Updated: Aug 27, 2021
“The Joshua Tree” is the fifth studio album from Irish rockers U2 released on March 9, 1987. Already an international success and feeling disconnected from the dominant sounds of synthpop and new wave music coming out of the UK, the band fell in love with the sounds of traditional American roots and blues rock while traveling through the country supporting their previous record “The Unforgettable Fire.” While collaborating with Steven Van Zandt on his anti-apartheid project “Sun City” and spending time with the likes of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger following the band’s many humanitarian trips with Live Aid in 1985, Bono was embarrassed by his lack of knowledge surrounding rock’s illustrious North American history and the many contributions from influential American artists. It was then Bono realized that U2, as well as most of Europe’s newly formed subgenres of rock, didn’t have any sort of tradition behind it. Traveling across the continent to the tune of blues rock and country radio, guitarist Edge discovered the music of folk and southern heroes like Hank Williams and Howlin’ Wolf. Bono also dived into reading works from American authors like Norman Mailer and Flannery O’Connor. Throughout all of these various inspirations, the band sought to craft a story with their next record that was partly a romance expressing their infatuation and gratitude with American culture, that also encapsulated a recurring theme that permeated all of these great story tellers from different genres: the idea of living on the outskirts of the American dream. The album’s title comes from the Joshua Tree National Park in southern California where two deserts meet. Bono was both impressed and obsessed with the sheer vastness of the United States. He felt that this illusive “American dream” could be found anywhere, yet for most people, the concept appeared to be nothing more than a mirage. The album focuses on themes of reality and illusion, as well as the contrast between the “real America” and mythical America. The cinematic quality of “The Joshua Tree” helped garner the band Grammy wins for Best Rock Group Performance and Album of the Year in 1988. The Joshua Tree Tour helped launch U2, who had previously felt like a disconnected Irish band from space, into the stratosphere and performing at stadiums for the first time in their career. The album has since gone on to sell over 25 million copies, becoming one of the world’s best-selling albums of all time, and was inducted for preservation into the US National Recording Registry in 2014 by the Library of Congress. Tour the crossroads of the deserted landscape by streaming hit songs “With or Without You,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “Where the Streets Have No Name” on the 20th anniversary remastered re-release now on Spotify!