Little-known facts about the band's giant-making album, which turns 30 this year
This July, U2 celebrate the 30th anniversary of their classic, multi-million selling fifth album, ‘The Joshua Tree’. The legendary group are playing Twickenham Stadium (July 8) as part of a celebratory tour, backed by special guests Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Released in 1987, it topped the charts in over 20 countries, paving the way for U2’s stadium-conquering exploits ever since. As the album turns 30, here are a few facts you may not know about its inception.
Bono performing on the original ‘Joshua Tree’ tour
After a humanitarian trip with his wife Ali, Bono contrasted the poverty of the African country with a life of wealth and apathy back home. “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 I didn’t see when I came home.” He added: “I saw the spoiled child of the Western world. I started thinking, ‘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 late singer volunteered to pick ‘The Joshua Tree’’s running order while the album was being mixed. The only specifics were for ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ to open, with ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’ closing. The rest was up to her. It’s fair to say she did a pretty great job.
At the time, U2 felt ‘Sweetest Thing’ didn’t fit with the rootsy, grand-scoped feel of ‘The Joshua Tree’. As such, they used it as the B-side to ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’. But due to its legacy as a fan favourite, the song was re-recorded and re-released as part of the band’s ‘The Best of 1980-1990’ compilation. Its 1998 re-release topped the charts in Ireland and Canada, peaking at #3 in the UK.
‘One Tree Hill’ was written in memory of Greg Carroll, a roadie who went on to become one of Bono’s closest friends. A tragic motorcycle accident in Dublin killed Carroll, and the song was written shortly after, building from a jam session between Bono and Brian Eno. The frontman recorded his vocals in one go, too overwhelmed by emotion to attempt another take.
In 2014, ‘The Joshua Tree’ was added to the National Recording Registry’s collection of works considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Inductees are made invincible, essentially – preserved for future generations to discover. Others include Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’ song and Lauryn Hill’s ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ LP.
The record’s iconic sleeve, shot by Anton Corbijn in the California desert, helped make the spot a revered landmark. Unfortunately, the fabled spot didn’t outlive the record itself. The tree itself died in 2000 and was reportedly vandalised in 2015, its remaining stump hacked down for no apparent reason. It was discovered by a devastated fan on his annual hike near the tree.
In 2015, Dutch tourist Guus Van Home – who owned the Tilburg venue 013 – reportedly died near the location of the Joshua Tree in search of the renowned spot. Van Home and his wife Helena Nuellett “wanted to visit” the landmark, according to friends.
Just as ‘The Joshua Tree’ was being pressed, Bono got cold feet and panicked about whether it was any good. He nearly called the production plant to prevent its pressing, but the frontman fortunately saw sense.