Is U2’s The Joshua Tree The Best Album Ever?

Image of U2's The Joshua Tree

A True Classic

The Joshua Tree is U2’s fifth album and it is arguable that it cemented the band’s reputation. It reached number one in the charts in both the US and UK and sold over 25 million records. The album garnered four Grammy nominations in 1988, winning two of those. With these awards, it’s obvious that it was spectacular, but is U2’s The Joshua Tree the best album ever? 

The Joshua Tree is ranked 27th in Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest albums of all time, that’s just their opinion. As a U2 fan, I think it might be, but objectively speaking who can really say? Yet, who can ever actually be objective because art is inherently subjective? Having said that, while it is a testament to just how majestic U2 could sound, it is not without flaws.

Image of The Joshua Tree in California's Death Valley
The Joshua trees in California's Death Valley inspired the album title
Image of The Joshua Tree album
If you want the classic sound, listen to the LP

The Greatest Classic Rock Album - Almost

One of the things that make The Joshua Tree striking is that its Side A will convince you that you have finally been blessed with the greatest rock album you have ever heard, but its Side B will have you thinking otherwise. The thing about U2, however, is that they are phenomenal enough to get away with it. With Bono’s voice, he can practically sing gibberish nonsense and still make it sound like the most insightful song out there. 

Despite the underwhelming Side B, which will be discussed more later, we definitely have to give credit to the album’s Side A. Quite frankly, if we disregard Side B for a moment, we could say that The Joshua Tree just might be the greatest classic rock album of all time. Side A reminds us exactly why we put U2 on a pedestal. They sound transcendental, almost psychedelic. The first couple of songs in the album seem to want to either transport you to different dimension, or pierce through your core, or maybe do both at the same time. It’s honestly so good that it could make you feel both warm and chilly, excited and nostalgic. In other words, it’s a captivating experience that further establishes U2’s trademark style.

Image of fan of The Joshua Tree visiting Death Valley
A fan visiting Death Valley and paying tribute to the album

A Sharp Contrast

They say that if you love something, you have to take the good with the bad. In the case of The Joshua Tree, this translates to taking the Side A with the Side B. The first side is awesome, but once you get to the other half, you wouldn’t really find anything quite remarkable, except for one song.  

The contrast between Side A and Side B is sharp enough to make Side B seem like a different album altogether. There’s an undeniable dip in the latter half, which makes Side B underwhelming and honestly, a no-match for Side A. It was not surprising though, as the band has had this habit since they released their debut album. 

The Joshua Tree is a great album, but not the best one, precisely because the band seemed to be freewheeling not just in one, two, or three songs, but in the half of the entire line-up.

Saving Grace

If Side B had a redeeming factor, it would be the album’s ending song, Mothers of the Disappeared. It was also a pivotal track that gave us a sneak peek of the more experimental style that the band was about to dive into. Furthermore, while we can say what we want about the album, there is no doubt The Joshua Tree allowed the band to showcase the range of their abilities. Bono was able to exhibit his vocal versatility with deep tracks like “Running to Stand Still.” The Edge’s take on the guitar was also refreshing, especially when compared to other guitarists of that era. While others were more concerned with being the fastest and flashiest players, The Edge kept it simplistic, which ironically made him outshine the others.

Bono preaching to the masses
The Joshua Tree tour 2019
The Joshua Tree tour 2019

A Spine-Tingling Opener

Whatever Side B lacked, was made up for anyway, especially by the first three tracks of the album — Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, and With Or Without You. It’s the sort of album opener that urges you to close your eyes and imagine yourself in a sea of people, where you all scream in excitement as the stage lights up and the band of your dreams start to perform. This is not an exaggeration. The first three songs are brilliant and spine-tingling. And this is probably a cheesy thing to say, but they evoke an emotion that is difficult to pinpoint. Is it fury? Hope? Melancholy? It’s hard to tell and perhaps it varies from person to person. 

The first two songs appear to use a scientific formula that makes them such engaging power rock songs. Ironically, they simple and repetitive, yet they sound complex when taken as a whole. Meanwhile, the third track seems to have been designed to be an all-time anthem, one that just gets better with time. With or Without You has an unchanging chord sequence and yet, since its release, it has continued to be one of the most charming and artsy mainstream songs ever created. It does not even seem to try hard at all and yet it’s glorious. 

So, is U2’s The Joshua Tree The Best Album Ever? Maybe not. But it definitely has the best three-song opening to any mainstream rock album ever.

What are your thoughts on The Joshua Tree? Let me know in the comments section below.

For more cool things from the 90’s, read our full post, 17 Cool Things About The 80’s.

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The Joshua Tree Gift Ideas

There is a lot of memorabilia out there, especially on Amazon, Etsy and Ebay. Amazon is usually cheaper with more selection and so I’ve chosen them. And if you’re not super satisfied with what you’ve bought, their returns policy is really good.

With so much to choose from, where do you start? My focus has been on cool, fun and quirky items, all garnering decent ratings from well-priced sellers.

Please note that I am an Amazon Affiliate and receive a small compensation if you use my links, but it will not increase your purchase price. If you use my links, I truly appreciate it 😉

Men's Joshua Tree Tee

The Joshua Tree T shirt in the post is U2's The Joshua Tree the best album ever

Wear this cool tee to show your U2 allegiance.  

Check it out on Amazon.

The Joshua Tree CD

The Joshua Tree CD in the post is U2's The Joshua Tree the best album ever

Get this awesome album here. 

Check it out on Amazon.

Best of the 80's Vinyl

U2's best of the 80's in the post is U2's The Joshua Tree the best album ever

For the die hard fans, here is the vinyl. 

Check it out on Amazon.

12 thoughts on “Is U2’s The Joshua Tree The Best Album Ever?”

  1. Hi Murray. Very interesting article I love U2 and can listen to them all time yet I can’t agree that Joshua Tree is best album ever. The king is only one and it is Led Zeppelin IV with stairways to heaven. But of course its all matter of taste and we are talking here about absolutely top music ever. I liked very much details about the album and read your post with pure pleasure.

    1. Ha! Yes, I knew it would be a contentious topic. Zeppelin IV is truly a great album too. U2’s The Joshua Tree was just coming out when I really started getting into rock hence my love for the album.

  2. I love Bono’s voice! It just has a way to take you away in such a wonderful way. As soon as he starts singing I feel that he grabs me and takes me on a journey. I truly enjoy this album, as you say some of the songs on the B side leave you wanting but I always felt that he made up for it on the A side. Great album, great review! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

    1. Yeah, Bono’s voice is truly other worldly. As controversial a topic as this is, I think we can all agree that The Joshua Tree is definitely one of the best albums of all time. 

  3. This is an interesting take.

    I wouldn’t have picked this album as the best album, because mainly I find songs I like on Spotify and don’t pay so much attention to the albums themselves. But it’s true that when I look for U2’s songs in particular, I often find them on “Joshua Tree.” And it *is* a very complete, tight album.

    So you make a good case. Will have to listen all the way through from start to finish!

  4. I have a hard time labeling anything related to other people’s art as the “best” of anything. Art is not meant as a competition or something to have labeled in such ways. 

    However, I can certainly appreciate having favorites or even a single favorite piece of art. I can definitely tell this is a special album that does more for you than simply make you want to sing and dance. U2 resonates with a lot of people and this era for them was when they really seemed to hit it big. The album contains great songs that are instantly recognizable to multiple generations!

  5. Back when “The Joshua Tree” was first making waves in the US, I had not heard of the band. I will admit I wasn’t much of a music aficionado, just listening to “whatever was on the radio”. Then I had a childhood friend visit from Washington state (I live in Michigan). On our way to meet some classmates for an illicit drink (we were underage), he popped “The Joshua Tree” into my car’s cassette player. I was entranced and kept asking for all the information he had on the band. My first opportunity, I purchased a cassette of my own. I played the heck out of that tape! I do agree with you though, Side A was much better than Side B.

    1. Love the snapshot into your early days of U2 initiation, William. I didn’t know the band during the tape cassette era, but only came across them in high school. I bought my Joshua Tree CD at a shop in Covent Garden for 10 quid back in 1996. I also picked up The Cranberries and The Passengers on that visit. Good times.

  6. This is refreshingly different to read, because over the years I’ve become quite disappointed with the direction of modern music. I always liked U2, but they weren’t my favorite band back then. I’m not even sure I had one. But nowadays, I find myself going back to rediscover music from the 80s (when I grew up) just to enjoy the sound of musicians actually playing real instruments again. For this reason, I have to put The Joshua Tree and pretty much all of their other music at the top of my list today. This was definitely a joy to read and it left me wanting to relive the feelings I first got when I first heard U2.

    1. You said it Mark! Musicians playing real instruments again! I totally agree. Nowadays we have performers and not musicians inundating world music. It’s a sad state of affairs.

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