Q Magazine

On This Day in Music… March 9, 1987: U2 Releases 'The Joshua Tree'

The record, with its outsized focus on the U.S., rocketed the band to the top of the charts there and around the world.

Source: MEGA

U2's 'The Joshua Tree' came out on this date in 1987.

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Before The Joshua Tree, U2 was an Irish band with a big international profile. Following its release on this date in 1987, they were a truly global act with particularly strong ties to the U.S.

The band's fascination with the nation they had been touring relentlessly for years was front and center on the album.

It's named after the iconic national park in Southern California, and the album's expansive soundscapes were inspired by the desert landscapes the group traversed to play shows across the American West.

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Source: MEGA

The record with an outsized focus on the U.S. rocketed the band to the top of the charts there and around the world.

U2 clearly had a deep love for and fascination with American culture, as Bono cheekily acknowledged when he donned an elaborate cowboy outfit when the band took a break from the recording process to perform at a 1986 Amnesty International fundraiser. The connection U2 began fostering with the U.S. in this era eventually ran so deep that when the nation was in need of a pick-me-up after 9/11, they were the band to which many people turned, and they were invited to perform at the first Super Bowl after the attacks in 2001.

But the group also wasn't afraid to criticize U.S. foreign policy on The Joshua Tree.

That's evident on "Bullet the Blue Sky," which was inspired by Bono's trip to Nicaragua and El Salvador during a break from the recording process. There, he saw the consequences of the U.S. intervention in the region.

"I remember the ground shaking, and I remember the smell, I suppose, of being near a war zone," Bono told the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.

"I don't think we were in danger, but I knew there were lives in danger or being lost close to us, and I felt for them. It upset me as a person who read the scriptures, to think that Christians in America were supporting this kind of thing, this kind of proxy war because of these communists."

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The recording process with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois happened at two different locations: Danesmoate House, an 18th century structure on the south side of Dublin, and the basement of a home the Edge had recently bought in the seaside Monkstown neighborhood.

"We would always be referencing classics," Lanois said of the recording sessions. "Eno and I were always bringing in American records to listen to, and they weren’t contemporary ones by any means. We would always go back to listening to really good 'feel' records, soul records and I think that’s still to this day a great reference point for anybody.

"We were also referencing Morrissey and Johnny Marr – and their band the Smiths, that was a big reference for us – and My Bloody Valentine as I recall were another big influence. We were fans of that textural guitar work."

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The Joshua Tree was also a very personal album. There's a sense of longing and spiritual exploration in the spacious auditory environments producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois helped the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. create on the LP.

"One Tree Hill" is about Greg Carroll, a New Zealand native who U2 met while touring there in 1984. He quickly became a close friend of Bono and worked as a roadie for the band. He died in a motorcycle accident in 1986. Bono wrote the track's lyrics after attending Carroll's funeral.

There's also "With or Without You," where the singer penned lyrics about his domestic duties to his wife Ali Hewson, and how they were hard to square with his life on the road.

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Source: MEGA

The album was recorded at two different locations in Dublin.

U2 was no stranger to commercial success by 1987, but The Joshua Tree brought the band to another level. The record topped charts around the world.

"With or Without You" was the band's first No. 1 single in the U.S. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" followed suit shortly thereafter.


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