Welcome to a new series on AudioPerfecta, entitled: “Their first song.” This series will examine a prominent musical artist’s earliest song, and say what this song says about the musical artist. Sometimes we will examine the first song the band recorded, sometimes we will examine the band’s first hit, and sometimes we will examine the first song on the musical artist’s first album. Whatever first song we examine, we will surely find some meaning and connection to the artist’s career. This first installation in the series examines U2’s “I Will Follow,” and asks the question…what follows I Will Follow?
A little history…Why I Will Follow.
I Will Follow was the first song on U2’s first full length album, “Boy.” The first songs recorded by U2 were from the “3” EP containing the songs “Out Of Control,” “Stories for Boys,” and “Boy-Girl.” U2’s first single came from the band’s second EP, both of which were entitled “Another Day.” While all four of these songs have a great deal of the elements we find throughout U2’s career, “I Will Follow” is probably the most important song by U2 from the Boy (and proto Boy) era. Besides, while Boy featured a couple of the songs recorded previously, “I Will Follow” sets the tone of U2’s career in the ears of many listeners – especially those in international markets. Sure, a lot of people in Ireland, and maybe the UK knew about U2 – but before the release of Boy, most of us in the United States had no knowledge of the band that would effectively become one of the most influential bands of the last 25 years. What follows I Will Follow only happens because of I Will Follow.
I Will Follow finds maturity.
When I analyzed “Under a Blood Red Sky,” I looked at what I Will Follow actually means. Essentially the song laments the loss of Bono’s mother. I Will Follow serves as pledge to make Bono’s life something that would make his mother proud. I Will Follow is an extremely personal song.
Digging a little deeper, I Will Follow shows a person as they mature. After all, the death of a parent does make one mature in ways one cannot imagine. I Will Follow follows the journey of a boy turning into a man. Mind you, a lot of early U2 songs deal with boyhood vs manhood. A couple examples the goth kids in “11 O’clock, Tick Tock,” and the self explanatory “Stories for Boys.” There’s also “Out Of Control” which talks about the feeling one has when they come of age – when they’re supposed to grow up, and become an adult. I Will Follow almost serves as an accumulation and even an answer to those early songs. U2 shows with I Will Follow that they are comfortable being “adults.” U2 shows their maturity with I Will Follow.
I Will Follow repeats itself.
The song starts with an instrumental section. This section repeats itself in between verses, as well as before and after the chouses. The guitars sound absolutely fascinating, despite the fact that The Edge really only plays a couple notes. The same can be said about Mullen’s drums and Clayton’s bass. In fact – even the lyrics in the chorus are repetitive, “If you walk away, walk away / I walk away, walk away, I will follow.”
Musically, U2 is not very mature at this point. Let’s take a look at The Edge’s guitar playing. Again, he repeats a couple chords over and over again. While it sounds cool, I could probably play this part myself – and I don’t really know how to play guitar. This piece is not technically challenging – but the confidence is there. Just look at how The Edge plays his guitar in the video…that’s the face of someone who is confident. Not cocky, he has a lot to learn still, but he’s confident. He knows he’s come a long way, and he knows he has a long way to go. The Edge also knows that what he’s done works – and that will pave the way for what follows I Will Follow.
What follows I Will Follow?
Everything! U2 might be one of the most overhyped bands of all time, but they are also one of the greatest. U2 stands apart from other rock bands. With 14 studio albums, 16 tours, and over 40 years of history, U2 has seen and done it all.
U2’s songs range from the deep and profound, to the politically charged, to calls for love and compassion. U2 even plays religious ballads, such as Yahweh, 40, and Grace. Musically, U2 has greatly improved over time. Rolling Stone ranks The Edge #38 in their list of the best guitarists of all time, while Spin Magazine ranks him #13. Rolling Stone also ranks the team of Bono and The Edge as #35 of the best songwriters of all time. With 22 Grammys and over 100 awards total, U2 has plenty of public acclaim.
There’s also the philanthropy. Bono’s One and (Red) campaigns to alleviate poverty and to help those suffering of AIDS – those speak for themselves. Of course, all four band members have done an immense amount of charity work and helped countless people all over the world.
What Follows I Will Follow just cannot be measured!
Of course, U2 has made a few mistakes.
None of the band members is perfect – not at all. Adam Clayton is an alcoholic. U2 nearly broke up after Clayton could not play a show in Sydney due to his drinking. Bono is often portrayed as an egomaniac and even a hypocrite. Who can forget the fact that everyone with an Itunes account owns U2’s “Songs of Innocence” – not by choice. U2 is one of the most hated bands in America, despite being one of the most acclaimed bands.
All this to say – what follows I Will Follow is not all good. U2 has had their fair share of struggles and criticism.
How does I Will Follow reflect on what follows?
Ultimately, I Will Follow sets the tone for the rest of U2’s career (thus far). Again, the song speaks of maturity. One of the most mature things one can do is admit their mistakes, and that is something U2 does well. Adam Clayton did not just bow down to his alcoholism – he got help. The rest of U2 gave Clayton an intervention and helped him get sober and productive.
As far as the infamous Itunes debacle, U2 could have easily said something like “we give you something for free and this is how you repay us?” I know of ten bands off the top of my head who would have gone this route! U2, however, apologized.
And as far as Bono goes? Yes, he might be a bit of an egomaniac, but dang – the dude truly cares for people. To label him as just another celebrity trying to make himself look good is really a crappy thing to say. Bono’s entire freaking career has been centered around helping others. Bono has collaborated with world leaders, including those he didn’t agree with, all to help alleviate suffering. He’s inspiring too. There’s a reason Bono was chosen to sing / preach the infamous line “Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you!” Bono’s natural passion, empathy, and altruism preaches through that line, and through any speech he gives. He even makes fun of himself for his passionate speeches.
All this to say, the maturity U2 conveys in I Will Follow makes an appearance throughout the rest of their career. Honestly, I think Bono’s mom would be proud of him. Bono and his bandmates have done so much for the rest of humanity – whether it be philanthropic and charitable in nature, or just making people like me happy with their music. U2 lives up to the precedent set by I Will Follow.