To mark the occasion, NME.COM has uncovered this archive radio interview the band gave at the time, showcasing U2‘s immediate reaction to the classic record.
The Edge on the songwriting process:
“Well, we were writing before the Amnesty tour (in 1986). We wrote, I suppose, about three of the songs that were on the record before doing the Amnesty tour. We came off the Amnesty tour, picked ourselves up and got back into songwriting, and at that stage we started bringing in Danny (Lanois) and Brian (Eno) just for brief periods.
“Just for them to hear the genesis of the record and become involved as far as they were interested to. And so at that stage just after the Amnesty tour we did a lot of demos, a lot of development of the songs and worked pretty much right up until January of this year (1987) – that was when we finished the record, finally.
“So there was a lengthy period of work on the record but I think we’ve come out with probably, not finished, but 30 songs started and we’re using up a lot of those on the double B-side idea which seems to have been accepted very well, I think it’s a great idea, I don’t know why anyone hasn’t done it before.”
The Edge on the difference between ‘The Joshua Tree’ and 1984’s ‘The Unforgettable Fire’:
“We attempted at the outset to work within the idiom of the song which is something that we haven’t really ever thought too much about in the past. If ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ was an album of experimentation and innovation, this was a record that accepted from the outset the idea that a song was straightforward in arrangement, quite stripped down. Although Brian (Eno) and Danny (Lanois) worked on ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ they were very much in favour in this new, sort of idea.”
Bono on the Beatles influence:
“I think in U2, I think that ‘The Joshua Tree’ in a way is almost old fashioned, in that it’s like an old Beatles album, it’s like a collection of songs, some songs are experimental and almost orchestrated like ‘One Tree Hill’ and others are just clear cut little gems like ‘In God’s Country’.”
The Edge on the theme of the album:
“‘The Joshua Tree’ is a record based thematically on America, there are some songs that could be from anywhere – ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ could be a European situation as well as American. But a lot of the material, a lot of the songs, like ‘In God’s Country’, ‘Exit’, ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’, these songs that are based in America are as a result of touring here, meeting musicians that are really tuned in to American folk and R&B music, the original roots music of this country.
“And just becoming so fascinated with this culture, the very paradoxes of this place has led us to start investigating the original music, the seminal influences of music here. These are all things that as a result of becoming saturated with America, American culture and American music over the past 12 months.”
The Edge on the diversity of the album:
“This record is so diverse, you’ve got stuff like ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’, ‘With Or Without You’, ‘Running To Stand Still’, ‘Exit’. These songs are almost diametrically opposite in many ways, from the most low-key, soft, intimate piece to like total guitar anarchy, ‘Pulling the wall through the amplifier’ is what Bono used to say.
“We really agonised over which single was going to lead, if we were going to release one, and ‘With Or Without You’ became the obvious choice not because it’s probably the most commercial song on the record but because it’s the one that seems to smooth the transition from the last thing to this record, the easiest.”
Bono on his lyrical influences:
“A lot of the poetry that has inspired me over the last few years has been a lot of black poetry, people like Robert Haden, American Indian poetry. America has a rich literary tradition that I have found an inspiration. I’ve got really fed up with the high-brow European writers, they just bore me to death, I think they’re highfaluting. And I much prefer the American writing like Irish writing it has a much more generous spirit at the heart of it. It’s a lot more folk.
“And when I read of Woody Guthrie and ‘This Land Is Your Land’, these are good songs, good songs written, and that’s why we’re playing ‘People Get Ready’ in the set now because it is a great American song, it’s so simple. It says ‘People get ready, there’s a train a coming /Picking up passengers from coast to coast/Faith is the key to open the doors and boarders, don’t need no tickets just get on board’. Well that line to me as an Irishman, ‘Faith is the key to open the doors and the boarders’ – I mean, (that) says it all.“
The Edge on working with Brian Eno:
“Brian is a real naïve enthusiast as far as music is concerned. He’s not an intellectual listener at all – he listens to something and he’ll either love it or hate it and his reasons are often instinctive not intellectual. He’s a huge fan of people like Hank Williams.”
Bono on the role of the album:
“We sort of began again really with ‘The Unforgettable Fire’, we broke up the band after ‘Under The Blood Red Sky’ and formed it again with the same members and started off. Everyone wanted us to be the new Who, you know, the new rock ‘n’ roll group, and we said ‘Yeah, sure, we don’t mind’, I mean we’ll take that as a compliment. The Who had been a huge influence on U2.
“But we didn’t want to be didn’t want to be a straight forward rock ‘n’ roll group at that time, we wanted something else and we had to find out own way. So we went off the beaten track with ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ and then again with ‘The Joshua Tree’.”
Bono on the future of the band:
“Maybe one day, I don’t know where this is all going to lead us but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun finding your way when it’s kind of unchartered territory and Edge is a very inventive guitar player and as a group we are committed to that and I’m glad we’ve stuck by that over the years. It might mean we sell less records because you’re not doing what people want you to do you’re doing what you want to do but you know, what difference does it make to us really. I mean, we’ve been blessed with success and we have no worries about where the next dollar is going to come from. We’re well looked after so, therefore, we can do what we want to do, what a great position to be in and I think the only commitment we have to make is to continue to do that.”
The three-disc box set features a remastered version of the album, a bonus disc of demos and B-sides, plus the DVD ’Live From Paris’, filmed at the Hippodrome de Vincennes in Paris on July 4 1987, during the European leg of ‘The Joshua Tree’ tour.
There is a 56-page book featuring previously unseen Anton Corbijn photos and handwritten lyrics by Bono and liner notes by Brian Eno and others.