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To mark the 30th an­niver­sary of U2’s clas­sic The Joshua Tree, we take an in-depth look at the cre­ation of the iconic al­bum.

Olaf Tyaransen re­counts the ex­tra­or­di­nary story be­hind the mak­ing of the record with help from pro­ducer Daniel Lanois, while the band them­selves con­trib­ute to Niall Stokes’ track-by-track guide. Plus Maria McKee shares her ex­pe­ri­ences of sup­port­ing the group on tour, de­signer Steve Aver­ill reveals how the fa­mous sleeve was cre­ated, and celebrity fans Miriam O’Cal­laghan and Joseph O’Con­nor dis­cuss their love of U2.

The Joshua Tree was the al­bum that trans­formed U2 from be­ing a big band into one of the most pow­er­ful and en­dur­ing forces in the his­tory of rock mu­sic. On the eve of the 30th An­niver­sary of the re­lease of the land­mark al­bum, OLAF TYARANSEN sets the scene, lis­tens to some of the key play­ers, and re­flects on the ex­tra­or­di­nary sonic magic that was con­jured in a dis­used house in Rath­farn­ham, on the south side of Dublin, by a group of four North­siders and their var­i­ous mu­si­cal ac­com­plices…

It’s hard to be­lieve that it’s been a full 30 years, but the cal­en­dar doesn’t lie. On March 23rd, 1987, six months af­ter Gar­ret Fitz-Gerald’s gov­ern­ment passed the Na­tional Lottery Act 1986, the Ir­ish Na­tional Lottery be­gan its gam­ing op­er­a­tions with the re­lease of the very first scratch­cards.

Two weeks be­fore that, though, four scruffy-look­ing Dublin rock stars had al­ready hit the jackpot.

U2 were al­ready a big band with a global rep­u­ta­tion, by the time they re­leased their fifth stu­dio al­bum on March 9th, 1987, but it re­ally was the one that, as Rolling Stone put it, trans­formed them “from he­roes to su­per­stars.” Six weeks af­ter The Joshua Tree

– pro­duced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois – hit the streets, the Ir­ish fab four­some made the cover of Time mag­a­zine, de­scribed as “Rock’s Hottest Ticket. Even to­day, this would be a very big deal in­deed. Back then, be­fore the ad­vent of so­cial me­dia, it was an his­toric land­mark.

From a pro­mo­tional per­spec­tive, with

The Joshua Tree, just about ev­ery an­gle was cov­ered. Is­land Records spent a then-record $100,000 on store dis­plays alone, to ad­ver­tise and pro­mote the al­bum. The la­bel’s pres­i­dent Lou Maglia called the cam­paign, “the most com­plete mer­chan­dis­ing ef­fort ever as­sem­bled.” It was no idle boast.

Spurred into ac­tion by the con­fi­dence and com­mit­ment of the record com­pany, many Euro­pean and Amer­i­can record stores – fes­tooned with gi­ant posters of Anton Cor­bijn’s now iconic black and white pho­to­graphs of the four stony-faced North­siders in a Cal­i­for­nian desert – opened at a minute af­ter mid­night, on the morn­ing of the re­lease date.

Clearly, it was worth any ex­tra cost in­curred in over­time. Af­ter all, this was the very first new re­lease to be made avail­able on com­pact disc, vinyl record and cas­sette tape on the same date. With that unique sta­tus pro­pel­ling it, The Joshua Tree be­came the fastest-sell­ing al­bum in Bri­tish his­tory, sell­ing over 300,000 copies in just two days. It went to No.1 with a bul­let in Ire­land, Eng­land, the US – and, ul­ti­mately, in more than 20 other coun­tries.

Ev­ery as­pect of the pro­mo­tional cam­paign seemed to come good. The lead sin­gle ‘With Or With­out You’ was re­leased a week af­ter the al­bum, on March 16th. It went to No.1 in Ire­land, the US and Canada. The sec­ond sin­gle, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What

I’m Look­ing For’ also topped the US and Ir­ish charts. Cu­ri­ously, these two tracks re­main U2’s only Amer­i­can No.1 sin­gles.

The Joshua Tree scooped two Grammy awards the fol­low­ing year. It has gone on to sell over 25 mil­lion copies worldwide, and a fur­ther surge is guar­an­teed with the band plan­ning to tour the record this sum­mer, 30 years on. It is still one of the world’s best­selling al­bums ever – and ris­ing.

In tan­dem with Is­land Records, the band’s then man­ager Paul McGuin­ness could de­servedly claim much of the credit for mas­ter­mind­ing a cam­paign that was bril­liantly put to­gether. But he wasn’t right about ev­ery­thing. Ac­cord­ing to U2’s friend and artis­tic ad­vi­sor Gavin Fri­day, he cer­tainly wasn’t right about the hit po­ten­tial of ‘With Or With­out You’. Paul wasn’t the only one who was un­cer­tain about the track. So out of love with it were the band them­selves, at one stage, that they were con­sid­er­ing ditch­ing the song en­tirely. When Eno and Lanois de­clined to work any fur­ther on it, the track was res­cued

“The al­bum’s sound was epic and cin­e­matic. That widescreen vi­sion was cen­tral to its suc­cess. But the lyrics were equally im­por­tant."

only be­cause Gavin be­lieved in it so pas­sion­ately. He and Bono worked sep­a­rately to see if they could in­ject some­thing into it that would con­vince the oth­ers. What­ever re­arrange­ments they fash­ioned were enough to bring ev­ery­one back on board. Edge played the ‘In­fi­nite Gui­tar’ that had been sent to him by the in­ven­tor Michael Brooks over the track, and it gelled. It was a break­through moment, in more ways than one.

“Paul McGuin­ness didn’t want to re­lease it as a sin­gle,” Fri­day told Hot Press editor Niall Stokes. “But I told

Bono that it was a cer­tain No 1. It was one of the big­gest ar­gu­ments I ever had with Paul, and in the end Bono sided with me. In fair­ness to Paul, he did come up to me af­ter­wards and apol­o­gise. He said, ‘You were right’. And of course I was.”

Some­times it re­ally is bet­ter to lose an ar­gu­ment.


Rewind. The seeds for what be­came an en­dur­ing mu­sic in­dus­try phe­nom­e­non had been planted in Lon­don’s Wem­b­ley Sta­dium around 20 months ear­lier, in the sum­mer of 1985. Match-fit as they came to­wards the end of their lengthy tour in sup­port of 1984’s The

Un­for­get­table Fire, U2 stole the show at Live Aid on July 13th, 1985.

In front of the big­gest tele­vi­sion au­di­ence for a live mu­sic event ever, Bono, Edge, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton were in­tro­duced on­stage by ac­tor Jack Ni­chol­son as “a group that’s never had any prob­lem say­ing how they feel.” Over the course of an elec­tri­fy­ing two-song, twelve-minute set, dur­ing which Bono broke all the rules by climb­ing down into the crowd, and choos­ing a girl from the au­di­ence to come on­stage, they ut­terly trans­formed their ca­reer. Sales of The

Un­for­get­table Fire im­me­di­ately soared. It was lit­er­ally like manna from heaven.

The late surge in sales of The Un­for­get­table Fire was dou­bly for­tu­itous. The big­gest bonus was that the ring­ing of the cash reg­is­ters meant they didn’t have to rush the fol­low-up. They could take their time fash­ion­ing

The Joshua Tree.

It turned out that the tim­ing was per­fect. As the late, great Hot Press writer Bill Gra­ham put it, U2 had been “surf­ing a wave” since their tri­umphant ap­pear­ance at Live Aid: “Their Ir­ish op­ti­mism, cu­rios­ity and adapt­abil­ity JDYH WKHP D VSHFLDObHPSDWK\ ZLWK $PHULFDř WKH chance for their break­through ar­rived just as their record­ing and song­writ­ing skills reached ma­tu­rity.”

Af­ter a gru­el­ing 112 shows, U2’s Un­for­get­table Fire world tour ended just a fort­night af­ter Live Aid. The rhythm sec­tion of Larry and Adam re­turned to Dublin to party and bask in their hard-won fame, but the guitarist and singer kept them­selves busy in other ways. Edge went to work writ­ing the sound­track for

Paul Mayer­berg’s film, Cap­tive, while the foot­loose did a bit of free­lance roam­ing. Be­ing out on the road in a rock’n’roll band over ex­tended pe­ri­ods can cut you off from ev­ery­day re­al­ity. This was an op­por­tu­nity to reen­gage with life ex­pe­ri­ences, of a dif­fer­ent kind.

In Septem­ber 1985, want­ing to wit­ness the ef­fects of famine first­hand in the wake of Live Aid, he and his wife Ali went on a hu­man­i­tar­ian trip to Ethiopia. They spent about a month work­ing at a World Vi­sion camp in Ajibar, where they used songs to teach chil­dren about clean­li­ness and the ben­e­fits of eat­ing healthily.

His ex­pe­ri­ences there pro­vided much in­spi­ra­tion for the writ­ing of the next U2 al­bum. “Spend­ing time in Africa and see­ing peo­ple in the pits of poverty, I still saw a very strong spirit in the peo­ple, a rich­ness of spirit I didn’t see when I came home,” he later re­flected. “I saw the spoiled child of the Western world. I started think­ing, ‘They may have a phys­i­cal desert, but we’ve got the other kinds of deserts’. And that’s what at­tracted me to the desert as a sym­bol of some sort.”

Grad­u­ally, U2 were edg­ing to­wards some kind of vi­sion for what the al­bum might be. Two early work­ing ti­tles for the work—in-progress were The Desert Songs and The Two Amer­i­cas. The lat­ter mostly re­ferred to the ex­treme so­cial di­vi­sions that ex­ist in the United States. But af­ter their African trip, Bono and Ali also trav­elled to Cen­tral Amer­ica, un­der the aus­pices of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, to ob­serve and spend time in both El Sal­vador and Nicaragua. The singer’s ex­pe­ri­ences in that ‘other Amer­ica’ would di­rectly in­flu­ence the writ­ing of the in­cen­di­ary ‘Bul­let The Blue Sky’, a few months later, as well as the al­bum’s con­clud­ing track ‘Moth­ers of the Dis­ap­peared’.

Al­though the heav­ily styled The Un­for­get­table Fire was largely con­sid­ered their arty ‘Euro­pean’ al­bum, two of its songs were very much about the US (‘MLK’ and ‘Elvis Pres­ley and Amer­ica’). Clearly, the con­tra­dic­tions rife in the home of the brave and the land of the free had been play­ing on Bono’s mind for some time. By The

Joshua Tree, these con­tra­dic­tions had be­come the heart of the mat­ter.

In world pol­i­tics, the 1980s were the apex of the Rea­gan/Thatcher era. In many re­spects, the un­sta­ble po­lit­i­cal cli­mate was not so dif­fer­ent from the one ush­ered in re­cently by the election Don­ald Trump as POTUSA. Back then, US for­eign pol­icy – sup­port­ing right-wing regimes and counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies across Cen­tral and South Amer­ica in par­tic­u­lar – was a con­stant source of con­cern that fre­quently tipped over into out­rage. Cer­tainly, Bono could have been talk­ing about

ei­ther US pres­i­dent when he told Hot Press, “I still be­lieve in Amer­i­cans. I think they’re a very open peo­ple. It’s their open­ness which leads them to trust a man as dan­ger­ous as Ron­ald Rea­gan. They want to be­lieve he’s a good guy. They want to be­lieve he’s in the cav­alry, com­ing to res­cue Amer­ica’s rep­u­ta­tion af­ter the ‘70s. But he was only an ac­tor. It was only a movie. I think the pic­ture’s ended now and Amer­i­cans are leav­ing the cin­ema a lit­tle down in the mouth.”

The al­bum’s sound was epic and cin­e­matic. That widescreen vi­sion was cen­tral to its suc­cess. But the lyrics were equally im­por­tant.

With the in­ten­tion of cre­at­ing the au­ral equiv­a­lent of the Great Amer­i­can Novel, Bono had im­mersed him­self in Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture, cit­ing the likes of Flan­nery O’Con­nor, Tru­man Capote, Sam Shep­ard, Ray­mond Carver, Saul Bel­low and Nor­man Mailer as ma­jor in­flu­ences in in­ter­views (See the Books pages for a full fea­ture on the lit­er­ary in­flu­ences on The Joshua Tree). Later on, in ‘The Fly’ – the open­ing track on

Ach­tung Baby! – Bono might ob­serve that am­bi­tion bites the nails of suc­cess. But here, the de­sire to creat some­thing truly great was just what the cir­cum­stances de­manded.


In between his trips to Africa and Cen­tral Amer­ica, Bono trav­elled to New York, to add his vo­cals to the Artists Against Apartheid Sun City record. While he was there, Peter Wolf of The J. Geils Band took him off to meet Keith Richards and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones. The leg­endary English rock­ers ended up hav­ing a se­ri­ous in­flu­ence on the young Dublin singer’s song­writ­ing chops.

Bono later jok­ingly re­ferred to the meet­ing as “the Night of the Long Knives.” In a Man­hat­tan stu­dio, Mick and Keith were ca­su­ally jam­ming through some old blues stan­dards for their per­sonal en­ter­tain­ment and they in­quired if Bono had any songs or party-pieces of his own. He didn’t. With­out Edge, Larry or Adam to as­sist, he sud­denly felt mu­si­cally naked, em­bar­rassed al­most. He went back to his ho­tel bed­room for a sleep­less night, writ­ing the ghostly and chill­ing Ō6ilYer And *oldō in some seizure of spon­ta­neous cre­ative com­bus­tion.

The ex­pe­ri­ence has­tened a se­ri­ous re­assess­ment of his art. To the young punk­in­spired groups of U2’s gen­er­a­tion, the blues had gen­er­ally meant long-haired bar bands, fill­ing up the Dublin dates they hun­gered for. Now, Bono knew that U2 had in­her­ited a skewed tra­di­tion. Al­ready in­ter­ested in gospel, he re­alised fi­nally that he would have to check out the blues. Those new in­sights and the prod­ding of friends like T-Bone Bur­nett and newly ar­rived Dublin res­i­dent, Mike Scott of The Water­boys, hard­ened his and the other mem­bersō conYic­tions about the in­adeTua­cies of U2’s pre­vi­ous ap­proach to song­writ­ing.

“We had ex­per­i­mented a lot in the mak­ing of The Un­for­get­table Fire,” Edge later re­called. “We had done quite rev­o­lu­tion­ary things like ‘Elvis Pres­ley and Amer­ica’ and ‘4th of July’. So we felt, go­ing into The Joshua Tree, that maybe op­tions were not a good thing, that lim­i­ta­tions might be pos­i­tive. And so we de­cided to work within the lim­i­ta­tions of the song as a start­ing point.” In­stinc­tively, the band wanted the record to be less at­mo­spheric and im­pres­sion­is­tic. In Edge’s words, they wanted to make it more fo­cused and con­cise.

Hav­ing first worked with them on the dream­scape that was The Un­for­get­table

Fire, U2 again chose to en­list Brian Eno and his sor­cer­erōs as­sis­tant, 'aniel /anois, to help craft their new mu­si­cal di­rec­tion. Larry Mullen, for one, was par­tic­u­larly happy about this: he knew the pair had a great re­spect for per­cus­sion­ists.

With the pro­duc­tion team in place, the next ques­tion was where the al­bum would be made. The first three U2 al­bums (Boy, Oc­to­ber and

War) had all been recorded at Wind­mill Lane Stu­dios, lo­cated in a nar­row street by the River /if­fey in 'ublinōs then di­laSi­dated dock­lands. For The Un­for­get­table Fire they had taken the un­usual de­ci­sion to work in Slane Cas­tle, the an­ces­tral pile of Lord Henry Mountcharles, lo­cated thirty miles north of Dublin, where the Slane Fes­ti­val takes place. Slane, how­ever, was a once-off, and there seemed to be lit­tle en­thu­si­asm for re­turn­ing to Wind­mill

Lane; the band, and Bono in par­tic­u­lar, had of­ten ex­pressed a dis­taste for the ‘ster­ile’ en­vi­ron­ment of record­ing stu­dios.

In­stead, they elected to record in

Danes­moate, a two-story-over-base­ment Ge­or­gian man­sion in Rath­farn­ham, on the southside of the city, in the foothills of the Dublin Moun­tains. The house, a lo­cal land­mark, was orig­i­nally known as *len 6out­h­well, af­ter the fam­ily who once lived there. Ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­cal records, it was orig­i­nally laid out with rus­tic fol­lies, a view­ing tower, and it even had a small stream flow­ing through the grounds. &uri­ously, the first recorded eYi­dence of any­one liv­ing there is in 1787 – ex­actly 200 years be­fore

The Joshua Tree was re­leased – when it was oc­cu­pied by a cer­tain Capt. Wil­liam South­well.

Danes­moate was fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory for at least one band mem­ber – the house was adMa­cent to St Columba’s Col­lege, Adam Clayton’s alma mater. So im­pressed was he with the house dur­ing the record­ing ses­sions that he later bought it for use as his own home, and he has since car­ried out e[ten­siYe restora­tion work to what is a beau­ti­ful listed build­ing. But there were happy end­ings to this saga long be­fore thatř

For Daniel Lanois, Danes­moate of­fered the per­fect lo­ca­tion for get­ting down to some se­ri­ous work. “It was a re­ally nice set-up,” he later told Hot Press writer Colm O’Hare. “It has this large liv­ing room/draw­ing room, what­ever you want to call it – a big rec­tan­gu­lar room with a tall ceil­ing and wooden floors. It was loud, but it was re­ally good loud, real dense, very mu­si­cal.

“In my opin­ion it was the most rock and roll room of the lot,” he added. “The cas­tle [Slane] was a fun idea and ev­ery­thing, but it was a mas­siYe Slace. 'anes­moate sounded bet­ter than the cas­tle. I think it was the best place of all the ex­per­i­ments we tried, ‘cause we’ve al­ways

"The de­sire to cre­ate some­thing truly great was just what the cir­cum­stances de­manded"

tried dif­fer­ent sorts of lo­ca­tions [to record].”

What im­pressed Lanois most about the 200-year-old build­ing was its unique sonic prop­er­ties, par­tic­u­larly when it came to, what he de­scribed as ‘the low mid-range’.

“The low mid-range is where the mu­sic lives,” he ex­plained. “In my opin­ion The Joshua Tree is a great rock and roll record, partly be­cause of the beauty of the low mid-range of that room.”


Ses­sions be­gan in earnest in early Au­gust 1986, with the usual U2 pro­tracted work­ing method, of a com­bi­na­tion of sift­ing through tapes, re-vis­it­ing sound­check jams, and trawl­ing through Bono’s over­flow­ing lyric book – as well as launch­ing into live jam­ming ses­sions.

Ex­tract­ing new ma­te­rial from the band wasn’t al­ways easy, ac­cord­ing to Brian Eno, dis­cussing the al­bum on the Clas­sic Al­bums TV spe­cial. “There were quite a few things in the bag, and that’s ex­actly where they were,” he re­called. "I re­mem­ber ev­ery­one used to walk in with these enor­mous bags of cas­sette tapes, es­pe­cially

Edge, who some­how or other had man­aged to con­nect his to a black hole lo­cated some­where around Dublin. Be­cause once tapes were in that bag, they never reap­peared.”

Hard at work on the al­bum, and strug­gling to rein­vent their sound, U2 kept a rel­a­tively low pro­file dur­ing 1986. The first hint that fans were given of the nascent new di­rec­tion came in Jan­uary of that year, when they ap­peared on the RTÉ show TV Gaga, which was hosted by

Hot Press jour­nal­ist Liam Mackey (now soccer cor­re­spon­dent with the Ex­am­iner) and mu­si­cian and ac­tor Maria Doyle Kennedy – best known now for her star­ring role in Or­phan Black.

A lot of U2 fans were knocked for six by what they saw. It wasn’t quite an im­age-change on a David Bowie-es­que scale, but – put it this way – Bono was wear­ing a red ban­dana, hadn’t shaved and was drawl­ing in what sounded sus­pi­ciously like an Amer­i­can ac­cent. It was all a very far cry from their more clean-cut in­car­na­tion of yore.

U2 played three songs dur­ing that TV Gaga ap­pear­ance, in­clud­ing ‘Trip Through Your Wires’, the first gen­uine public taste of the as-yet-un­ti­tled new al­bum. No one was sure what to make of it. On this show­ing, the thought that U2 might be headed down a cul-de-sac at high speed couldn’t be fully dis­counted.

The band fur­ther di­vided opin­ion when they per­formed at Self Aid – a sort of a ‘jobs aid’ ben­e­fit to counter un­em­ploy­ment, held in the RDS, Dublin on May 17th. Was the gig a good idea? Should they have done it?

For rea­sons that re­main un­clear, in ad­vance of the gig, they were sin­gled out for what seemed like highly per­son­alised crit­i­cism. The at­tacks weren’t re­ally about the songs, or the mu­sic; they were about U2’s new­found suc­cess. You could ar­gue, in­deed, that the uniquely

Ir­ish phe­nom­e­non of U2 be­grudgery – which con­tin­ues to this day – re­ally started then. Ei­ther way, it fed into their per­for­mance at the RDS, which was darker and an­grier than any­thing they had done be­fore, in­clud­ing a raw and in­cen­di­ary re­work­ing of Bob Dy­lan’s ‘Mag­gie’s Farm’ – which had to be in­ter­preted as a gut-twist­ing ex­co­ri­a­tion of the eco­nomic dev­as­ta­tion caused by the Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter, Mag­gie Thatcher.

“There was a very in­ter­est­ing re­ac­tion af­ter­wards,” Bono told Hot Press editor Niall Stokes. “The peo­ple who be­lieve in U2 are very or­di­nary peo­ple, work­ing-class peo­ple. The only flak we get for be­ing in a priv­i­leged po­si­tion is from the mid­dle-class. I felt: how can I write a song about be­ing un­em­ployed when I am fully em­ployed, how can I stand on stage at an un­em­ployed ben­e­fit when I know U2 are not short of cash?

“But one guy came up to me af­ter­wards and said: ‘I’m re­ally pissed off about what you said on stage’. And I said what do you mean? And he said: ‘You said you don’t know what it’s like to be un­em­ployed. We didn't want to hear that - be­cause we know you know what it’s like, even if you don’t’. It was amaz­ing, the last thing I ex­pected to hear. And then I heard all these sto­ries about peo­ple singing ‘Mag­gie’s Farm’ on the dole queue on the Mon­day morn­ing, which I found funny. I don’t know whether they were slag­ging us off or just en­joy­ing the song.” The month af­ter Self Aid, along­side Sting,

Lou Reed, Bryan Adams and other acts, U2 par­tic­i­pated in A Con­spir­acy of Hope, a short six-date tour of the US, or­gan­ised on be­half of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional. The pur­pose of the tour was not to raise funds, but to in­crease aware­ness of hu­man rights and of Amnesty’s work on its 25th an­niver­sary – and thereby to in­spire a new gen­er­a­tion to get in­volved in the global cam­paign to free pris­on­ers of con­science. Need­less to say, these Amnesty con­cerns would resur­face in the lyrics of many of the new songs – most es­pe­cially on the mov­ing al­bum closer ‘Moth­ers of the Dis­ap­peared’.

There was a per­sonal tragedy, too, when Bono’s PA, the per­son­able New Zealand Maori, Greg Car­roll, to whose mem­ory the an­themic ‘One Tree Hill’ is ded­i­cated, died in a mo­tor-bike ac­ci­dent when he crashed Bono’s Har­ley into an un­lighted car in July.

His shock death had a pro­found ef­fect on the band. So too did that of Thin Lizzy’s Philip Lynott, who had died in Jan­uary 1986. His pass­ing must have fil­tered into the drug-themed ‘Run­ning To Stand Still’, The Joshua Tree’s se­quel to ‘Bad’. But it also un­der­scored a grow­ing sense, felt within the band, that the old cer­tain­ties were crum­bling. No mat­ter what you chose to be­lieve, the spec­tre of doubt had to be ac­knowl­edged. Hu­man af­fairs were in­escapably bleak in a way that much of U2’s early work had been de­signed to counter. There are some ar­gu­ments you sim­ply can’t win.

Bono was clearly up­set about Lynott’s death. As he con­fessed to Niall Stokes, he had bumped into Philip on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions out in Howth, where they both lived. They had ex­changed prom­ises that they’d have din­ner in one house or the other. But it was too late now. The grim reaper had in­ter­vened. Philip was dead.

Ul­ti­mately, Bono de­scribed 1986 as “an

in­cred­i­bly bad year” for him – and that was re­flected in the lyrics on The Joshua Tree, songs in which an el­e­ment of tragedy, bor­der­ing on de­spair, be­gan to sur­face. His mar­riage to Ali was ap­par­ently un­der strain, in part due to the al­bum’s long ges­ta­tion pe­riod. The me­dia crit­i­cism fol­low­ing Self Aid had stung him badly. And the deaths of Lynott and Car­roll had shaken the en­tire band. On the sur­face, things might have seemed to be go­ing ex­traor­di­nar­ily well.

But deep down, there were demons on the loose. “That’s why the desert at­tracted me as an im­age,” Bono said. “That year was re­ally a desert for us.”


Just prior to the re­lease of The Joshua

Tree, Bono was stricken with panic. He was so para­noid about the artis­tic cal­bre of the com­pleted al­bum, and so un­cer­tain that U2 had made the right calls mu­si­cally, that he ac­tu­ally con­tem­plated call­ing the pro­duc­tion plant to or­der a halt to the man­u­fac­tur­ing of the record. Maybe he in his heart he knew that it was all too far gone to change any­thing – but he had to quell those par­tic­u­lar demons of doubt. He let the presses roll.

Just as well. U2’s time was now. Upon its re­lease, on one level at least, the band found what they were look­ing for. Re­views for The

Joshua Tree were al­most uni­ver­sally pos­i­tive. Some were ec­static – a re­sponse that was, in U2’s case, un­prece­dented. In Hot Press,

Bill Gra­ham waxed even more lyri­cal than usual in his ex­tended re­view. “One thing is ab­so­lutely clear,” he sum­marised. “U2 can no longer be pa­tro­n­ised with faint and glib praise. They must be taken very se­ri­ously in­deed af­ter this re- val­u­a­tion of rock". For the full orig­i­nal Bill Gra­ham re­view, turn to Page 30).

Steve Lil­ly­white, who mixed the al­bum, is un­der no il­lu­sions as to what made it work for a main­stream au­di­ence. “I think what made The Joshua Tree the big seller that it was, was the fact that they had the ra­dio songs, the hits – and it was all stuff that they could play live,” he rea­soned.

Daniel Lanois’ rep­u­ta­tion also soared, in the wake of his pro­duc­tion tri­umph on The

Joshua Tree. By now con­sid­ered one of the

most im­por­tant pro­duc­ers to have emerged in the 1980s, he went on to mid­wife hugely ac­claimed al­bums for Bob Dy­lan, Em­my­lou Har­ris, The Neville Brothers and many more. He has main­tained his con­nec­tion with U2, sub­se­quently

work­ing on All That

You Can’t Leave

Be­hind and How To

Dis­man­tle An Atomic Bomb.

Asked in 2007 by Hot Press’s Colm O’Hare how he felt about The Joshua Tree over twenty years later, he of­fered a spe­cial kind of per­spec­tive. “Well, I’ve been hurt more on other records than I was on that record,” he re­flected. “You know, where you ac­tu­ally take a kick­ing – as I did when I made Bob Dy­lan’s Time Out Of Mind. I cer­tainly felt that, at ev­ery stage of The Joshua Tree, there were no ma­jor per­sonal dis­ap­point­ments. I like the sound of the early U2 records that we made. It’s the sound of com­mit­ment.”

In terms of un­der­stand­ing the pow­er­ful, en­dur­ing ap­peal of the record, he was em­phatic in de­fend­ing the val­ues with which the record­ing was im­bued.

“Mod­ern day record pro­duc­tion – be­cause peo­ple have ac­cess to so many sounds – has kind of fallen into the hands of stylists,” he stated. “‘Let’s have that lit­tle beat and this lit­tle tex­ture’ and you come up with them in, like, min­utes – 'that should work with this, that’ll be nice here and let’s hang that over there’. And it makes a very nice first im­pres­sion, like, ‘Jeez, we didn’t have to do any work and we’ve got that big, sym­phonic 8 sound that they got in the sō %ut what you don’t get is that ramp-up of ded­i­ca­tion to get to that place.

“It’d be like if you buy a bar­ren piece of prop­erty and you push a but­ton and end up with a full or­chard. Con­se­quently, you end up with in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion, but you may not have a con­nec­tion with it, it might ac­tu­ally not be­long to you, at all <ou can em­ploy a stylist for a photo-shoot – but I don’t think you should em­ploy one for the mak­ing of a record.

“Those U2 records, they have big ramp-ups,” he con­cluded. “They’re filled with philoso­phies. And we got to those places be­cause we be­lieved in an idea – and not be­cause we liked some­one else’s idea.”


Thirty years on from its re­lease, The Joshua

Tree still stands the test of time. Yet for all of its Amer­i­can themes, the al­bum was still very much the work of four Ir­ish­men.

“The Joshua Tree is not Ir­ish in any of the ob­vi­ous senses,” Bono later re­flected. “In a much more mys­te­ri­ous way, it is very Ir­ish. The ache, the melan­choly is uniquely Ir­ish.” Four years later, when they re­leased

Ach­tung Baby! in 1991, the singer laugh­ingly com­mented that their new al­bum was “the sound of four men chop­ping The

Joshua Tree down.”

But that’s an­other story, for an­other time, an­other place. Right now, it is right that we should cel­e­brate U2’s first mas­ter­piece – and lis­ten to it again with open hearts. The band wouldn’t have wanted this, of course, but 30 years on, it feels newly rel­e­vant, and hor­ri­bly of the moment, in a world that has tilted omi­nously back to the 1980s.

“I want to run, I want to hide,” Bono sings on the open­ing track, ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’. In 2017, as never be­fore, there is no hid­ing place. It is time to take up the mega­phones again..

"The Joshua Tree is not Ir­ish in any of the ob­vi­ous senses. In a much more mys­te­ri­ous way, it is very Ir­ish. The ache, the melan­choly is uniquely Ir­ish"


Bono: out­side it's Amer­ica

Re­hears­ing in Dublin's Point Theatre and (right) The Joshua Tree pro­ducer Daniel Lanois

Ali Hew­son, Liam Mackey and Bono on the set of TV Gaga

(Clock­wise from bot­tom left) Christy Moore, Ron­nie Drew of The Dublin­ers, Larry Mullen, the Edge and Bono, at the Late Late Show spe­cial trib­ute to The Dublin­ers, on which they per­formed Peggy Seegers ’Springhill Min­ing Dis­as­ter’.

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