I remember when U2’s breakthrough album The Joshua Tree came out, because it wasn’t just the usual music nerds like me that were eagerly awaiting for it; most of the guys I knew on my high school football team couldn’t wait to get their hands on it! That was certainly a change. Usually the jocks’ tastes in music and my tastes never crossed paths at all.
It could be that the teaser single, “With or Without You”, was such a huge hit that resonated with pretty much everyone. I think there was also the fact that their previous releases — the atmospheric The Unforgettable Fire from 1984, the excellent but far too short live album Under a Blood Red Sky from late 1983 and the amazing War from earlier that same year — were big favorites on MTV and rock radio. And that classic performance at Live Aid in the summer of 1985 had given them a big ol’ boost as well.
I remember not being overly excited about the release at first. Sure, I loved U2, but I wasn’t a hardcore dedicated fan yet. In fact, I was more focused on the new Siouxsie & the Banshees cover album (Through the Looking Glass) that was released around the same time. But I went ahead and bought it anyway, ordering the cassette from the BMG Music Club, and deemed it worthy of repeated listens.
It wasn’t until that summer, around the release of the third single “Where the Streets Have No Name” that the album really clicked with me. I’d started hearing more deep cuts from the album being played on WAAF, WAQY and other New England radio stations as well. The drifting beauty of “One Tree Hill”, the barely restrained anger of “Bullet the Blue Sky”, the pastoral melancholy of “Red Hill Mining Town” (the last of which reminded me of the dead-end feeling I was having about my home town at the time).
The album kicked off such a storm of excitement that their tour ended up being THE EVENT TO SEE. Sadly, I would never get to see them live until nearly ten years later for the PopMart Tour, but my sisters did get to see them down in Worcester for this tour, much to my extreme jealousy. Numerous parts of the tour stops were filmed for what would end up being the documentary Rattle and Hum, released in 1988 complete with soundtrack and new songs recorded on the road. And a little over ten years later, they’d resurrect and re-record one of the b-sides for “Streets” and release it as a single for one of their greatest hits mixes:
I’d revisit the album numerous times over the years: a constant soundtrack during my post-college writing years and even more during the Belfry years; talking with my then-girlfriend about how the album was sequenced into a specific flow of sound and mood; a constant replay when the band released their (almost) entire discography on iTunes; while working on my Walk in Silence project. I’ve never grown tired of it.
Thirty years on, this album is still considered a classic. U2 themselves are celebrating its anniversary with a tour of North America and Europe, playing the album in its entirety. I doubt I’ll be going when they stop by Santa Clara in late May, but I’m sure it’ll be a fantastic show. [For a brief moment I thought hey, maybe they’ll come to Outside Lands!…and then I realized they’ll be wrapping up their European leg about the same time so I doubt they’ll be in the mood for trekking all the way back to California by that time. Wishful thinking, though!]