On "The Joshua Tree"

In 1987, U2 released what many consider their opus…”The Joshua Tree”.  It was their 5th studio album, hot off the heels of “The Unforgettable Fire” and their amazing performance at Live Aid.  On April 27 of that year, Time Magazine dubbed them “Rock’s Hottest Ticket”.  I remember buying it on cassette (no cd player for me until 1990!) and listening over and over to it.  Here’s the track listing:

“A” Side:
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

“B” Side
Red Hill Mining Town
In God’s Country
Trip Through Your Wires
On Tree Hill
Mothers of the Disappeared

On a whole, this is their “American” album, it’s rock-country-blues influenced.  Some say it’s their best, which is why 1991’s Achtung Baby was a let down to many fans, because it was NOT Joshua Tree, part deux. 

Where am I going?

Obviously, the first 3 (4?) songs are the bread and butter on this record.  But.  It is the “B” side where the real gems are.  When listened to in a linear fashion (that’s straight through to you postmoderns out there), those initial songs simply serve as the set up to who and what U2 really is all about: solid songwriting and muscianship.  And…most importantly…storytellers.  It is not until the “B” side actually, that anything different than the previous 4 studio albums comes out.  U2’s story changes. 

Streets?  Boy’s “I Will Follow”
Still Haven’t Found?  October’s “Tomorrow/October/With a Shout”
With or Without You? War’s “Two Hearts Beat as One”
Bullet followed immediately by Running?  “The Electric Co/Shadows and Tall Trees”

Red Hill Mining Town

Then…the transition from “Running” to “Red Hill” just happens.  Harmonica fade out into guitar…but not the “U2 sound” guitar.  A guitar that pulls the song through.  Larry Mullen actually leaves the toms alone and simply plays a beat.  

Key line:

“Wounded by fear, injured in doubt…I can lose myself, you I can’t live without.”

Transition to “In God’s Country“…from  the mournful depression of life in a dead end mining town to the hopefulness of “God’s Country”..up tempo, some of the U2 sound is back, just enough to remind you what you’re listening to.

Key line:

“Naked flame.
She stands with a naked flame. 
I stand with the sons of Cain
Burned by the fire of love.”

Trip Through Your Wires

Country guitar, U2 sound is “back” but in a country format that would be fully developed on Rattle and Hum’s “Angel of Harlem.”

So dramatically different of a sound, they are having fun in this song, this is better than ANYTHING on the first side, hands down.  This is the pinnacle of the side and album. 

Key line:

“I was broken, bent out of shape
I was naked in the clothes you made
Lips were dry, throat like rust
You gave me shelter from the heat and the dust
No more water in the well”

Transition to One Tree Hill…the album begins the descent, but it’s descending into a reality.  Because…what is my response once the well is empty?

Key line (and filled with irony for Bono):

“I don’t believe in painted roses
Or bleeding hearts
While bullets rape the night of the merciful”

I believe Bono is taking the Bonhoeffer route here…what is the response to a very real evil?  Can we sit idly by?  Some people do not…so we get Exit.


Key lines:
“He wanted to believe
In the hands of love…
Hand in the pocket
Finger on the steel
The pistol weighed heavy
His heart he could feel
Was beating, beating…
He saw the hands that build
Can also pull down
The hands of love.”

Mothers of the Disappeared

Snare drum in background, sounding like machine gun fire.  About “the disappeared”, people taken by the military in Argentina in the 1970’s.

“Midnight, our sons and daughters
Were cut down and taken from us
Hear their heartbeat
We hear their heartbeat
In the wind we hear their laughter
In the rain we see their tears
Hear their heartbeat
We hear their heartbeat

Night hangs like a prisoner
Stretched over black and blue
Hear their heartbeat
We hear their heartbeat

In the trees our sons stand naked
Through the walls our daughters cry
See their tears in the rainfall”

This video is incredible, the band has mothers come on stage and lament about their loved ones.  Simply amazing.


Leave a comment

Filed under joshua tree, the joshua tree, u2

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s