U2’s The Joshua Tree at 30

2017 marks 30 years since U2 released the album The Joshua Tree. The Irish rockers started out like a typical band, playing in clubs and small venues, and have now come to be known as The World’s Biggest Rock Band. By 1987, the ten-year-old band had established a following, peaking at number 12 on the U.S. album charts with 1983’s War and 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, when The Joshua Tree was released in March. The release was well-received by critics, including Steve Pond of Rolling Stone, who predicted the album “could be the big one” that would launch the band into superstardom.

Looking back, Pond’s impression was spot-on, as the album is now one of 90 that has been diamond certified in the United States for selling over 10 million copies (out of an estimated worldwide sales figure of 25 million), placing it on the list with Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Adele’s 21. Subsequent studio releases from the band have all been top-10 hits. Interestingly, Pond also commented that he did not feel the release “contain(ed) any sure-fire smash hits” and that was one prediction he seemed to get wrong. Four songs were released as singles in Canada and the U.S., two of which hit number one on the charts. Both “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” are recognizable by even a casual fan, as is “Where The Streets Have No Name,” which peaked at number 13 on the Billboard charts. The two number ones also happen to be the band’s top two songs in terms of sales. The songs are the first three on the album. The final single, “In God’s Country,” is my personal favorite from the album and topped out at #44 in the U.S.

The Joshua Tree
As part of the 30th anniversary celebration of the album, the band has embarked on a world tour that sold over 1 million tickets within 24 hours of going on sale. There is also a set of anniversary editions of The Joshua Tree that will be released today, including the 2-CD deluxe edition available in our catalog. The first CD is a remaster of the original recording, while the second CD features a recording of a concert at Madison Square Garden from the original Joshua Tree tour in 1987.

While the album garnered a lot of critical acclaim and did indeed launch the band into greatness, there is plenty of debate on whether it is the best collection of songs the band has offered in their 40 years. Entertainment Weekly published an article earlier this year ranking all their studio releases, and The Joshua Tree was number 2 on that list. The number 1? 1991’s follow-up Achtung Baby, which is to date their second-highest sales number with about 18 million copies sold worldwide. Chronologically, Rattle and Hum followed The Joshua Tree, with a hybrid of new studio tracks and live recordings from the 1987 tour. EW tabbed that bridge album as the 7th best, but I must agree with their top choice. Achtung Baby has a lot of memorable songs, such as “One” and “Mysterious Ways,” but even the non-singles like “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” are solid enough to be featured on the current tour. Not that I completely agree with EW, since I really think The Joshua Tree should check in at number 3 on the list, as I would move up 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind from their number 4 slot with their number 3, Boy, moved down further. Rolling Stone declared All That You Can’t Leave Behind as U2’s third masterpiece in their review and the band earned seven Grammy Awards for the work. The Grammy wins include the first time a band had managed to win the Record of the Year award two years in a row for songs from the same album, with victories for “Beautiful Day” and “Walk On.” As an interesting side note, markets outside of North America received a bonus track on the album, one of the few U2 songs that does not contain lyrics written by Bono—“The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” which was adapted from the novel of the same name by Salman Rushdie. Finally, I believe EW should have given a little more credit to the band for two of their most recent albums, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and Songs of Innocence. The first of those two was a fairly decent commercial success that generated a Metacritic score of 79, equal to Achtung Baby. I have always felt this album had only one real issue—it was the follow-up to All That You Can’t Leave Behind and might have done better outside of that shadow. Their latest, Songs of Innocence, was far from a hit and made more of a splash for its unique initial release—as a free download that appeared on people’s Apple devices and on iTunes playlists
U2 By U2
overnight, whether the user wanted it or not. While it is not in the top ten, I certainly would not have put it last on the list. All of these albums are available from the library, either as a CD or through our hoopla database, so give them a listen and see what you think. As a bonus, also be sure to check out hoopla for Passenger’s Original Soundtracks 1, which is really U2 recording under a pseudonym. The experimental album is best known for one of rock’s most unusual duets, the band with Luciano Pavarotti on the track “Miss Sarajevo.” The song has enough of a cult status that it has been played on tour by the band, with Bono doing the opera parts in Italian.

Lastly, if you would like to read a bit more about the band, there are several books in both our print and eBook collections, including some that explore the deeper meaning behind their songs or offer behind the scenes looks at life on tour. This would include the band’s book on themselves, U2 By U2.

—Laura N.


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