15 Things You Might Not Know About U2's The Joshua Tree

By Dave Basner

March 8, 2024

On March 9th, 1987, U2 released their iconic fifth album, The Joshua Tree. We all know the Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno-produced record spawned the hits “With or Without You,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Where the Streets Have No Name,” but to celebrate the album's 37th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not know about The Joshua Tree:

1. The band used politics, literature and their American tour experiences as inspiration when creating The Joshua Tree.

2. Bono wanted a desert to represent the album following a trip to the arid climate of Ethiopia, where he later told Rolling Stone, he saw a people in the “pits of poverty” who had very strong spirits, while the Western world is spoiled. The singer explained, “they may have a physical desert, but we’ve got other kinds of deserts.”

3. The band wrote The Joshua Tree differently than their previous albums, recording all but two of the songs live, as opposed to how they used to do it, by recording each instrument separately and layering them in the mix.

4. Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Van Morrison all advised and influenced the band during the early stages of The Joshua Tree. Together, the three legends suggested U2 draw from American and Irish roots on the effort.

5. Bono wrote “With or Without You” from his struggles being a married man and a musician. In creating the song, he realized that neither role defines him, rather he is who he is because of the tension between the two.

6. “With or Without You” was the band’s first single to be widely issued on CD.

7. The Edge composed “Where the Streets Have No Name” with a four-track tape machine to create what, in the book U2 by U2, he called the “ultimate U2 live song.” He was so pleased with his work that he called it “the most amazing guitar part and song of [his] life,” and after laying the rough version of the track, he danced around and punched the air in celebration.

8. Producer Brian Eno almost intentionally trashed “Where the Streets Have No Name” because the band was taking too long to get it right. He felt they’d be better off if he “accidentally” erased all the tapes so the group would be forced to start fresh. He set the tapes up to be recorded over but an engineer saw what Eno was doing, dropped a tray of tea and physically restrained Brian from going through with it.

9. The Joshua Tree is dedicated to the memory of Greg Carroll, Bono’s personal assistant who was killed in a motorcycle accident in Dublin. The song “One Tree Hill,” which is named after a volcanic peak in Carroll’s native New Zealand, described how Bono felt at Greg’s funeral.

10. As the band was taking photos in California’s Mojave Desert, photographer Anton Corbijn told them about Joshua trees, twisted desert plants named by early settlers after the Old Testament prophet Joshua, since the plant’s stretching branches reminded them of Joshua raising his hands in prayer. The next day, Bono declared that the album should be calledThe Joshua Tree.

11. The iconic Joshua tree on the album fell around the year 2000, but the site is still a popular attraction for fans of the band. One even placed a plaque in the ground there that reads, “Have you found what you’re looking for?” Also, the location is not in Joshua Tree National Park and is actually more than 200 miles from there.

12. While the photos on the album were taken in the desert, it was actually very cold out when they were shot. Bono once said the reason they look so grim in the pictures isbecause theyhad to take off their coats and pretend it was warm out.

13. As the album was being pressed, Bono panicked about the record’s quality and nearly called the production plants to halt it, but he held off.

14. In 2014, because it was seen as culturally, historically or aesthetically significant, the United States Library of Congress selected The Joshua Tree for preservation in the National Recording Registry. 

15. The record was massively successful, becoming one of the world’s best-selling albums. Over 25-million copies of it have been bought, with ten-million in America, making it certified ten-times platinum by the RIAA. In 1987, it was the fastest-selling album in British history, moving 300-thousand copies in two days. In America, it debuted at number seven on the Pop chart, the highest debut for a studio album in nearly seven years. After three weeks, it topped the chart and stayed there for nine weeks. It remained on the chart itself for 103 weeks. The album also won the Grammy for Album of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group in 1988.

Celebrate the great album by giving it a listen today! 

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