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Looking Back: The Joshua Tree

Anthony DeCurtis, Jim Henke, and others share their memories with @U2

@U2, November 19, 2007
By: Tassoula Kokkoris


It's been 20 years since U2 released The Joshua Tree. The album catapulted the band into superstardom and earned them their first No. 1 hit in the United States with "With or Without You." They became the fourth rock band to appear on the cover of Time magazine, and boasted an amazingly successful world tour of the album.

Back then, a prophetic Bill Graham of Hot Press said, "In time, it may be reckoned their most influential album to date." And by all accounts, he was right.

Earlier this year, near the anniversary of the original release date, members of our staff created a special Treecast edition of our podcast, which featured excerpts from a 1987 U2 press conference in Boston, a staff roundtable discussion of the album, and memories submitted by fans and other staff members.

Now, on the eve of the album's re-release, we share with you a compilation of memories and thoughts on this groundbreaking album, as told to our staff by a few celebrity fans. From the sound of things, they're all in agreement -- The Joshua Tree is nothing short of a masterpiece.

"The Joshua Tree was U2's step into immortality -- where what they chose to do would affect the very course of rock music, not necessarily the reverse. As I sat in the parking lot at a (bad) Chinese Restaurant in Boston and listened in my car to 'Where the Streets Have No Name' for the first time, the new maturity was delightfully obvious. It was like an alien spaceship had picked them up, downloaded the music of the spheres into their heads and set them back down on the quay at Windmill!"

-- Carter Alan, WZLX radio, and the first DJ to play U2 on U.S. radio

"I hope I die a slow death. A death that gives me time to recollect my life. One of my last thoughts will be about the fall of 1987. Senior year in college. Falling in love. The ache, brilliance, and power of tracks 4, 5 and 6 on The Joshua Tree. The last three songs I will listen to in this world. And the first three I will listen to in the next one."

-- John Buccigross, anchor, ESPN

"It was a fun record to write about. It was a good record to write about. There was a lot going on in it. It also was going to be a popular record and people were going to enjoy it who maybe didn't even care about a lot of the things that were in there. Even 'With or Without You' or 'Where the Streets Have No Name'...those songs are just undeniable as songs, whatever they might mean beyond that....But there's a kind of cumulative force The Joshua Tree has that is more than the sum of its parts. Because it was such a big record for such a long time, and it looms so large, I think it's easy to reduce it to the songs that were really, really out there. But those songs in context mean a lot more and the record hits with a surprising power for that reason."

-- Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor at Rolling Stone , author of Rocking My Life Away: Writing About Music and Other Matters, and co-editor of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll

"The Joshua Tree album still carries the message of hope and human rights. U2 lives in this album like Bob Marley does in 'Get Up, Stand Up' and like Joe Strummer does in 'London Calling.' The boys live up to their promise of great music and great hope for all of us."

-- Jack Healey, Human Rights Action Center and organizer of the 1986 Conspiracy of Hope Tour, who "still dances to The Joshua Tree"

"I was Music Editor at Rolling Stone when The Joshua Tree was released. I got to hear an advance copy of the album, and I remember being blown away by how strong it was. 'Where the Streets Have No Name,' 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For,' 'With or Without You,' 'Bullet the Blue Sky' -- four amazing tracks right in a row. I had been a big U2 fan since before the first album, but when I heard this, I knew it was going to be huge. And it was. The tours to support the album were also amazing. And the great thing is, the album has held up. It doesn't sound dated at all. It still sounds great. An amazing accomplishment."

-- Jim Henke, curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the first American journalist to interview U2. He once gave Bono a book about Martin Luther King Jr., which Bono later said helped inspire him to write 'Pride (In the Name of Love)'

"It seems like a lifetime ago, the night I sat cross-legged on the floor poring over the lyric sheet to The Joshua Tree as a group of post-college friends listened to it for the first time after our weekly Friday prayer meeting. Three things struck me right away: the shocking clash of its uncompromised truth-telling with glossy, lockstep, Reagan-era America; the Pentecostal grammar; and that sense of white-light inevitability I've only had a few times in my life when discovering some new artist. I bought the album the next day, and everything else U2 had released within a month."

-- Beth Maynard, co-editor of Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog

(c) @U2, 2007.

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