Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the release of U2’s The Joshua Tree. I remember buying the cassette shortly after it came out, but I either got a bad copy or let it sit in the sun or my tape player mangled it, because within a couple plays it began sounding terrible. As I was five months from getting my drivers license, I couldn’t just run back to Musicland – or whatever relic of the 80s I purchased it at – and swap it out for a new copy. In fact, it was another year or two before I finally replaced it, so my history with the album was delayed a bit. I heard all the massive singles – when I think of the spring of ’87, those first three songs of side one are prominent memories – but didn’t really learn about all the excellent songs on side two for some time.

I went through the obligatory U2 Phase in college, mostly in the winter of ’93 as I recall. That’s when I purchased every album in their catalog, spun them on high repeat around the house, and had a tape of my favorites to listen to in the car. I was deeply into The Joshua Tree at the time, and likely would have called it my favorite U2 album.

Fast forward nearly a quarter century and I rarely listen to U2 anymore. I gave up on their new music when it became nearly impossible to distinguish between their songs and Coldplay’s.1 And the old songs meant less to me than they used to, so spins of the classics became less frequent, too. Once a year or so I’ll put on The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby and listen all the way through. But when a U2 song pops up on the radio, I’ll often search for something newer and more interesting to me.

I still think Achtung Baby is a slightly better album, mostly because The Joshua Tree was evolutionary – the perfection of the early U2 sound – and Achtung was revolutionary – tearing it all up and trying on new things and having it work amazingly well. But I’ll admit, for all my indifference to U2 these days, spinning The Joshua Tree yesterday was a very, very nice hour or so. Much like The Bends and OK Computer, I think I’ll call these my 1A and 1B U2 albums.

For today’s playlist, a couple Joshua Tree songs, a couple from Son Volt, and another very fine tune.

“Running To Stand Still” – U2. One of the greatest songs in their catalog.

“Colour Of Water” – Rose Elinor Dougall. A very Irish name, although she’s officially listed as English on wikipedia. This is a lovely song.

“Sinking Down” – Son Volt. Son Volt has been all over the map through the years. Sometimes Jay Farrar is completely locked in and his albums are perfect. Other times he drifts a little and I’ve not been interested in his output. I’ll admit I was surprised when I listened to their new album Notes of Blue. It stacks up well with their best work, which is quite an achievement for a band that’s been around for over 20 years now. This scorcher is one of the album’s strongest tracks.

“Windfall” – Son Volt. Son Volt’s 1995 debut album Trace remains the countriest album I’ve ever loved. The lead single, “Drown”, fit nicely into mid-90s alt-rock radio. But the rest of the album had a serious twang to it. But I remember driving home from my second-shift job one night, hearing the band on Rockline, and them playing this song live in the studio. As I was driving across eastern Kansas after the sun had set, I was in a perfect place to hear it. I listened to the whole album the other night and it holds up really, really well.

“Red Hill Mining Town” – U2. I did not know until reading this article yesterday that the band made a video for this song. Seriously, side two of Joshua Tree is just so damn good.

  1. Coincidentally I gave up on Coldplay at the same time. As I’ve often said, Frightened Rabbit sounds like what Coldplay could have sounded like, had they not been interested in becoming the next U2.