"The Joshua Tree" - U2

Album (Original Release)

Track Listing:

Alternate Tracks:

Background Information

“The Joshua Tree” was the 1987 album by U2. It was the fifth studio album by the band. The title is a reference to a type of yucca tree that can be found in the deserts in areas like California, and it is a Joshua tree that is pictured amongst the images that make up “The Joshua Tree” album. Album recording began in January 1986 in Ireland, with the band working in a combination of houses and studios. The recording started in Danesmoate House in Rathfarnham, a Georgian mansion, in which U2 hoped to find an intersting atmosphere similar to what they had done with Slane Castle for “The Unforgettable Fire”. During these sessions the arrangements for “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” were developed. “With or Without You” had started with producer Paul Barrett at some sessions in STS Studios, and was later fleshed out at Danesmoate.

The sessions were put on hold in June 1986, when U2 were asked, and agreed to take part in the Conspiracy of Hope tour, fulfilling an earlier promise to Amnesty International making the plans of an October 1986 release date impossible. In August of that year, U2 returned to work on the album, mostly at Windmill Lane Studios but with some supplementary work continuing at Danesmoate as well as at Edge’s house, “Melbeach”. “Mothers of the Disappeared” and “Bullet the Blue Sky” were both songs that came out of the work at Melbeach. It was during this period that Robbie Robertson visited Dublin, to complete an album that Lanois was producing, and he recorded two tracks with U2.

A number of new ideas came to light during sessions in October, but producer Brian Eno suggested these be shelved or the band may miss the deadline for the album. Recording of “The Joshua Tree” finished in November 1986, but the band did return to the studio in January 1987 to complete the work they hadn’t finished in October, which included a number of tracks that would become b-sides on singles for “The Joshua Tree” including the original version of “Sweetest Thing”. There was never a leak of material before the release of the album, but some of these b-side sessions would come to light years later on the Wire mailing list. Someone claimed to have three 60 minute cassettes which he was attempting to sell and posted several 30 second clips of the songs found on the tapes – these included some working copies of b-sides like “Race Against Time” and “Walk to the Water” from these sessions, as well as the song “Rise Up” which wouldn’t get an official release in full until 2007.

The album was recorded once again with Brian Eno and Danny Lanois acting as producers. Mark Ellis, aka Flood was brought in on the sessions as an engineer.

The album was designed by Steve Averill and The Creative Dept., the company that he worked with at the time. The photographs throughout the album were taken by Anton Corbijn. The album was the first U2 album that was released on 12-inch vinyl, 5-inch CD, and cassette at the same time. A different cover image was prepared for each of these formats. The cassette has the land in the background above the level of the boys heads, where as the 12-inch and CD had the background coming lower. If you look at the CD vs the vinyl you can tell that Bono and The Edge overlap more on the 12-inch. All three images looked similar and each had the band in similar poses, but there are minor differences. The cover was finished with black and gold borders and the titles. Rolling Stone Magazine has listed the album at #97 in the “100 Greatest Album Covers of All Time”. The tree that is pictured in some of the photos fell in 2000 and is no longer standing. In 1999 “The Joshua Tree” CD was reissued in the UK with the original 12-inch vinyl cover instead of the blurred image of the band. In 1987 it was never expected that the CD would become such a popular format, and the image from the vinyl was always the image that the designers had seen for the album, so once CD put vinyl to rest, the cover was switched on the CD release in the UK.

The album was widely released on March 9, 1987 in most areas. The North American release followed the next day. The album was pushed out with a huge promotional campaign by Island Records. Initially it was released in 12-inch vinyl, cassette and 5-inch CD. It would also be released through the RCA records club 8-track club. Although 8-tracks were not being widely released, the RCA club continued to produce them up until the late 80s and shortly after the intial release, the album was made available in this format. In 1992 as part of their new DCC format (Digital Compact Cassette) Philips would release a number of U2 titles in the format upon launch, including “The Joshua Tree”. In Sweden a unique pressing in coloured vinyl was done of the 12-inch release, with copies pressed in yellow, red, pink or blue vinyl. These were released in limited quantities. In a listing of the “Top 60 U2 Collectibles” in 2004, these coloured pressings from Sweden came in at number 13 on the list.

A number of commercial singles were released to promote “The Joshua Tree”. The first of these, “With or Without You” was released to radio prior to the album release, but the single itself was only physically released after the album. The second single was to be “Red Hill Mining Town” but the band were unhappy with the video and there were worries about Bono’s ability to sing the song nightly. Instead “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was chosen as the second single. Both of these singles reached number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. A third single “Where the Streets Have No Name” was the last single containing unique b-sides. The final single released was “In God’s Country”, but it was issued only in North America. This single was backed with “Running to Stand Still” and “Bullet the Blue Sky” both available on the album. In 1988, U2 would issue “One Tree Hill” as a single in New Zealand and Australia with these same b-sides. Each single features one member of the band in a photograph taken by Anton Corbijn, and is designed to look similar to the album design. The album also spawned a number of promotional items including “Special Collection 1987”, “Special Collection 1987”, “The Joshua Tree Album Sampler”, “Cassette Sampler 1987”, “The Joshua Tree Pizza Box”, “The U2 Talkie” interview, “Their Words and Music” interview, and a promotional version of “Trip Through Your Wires”.

In concert all of the songs from “The Joshua Tree” have been performed with the exception of “Red Hill Mining Town”. Most of these songs were introduced to the set list during “The Joshua Tree” tour and many continue to appear in subsequent tours. “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “With or Without You” have been set list favorites since that time. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” still makes an appearance as well, and was featured on the U2360° tour. “Mothers of the Disappeared” and “One Tree Hill” both made appearances at a couple of shows on the U2360° tour. While “Running to Stand Still” and “Bullet the Blue Sky” didn’t appear on the U2360° tour, they were both used throughout the Vertigo tour in 2005-2006. A live performance from “The Joshua Tree” tour was released in 2007 as part of the 25th anniversary remastering of “The Joshua Tree” which would heavily feature these songs.

“The Joshua Tree” reached number one in the US charts, debuting at #7 but quickly moving up the charts. It was U2’s first album to reach #1 in the USA. The album peaked at number 1 in the UK as well, as well as a number of other countries. U2 won “Album of the Year” at the 1988 Grammy Awards for “The Joshua Tree” and also cleaned up in the Rolling Stone year end polls, both from teh readers and the critics. The album is the band’s best selling album and is among the best-selling albums worldwide. In 2014, “The Joshua Tree” was selected for preservation in the United States National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Some songs developed for “The Joshua Tree” would have to wait to make an appearance however. One of the first songs worked on at Danesmoate was “Heartland” which would later appear on “Rattle and Hum” in its finished form. “Beautiful Ghost / Introduction to Songs of Experience” recording a William Blake poem woudld appear on “The Complete U2”. A number of other tracks would be included on a 2007 remaster of the album including “Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)” (A completed version of the song “Birdland”), “Desert of Our Love”, “Rise Up”, and “Drunk Chicken / America”.

One mock up for the cover of “The Joshua Tree” referred to the album as simply “The New Album”. At one point the title “The Two Americas” was also suggested. One alternate cover featured an image from the desert with a white background and a silhouette of the tree in the border. Another cover had a green border with a very different band photo on the front. And one final cover mock up was a black and white image of the desert, without U2 in the frame, with a black and gold border similar to the covers we eventually received.

The album has been remastered twice. The first remaster was released by a company called Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab or MFSL. They were specialized in releasing high quality reissues of popular albums, and remained in business until 1999. They would release gold-plated discs, instead of the aluminum discs, and this was done to extend the life of the CD. MFSL would release three U2 albums, “War” in 1993, “The Unforgettable Fire” in 1995, and “The Joshua Tree” in 1996. Instead of using the current circulated master of each CD, MFSL would instead go back to the original master tapes and recreate the master using those. With the release of “The Joshua Tree” this return to the masters, did not result in any discernible differences from the regular commercial release of the album but the tracks have a much more dynamic sound. One track, “Mothers of the Disappeared” is longer on the MFSL version of the album, by about seven seconds if you take into account the silence on each track. The original album version simply fades out, but the version on the MFSL master, comes back and gains in loudness before fading out completely.

The album was remastered and reissued in 2007 for the 20th anniversary of the album. That mastering was done by The Edge. The new master in 2007 included the longer version of “Mothers of the Disappeared” that had been used on the prior MFSL remastering. The album is again reissued in 2017 for the 30th anniversary of the album, and that release contains the new master done by The Edge in 2007 and is not an additional remaster.

Liner Notes

Produced by : Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois.
Recorded by : Flood
Additional Engineering : Dave Meegan with Pat McCarthy
“Where the Streets Have No Name”, “With or Without You”, “Bullet the Blue Sky”, “Red Hill Mining Town” Mixed by : Steve Lillywhite
Mix Engineered by : Mark Wallace
Assisted by : Mary Kettle

Words: Bono. Backing vocals: The Edge, Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois. DX7 Programmes and Keyboards: Brian Eno. Tambourine / Omnichord / Additional Rhythm Guitar: Daniel Lanois. Harmonica: Bono. One Tree Hill – Radd Strings: Recorded by Bob Doidge. Played by the Armin Family. Red Hill Mining Town – the Arklow Silver Band. Red Hill Mining Town – Brass Arranged and Conducted by Paul Barrett.

Studio Crew: Joe O’Herlihy, Des Broadberry, Tom Mullally, Tim Buckley, Marc Coleman, Mary Gough, Marion Smyth. Manager: Paul McGuinness. Principle Management, Dublin: Anne-Louise Kelly. Principle Management, New York: Ellen Darst.

Drums, Keyboards, Outboard Equipment: Yamaha. Cymbals: Paiste. Sticks: Pro Mark. Strings: Superwound, Rotosound – James Howe Industries. Infinite Guitar invented by: Michael Brook. (Part of this album was recorded on Edge’s Amek Mixing Console).

Recorded and Mixed at Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin. Dublin.


Photography by: Anton Corbijn. Design and Layout by: Steve Averill. Artwork by: The Creative Dept. Ltd,

Recognition and Awards

  • #14, The 100 Greatest Albums of All Time (Absolute Radio, March 2016, voted by Listeners)
  • #6, 250 Best Albums of Q’s Lifetime (Q Magazine, February 2011)
  • #4, Top 20 Albums in the Lifetime of Q (Q Magazine, November 2006)
  • Q Magazines Top Ten Recordings of 1987
  • #1, Best Albums of the 1980s (out of 40) (Q Magazine, August 2006)
  • #15, 21 Albums that Changed Music (Q Magazine, November 2007)
  • Q Magazine, Top 100 Albums Readers Poll #23 (January 1998)
  • #3, 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s (Rolling Stone, 1990)
  • #4, Rolling Stone Readers Top 100 Albums (Rolling Stone, 2002)
  • #2, Best Album Critics Picks (out of 10) (Rolling Stone, 1987)
  • Listed on Rolling Stones Essential Rock Collection 1980s Era
  • #1, Best Album Readers Picks (out of 10) (Rolling Stone, 1987)
  • #26, Top 500 Albums (Rolling Stone, 2003)
  • #27, Top 500 Albums (Rolling Stone, 2012)
  • #135, Top 500 Albums (Rolling Stone, 2020)
  • #4, Ten Best Albums of All Time (out of 10) (Spin Magazine, September 1991)
  • Listed in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (2005 and 2008ed) by Robert Dimery
  • #8, Best Albums of All Time [Listeners voted from a list of 50] (BBC Radio 6, UK, 2002)
  • #3, Top 100 Albums [Listeners voted] (BBC Radio 2, UK, August 2006)
  • #19, Albums of the Millennium [Survey] (Channel 4 / HMV / Guardian Newspaper, Autumn 1997)
  • #2, 100 Best Albums of All Time (Channel 4)
  • #15, VH1’s Rock N Roll Top 100 Albums (VH1 Television, 1999)
  • Nomination and Win, Album of the Year (Grammy Awards, 1988)
  • Nomination and Win, Best Rock Performance by a Duo / Group (Grammy Awards, 1988)
  • #3, Top 100 Albums of 1987 (Rolling Stone Magazine)
  • #57, Top 100 Albums of 1988 (Rolling Stone Magazine)
  • #3, Top 100 Albums of the 1980s (Rolling Stone Magazine, November 1989)
  • #1, Top 100 Albums of All Time (2FM, Listeners Poll, October 1995)
  • Certified Gold, Platinum and 2x Multi-Platinum (RIAA, USA, May 13, 1987)
  • Certified 3x Multi-Platinum (RIAA, USA, September 30, 1987)
  • Certified 4x Multi-Platinum (RIAA, USA, December 22, 1987)
  • Certified 5x Multi-Platinum (RIAA, USA, October 6, 1988)
  • Certified 6x Multi-Platinum (RIAA, USA, June 12, 1995)
  • Certified 10x Multi-Platinum (RIAA, USA, September 11, 1995) [Last Certification as of 2017]

Related Promotional Videos

Related News

Catalog of Releases