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Music / The Joshua Tree

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A man breathes into the saxophone
And outside, we see the city groan
I wanna run, I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside
I want to reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name

I want to feel sunlight on my face
I see the dust-cloud disappear without a trace
I want to take shelter from the poison rain
Where the streets have no name
"Where the Streets Have No Name"

The Joshua Tree is the fifth studio album recorded by Irish rock band U2. It was released through Island Records on 3 March 1987.

Incorporating Darker and Edgier subject matter and instrumentation, the album transcended the band's more political output of The '80s to incorporate themes of identity, power, and betrayal, which resonated with audiences worldwide. U2's most well-regarded hits featured on the album, such as "With or Without You", "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "Where the Streets Have No Name", received massive airplay. The Joshua Tree topped the charts in over 20 countries, certifying U2's international stardom.

Produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, the record featured an elaborate production style which ramped the richly-layered style of The Unforgettable Fire up to eleven and represented the culmination of U2's style at the time. Bolstered by the band's desire to experiment in the studio, Bono began to favor open-throated vocals over mumbled lyrics, shifting the band from a Post-Punk act with a post-punk audience to a more overtly Alternative Rock act for more mainstream markets. The music drew from Folk Music and Country Music, as well as Progressive Rock and Indie Pop, which combined pastoral imagery with spiritual ideals. The Joshua Tree has been described as a loose Concept Album which examines various aspects of The American Dream, without losing sincerity or accessibility in the process. Indeed, the album won 2 Grammy Awards: Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal, and Album of the Year.

As for its legacy, it was featured in an episode of the documentary TV series Classic Albums. In 2014, it was even inducted in the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically and aesthetically important". In hindsight, the album was also one of many whose American success heralded the rise of Alternative Rock as a mainstream force in American music, alongside other releases in 1987 including R.E.M.'s Document, 10,000 Maniacs' In My Tribe, Midnight Oil's Diesel and Dust, New Order's Substance, and Depeche Mode's Music for the Masses. However, this success mostly rested on the band's heavy-handed subject matter and rich instrumentation, which ultimately hurt U2 after the critical failure of their 1988 follow-up Rattle and Hum. The band would soon depart from these styles in 1991's Achtung Baby.

The album had some slight controversy in 1988, after assassin Robert John Bardo claimed he was inspired to kill actress Rebecca Shaeffer due to the song "Exit" on this album, but this accusation quickly blew over (the band would subsequently retire the song from their live shows until 2017).

The Joshua tree pictured on the back cover of The Joshua Tree was located not in Joshua Tree National Park, but at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley. The tree was knocked over by high winds in 2000.


Side One

  1. "Where the Streets Have No Name" (5:38)
  2. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (4:38)
  3. "With or Without You" (4:56)
  4. "Bullet the Blue Sky" (4:32)
  5. "Running to Stand Still" (4:18)

Side Two

  1. "Red Hill Mining Town" (4:54)
  2. "In God's Country" (2:57)
  3. "Trip Through Your Wires" (3:33)
  4. "One Tree Hill" (5:23)
  5. "Exit" (4:13)
  6. "Mothers of the Disappeared" (5:12)

The 20th-anniversary edition included the following B-sides and outtakes:

  1. "Luminous Times (Hold On to Love)" (4:35)
  2. "Walk to the Water" (4:49)
  3. "Spanish Eyes" (3:16)
  4. "Deep in the Heart" (4:31)
  5. "Silver and Gold" (4:38)
  6. "Sweetest Thing" (3:05)note 
  7. "Race Against Time" (4:03)
  8. "Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience" (4:56)
  9. "Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)" (4:06)
  10. "Desert of Our Love" (4:59)
  11. "Rise Up" (4:08)
  12. "Drunk Chicken/America" (1:31)

Principal Members:

  • Bono - lead vocals, harmonica, guitar
  • Adam Clayton - bass
  • The Edge - guitar, vocals, piano
  • Larry Mullen Jr. - drums
  • Brian Eno - Record Producer; additional instruments
  • Daniel Lanois - Record Producer; additional instruments

I can't trope, with or without you:

  • Alliterative Title: "Bullet the Blue Sky".
  • Alternate Album Cover: The CD, LP, and cassette releases of the album each use a different photograph of the band, all taken from the same photo session.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: "In God's Country" is dedicated to the Statue of Liberty, personifying both liberty and America in the song.
  • As the Good Book Says...:
    • "Bullet The Blue Sky"
    Jacob wrestled the angel, and the angel was overcome
    • "In God's Country"
    I stand with the sons of Cain
    • "Wave of Sorrow," in addition to name-dropping the Queen of Sheba, ends with a version of the Beatitudes incorporating Bono's experiences in Ethiopia.
  • B-Side: Six of the bonus tracks were originally B-sides: "Luminous Times," "Walk to the Water," "Deep in the Heart," "Spanish Eyes," "Silver and Gold" and "Race Against Time."
  • Boléro Effect: Used magnificently in "Luminous Times."
  • Boy Meets Girl: "Walk to the Water" begins with a spoken-word verse describing this. Also mentioned in "The Sweetest Thing": "Blue-eyed boy meets a brown-eyed girl."
  • Blues: The album goes back to the roots of rock.
  • Can't Live with Them, Can't Live without Them: "With Or Without You".
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Evoked in "Silver and Gold":
    Broken back to the ceiling
    Broken nose to the floor
    I scream at the silence
    It's crawling, crawls under the door
  • Concept Album: Bono saw the album as a collection of songs about the good and bad things about the U.S.A.
  • Darker and Edgier: "Bullet The Blue Sky", compared to the other songs on the album.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Like most of Anton Corbijn's pictures, the band is photographed in black-and-white.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The album cover and photographs inside the booklet were taken by Anton Corbijn.
  • Drugs Are Bad: "Running To Stand Still" is about a heroin-addicted woman.
    She will suffer the needle chill.
  • Eagleland: Type 3, generally: America is the land of violence, religiosity, dreams, drug abuse, and hope.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: "Where The Streets Have No Name" has almost two minutes of instrumental buildup before the first lyrics.
  • Evolving Music: "Desert of Our Love" eventually turned into "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," after a long process of studio tinkering.
  • Exposed to the Elements: The band members are pictured on the cover with their coats off, implying it was hot desert weather. In reality, it was freezing cold, but for the sake of the desert image they took off these warm coats.
  • Face on the Cover: The band is seen in the Mojave Desert, California, near a Joshua tree.
  • Gospel Choirs Are Just Better: "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" has a strong gospel influence and features The Edge, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois providing backing vocals.
  • Grief Song: "One Tree Hill" was written in memory of their roadie Greg Carroll, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1986.
  • "I Want" Song: "Where the Streets Have No Name":
    I want to run, I want to hide
    I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside
    I want to reach out and touch the flame
    Where the streets have no name
  • Intercourse with You: "Luminous Times" doesn't explicitly mention sex but the music slowly builds to a thundering climax behind lyrics like this:
    She is the gunfire
    She is the car crash
    She is the avalanche
    She is the thunder
    She is the waves and she pulls me under
  • Location Song: "In God's Country," i.e. America, and "Red Hill Mining Town."
  • Longest Song Goes Last: Inverted, as the album starts with the longest song.
  • The Masochism Tango: "The Sweetest Thing". Also "Spanish Eyes" alludes to this:
    Cause I love the way you talk to me
    And I love the way you walk on me
    And I need you
    More than you need me
  • New Sound Album: On this album the band took influence from American Blues and Country Music.
  • Non-Appearing Title:
    • "Exit," "Mothers of the Disappeared" and "Red Hill Mining Town" (the phrase "Red Hill Town" does appear in it, but not the full title). Also, the title of the album never appears in the lyrics.
    • "Luminous Times (Hold on to Love)" goes the route of having such a title followed by the refrain in parentheses. "Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)" does the reverse, oddly enough.
  • One-Word Title: "Exit".
  • Precision F-Strike: "Silver and Gold" sets its angry tone by cursing in the first line: "In the shithouse a shotgun..."
  • Protest Song:
    • "Bullet The Blue Sky" and "Mothers Of The Disappeared" are protest songs against the USA's backing of right-wing dictatorships in South America during The '80s. "Mothers of the Disappeared" commemorates the "Madres de Plaza de Mayo", a group of women who protested in the streets and whose children had been "disappeared" by the dictatorial regimes of Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Jorge Rafaele Videla in Argentina. The song also criticises the Ronald Reagan administration for backing these regimes. "Bullet The Blue Sky" is critical of the US military intervention during The Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980's.
    • "One Tree Hill" refers to the Chilean political activist and folk singer Víctor Jara, who was tortured and murdered when dictator Augusto Pinochet took over Chile in 1973.
    Jara sang, his song a weapon in the hands of love
    You know his blood still cries from the ground
    • "Silver and Gold" is written from the point of view of a political prisoner in South Africa, originally for the Sun City protest album.
    • "Red Hill Mining Town" is an indirect protest song, examining the personal difficulties and collapsed relationships of a mining town in the midst of the UK's 1984-1985 mining strike.
  • Record Producer: Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno.
  • Rooftop Concert: In the music video of "Where The Streets Have No Name", U2 performs on top of a roof.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: "Exit" is about a man sliding into madness and committing some violent act.
    He went deeper into black
    Deeper into white

    Could see the stars shining
    Like nails in the night
  • Single Mom Stripper: Referred to in "Wave of Sorrow":
    Blessed is the sex worker's body sold tonight
    She works with what she's got to save her children's life
  • "Somewhere" Song: "Where the Streets Have No Name" is an ideal land where it doesn't matter what neighborhood you come from — hence the nameless streets.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Walk to the Water" feature poems recited to instrumentation.
  • The Stars Are Going Out: "One Tree Hill" pulls imagery from the Book of Revelation:
    I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky
    And the moon has turned red over One Tree Hill
  • Time Marches On: The lonely tree on the album's back cover fell in 2000. In its place is now a plaque reading "Have you found what you're looking for?"
  • Title-Only Chorus: "Bullet the Blue Sky" (unless you count the whoo-oo-oo-oos) and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For".
  • Wanderlust Song: "Where the Streets Have No Name". "One Tree Hill", "Desert of Our Love", and "Walk to the Water" reference various places in the United States.
  • War for Fun and Profit: "Bullet the Blue Sky" makes reference to greedy corporations who abet war to generate a profit:
    And he's peelin' off those dollar bills
    (Slappin' 'em down)
    And I can see those fighter planes
    And I can see those fighter planes
    Across the tin huts as children sleep
    Through the alleys of a quiet city street
  • Weakness Turns Her On: "The Sweetest Thing":
    I wanted to run but she made me crawl
    Oh, the sweetest thing
    Eternal fire, she turned me to straw
    Oh, the sweetest thing
    You know I got black eyes
    But they burned so brightly for her...