This week marks thirty years since U2 released their fifth studio album, The Joshua Tree, which went on to become one of the most iconic albums in history.
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On Thursday morning, Dave Fanning was joined by Steve Averill, who has designed every album cover for U2 from Boy to Songs of Innocence. He explained that the Joshua tree on the album’s seminal cover was discovered by chance when the band was travelling through the California desert with photographer, Anton Corbijn, early one morning.
“The idea was to find some place in America where civilization and the desert met. On the way to the Joshua Tree National Park, Anton suddenly said, ‘Stop the coach!’…There was a tree on its own in the distance….It looked magnificent and was an emblem for what was going on.”
The band had already decided to name the album The Joshua Tree to reflect the religious and political themes that ran through the songs. The tree was named, according to Mormon legend, by early American settlers after the prophet, Joshua, because the trees branches reminded them of the image of the prophet raising his hands in prayer. The trees usually grow close together, so seeing a solitary tree in the California desert was unusual.
But what they hadn’t realised was that they had wandered onto land owned by the military, which was used to run drills and tests. As they prepared for the shoot, in the silence of the desert, three jets flew overhead. “It was a very eerie experience,” said Steve.
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The band never made it to the Joshua Tree National Park, and the solitary Joshua tree in California’s Death Valley has become a place of pilgrimage for music fans. U2 will begin The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 in May and, according to Steve, the album is as relevant as it ever was.
“The world was in turmoil then as it is now. All of those things are coming in full circle and we can’t seem to get beyond those tragedies and political situations. But the songs are universal; you don’t have to understand what was going on behind it to enjoy the songs”
To listen to the full interview with Steve Averill, click here.