U2 – Where the streets have no name
I want to feel, sunlight on my face
I see that dust cloud disappear without a trace
I wanna take shelter from the poison rain
Where the streets have no name
I don’t know if there is a place in the world where the streets have no name. I think so, maybe villages lost in the desert, or perched on inaccessible mountains, or maybe on remote islands. Certainly, however, there are places where the address is clear, and in some cases it says much more than just a residence.
When Bono started working on Where the Streets Have No Name he was shocked by this consideration: he had heard that in the city of Belfast, not so far from his world, the address where you live says practically everything about you. First, based on the area where you live, it says if your family is Protestant or Catholic. Then, if you know the streets and the neighborhood, the house number also gives an indication of your standard of living, because in certain neighborhoods the closer you get to the outlying hills, and of course the more the prices of houses and land become prohibitive.
That’s why Bono took on this challenge of bringing listeners and fans to an anonymous place, where you can be who you want to be, away from social conventions and labels. Probably these reflections were also influenced by the trip to Ethiopia that Bono had earlier made following the activities promoted by Live Aid.
Where the Streets Have No Name was the third single, after With or Without You and I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For“, from the fantastic album The Joshua Tree. As we know, however, it was the first track on the album, and was therefore the real calling card of the album. And in fact, as both U2 and their producer and collaborator Brian Eno recall, Where the Streets Have No Name took up almost half the time it took to record the entire album!
The song is very special. It is very long, but also because there is a fantastic introduction of more than two minutes, engineered sound by sound, where the bass and drums enter after over a minute, and the voice arrives just two minutes from the start. In practice, the introduction could almost be a song in itself!
Despite the importance that U2 had given to this song, and despite the resounding success around the world, U2 were not completely satisfied with the result, especially in the long run. For example, Bono commented years later how banal and obvious he found the first rhyme, between “hide” and “inside”: a rhyme from youthful poems, but a song like Where the Streets Have No Name deserved much more!
As well as the introduction, the video for Where the Streets Have No Name was also made with great creativity. The video shows scenes from an impromptu concert that U2 held on the roof of a Los Angeles department store, mimicking a famous Beatles video and concert. Of course the purpose of the concert was to shoot the video of this song: U2 played eight songs, and Where the Streets Have No Name was played four times.
U2 had predicted that a spontaneous crowd of onlookers and fans would gradually gather, and that someone would be able to get on the roof, so in the previous weeks they had done some work to prevent the ceiling from sagging under the weight of people.
Of course, U2 also expected that the crowd would sooner or later cause some traffic or maybe public order problems, and that the police would intervene. Their secret goal would have been to film live the police interrupting the concert or perhaps arresting U2.
Things went almost like this, but not entirely, fortunately. The crowd gathered, caused traffic problems, and the police arrived. The police actually went up to the roof of the building and asked U2 for documents and permits they did not have. However, with every admission and every missing document of the group, the police found a way to grant a permit or an exemption or in any case to turn a blind eye, so there were no arrests and interruptions. The few scenes with the police in the video, including the final scene where the police seem to permanently stop the concert, are basically scenes shot together on purpose. I would also suppose that some of the policemen were also some fans who enjoyed to see the concert up close!
Where the Streets Have No Name, the song that opened The Joshua Tree, didn’t make it to the top of the charts everywhere (and the album had already been out for five months), but it has certainly remained one of the most loved songs by U2 fans of all time, and one of the great masterpieces of this legendary group.
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