By Jim Harrington, [email protected], Bay Area News Group
The Joshua Tree" changed everything for U2.
Released in 1987, the album took the band to the top of the U.S. pop charts for the first time and brought Bono and the boys their first Grammy Awards. It soared to global sales of more than 25 million, making it one of the best selling albums of all time.
This fifth studio effort -- the follow-up to 1984's "The Unforgettable Fire" -- made U2 the biggest band in the world. And the group has been in pole position pretty much ever since.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act is celebrating the 30th anniversary of "Joshua Tree" with a giant tour that touches down May 17 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. And the best news is that, for the first time, the group will be performing the album in its entirety at each stop on the tour.
In honor of the occasion, we are taking a long look back at this landmark rock album. Here are 30 things you should know about U2's signature album.
1. U2 began recording "The Joshua Tree" in January, 1986, in a Georgian mansion just outside of Dublin and wouldn't finish until a full year later.
2. The album was co-produced by longtime collaborator Brian Eno, who came to prominence as a member of the groundbreaking British rock act Roxy Music in the early '70s. That's a nice twist of fate, given that Roxy Music was one of Bono's early influences.
3. Amazingly, almost half of the time in the studio was reportedly spent on just one song - "Where the Streets Have No Name," which, with its time-signature and chord changes, made it difficult for the musicians to nail down a recorded version they were happy with.
4. Eno was so frustrated with how long it was taking to record "Where the Streets Have No Name" that he nearly erased the tapes of the song.
5. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was born from a reggae-rock-flavored jam known as "The Weather Girls"/"Under the Weather," according to Rolling Stone.
6. The album, of course, takes its name from the amazing Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), which is a member of the Agave family. It is native to the American Southwest, found mostly in the Mojave Desert.
7. As legend has it, these trees were named by a group of 19th-century Mormon travelers, who saw their shape and were reminded of the Biblical story of Joshua reaching his hands up in prayer.
8. Other album titles considered reportedly included "The Desert Songs" and "The Two Americas."
9. The album artwork was shot by famed photographer Anton Corbijn, who later went on to direct the great Ian Curtis biography "Control" (2007) and other films.
10. Many incorrectly assume that Corbijn's iconic photo of the lone Joshua tree, shown on the gatefold sleeve, was taken at Joshua Tree National Park. As a result, many fans flocked to the park to see the tree and desert visages captured in Corbijn's evocative album photo shoot. Tragically, a married couple was found dead in a remote part of the national park in 2011, felled by heatstroke after trying, in vain, to find the site of the album photo shoot.
11. The California tree immortalized in the album artwork was actually located some 200 miles away from the national park, off Route 190, just outside Darwin (population 43, as of the 2010 census).
12. The famous tree died around 2000, but the site is still visited by fans, one of whom reportedly left a plaque reading, "Have you found what you're looking for?"
13. The album song "One Tree Hill" is named for a park in New Zealand and was penned as loving tribute to New Zealander Greg Carroll, a U2 roadie and close friend of Bono's who died in a 1986 Dublin motorcycle crash.
14. The original Joshua Tree Tour was a truly Herculean affair: 111 gigs over an eight-month period in 1987. The tour grossed some $40 million.
15. The new Joshua Tree trek, by contrast, consists of 33 stops in just over 2 ½ months. But don't be surprised if it ends up making more money than the original model.
16. The 1987 tour included a pair of "official" two-night stands in the Bay Area, as Bono and crew first set up shop at the Cow Palace in Daly City on April 24-25 and then returned to perform in front of 100,000-plus fans Nov. 14-15 at the Oakland Coliseum. Were you there?
17. The trek also included a hastily announced free lunchtime show in San Francisco, causing thousands of fans to drop their plans and make it down to Justin Herman Plaza for the so-called "Save the Yuppies" concert.
18. During that impromptu San Francisco date, Bono angered some -- including then-mayor Dianne Feinstein, who was leading a citywide campaign against graffiti -- when he spray-painted "Stop the Traffic, Rock and Roll" on the landmark Vaillancourt Fountain. He later apologized for the incident and the band reportedly paid to have the graffiti removed.
19. Footage from the "Yuppies" show would make it into "Rattle and Hum," the 1988 big-screen rockumentary recorded during the 1987 tour. Also, the cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" played that day made it on the accompanying "Rattle and Hum" album.
20. There were some fantastic opening acts on that 1987 tour, including the Pogues, the Waterboys, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Pretenders and Lou Reed.
21. And, on a few occasions, U2 even opened up for itself. Or don't you remember the Dalton Brothers, the band's country-and-western-playing alter egos?
22. Bono was injured twice on the tour, first needing stitches for a cut on his chin and then, a few months later, dislocating his arm. The vocalist ended up performing several shows with his arm in a sling.
23. U2 won two Grammys for "The Joshua Tree" in 1988, for album of the year and best rock performance by a duo or group. U2 has now won 22 Grammys, more than any other band.
24. The first two singles off "The Joshua Tree" were "With or Without You" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," which also turned out to be the band's first two No. 1 songs in the U.S.
25. Thirty years later, U2 still has yet to score its third No. 1 single in the U.S. (Although, it has managed a few Top 10 offerings since then.)
26. In 2014, the U.S. Library of Congress deemed "The Joshua Tree" worthy for preservation in the National Recording Registry, alongside such other "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" works as Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" and Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit."
27. The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 marks the first time the band has ventured out on the road in support of an album from its back catalog (as opposed to a new record). Does this open the door for Zooropa Tour 2023?
28. Actually, U2's The Edge says this tour is about more than just nostalgia. He believes the "Joshua Tree" songs, which touched on politics, spirituality and social issues during the Reagan-Thatcher eras in the mid-'80s, have renewed relevance in the current political landscape. "It just felt like, 'Wow, these songs have a new meaning and a new resonance today that they didn't have three years ago, four years ago,'" the guitarist told Rolling Stone magazine.
29. Concertgoers will finally get to hear "Red Hill Mining Town," the "Joshua Tree" track that the band never performed live prior to this tour. Why? It's long been rumored that it's a tough song for Bono to sing. But The Edge recently told Rolling Stone, "it was probably one of those songs that due to tempo and arrangement never found a place within the live set."
30. "The Joshua Tree" is still a huge draw in 2017, confirmed by the more than 1 million tickets sold during the first 24 hours of the shows going on sale.
Follow Jim Harrington at twitter.com/jimthecritic and www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews.
With Mumford & Sons
When: 6:30 p.m. May 17
Where: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara
Tickets: $74-$314.00, www.ticketmaster.com
© 2017 Digital First Media