Close to 30 years ago (March 9), U2 released what is now known as their best commercial album of their career. The Joshua Tree, an album themed on America, solidified the band's place in rock music as they have now gone on to be the best touring act of all time. Their signature song, "With or Without You," is still a favorite to this day and one of their most recognized songs in the world. The album went on to sell over 25 million copies worldwide and took home the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. In 2007, it was remastered and re-released with additional content to commemorate the 20 year anniversary.
In 2014, The Joshua Tree was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry and was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress. In 2017, the band is embarking on The Joshua Tree Anniversary Tour and will play the album in its entirety in some form and will also play songs rarely done on stage. Here are the top 5 best U2 songs from The Joshua Tree.
Like many U2 songs, there's a political message behind "Exit." The lyrics are written about a psychotic killer's thoughts but the line, "He saw the hands that build could also pull down" takes aim at the U.S. government's conflicting roles across the globe. The guitar heavy track sees The Edge become more aggressive with his playing and forges a new signature sound for the band going forward.
Released as a single only in Oceania, "One Tree Hill" was written as an ode to a friend of the band who was also a roadie. Greg Carroll was Bono's personal assistant and was killed in a motorcycle accident in Dublin. It shook the band so much that they attended his traditional Māori funeral in New Zealand at only 26 years of age. The song is named after a volcanic peak in the country and describes Bono's emotions at Carroll's service. The track would go on to reach No. 1 in Carroll's home country of New Zealand.
Following the death of Carroll, Bono and his wife traveled to Nicaragua and El Salvador to see firsthand how peasants were bullied by conflicts and U.S. interventions. Those experiences formed the ideas for "Bullet the Blue Sky," with guitars rips painting the idea of fighter jets. The trip would also inspire "Mothers of the Disappeared," the final track on the standard album. "Bullet" is one of the most political songs on the album and is used to this day in live performances as a way of criticizing certain political conflicts.
"Where the Streets Have No Name" is to this day one of U2's signature songs. The music video was filmed on a Los Angeles rooftop and took home the Grammy Award for Best Performance Music Video. "Streets" was one of the more difficult songs for U2 to polish and the final version is comprised of several takes. The song eventually became what it is through live performance and has been included in the set since its release. The lyrics were inspired by a story Bono heard about Belfast, Northern Ireland where one's income and religion are known by the street they live on. The lyrics were written during a trip to Ethiopia on a humanitarian visit and in later years, Bono questioned himself if the song was really written about Belfast or was a lyric inspired by that visit to Ethiopia.
"With or Without You" became U2's first No. 1 in the U.S. where it would spend three weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. The song was written about Bono's feelings about the life he led as a musician and as a man. The lyrics were written in Côte d'Azur in 1986 as he struggled with those feelings being at odds with one another. It wasn't those two lives that defined him but the tension between the two that did and thus the line, "I can't live with or without you."
Watch official videos above or listen to all songs in an open Spotify playlist below: