I cannot believe it’s been 25 years since the release of U2’s epic album, The Joshua Tree. First off, the album has stood the test of time. Secondly, I have gotten older. Actually, we, who were in college during that era of the band, have all gotten older but still remember the day the album broke. It’s equivalent would be The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers or The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street hitting the street. Take your pick of the enormous catalog of great albums released during one’s college years and U2’s sits with the finest. Stealing from The Doors, U2 “broke on through to the other side” with this record. It launched them into the stratosphere.
In a day in which albums were created almost by an algorithm, or as we called it “by formula” i.e Phil Collins, U2’s album was quite the contrary. U2 created something fresh. There was a story behind each of the 12 songs and the album built a tension, especially if you bought it on a compact disc. (History lesson: it was the first album ever to be released on CD, cassette and vinyl at the same time.) From the opening track of Where The Street Have No Name to Mothers of the Disappeared, The Joshua Tree was a reflection of America with a hint of Irish ambition. Even better, the album’s artwork was a reflection of the starkness of the songs. It was a cut-to-the bone record about America’s interaction with El Salvador in Bullet The Blue Sky as well as visiting U2’s favorite narrative, Christianity. The contrast, or as artists call it chiaroscuro, between religion and politics is not new to the band, but on this record, one wafts from tune to tune not knowing there on this ride. This is what makes this album special.
What would have happened if this album were released as a double LP as it was initially discussed? I feel it wouldn’t have been as great. Don’t get me wrong. Sweetest Thing and Silver and Gold are awesome tracks, but the album would have been too much for us to take on. I don’t think it would have been as tight. It would’ve fallen apart, just like the second side of The Unforgettable Fire does with it’s huge musical landscapes, only be fitting for an album. I like the second side of that album, but to do it again with Race Against Time, a Joshua Tree b-side, wouldn’t have been a smart move. It would have taken away from the tension of the record. Remember, we are in the vinyl era when The Joshua Tree was released and us listeners to the record had to get our butts off the couch to flip the LP. Therefore, I believe the decision to make it one disc and not two was smart.
As for the image for this blog, this is my reaction to The Joshua Tree I painted it in college, shortly after U2 came to Iowa City Iowa in the fall of 1987. For those who have shirts from that leg of the tour, you will notice that Iowa City is not mentioned on them. Cedar Falls is. They did not play on that campus because the band was told to change venues due to their want of putting up their outdoor stage, which would take seven days to put up and tear down. The University of Northern Iowa didn’t want this to happen or so it was the rumor flying around Iowa City at the time. So, they came to my campus. I bought tickets and had the worst seats in the house, but that didn’t matter. It was U2 and I celebrated the night shortly after by painting this jacket in celebration of this event and landmark record.