The Joshua Tree, the fifth studio album by Irish rock band U2, is released on March 9, 1987. The album is produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno on Island Records. Formed in 1976, the band consists of Bono (vocals and rhythm guitar), The Edge (lead guitar, keyboards, and vocals), Adam Clayton (bass guitar), and Larry Mullen, Jr. (drums and percussion).
In contrast to the ambient experimentation of their 1984 release The Unforgettable Fire, the band aims for a harder-hitting sound within the limitation of conventional song structures on The Joshua Tree. The album is influenced by American and Irish roots music, and depicts the band’s love–hate relationship with the United States, using socially and politically conscious lyrics embellished with spiritual imagery.
Inspired by American tour experiences, literature, and politics, U2 chooses America as a theme for the album. Recording begins in Ireland in January 1986. Several events during the recording sessions help shape the conscious tone of the album, including the band’s participation in A Conspiracy of Hope tour, the death of roadie Greg Carroll, and lead vocalist Bono’s travels to Central America. Recording is completed in November 1986 and additional production continues into January 1987. Throughout the sessions, U2 seeks a “cinematic” quality for the record, one that will evoke a sense of location, in particular, the open spaces of America. They represent this in the sleeve photography depicting them in American desert landscapes.
The Joshua Tree receives critical acclaim, topping the charts in over 20 countries, and selling in record-breaking numbers. According to Rolling Stone, the album increases the band’s stature “from heroes to superstars.” It produces the hit singles With or Without You, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, and Where the Streets Have No Name. The album wins Grammy Awards for Album of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1988. The group supports the record with the Joshua Tree Tour throughout 1987.
Frequently featured on critics’ lists of music’s greatest records, The Joshua Tree is one of the world’s best-selling albums, with over 25 million copies sold. U2 releases a remastered edition of the record in 2007 to commemorate its 20th anniversary. In 2014, it is deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry.