Tomorrow evening, iconic rock quartet U2 will bring their immensely-anticipated stadium show to Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. This time around, the tour is a celebration of the band's fifth (and highly successful) studio album, The Joshua Tree. It's been revered as one of the most iconic records of all time, heralding tracks like "Where The Streets Have No Name", "With Or Without You", and "Bullet The Blue Sky". From the echoed opening guitar notes of "Where The Streets Have No Name", the album is a stark contrast to the atmospheric experimentation that came from their preceding record, The Unforgettable Fire. With the band aiming to write more straight-forward, structured songs, (vocalist Bono, guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton, and drummer Larry Mullen Jr.) they were able to bring to life one of the most well-received albums of all time.
The writing process for The Joshua Tree began in the middle of 1985, right after the band had finished touring in support of The Unforgettable Fire. The band were inspired by their travels in the United States and everything they had witnessed around America during their tours in the 1980s. Bono had been studying the works of American writers like Norman Mailer, Flannery O'Connor, and Raymond Carver. In a Rolling Stone interview from 1987, Bono tells reporter Anthony DeCurtis about his time in Egypt and Ethiopia during a 1985 humanitarian visit. "Spending time in Africa and seeing people in the pits of poverty, I still saw a very strong spirit in the people, a richness of spirit which I didn't see when I came home... I saw the spoiled child of the Western world. I started thing, 'They may have a physical desert, but we've got other kinds of deserts.' And that's what attracted me to the desert as a symbol of some sort". The idea that America was the home of numerous other kinds of "deserts", in a symbolic way, fueled the band with creativity for their fifth record.
While the band worked to make sure that the songs were limited a bit more by the structures in conventional songwriting, they wanted to build off of the energy that they had encountered when writing the experimental tracks on Unforgettable Fire. The Edge was a bit hesitant, but eventually came around as he discovered more blues and country artists while on the road in America. Artists like Howlin' Wolf, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and others permeated the radio waves while they toured in support of The Unforgettable Fire. In November of 1985, the band moved into Mullen Jr.'s new home to work on material that had begun to undergo construction while on the road. These early tracks would go on to become "With Or Without You", "Trip Through Your Wires", and "Red Hill Mining Town". While the band still didn't have a complete sense of where they were going to go with the new material, they still had something.
U2 recruited producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois to co-produce The Joshua Tree. The pair had previously worked with the band on The Unforgettable Fire and wanted to keep the positive momentum going. Mark "Flood" Ellis took on the role of recording engineer for the album. The band set up their studio in January 1986 at Danesmoate House, a house in Rathfarnham, Ireland. The plan was to seek inspiration and creativity by making a converted recording space and creating the atmosphere itself. The band went as far as sectioning off various parts of the house, incepting a "Lyric Room" and a "Band Room". The sessions began by going over tapes from old soundchecks, reading Bono's lyric books, and jamming.
With new music comes change, and with change comes the evolution of the recording and writing process. Every song of The Joshua Tree, with the exception of two, were recorded live. At the same time, Bono and The Edge would bring some standard song ideas to Clayton and Mullen, which they would then flesh out and try to turn into a full track. In June of 1986, halfway through the year, the band put their recording on pause to go and do a six show 'Conspiracy of Hope' tour in support of the organization Amnesty International. Whereas most bands would get distracted and "out of the zone", touring and testing material during sound checks actually inspired them even more.
Unfortunately, tragedy would strike the band the following month. 26-year old Greg Carroll, the band's roadie and personal assistant to Bono, died in a motorcycle accident in Dublin. His passing reverberated throughout the band and their entire team. The experience of his death and attending his funeral inspired the lyrics behind "One Tree Hill", the ninth cut from the album.
Just as they were about to get back into their studio sessions, The Edge wrote a single demo. This demo would go on to become "Where The Streets Have No Name". It was recorded to a four-track tape machine, yet it would become one of the biggest stadium-rock songs of all time, inspiring millions the world over. But the recording process provided a different challenge. The band couldn't quite get the hang of recording a perfect take, struggling with chord and time signature changes. Producer Eno insisted in an interview with Mojo that "40% of the time spent on The Joshua Tree was dedicated to that song alone."
Time went on, and come October the band got inspired, resulting in a slew of new songs. The recording process for The Joshua Tree wrapped up in November 1986. The mixing process proved to be extremely hectic, a race to the finish line, it was finished in the eleventh hour: the band and crew finished mixing the album the night before the deadline imposed by Island Records.
On March 9, 1987, The Joshua Tree was released onto the world. The initial first shipment was 300,000 copies. It was the very first release in history to be made available on CD, vinyl and tape on the same date. It was so chaotic that record stores in Britain and Ireland were opening as early as midnight in order to accommodate the lines. The Joshua Tree would go on, at the time, to become the fastest-selling album in British history. It debuted on the UK album charts at number one, with two weeks int he top position. In the United States, it debuted on the Billboard Top Pop Album charts at number seven, reaching number one in three weeks time.
Just two months after its release, the RIAA certified the album as double-platinum, and it was the first album by an artist to sell one million copies in the United States. The Joshua Tree received mass critical acclaim, with four and five star ratings all across the board. By the time touring came into the picture, the band were ready for arenas and stadiums, which they sold out on a global scale. Performing to over three million people and grossing forty million dollars, The Joshua Tree tour was one of the band's most successful routings. But while the record was quite successful, the band had stated that they weren't creatively satisfied. Stress became a factor in their daily touring routine, the band received and dealt with death threats, and Bono had sustained several injuries while performing.
Looking back, this is a tour that occurred in the late 1980s and it's clear that the band have had numerous albums and a great deal of time to pause and reflect on their career. The fact that U2 are doing a tour to honor The Joshua Tree shows that they truly are proud of the record, the work that they've done, and the message that they expressed throughout the eleven songs. U2 have always been activists and incredibly vocal about the world that we live in. They have a knack for looking beyond just what's on the surface, and bringing issues to light that the modern world may not have always seen at first glance. And they do it while providing a stunning soundtrack that shows us not a just little more about who we are, but more about the world around us. The Joshua Tree is one of the most clear examples of this ability, and an iconic piece of work in U2's catalogue.
U2 comes to Levi Stadium in Santa Clara tomorrow. Support artist is Mumford & Sons. For tickets, visit www.ticketmaster.com.
This has been another Shameless Promotion.