U2 were a band that pretty much followed the blueprint for small-time growth from album-to-album. They hooked up when they were late-teenagers and through their first four albums they’d grown their base in Europe and the United States slowly, but surely. They debuted in 1980, got their sophomore slump out of the way in 1982 and became an act to be reckoned with on their third album, the succinctly-titled ‘War’ which got them their first two well-known songs ‘New Years Day’ and ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’. They also summed up their early era with a live album that got a lot of airplay called ‘Live At Red Rocks’.
By the time they got to their next album, ‘The Unforgettable Fire’, they were ready for their first true musical style-makeover. Out was Steve Lillywhite as main producer and enter the unlikely team of Brian Eno and Danial Lanois. What they did for U2’s sound was expand their musical palette and move them more toward the “music as artistic statement” side of things. For the first time U2 used the studio to maximum effect and dabbled with musical ideas, some fully formed, some not so much. They did garner their biggest hit ‘Pride (In the Name of Love) and kept the momentum of their career moving forward.
By the time they left the stage at Live Aid, they reached an all-new level of fame as they became household names when Bono had himself a viral moment, before such a thing was called as such. During the bands performance of ‘Bad’ he touched the hearts and minds of millions and the band, although they were temporarily mortified, saw their profile rise even further.
During the time Live Aid happened and the Joshua Tree was released was a time of extreme growth for the band both personally and professionally. Bono and Edge each took sabbatical’s to see how America’s diplomacy worked in the real world and came away scarred from it. Not only that they toured with other huge artists and acts and learned how much they didn’t know about American musical roots. From Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and even countrymen Van Morrison, they were given an education in American blues music which they had limited knowledge about previously. They took that knowledge and it began to infuse what it was U2 did.
Also, the album was their second go-round with the team of Eno and Lanois and they took that dynamic to open up what it was they did. They also tightened up more and did less experimental stuff but used it more to accent the songs (witness the production on ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ and ‘With or Without You’) than to feature it. They also made sure to write more literate songs, but also use Bono’s growing lyrical prowess to drive home the point and message of the songs.
Side 2 is no slouch either as we get the effervescent ‘In God’s Country’, the equally uplifting and tuneful tribute ‘One Tree Hill’ as well as the mantra-like closer ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’. Once the album was released it was apparent immediately that “The Joshua Tree”, although out-of-step with it’s time seemingly, was an instant classic. The music was classicist but was simply something only U2 could pull off. It has gone on to be one of the biggest albums of all-time (for good reason), and set the stage for U2 to be the next ‘Great Rock Band’.
For Randy W. Hall this is a Top 5 favorite album of all-time and he relished the chance to reconnect with the LP in 2016. For Dan Minard it was a chance to placate his buddy and podcast partner while also talking about one of his favorite bands. We haven’t featured the same artist twice (Prince is the only other one to garner the honor and he had to die to get that treatment), but if there’s any group who deserves it, it’s the lads from Dublin on the eve of this excellent record’s 30th anniversary. So batten down the hatches we’re about to go all “Dandy Classic” on “The Joshua Tree”!