U2 released their fifth album, The Joshua Tree, on March 9, 1987. For this album, the band chose America as the theme for the songs, being inspired by American literature, politics, and touring experiences. Musically, the band strove for a harder-hitting sound than on the previous album, The Unforgettable Fire. The Joshua Tree ended up topping the charts in over twenty countries, and has gone on to become one of the classic albums to be released during the 1980s.
The Joshua Tree opens with “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and it was released as the third single from the album; it peaked at number thirteen on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Musically, the song features a hook that is a repeating arpeggio using a delay effect. Lyrically, the song tries to dispute the notion that you can identify a person’s religion or income based on the street where they live.
The next song on the album is, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which is my personal favorite song on The Joshua Tree. It was released as the second single from the album, and peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Lyrically, the song contains lyrics about spiritual yearning. Musically, you can hear that the song has influences from gospel music.
This is followed by “With or Without You,” which was the lead-off single for The Joshua Tree; the single peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Lyrically, this is a song about troubled love. Musically, the song is a slower and melancholy piece; it also features sustained notes played on an Infinite Guitar. “Bullet the Blue Sky” is a song that U2 wrote about the United States military and its intervention in the El Salvador Civil War. Musically, the song features guitar slides, a laid back bassline, drums that almost have a military sound to them, and Bono’s growling vocals.
The next song on The Joshua Tree is “Running to Stand Still,” which is slow ballad that features piano and guitar for its instrumentation. Lyrically, the song is about a couple living in Dublin’s Ballymun flats that is addicted to heroin. “Red Hill Mining Town” is a song about the National Union of Mineworkers’ strike in 1984, and the stress the dispute had on families and relationships.
This is followed by “In God’s Country,” which was released as the fourth single from The Joshua Tree in North America only; however, the single only managed to peak at number forty-four on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Originally, Bono wasn’t sure whether or not the song was about Ireland or America; however, he eventually decided to dedicate the song to the Statue of Liberty. Lyrically, the song is about the lack of political ideas in the West. Musically, the song is rather simplistic in nature; it’s easy to hear why this song did not perform as well as the previous three singles from the album.
When listening to “Trip Through Your Wires,” I can hear a blues influence on the music. “One Tree Hill,” the next song on the album, was released as a single exclusively in New Zealand. Bono wrote the song in memory of his personal assistant, a New Zealander named Greg Carroll. “Exit” starts out rather soft, but builds in intensity as it goes on. This is definitely one of the most “experimental” songs on The Joshua Tree. The album closes with “Mothers of the Disappeared,” a song inspired by Bono’s experiences in Nicaragua and El Salvador. He learned of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of women whose children had been forcibly disappeared by the Argentinean and Chilean governments. Musically, it’s the perfect song to close the album with.
After listening to The Joshua Tree, it’s easy to hear why the album has been so well received by critics and music listeners alike. Overall, it’s a very solid album. Personally, I think The Joshua Tree is one of the best albums in U2’s catalog.