THE ENDURING LEGACY OF THE JOSHUA TREE
THIRTY YEARS. It’s a long time. So many days and nights. So many hours and minutes. Seconds stretching into infinity almost. Can it really be that long since all of this happened?
Sometimes, you look at the clock and wonder might it be wrong. It gets late so early! You stare at the diary. Look at the year. Do the maths. The result is always different only the same. The ticking never stops. It is always later than you think. And so you reach for the play button. It really is 30 years. The world changed then. The centre of gravity shifted. No longer peripheral to what was going down, Ireland felt closer to the heart of the contradiction. And it was.
The world looked at us differently as a result of
The Joshua Tree. Mary Robinson was elected President soon afterwards and things shifted again. The momentum towards peace in the North gathered pace. Ireland kept producing great singers, great bands. The power of the Church began to crumble.
All of that didn’t happen because of this.
That’s not the way things hinge. But this we can say: nothing would ever be the same after it. U2 had played their part in style. The Joshua Tree was epoch making. Some years later, writing
U2: The Stories Behind Every Song, I had to try
to explain it... FLASHBACK 1 July 13, 1985. Live Aid. In front of the biggest television audience for a live music event ever, U2 stole the show. Sales of their fourth album, The
Unforgettable Fire, soared. Suddenly U2 were not just a big band. They were one of the biggest in the world. It gave them some breathing space. The Edge wrote the soundtrack for Paul Mayerberg’s film Captive. Bono went travelling; listened to the blues; did ‘Silver and Gold’ for the Sun City album project with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood; recorded ‘In A Lifetime’ with Clannad. The whole band did two tracks in a Dublin studio with Robbie Robertson, formerly of The Band, for his eponymous solo album.
In ‘86, they emerged in fits. For TV Gaga. The Conspiracy of Hope tour in the US. Self Aid in Ireland. A different band! They did dirty, loud, noisy cover versions of Eddie Cochran (“There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues!”) and Bob
Dylan (“I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more”). They’d travelled a long, long way from the cultivated European atmospherics of The
Bono was listening to roots music, folk, the blues. He was thinking about songs, reading about the Deep South. The Edge had looked east on Captive. The band moved west with The
Joshua Tree. Into the arms of America. Bono’s songwriting had more focus now. Greater depth. He was dragging himself up there alongside On March 9, it will be 30 years since the release of The Joshua
Tree, a record that transformed U2 into the biggest rock band in the world. In this issue of Hot Press, we look back to the genesis of the album, how it was put together and and what made it work. And ask: has it stood the test of time? Opening gambit: Niall Stokes Dylan, Morrison, Lou Reed.
“It’s our most literate record yet,” he said. That was a whopper of an understatement. It went straight to No.1 in the US and the UK. In America, it became the fastest-selling album of all time. It also delivered the first platinum-selling CD.
In the arid wasteland of the Nevada desert, the Joshua tree survives despite the dirt, bonedry sand and stone in which it is embedded. Somewhere down there is water. Somewhere down there is the source of life.
Somewhere down there is hope. The challenge is to find it. With Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois on production duties, U2 went drilling. FLASHBACK 2: ‘I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR’ The Edge held a party in his newly reconstructed house in Monkstown on the south coast of Dublin, on New Year’s Eve, 1986. By this stage the bulk of the work on The Joshua Tree was done and the band were relaxing. But Bono couldn’t quite let go. One of the U2 singer’s most endearing qualities is the naked enthusiasm he shows for the band’s own music. And so he explained to me that this was an album of songs, that U2 had finally learned what the word meant, and that he was convinced that they had just made by far their best album to date as a result. “There’s one in particular,” he explained, “that’s amazing.” And then he started to sing it to me. “It goes like this: ‘I have climbed/ the highest mountain/ I have run/ through the fields/ only to be with you/ only to be with you’. And it’s got this refrain,” he expanded and sang on till he came to it. “‘But I still haven’t
found what I’m looking for’.”
The bass drum of some thumping dance track was whacking away next door, and the hubbub of party voices reigned all around – and yet I’ll swear that I could hum the song the next day. It was immensely catchy. A perfect piece of pop music, it went to No. 1 in the US when it was released there as a single, and no one could have been in the least bit surprised. From the start, Bono clearly