|Studio album by|
|Released||20 October 1980|
|Studio||Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin|
|North American cover|
|Singles from Boy|
Boy is the debut studio album by Irish rock band U2. It was released on 20 October 1980 by Island Records and was produced by Steve Lillywhite. Boy contains many songs from the band's 40-song catalogue at the time, including two tracks that were re-recorded from their original versions on their debut release, the EP Three.
Boy was recorded from July to September 1980 at Dublin's Windmill Lane Studios, which became U2's chosen recording location during the 1980s. It was their first time working with Lillywhite, who employed unorthodox production techniques such as recording Mullen's drums in a stairwell, and recording smashed bottles and forks played against a spinning bicycle wheel. The band found Lillywhite to be very encouraging and creative, and he subsequently became a frequent producer of their recorded work. Thematically, the album's lyrics reflect on adolescence, innocence, and the passage into adulthood, themes represented on its cover through the photo of a young boy's face.
Boy received generally positive reviews and included U2's first single to receive airplay on US radio, "I Will Follow". The album peaked at number 52 in the UK and number 63 in the US, and was followed by the band's first tour of continental Europe and the US, the Boy Tour. In 2003, Boy was ranked number 417 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". In 2008, a remastered edition of Boy was released.
Originally, Boy was slated to be produced by Martin Hannett, an in-demand producer at that time for his critically acclaimed work with Joy Division. Hannett had produced U2's second single "11 O'Clock Tick Tock". However, the experience of working with him had not been a happy one for U2, and the idea of him producing the album was dropped by Island Records after the band's objections. Hannett was also severely affected by the May 1980 suicide of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, the distress of which temporarily impaired his ability to continue work. Producer Steve Lillywhite was sent a copy of the band's first release U2-3 by Island to gauge his interest in working with the band. After seeing U2 perform live, Lillywhite agreed to produce their single "A Day Without Me". Although the song failed to chart, the band found they could work amicably with him and agreed to have him produce their debut studio album.
Boy was recorded at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin from July to September 1980. Lillywhite had attracted attention for his work on the debut single of Siouxsie and the Banshees, "Hong Kong Garden" (1978), which contained a musical phrase played on a glockenspiel. U2, who listened to Siouxsie and the Banshees, used Lillywhite's skills to add the distinctive glockenspiel part on "I Will Follow". The drums were recorded in the stairwell of the studio's reception area due to Lillywhite's desire to achieve "this wonderful clattery sound". They had to wait until the receptionist went home in the evenings as the phone rang through the day and even occasionally in the evening.
Some of the songs, including "An Cat Dubh" and "The Ocean", were written and recorded at the studio. Many of the songs were taken from the band's 40-song repertoire at the time, including "Stories for Boys", "Out of Control" and "Twilight".
Guitarist the Edge recorded all the songs using his natural stained Gibson Explorer. He drew inspiration from music he was listening to at the time, including Television and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
The album's theme is the psychological nature of the transition of adolescence from childhood to manhood, with lyrics and atmospheric music examining a dawn of sexuality ('An Cat Dubh'), the entry into adolescence ("Twilight"), mortality ('"Out of Control"), the exile from one's past enforced by the passage of time ("Into the Heart"), mental disturbance ("The Electric Co.") and youthful ambition ("The Ocean"). "I Will Follow" focused on the trauma of the early death of Bono's mother when he was a young teenager.
The album's lyrics possess several literary references, "Shadows and Tall Trees" taking its name from a chapter title in the dystopian William Golding novel Lord of the Flies, and "The Ocean" mentioning Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The model boy on the cover is Peter Rowen, the younger brother of Guggi, Bono's friend and a former member of the Virgin Prunes. He also appeared on the covers of Three, War, The Best of 1980–1990, the unreleased Even Better than the Early Stuff, Early Demos and many singles. The photographer, Hugo McGuiness, and the sleeve designer, Steve Averill (a friend of bassist Adam Clayton), went on to work on several more U2 album covers.
For the American release and other international distributors, the album's cover image was changed, due to Island Records' fears that it could be perceived as pedophilic. The label's in-house designer Bruno Tilley commissioned artist and photographer Sandy Porter to design the new cover. The two were given a very limited budget, precluding them from traveling to U2 and taking photos of them, leaving them with little choice but to use press release photos of the four band members. Tilley visited Porter in London to collaborate on the cover. Porter's initial idea was to distort the press release images and create a "more graphic, stylised piece of artwork", leading to several experiments. These included: photocopying the images and pulling them during the scanning; using a photographic enlarger while moving the baseboard; and photographing the image prints using long exposure while moving them. The result of these processes gave Porter the "raw material" to continue, though some areas of the images did not distort well and were subsequently marked up with a black pen. Taking inspiration from the Lord of the Flies reference in the song "Shadows and Tall Trees", Porter selected four "rough and distorted images that had a feel how the sea washes and distorts marks in the sand". He then cut the images with a scalpel, spray mounted them, and further "copied, printed, touched up, recopied and printed" them onto high-contrast photographic paper.
In 2008, a remastered edition of the album was released, featuring remastered tracks, along with B-sides and rarities. Three different formats of the remaster were made available. The artwork for the remastered editions of the album was standardised worldwide to that of the 1980 UK release.
"A Day Without Me" and "I Will Follow" were released as singles on 18 August and 24 October 1980 respectively. "I Will Follow" peaked at number 20 on the Top Tracks rock chart, becoming a hit on college radio and established a buzz surrounding the group's debut. The album was preceded by Three, a three-song EP with different recordings of "Out of Control" and "Stories for Boys", as well as a song called "Boy/Girl".
|Contemporary professional ratings|
|The Muncie Evening Press||9/10|
|Rolling Stone (Debra Rae Cohen)|||
|Rolling Stone (Dave Marsh)|||
|The Village Voice||C+|
The original releases of Boy sold nearly 200,000 copies. The album peaked at number 63 on the Billboard 200, but after the success of U2's later material, it re-entered the American charts for a lengthier spell. It reached number 52 in the UK.
Reviewing the album in 1980, Paul Morley of NME called it "honest, direct and distinctive", while Betty Page of Sounds dubbed U2 the "young poets of the year". Lyndyn Barber from Melody Maker hailed it as a "rich" record, writing that "Boy is more than just a collection of good tracks assembled in an arbitrary order", and that it had "youthful innocence and confusion". Robin Denselow of The Guardian wrote that it was a "strong debut album", praising Lillywhite for helping U2 improve since a live show that the reviewer attended. Denselow said the group succeeded at their goal of achieving a balance of "power and sensitivity" and said the record "only needs slightly stronger melodies to be very impressive indeed". Time Out's critic Ian Birch hailed Boy as a "timely" album and said, "Firing off a tradition laid down by the likes of Magazine, [Siouxsie and] the Banshees and Joy Division, U2 have injected their own brand of grace and sinewy spaciousness to create a romanticism exactly right for those who sport chunky riffs and mackintoshes". Declan Lynch of Irish magazine Hot Press remarked that he found Boy "almost impossible to react negatively to". K.R. Walston of the Albuquerque Journal said that U2 "knows how to nurse a listener along, toying with tempo and chord structures just enough to sound original but not overly avant garde". The review concluded, "the future shines brightly for bands like this".
Terry Atkinson of the Los Angeles Times called Boy a "subtly ravishing first album, by turns pretty, propulsive, playful and irresistably catchy", while further describing it as "supple and melodic, but tough and vital as well". Atkinson believed that the lyrics had "occasionally trite or vague passages" but were transcended by Bono's "heartfelt, soaring vocals". Sean McAdam of The Boston Globe described it as "a hypnotic album with nuance" that he "recommended without a bit of reservation". He praised Lillywhite's production for creating an "eerie ambience" and said of the band, "U2 have the musical chops, a compelling vocalist... and most importantly 4-minute pop songs that sound at once concise and infectious". Scot Anderson of the Iowa City Press-Citizen called Boy "an album that, while flawed, shows the potential of the band". Anderson thought certain songs were too long or too short, but believed U2 distinguished themselves from their peers with their spirit and humanity, making "a most refreshing splash in the New Wave". Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone said the record's music was "unpretentious and riveting" and called U2 "easily the best Irish rock band since Van Morrison's original Them troupe". He also lauded Lillywhite for his "always spearheaded production". In a separate review for Rolling Stone, Debra Rae Cohen found the band skilled and likeable while crediting Lillywhite for helping them "blend echoes of several of Britain's more adventurous bands into a sound that's rich, lively and comparatively commercial." Overall, she believed the album did not live up to the high standard set by the opening track "I Will Follow", finding most of it "diffuse and uneven". More critical was Robert Christgau, who dismissed the album in his "Consumer Guide" column for The Village Voice: "Their youth, their serious air, and their guitar sound are setting a small world on fire, and I fear the worst." The album finished in 18th place on the "Best Albums" list from The Village Voice's 1981 Pazz & Jop critics' poll.
The album's sexual overtones led to its enthusiastic acceptance in American gay clubs shortly after its release. Bono commented on this phenomenon, saying, "import copies got in and, as you know, in America a lot of music is broken in gay clubs and so we had a gay audience, a lot of people who were convinced the music was specifically for them. So there was a misconception if you like."
|Retrospective professional ratings|
|The Austin Chronicle|||
|The A.V. Club||A|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|Spin Alternative Record Guide||6/10|
In 2003, Boy was included at number 417 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". The magazine wrote, "Too ingenuous for punk, too unironic for new wave, U2 arrived on Boy as big-time dreamers with the ambition to back it up." In 2006, Uncut ranked the album at number 59 on its list of the "100 Greatest Debut Albums". It was ranked as the seventh best U2 album in a 2017 list by Newsweek's Zach Schonfeld, who also called it "a U2 album without the ego" and the "preaching or presumptions of saving the world" that plagued them in the future. In The Austin Chronicle, Margaret Moser recalled the popularity of Boy in Austin amidst the closures and decline of local music clubs: "The newer, hipper Club Foot was a beacon, and we danced away the summer on its cement floor to U2. Boy was a glimmer of hope in the approaching darkness of the Reagan years". In her opinion, the record was "a shout disguised as a whisper, the calm before a storm", its musical formula foreshadowing the band's subsequent megasuccess. According to Steven Hyden of The A.V. Club, "Boy showed U2 had a strong enough musical identity to command the world's attention from the very beginning".
Some critics have been less impressed by the album in retrospect. Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Bill Wyman found it "heady" but "erratic", while Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot described the album as "callow post-punk that owes a lot to Joy Division and early Public Image Ltd." According to the Spin Alternative Record Guide (1995), the album "established what might be called [U2's] revelationary reputation, hints at the impulse toward faith (after all, its hit was 'I Will Follow'), but mostly communicates confusion of the adolescent variety." David Quantick was more critical in his reappraisal for Uncut. He had enjoyed the album in 1980 as a rockier contemporary of Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen, in spite of Bono's preening vocal performance, but later expressed his shock "at how bad it is". In his opinion, "Lilywhite's production is stunningly thin, Bono's voice is awful, the lyrics are dismal, and only the singles – the Ian Curtis-obsessed 'I Will Follow' and the great 'Out Of Control' – stand up. The rest is awful prog noodling".
Boy is one of only two U2 albums from which every song has been performed live at least once. Boy held this distinction individually until 2017 when all songs from The Joshua Tree were performed live on the album's 30th anniversary tour.
Boy's release was followed by the Boy Tour, U2's first tour of continental Europe and the US. Despite being unpolished, these early live performances demonstrated the band's potential, as critics complimented their ambition and Bono's exuberance. On an otherwise successful American leg of the tour, Bono's briefcase containing in-progress lyrics and musical ideas (which were intended for the group's second album, October) was lost backstage during a March 1981 performance at a nightclub in Portland, Oregon.
All tracks are written by U2.
|1.||"I Will Follow"||3:40|
|3.||"An Cat Dubh"||4:46|
|4.||"Into the Heart"||3:27|
|5.||"Out of Control"||4:12|
|1.||"Stories for Boys"||3:04|
|3.||"A Day Without Me"||3:12|
|4.||"Another Time, Another Place"||4:31|
|5.||"The Electric Co."||4:47|
|6.||"Shadows and Tall Trees" (contains brief instrumental, "Saturday Matinee", on some copies)||5:13|
Early vinyl and some cassette copies of the album have an unlisted and untitled thirty-second instrumental sample of "Saturday Night", a song that would become "Fire" (on 1981's October album), at the very end of the album, after "Shadows and Tall Trees". This was dropped from most vinyl copies and all early CD versions. It was re-instated as an unlisted 12th track on the 2008 remastered editions of Boy and appeared in full for the first time as "Saturday Night" on the Deluxe Edition B-sides CD included with the 2008 remastered version of Boy. The thirty-second sample is now known as "Saturday Matinee" since the release of the album on online streaming services. Until the remastered release of Boy, it was thought to be "Fire."
Some pressings of the album, mostly in North America, indexed the track length of "An Cat Dubh" and "Into the Heart" at "6:21" and "1:53", respectively. The 2008 remastered edition of the album reinstated the original European lengths of 4:47 and 3:28. Early compact disc releases (identified by being West German-pressed and in a digipak) combined the two songs into a single track at 8:15, as did some US jewel-case versions (on the disc but not on the packaging).
2008 remastered edition
On 9 April 2008 U2.com confirmed that Boy, along with the band's other first three albums, October and War would be re-released as newly remastered versions. The remastered album was released on 21 July 2008 in the UK, with the US version following it the next day. As with The Joshua Tree, the cover artwork has been standardised to the original UK release. The remaster of Boy was released in three different formats:
- Standard format: A single CD with re-mastered audio and restored packaging. Includes a 16-page booklet featuring previously unseen photos, full lyrics and new liner notes by Paul Morley. The 11 tracks match the previous release of the album.
- Deluxe format: A standard CD (as above) and a bonus CD including b-sides, live tracks and rarities. Also includes a 32-page booklet with previously unseen photos, full lyrics, new liner notes by Paul Morley, and explanatory notes on the bonus material by the Edge.
- Vinyl format: A single album re-mastered version on 180 gram vinyl with restored packaging.
All tracks are written by U2.
|1.||"I Will Follow" (Previously unreleased mix)||Previously unreleased||3:38|
|2.||"11 O'Clock Tick Tock" (Single version)||"11 O'Clock Tick Tock" single||3:47|
|3.||"Touch" (Single version)||"11 O'Clock Tick Tock" single||3:26|
|4.||"Speed of Life" (Instrumental)||Previously unreleased outtake from "Boy" sessions||3:19|
|5.||"Saturday Night" (Early version of "Fire")||Previously unreleased outtake from "Boy" sessions||5:13|
|6.||"Things to Make and Do"||"A Day Without Me" single||2:17|
|7.||"Out of Control" (Single version)||Three EP||3:53|
|8.||"Boy-Girl" (Single version)||Three EP||3:23|
|9.||"Stories for Boys" (Single version)||Three EP||2:42|
|10.||"Another Day" (Single version)||"Another Day" single||3:28|
|11.||"Twilight" (Single version)||"Another Day" single||4:35|
|12.||"Boy-Girl" (Live at The Marquee, London, 22 September 1980)||"I Will Follow" single||3:26|
|13.||"11 O'Clock Tick Tock" (Live at The Marquee, London, 22 September 1980)||Previously unreleased||4:59|
|14.||"Cartoon World" (Live at The National Stadium, Dublin, 26 February 1980)||Previously unreleased||4:20|
- Bono – lead vocals
- The Edge – guitar, backing vocals
- Adam Clayton – bass guitar
- Larry Mullen Jr. – drums
- Steve Lillywhite – producer
- Paul Thomas – engineer
- Kevin Moloney – assistant engineer
- John Dent – mastering
|Canada (Music Canada)||Platinum||100,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Gold||100,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Platinum||1,000,000^|
^shipments figures based on certification alone
- The Edge's backing vocals are uncredited in the liner notes but listed here based on his de facto primary role in the group. Lillywhite's glockenspiel is uncredited in the liner notes but listed here based on his and the band's accounts of the album's recording.
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