U2’s ‘The Joshua Tree’ – A Look Back at a Classic Album
There was no way that U2’s fifth album, 1987’s ‘The Joshua Tree,’ wasn’t going to be huge. Everything they had done over the past seven years was leading to this point. The spiritual yearning of 1981’s ‘October,’ the sociopolitical musings of 1983’s ‘War,’ the digging up of America’s roots on 1984’s ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ – they’re all pieces of ‘The Joshua Tree’’s bigger puzzle.
From the slow-building opening notes of ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ to the final mournful cries of ‘Mothers of the Disappeared,’ ‘The Joshua Tree’ is nearly flaw-free, the most perfect album the Irish quartet has recorded and one of the most significant albums of the past 30 years. It’s the moment where U2 turned the corner from really good band to great band, and they became global stars in its wake. ‘The Joshua Tree’ topped the charts worldwide, including in the U.S., where it’s sold more than 10 million copies since its release.
But the album’s legacy goes way deeper than numbers. ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ was a pivotal moment in U2’s career. MTV had driven up their stock the previous year, and the band’s interest in American culture bordered on obsession. If ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ uprooted Americana, ‘The Joshua Tree’ planted it back into the earth with freshly mined insight. The album doesn’t offer answers (‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’ ‘Running to Stand Still,’ ‘One Tree Hill’), and it’s uncertain about many things (‘With or Without You,’ ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’), but the band plays with the genuine conviction that there’s hope on the horizon.
Through all the genre exercises – 1991’s ‘Achtung Baby’ plays with krautrock, among other things; 1997’s ‘Pop’ is a techno-blessed kiss – U2 still reference ‘The Joshua Tree.’ Their biggest album in almost a decade, 2000’s ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind,’ is structured on the classic U2 sound that was perfected on ‘The Joshua Tree.’ Tons of artists – from Coldplay to Taylor Swift – have adapted the group’s shimmering guitar lines and stadium-size anthems over the years. And more than a quarter century later, it still sounds like one of rock’s big moments.
Watch U2's Video for 'With or Without You'