- 31 Aug 22
35 years ago, U2 released 'Where The Streets Have No Name' – the third single from their classic album The Joshua Tree, following 'With Or Without You' and 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For'. The iconic video for the single, filmed on a rooftop in L.A., went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Performance Music Video. To mark the occasion, we're revisiting The Edge and Bono's insights into the story behind the song...
Picture The Edge in his house in Monkstown fooling around on a four-track Tascam home recording studio. Sticking down the keyboard. Listening back to it. Then the guitar. The rhythm holds good. Try some variations on the chord. Little flicks off the major. Imagine a bass. The drums coming in. The beginning of a song…
“The way we write, we sometimes feel that the song is written,” The Edge reflects, “the song is already there, if you could just put it into words, put it into notes. We have it, but it’s not realised yet. If you saw us working in the studio sometimes, you’d be scratching your head trying to figure out what we were doing. Mostly, if we get the feeling that we’re onto something good, we eventually do get there. And ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ is a great example, because that took weeks of work to arrive at.”
It nearly drove Brian Eno mad in the process. At one stage he became so frustrated at the amount of time being devoted to ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ that he wanted to erase the multi-track.
“That’s right,” The Edge recalls. “We weren’t in the studio at the time and he asked the assistant engineer to leave the room. He’d actually decided to do it. But the assistant engineer wouldn’t go. He stood in front of the tape machine, saying, ‘Brian, you can’t do this’. And so he didn’t. But it was close.”
The title undoubtedly draws on the time Bono and his wife Ali spent in Ethiopia during 1985, working with aid agencies on the ground, distributing food and assisting with health and educational initiatives. Bono came home to Ireland, to the Western world, with a profound sense of the vacuum at the heart of contemporary living.
“The spirit of the people I met in Ethiopia was very strong,” Bono says. “There’s no doubt that, even in poverty, they had something that we didn’t have. When I got back, I realised the extent to which people in the West were like spoiled children.
“I can look at it now,” Bono adds, “and recognise that ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ has one of the most banal couplets in the history of pop music. But it also contains some of the biggest ideas. In a curious way, that seems to work. If you get any way heavy about these things, you don’t communicate. But if you’re flip or throwaway about it, then you do. That’s one of the paradoxes I’ve had to come to terms with.”
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