Last year, on 25th September, U2 celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the creation of their band and we could read many articles going along the main stages of their incomparable career again. On that day of 1976 the boys who answered to the advertisement that Larry Mullen posted up the notice board of Temple Mount School to form a band, met for the first time to play together in the house were the drummer lived. Larry together with Paul David Hewson, Adam Clayton and David Howell Evans first decided their name should be Feedback, then changed it into The Hype and finally fixed it to be U2.
The “numbers” about U2’s career are shocking: they sold more than 179 million copies of their records and they are the band that won more Grammy Awards than any other.
It’s so difficult to write about such a huge artistic production and we’ve decided to celebrate this anniversary by talking about one of the most representative works of the band, considering that, on May 12, U2 will start their new tour dedicated to this album at the Bc Place Stadium of Vancouver in Canada and, after 12 years, They will also come to Italy on July 15 and 16 at the Olympic Stadium of Rome.
Thirty years ago, on 9th March, U2 published their fifth album “The Joshua Tree” (Island Records) that has been the most sold of the band till now. Produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, “The Joshua Tree” won the best album Grammy Award on 1988; it was at the top of the English charts since its debut and it fastly went to the top of the american ones. Bill Flanagan wrote the introduction of the twentieth anniversary edition of “The Joshua Tree” and said that with this record, the band reached the “top of the mountain” and used it as a place where to build a launching pad.
U2 always supported important causes and were interested in the Irish Question and in the respect of the civil rights: most of their productions took inspiration from these topics. Bill Flanagan wrote that “Pride”, the first single of “The Unforgettable Fire” was an exited tribute to Martin Luther King and announced the idea of America developed in “The Joshua Tree”: the band decided to concentrate on the “roots”, the origins of american music and began to explore blues, country and gospel. Going round with irish bands such as The Waterboys and Hothouse Flowers they found out a sort of “indigenous” irish music mixed with american folk and the search of the roots of rock was also influenced by the friendship with Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Keith Richards. Part of the songs was recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis, where the first important rock ‘n’ roll songs were recorded in the Fifties.
This album was also a chance for Bono to demonstrate his talent in writing songs. He said that the main aim of the album was to demolish the myth of America so in the lyrics and melodies of the songs it is possible to find two main themes contrasting with each other: the aversion toward the foreign policy of the United States and the beauty of the American countryside landscapes that exerted a strong fascination on the band. The title and the cover of “The Joshua Tree” refer to the Yucca Brevifolia, a native plant of the southwest of the United States.
“Where the streets have no name” opens the album: the inspiration came while Bono was travelling with his wife in Ethiopia. Bono found out that in Belfast, it is possible to understand how rich people are and what is their religion just basing on the street (and the side of the street) where they live. The entry of the keyboards makes a rare and surreal atmosphere and the tone is solemn. The drum seems “to ride” toward somewhere and this sound creates a sort of musical web together with the overdubbed guitar soundtracks. The refrain theme sang by the singer is characterized by an enchanting melody: Bono repets “Where the streets have no name, where the streets have no name…” as a rousing invocation.
“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” has a dramatic arrangement: it’s a sixteen bars blues evoking a sense of infinite time. While the electric guitar plays its unceasing riff, the scratchy voice of Bono harmonizes with those overdubbed as in a gospel. The song is about the faith in God and seems to ask for liberation from pain like in a spiritual.
“With or without you” is probably the most famous song by U2: it’s a ballad about the end of a love story but also about religion. We could find the origins of the “Ooh ooh ooh ooh…” of the chorus in the ring-shout, the first form of expression of the slaves before the birth of the spiritual.
Flanagan stated that, even if these songs became hit, the “heart” of the album are “Running to stand still” and “Bullet the blue sky”. The first one is inspired by the trips in El Salvador and Nicaragua and expresses the resentement towards the foreign policy held by the Regan and the financing of paramilitary groups to destabilize the countries of Central America through civil wars. Everything sounds “angry”, while the slow ballad “Running to stand still”, talking about drugs addiction, sounds suave and melancholy thanks to the piano and the mouth organ. Some verses are wonderful: “You gotta cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice”.
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