The Joshua Tree is the fifth studio album by Irish rock band U2, released March 9, 1987 on Island Records. Recording sessions took place from July to November of 1986 at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin. The album features the band's exploration of roots rock, with their music exhibiting influences from blues-rock, folk rock, Southern rock, and gospel music. Lyrically, The Joshua Tree depicts the band's fascination with America and many of the ideas it stands for. The album was produced and engineered by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.
The album increased the band's stature "from heroes to superstars," according to Rolling Stone. The album produced several hit singles, including "Where the Streets Have No Name", "With or Without You", and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", all of which remain radio staples. The Joshua Tree won Grammy Awards for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Album of the Year in Grammy Awards of 1988. In 2003, the album was ranked number 26 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". The album is one of the world's best-selling albums of all-time, having sold over 28 million copies. In 2007, a remastered version of the album was released to mark the 20th anniversary of its original release.
Following The Unforgettable Fire album, U2 realised that they "had no tradition, we were from outer space", and they explored American blues, country and gospel music. Since that album, they had spent time with fellow Irish bands The Waterboys and Hothouse Flowers, and felt a sense of indigenous Irish music being blended with American folk music. Friendships with Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Keith Richards encouraged the band to look back to the roots of rock music, and focused Bono on his skills as a song and lyric writer. The band wanted to build on The Unforgettable Fire's atmospherics, but also sought a more hard-hitting sound within the strict discipline of more conventional song structures, in contrast to The Unforgettable Fire's often out-of-focus experimentation.
The band interrupted their 1986 album sessions to join Amnesty International's A Conspiracy of Hope Tour. Rather than being a distraction, the band found the tour added extra intensity and power to their new music, providing extra focus on what they wanted to say. The album sessions for The Joshua Tree proper began in July 1986 at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin.
In his earlier 1986 travels to Central America, Bono saw first hand the distress of peasants bullied in political conflicts, and this was a central influence on the album. The United States' military intervention in El Salvador angered Bono and prompted him to ask The Edge to "put El Salvador through an amplifier" for the song "Bullet the Blue Sky". "Mothers of the Disappeared" was inspired by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the mothers of the thousands of "disappeared" people who opposed the Videla and Galtieri coup d'état that overtook Argentina in 1976, and who were kidnapped and never seen again.
The album juxtaposes antipathy towards the United States, including anger at United States foreign policy in Central America, against the band's deep fascination with the country, its open spaces, freedom and what it stood for. The band wanted music with a sense of location, a 'cinematic' quality; its music and lyrics drew on imagery created by American writers the band had been reading. The band had toured in the United States extensively, which affected the band; according to Bono, the album was inspired and influenced more by the country's geography, rather than its people. Bono said he "…had to 'deal with' the United States and the way it was affecting me, because the United States' having such an effect on the world at the moment. On this record I had to deal with it on a political level for the first time, if in a subtle way." Since Bono was trying to portray the both "mythic idea of America" and the "reality of America" on the album, the working title of the album was "The Two Americas".
The record was also influenced by the blues. While in recording sessions for the b-side "Silver and Gold", working with Keith Richards, Bono and Richards listened to blues music, country music, American pop music from the 1950s, and other such influences. These influences, combined with Bono's early influences, such as Patti Smith and Bob Dylan, had an effect on the song and the whole album.
"Where the Streets Have No Name" was conceived prior to one of the Joshua Tree recording sessions by guitarist The Edge. Bono conceived the lyrics with the idea that one could determine a person's religion and income based on where they lived in Belfast. While recording the song as a band, however, U2 ran into difficulty. The song's frequent chord and time changes caused problems in playing the song correctly; the difficulty was so great that producer Brian Eno attempted to erase the track. Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. later said of the song, "It took so long to get that song right, it was difficult for us to make any sense of it. It only became a truly great song through playing live. On the record, musically, it's not half the song it is live."
"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" grew from another song called "Under the Weather Girls", which co-producer Daniel Lanois didn't like, except for Larry Mullen, Jr.'s drum track and Adam Clayton's bass line. These parts were used as the foundation of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For". The development of the song saw the addition of such things as a subtle auto-pan effect added to one of The Edge's guitar overdubs and Bono, a tenor, singing in the upper register of his range to add to the feeling of spiritual yearning. Both Bono and Edge have, in fact, called it a gospel song on numerous occasions.
"With or Without You", the album's first single and one of the band's most well-known songs, uses an effect called "infinite guitar", developed by Michael Brook, to infinitely sustain notes.
The band concluded recording of the album in November 1986.
A number of songs that were released as B-sides to singles from The Joshua Tree are thought to have been considered for a double-album version of The Joshua Tree. Though Bono was the most vocal proponent of this extended version of the album, The Edge successfully argued for the 11-track version that was ultimately released. "Spanish Eyes" and "Deep in the Heart" were released as B-sides to the "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" single. "Luminous Times (Hold on to Love)" and "Walk to the Water" were released as B-sides to the "With or Without You" single. "Sweetest Thing", "Silver and Gold", and "Race Against Time" were released as B-sides to the "Where the Streets Have No Name" single.
The Joshua Tree was first released on 9 March 1987. The album cover photo was taken by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn in December 1986. Corbijn later recounted the photo shoot in Death Valley, California; "This is the most serious set of shots I have taken of U2 and they became my most well-known photographs at the time. It was taken with a panoramic camera to take more of the landscapes in which was the main idea of the shoot: man and environment, the Irish in America."
In 2007, a 20th anniversary edition of the album was released, featuring remastered tracks, along with B-sides and rarities. Four different formats of the remaster were made available.
"With or Without You" and the rhythmic gospel "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" were released as singles internationally and quickly went to #1 in the U.S. "Where the Streets Have No Name" was also successfully released. "In God's Country" was released as a fourth single in North America with modest success, while "One Tree Hill" was released as a fourth single in Australia and New Zealand. Initially slated as a single release, "Red Hill Mining Town" was the only track from the album not played on the tour. Bono has suggested that the song's high notes put too much strain on his voice.
Upon its release, The Joshua Tree debuted at #1 in the UK and also quickly reached the top of the charts in the U.S. U2 became the fourth rock band to be featured on the cover of Time magazine (following The Beatles, The Band, and The Who), who declared that U2 was "Rock's Hottest Ticket". The album brought U2 to a new level of mega-stardom, as the worldwide Joshua Tree Tour sold out arenas and stadiums around the world, the first time the band had consistently played venues of that size.
The Joshua Tree won U2 their first two Grammy Awards, with the band receiving honors for "Album of the Year" and "Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocal".
According to U.S. Recording Industry sales figures, as of January 2005, The Joshua Tree ranks as the 89th best-selling album of all-time in the U.S. and, as of 2006, the 26th best-selling album in the U.K.. The album has sold 10 million copies in the United States alone and more than 25 million copies worldwide. It remains the band's best-selling album.
The Joshua Tree is often cited as one of the greatest albums in rock history. In 1989, it was rated #3 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 100 Greatest Albums of the 80's", as well as appearing at #26 on the magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". The Definitive 200 list sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ranks the album as the fifth-greatest in history. The Joshua Tree was selected as #6 on CCM Magazine's 2001 list of the greatest Contemporary Christian music albums of all time (see CCM Presents: The 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music). It came second place in Channel 4's 100 Greatest albums. It came in at #10 on ABC Television's My Favourite Album program, which aired in Australia in December 2006.
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