America was the big thematic thread that runs through U2‘s fifth studio album, The Joshua Tree. The band had been spending some five months of every year in the U.S. Bono had been reading American authors like Norman Mailer, Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver and digging into American roots music traditions. He was determined to express his feelings about the nation (from an Irish point of view) and have the album’s sound reflect the wide open spaces found across the country, the bigness of America as a place as well as a concept.
Working with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, the band initially set up their recording gear in January 1986 at Danesmoate House, an 18th Century vintage manor in the Irish countryside. Recording continued throughout the year, using both studios and the home that U2 guitarist The Edge had recently purchased (bassist Adam Clayton later bought Danesmoate House). Recording finished in November. The album ended up being sequenced by Kirsty MacColl, artist and wife of Steve Lillywhite, who produced U2’s first three albums and was mixing the singles on The Joshua Tree. On its completion, Bono declared himself “as pleased with the record as I can ever be pleased with a record.”
It was the album that broke U2 through to international superstardom, and was the first new release to be made available on the compact disc, vinyl record, and cassette tape formats all on the same date. It spent nine weeks at #1 on the U.S. Top 200, and topped album charts in 20 other nations. The songs “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” both hit #1 in America. By May the album had sold some seven million copies worldwide. The Joshua Tree went on to post international sales of 25 million, joining the select list of the best selling albums ever.