On 9 March, 1987, U2 released their landmark album “The Joshua Tree,” which cemented the Irish quartet’s status as the biggest rock band in the world with its cinematic production and indelible songwriting. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the album’s release, here is a ranking of the album’s 11 tracks, from weakest to best.
- Red Hill Mining Town
On an album with such airtight songwriting, “Red Hill Mining Town” just screams filler. It wouldn’t be so bad if it came in under 3 minutes, but there’s no hook or anything to justify its nearly 5 minute running time.
- One Tree Hill
How ironic is it that U2’s “One Tree Hill” kind of sounds like the theme song to “My So-Called Life” and not, well, “One Tree Hill?” It’s not a bad song by any means, but it does come off as pretty bland, particularly when you know it’s preceding the album’s phenomenal closing tracks.
- Trip Through Your Wires
While every other song on “The Joshua Tree” feels very carefully constructed, “Trip Through Your Wires” is the one song that most feels like the band playing together in a room and having a great time. The song itself is just okay, but the energy is what leaves the biggest impression here.
- Running To Stand Still
After the soaring peaks of the album’s first four tracks, “The Joshua Tree” takes a pretty big dip (relatively speaking, of course) for its middle section, starting with “Running To Stand Still.” It’s a lovely, simple ballad that serves as a refreshing palate cleanser, but it can’t possibly match the album’s early heights or the experimental darkness on the closing two tracks.
- In God’s Country
As the album’s shortest track, “In God’s Country” is a crash course in familiarizing yourself with the Edge’s guitar playing, opening with his unmistakeable delay-heavy tone and morphing an otherwise forgettable track into something piercing and exhilarating.
U2 started off their career in the post-punk world of the late ‘70s as contemporaries of goth pioneers Joy Division and The Cure, and though you wouldn’t really know that based on “The Joshua Tree’s” iconic arena rock aesthetic, the album’s penultimate track “Exit” serves as a somber yet intriguing link to those early days.
- With or Without You
On an album full of exciting and iconic moments, perhaps the most iconic is the moment on lead single “With or Without You” in which the Edge’s jangly lead guitar riff finally comes ringing in after the second chorus, like a spotlight flooding a dark street. Even if the rest of song were terrible, that one moment would make it worth hearing.
- Mothers of the Disappeared
One of two songs from “The Joshua Tree” inspired by the political climate of Latin America during the ‘80s, “Mothers of the Disappeared” closes out the album on a stunningly mournful note. With its semi-industrial backbone and minimalist arrangement, it is perhaps the most sonically unique track on the album, and is so restrained that it almost doesn’t sound like it came from U2 at all.
- Bullet The Blue Sky
After opening the album with three heart-swelling anthems in a row, The Joshua Tree takes decidedly darker turn with “Bullet The Blue Sky,” a sinister indictment of America’s military involvement in El Salvador. Though some may find that Bono’s performance in this song exemplifies everything they dislike about the singer and his politics, it’s undeniably powerful when paired with the Edge’s massive slide guitar riffs, replicating the overhead soaring of American fighter planes.
- Where The Streets Have No Name
With sonic geniuses Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois behind the boards, “The Joshua Tree” stands as the apex of ‘80s rock production; ethereal yet grounded in structure, and somehow retaining an organic warmth that was mostly lost during this decade. Opening track “Where The Streets Have No Name” is the prime example of this production and sets the tone for the rest of the album by gradually building up an atmosphere for the music to live in before launching into the actual song, which is gorgeous in its own right.
- I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is everything that “The Joshua Tree” does right. It boasts some fabulously lush production from Eno and Lanois, simple yet effective pop songwriting, and incorporates some incredibly subtle Americana influences with its 12-bar blues structure and gospel-tinged backing vocals. It’s the sort of song that sounds so instantly classic that it makes you wonder how it hadn’t been written already.