans, and passionate U2 haters, and very little in between.