U2 Plays the Blues on ‘Trip Through Your Wires’: The Story Behind Every ‘ Joshua Tree’ Song
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In the early stages of creating what would become The Joshua Tree, U2 were creating batches of songs that were meant to go together. Bono became adamant that “With or Without You” didn’t truly make sense without the context of “Luminous Times” and “Walk to the Water.” He felt similarly about “Trip Through Your Wires” when removed from the counter-balance of “Sweetest Thing.”
Although the U2 frontman would make the case for a double-LP version of The Joshua Tree that would include everything, he was outvoted by his bandmates. “With or Without You” and “Trip Through Your Wires” made the 11-track album. The rest became b-sides.
So what split the difference between “Wires” and “Sweetest Thing”? Both were about love – one song about being enticed, the other about being apologetic. But part of it had to do with each song’s musical identity. Although each song was based in American musical styles (blues for “Wires,” R&B for “Sweetest”), the former had the rougher, rootsy approach that better-suited the entirety of the album.
“We definitely were falling into the arms of America in the sense that, as a band, punk rock was so much about establishing a unique form of music not inspired or influenced by American music,” the Edge told Rolling Stone. “The Joshua Tree was the first album where we consciously went, ‘OK, we spent like four albums thinking about Europe, Ireland, but let’s take a look at the roots of this form that we are inevitably a part of.’ And those were all American. So we looked at American [music]. We looked at the blues.”
“Trip Through Your Wires” was initially a bit more bluesy, as evidenced by an early performance of the tune on Dublin’s RTE TV program in 1986. It was a crude, but not misleading, preview of what was coming next for U2. Edge plays a rustic, jangly guitar and Bono honks on his harmonica as Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. lurch through the familiar rhythm.
Watch U2 Perform “Trip Through Your Wires” in 1986
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Yes, the rhythm might be familiar, but most of the words are not – with the exception of play on words in the lyrical hook. Bono’s braying about “this town” would be replaced by the desert imagery that soon became a common thread on Joshua Tree songs (see “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “In God’s Country”). Although its bluesy gait would remain, the song would gain polish under the tutelage of the album’s co-producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.
“I really like that one, though it probably has less of a melody than the other songs on the album,” Lanois recalled to Hot Press.
It’s ironic that, although “Trip Through Your Wires” made the album and “Sweetest Thing” did not, the latter is now the better-known U2 song. “Wires” was promptly put away after the ’87 tour, while “Sweetest” eventually gained new life in a rerecorded version that became a radio hit in Ireland, the U.K. and, to a lesser extent, the U.S. in 1999.
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