A day-by-day history of U2, now in its second edition.

Book Sample: The Joshua Tree

By on December 12, 2007 in Book Samples with 3 Comments

Okay, I promised to post a book sample showing an album entry, and a couple readers suggested I post The Joshua Tree. That sounds as good as any to me, so here you go. 🙂


March 9

U2 releases The Joshua Tree, their fifth studio album. The album cover features another cinematic Anton Corbijn photo, this time showing the band in black-and-white in the California desert. With U2’s stature at an all-time high after Live Aid and the Conspiracy of Hope Tour, anticipation for The Joshua Tree is sky-high. U2 delivers a tour de force that tops the charts, produces number one singles, earns U2’s first Grammy awards, and vaults the band into the stratosphere. Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois produce again, but The Joshua Tree has little of the ambience and lack of focus of The Unforgettable Fire. On the contrary, U2 tries and succeeds in crafting a thematic album with tight, direct lyrics and the best songwriting of U2’s career.


Edge explains U2’s plan for The Joshua Tree

“We felt on this record that maybe, options were not such a good thing, that limitation might be very positive. So we decided to work within the limitations of the song as a starting-point. Let’s actually write songs. We just wanted to leave the record less vague, openended, atmospheric and impressionistic. Make it more straightforward, focussed and concise.”

The Joshua Tree becomes the fastest selling album in British music history, selling 300,000 copies in its first two days and reaching number one. It enters the U.S. chart at number seven, U2’s best debut yet and first Top 10 album, and quickly climbs to number one.

Sensing that U2 is about to reach superstar status, Island Records throws all of its marketing muscle behind the album. Island president Lou Maglia calls it “the most complete merchandising effort ever assembled” in his career. $100,000 is spent on store displays alone. It’s the first album to be shipped on vinyl, cassette, and CD simultaneously. (Typically, CDs hit stores several weeks later than records and cassettes.) It’s also the first album to sell one million CDs in the U.S.

Album reviews are almost universally positive. In the Boston Globe, Steve Morse describes The Joshua Tree as U2’s “most challenging work to date. It’s another spiritual progress report, enwrapped in music that strikes a healthy balance between the lushness of their last album, 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, and the more volcanic rock of their early years.”

Says Los Angeles Times‘ critic Robert Hilburn: “The Joshua Tree finally confirms on record what this band has been slowly asserting for three years now on stage: U2 is what the Rolling Stones ceased being years ago — the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world. In this album, the band wears that mantle securely.”

In Hot Press, longtime supporter Bill Graham writes: “The Joshua Tree rescues rock from its decay, bravely and unashamedly basing itself in the mainstream before very cleverly lifting off into several higher dimensions. They’ve been misunderstood occasionally, even by their committed supporters — but after The Joshua Tree, with its skill, and the diversity of issues it touches, one thing is absolutely clear: U2 can no longer be patronized with faint and glib praise. They must be taken very seriously indeed after this revaluation of rock.”

Jon McCready of NME says the album is “a better and braver record than anything else that’s likely to appear in 1987.”

Tracks: Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With Or Without You, Bullet The Blue Sky, Running To Stand Still, Red Hill Mining Town, In God’s Country, Trip Through Your Wires, One Tree Hill, Exit, Mothers Of The Disappeared

After their TV taping last night, U2 appears at the Makin’ Tracks record store in Belfast at midnight, signing autographs and speaking with about 200 fans who are there to buy The Joshua Tree on its first day of release. (The crowd would likely have been bigger if not for a local radio DJ mistakenly announcing that the album release had been delayed a week.) In London, more than a thousand fans line up at midnight outside a record store to buy the record as early as possible — one of the fans in line is singer Elvis Costello.

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There Are 3 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Donal says:

    I like it. The sidebar comments are going to prove very effective in this book. It’s great the change they made on how they made this record, is mentioned, as in, having the songs almost fully written before recording them, and being more focussed on the songs.

    A mention that the album is dedicated to Greg Carroll perhaps…?? JT is the only album dedicated to someone from what I can remember.

  2. Raul says:

    It’s so good, so great, Matt. I’ve already read it 5 times! Thanks a lot. Can’t wait for the whole book. I liked very much that you added lots of tiny facts (that are delicious and worth reading).

    [And the singles entry? Do you comment each song? Just the main one?]

  3. Matt says:

    Thank you both for the kind words. 🙂 And Donal – good idea, I should add that for sure.

    Raul – not much commentary on the singles, just listing the various songs that appeared on each release.

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