30 Years Later: U2's 'The Joshua Tree' Wins At The GRAMMYs

U2 (Getty Images)

On this night in 1988 U2 took away the Grammy for 'Album of the Year (1987)' with it's fifth full-length release "The Joshua Tree."  The group defeated Michael Jackson's "Bad," Whitney Houston's "Whitney," "Sign o' the Times" from Prince, and "Trio" from Dolly Parton, Linda Rondstadt, and Emmylou Harris.  Producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois shared in the award with the members of the Irish band. 

It was the culmination of a heady year for U2, the album taking the group to a new level only hinted at by their previous work.  Although 1983's "War" and '84's "The Unforgettable Fire" had both gone Platinum, those sales came solely from a strong and insistent mass of rock music followers, not the mainstream audience that nearly always guaranteed multi-million sales around the world.  In fact, the latter work, which had one hit, "Pride (In the Name of Love)," was one of the most experimental albums the band would ever release.  It seemed like U2 was heading directly opposite the mainstream, choosing ambient musical landscapes rather then writing actual songs. 

That all changed during sessions in 1986 in Ireland when the band, using the same team of producers as "The Unforgettable Fire," sat down and started penning songs based on the lessons they'd learned from American folk and roots music while touring here.  Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley informed this new direction and the recorded results were no less than startling.  Addressing social issues like racism and human rights abuses, "Joshua Tree" helped greatly to urge in a new conscience in popular music that had been lacking since the end of the 60's.

The songs were hits too.  After "The Joshua Tree" appeared on store shelves in March 1987, "With Or Without You" climbed all the way to #1 in the U.S.  A few months later, the second single "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" went to #1 on The Edge's 26th birthday - August 8.  "Where the Streets Have no Name" got into the Top 20, and a fourth single "In God's Country" even charted.  That single was released only to complete the attractive collection of 7" single picture sleeves, each of which featured a member of the band on the cover.  In Australia and New Zealand, a best-selling 5th single "One Tree Hill" was also released.

The first show of "The Joshua Tree" tour was on April 2, 1987 at Arizona State University in Tempe in a small indoor sports facility. Bono lost his voice after six songs the first night, but turned the mic towards the audience and was surprised to hear the crowd sing all the words to the new songs back at him - and "The Joshua Tree" had only been out three weeks!

Locally, the tour arrived in Worcester and played the Centrum on May 2, 3, and 4.  U2's newfound success meant that another leg of the U.S. had to be added to satisfy demand, so the group returned to the Boston Garden on September 17 and 18.  The clamor for tickets even prompted U2's management to slot in an appearance four days later at Sullivan Stadium.  Bono had taken a tumble a few days earlier on a wet stage and did the show with his arm in a sling.

"The Joshua Tree" raised the bar astronomically for U2 and the band members were able to meet the challenge, becoming seasoned performers and Bono maturing into a world class singer and official 'rock star.'  The album went on to sell 25-million copies around the globe, ten million of those in America alone, and insure that this young quartet of uncertain rock and roll students would become no less than legends not soon to be forgotten in the history of popular music.      

Carter Alan

Carter Alan

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