#100: The Album That Started It All
It’s fitting that I write my 100th post on this blog on New Year’s Eve 2011, the third anniversary of its creation. But there’s another reason why the date seems appropriate. Next year marks the 25th anniversary of the release of an album that I credit with kick-starting my lifelong love affair with music. And that love for music was what led to me getting a radio show on WMUC2, starting this blog to promote that show, taking up multiple instruments, and even writing and recording my own music as a personal hobby.
That album was released at a time when soft rock was all over the charts (Kenny G has a song on the ’87 year-end Hot 100 – seriously). Hair metal had transitioned from its hard-rocking virtuoso beginnings (think Van Halen) to cheesy party rock stuffed with aimless shredding and mandatory power ballads (think Poison). Bruce Willis scored a hit single back when he was probably better known as a singer than an actor (he hadn’t even made Look Who’s Talking yet, let alone Die Hard). A teenage singer from Hawaii won a local talent contest and got a nationwide hit single basically via word of mouth (Glenn Medeiros, “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You”). An Australian new wave band became a one-hit wonder by covering a one-hit wonder (Pseudo Echo, “Funkytown”). And yes, I got all of that from Wikipedia and Todd In The Shadows. Still, it was an odd time for music and the alternative rock boom of the early ‘90s was a few years away.
But none of that stuff really mattered to me. I was about six months old when the album in question was released. And by the time I was around five years old, I was listening to this record so much I practically had it memorized. So what was that album? The Joshua Tree by U2.
Now, I’m not here today to pull a BLAST FROM THE PAST and reevaluate this album to see how well it still holds up. Of course it still holds up. It’s The Joshua Tree. It’s one of the four U2 albums that everyone seems to agree are masterpieces, the others being War, Achtung Baby, and The Unforgettable Fire. You’ve probably heard the first four tracks from this album so many times you know them all by heart. “Where The Streets Have No Name.” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” “With Or Without You.” “Bullet The Blue Sky.” That’s a 1-2-3-4 lineup that’s pretty hard to top unless you start talking about the 1927 Yankees. And from there we get album cuts like “Red Hill Mining Town” and “One Tree Hill.” These are the kind of songs people think of when they think of U2. When U2 announced they wanted to return to their roots after the critical and commercial disappointment that was Pop, they meant, “We want to make more albums like The Joshua Tree.”
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with this album. I used to listen to it all the time on my dad’s living room stereo. Sometimes I’d even put it right back on after the last notes of “Mothers Of The Disappeared” gave way to silence, and I’m pretty sure I drove both my parents crazy in doing so. (Actually, I know this to be true because they’ve told me, even though they both like U2.) I remember how I used to wonder why two guys had normal names like Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr., while Bono and the Edge were called… well, Bono and the Edge, and it made me curious to learn their real names (Paul Hewson and David Evans, respectively). I wanted to sing along with the songs even though I didn’t really understand what they were about. And “Bullet The Blue Sky” used to scare the crap out of me, especially the Edge’s guitar solo. In fact, years later I kicked off a Listen Up! Halloween special with a one-two punch of “And The Gods Made Love” by Jimi Hendrix and “Bullet The Blue Sky,” and that guitar solo still sent a chill down my spine.
Over the years, of course, I stopped listening to The Joshua Tree all the time and started branching out and listening to other stuff. One could make the case that my musical taste as a 5-year-old (I also listened to the Police, XTC, London Calling by the Clash, and classic Motown pop back then) was better than my taste as a 15-year-old (I requested albums by Nickelback and Puddle of Mudd for that birthday), but that’s for another time. I would still listen to Joshua Tree songs now and then, and of course I still knew those first four tracks in particular like the back of my hand, but I didn’t obsess over it anymore. I still enjoyed the band’s music, eventually developed a stronger interest in their experimental ’90s output, and downloaded a few songs from their Double-0s albums here and there.
Then during the summer before my last semester of college at the University of Maryland I was looking around for Muse tour dates. They were set to release The Resistance a couple weeks before my birthday and I knew a tour would be coming soon too. There was nothing scheduled in the Philadelphia area during the summer, and they would play at the Giants’ stadium in New Jersey in September when I’d be at school in Maryland. Then I spotted a show scheduled for two days after my birthday at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. Sounded good to me. But why FedEx Field? I knew Muse had gotten pretty popular here in the States over the past few years, but were they really already big enough to play stadiums?
I did a little more digging for information, and then I found my answer. No, Muse hadn’t gotten big enough to play stadiums in the Fifty Nifty. They were opening for U2. And when I told my mom I wanted to go, this was her response: “Colin, you have to go to that concert! That’s going to be awesome.”
So I went, and it was an awesome show. The commute back and forth kind of sucked though – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more tightly packed metro/subway/trolley car than the DC Metro the night U2’s 360 Tour stopped in Landover, Maryland. I remember joking that the next time I took the metro to a concert I’d pick a more obscure artist to see; the irony of course was that I’d already taken the metro to see lesser-known bands and also that this turned out to be the last concert I would take the DC metro to see while in college. But the thing I remember most about that night was when U2 played this…
And just like that, I was five years old again. Thanks, guys.