U2 is taking their 1987 masterpiece, The Joshua Tree, on tour across North America and Europe.
The tour starts on May 12 at BC Place in Vancouver, and ends on August 1 at the King Baudoin Stadium in Brussels, Belgium. In honour of the album’s 30th anniversary, here’s a look back at the album that gave U2 their breakthrough.
The Joshua Tree was inspired by the band’s obsession with America, which became more familiar to them thanks to the sold out stadium tours and their growing interest in Irish roots music. In early 1986, Bono, the Edge (David Howell Evans), Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. would begin sessions for the album in their hometown of Dublin, Ireland. Producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, who produced U2’s previous album The Unforgettable Fire, returned to produce once more. U2 recorded throughout the year while Lanois and Eno would take turns working with the band for a couple of weeks at a time.
U2 spent about three months on the album overall as they halted sessions to headline Amnesty International’s: Conspiracy of Hope Tour in the U.S.
The band wrote as they recorded most of the songs. Certain songs were sad, and heartbroken, although there were some songs that were uplifting, hopeful and promising. Bono wanted to explore more of rock and roll’s American roots while the Edge wanted to continue the passion from their first album, Boy, and the experimental-ism of The Unforgettable Fire.
17 songs were approximately recorded as some of the material didn’t end up on the album. “The Sweetest Thing”, “Spanish Eyes”, and “Deep In The Heart” were not included as they didn’t fit the roots’ feel of The Joshua Tree (some of the tracks would be released on their deluxe album). The tremendous appeal of the album was its message of spiritual and creative yearning with songs such as “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, “With Or Without You”, and the opening track “Where The Streets Have No Name”.
“Where The Streets Have No Name” was the one track that was extremely difficult to record. It got to the point where Brian Eno became disillusioned with the recording that he tried to destroy the tape. However, it was the guitar intro to the song that became a trademark sound for the Edge as fans grew to love his style of playing.
There was something different about this album compared to the previous four albums. It’s got three of their best political songs. “Red Hill Mining Town” is about a coal-fired rocker hanging onto hope during the British miners strike in 1984. “Bullet in the Sky” and “Mothers of the Disappeared” discuss the El Salvadoran death squads supported by America under President Ronald Reagan. Outside of the use of the piano and harmonica on “Running to Stand Still” and “Tripping Through Your Wires”, there isn’t a lot of direct nods to roots music with the exception of “In God’s Country”. Overall, U2 drew inspiration from the very idea that is America. The freedom, open spaces, and promises that always don’t come true.
U2 was building buzz since the release of their debut album, Boy, then War in 1983. This time around, The Joshua Tree album skyrocketed its way to No.1 on the Billboard chart, which was their first, and the album topped the charts in over 20 countries. It was one of many accolades U2 would earn. The Joshua Tree entered the U.S. album charts at No.7 and it reached No.1 three weeks later. It was U2’s first album to reach No. 1 in the U.S. In 1999, The Joshua Tree was awarded the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) highest certification, Diamond, with 10 million units sold.
For a band that continues to play with their original members, U2 would go on to stage what would become their biggest tour since their formation. The Joshua Tree tour lasted from April-December of 1987 with 109 shows in over three lags. The first and third lags were in North America, while the second lag was in Europe.
The band’s legacy goes much deeper than just the numbers. U2 would go on to earn their first two Grammy Awards in 1988. U2 took home Album of the Year as they beat out nominees such as: Michael Jackson, Prince, and Whitney Houston. U2 also won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. The album and sleeve cover also placed No. 1 in Rolling Stone magazine’s annual Music Awards chosen by readers. Critics at Rolling Stone made it the No. 2 album of the year, and No. 27 on the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The Joshua Tree is one of the world’s best-selling albums of with over 25 million copies sold. It’s only fitting to see U2 embark on another world tour, honouring The Joshua Tree’s 30th anniversary and success that came afterwards. In fact, the Edge has claimed that due to the current events that happened in the past year (Brexit, Donald Trump becomes President) it gave U2 a reason to play their album for the diehard fans.
Three decades later, U2’s vision of America has become relevant once again.