Songs of Brilliance

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I was talking with a buddy at my gym and gushing about the upcoming Joshua Tree 2017 Tour. He is not a fan but knew that I was. In addition, he is nearly ten years younger than me. I mentioned that that album propelled them into the ionosphere. Songs like Where the Streets Have No Name and With or Without You and I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For were what produced the album’s huge success. I finished my spiel by stating that these songs were classics. To which he replied, are they or are they just old?

There times when I have been myopic about the band’s music, mostly when I was younger. And I admit that I bristle whenever someone criticizes the band, but less now than before. Yet I was still surprised that he asked that. My response was, of course they are. But was that just the fan in me talking?

I was fully prepared to launch into a dissertation on why those songs are, but did not have the time to explain in the gym setting. But it got me thinking about what made me believe that they were.

Classic songs or not?

There are many ways to define a classic and folks far more knowledgeable than me may have a better set of criteria, but here goes.

First and foremost, the songs had to have stood the test of time. They have to be listened to and enjoyed by the original generation—in this case Gen X—and the generations that followed. And they have to be remembered. There are many songs that were big hits of a particular time, but literally forgotten in the years that followed. The songs that I mentioned have stayed in the public’s memory banks. Longevity is what helps a song achieve classic status.

Second is impact. The songs had to have an influence culturally and critically and it had to have been widespread. The success of the album in sales, airplay, music awards and tour attendance clearly demonstrated its appeal around the world. They are still recognized today for their effect on the original generation of fans, artists, critics and the ones that followed.

Third is representation. The songs must be illustrative of the time, like the eighties. There are so many songs that are classic eighties songs, and these are definitely at the top. Major music publications such as Rolling Stone Magazine, Spin Magazine and Q Magazine have attested to album’s relevance, so this is not just my opinion.

Fourth is quality. Simply put, how good are these songs? I would say that they are great and so have music fans, successful musicians and respected critics. It is difficult to get so many to agree on something. So, an achievement like that can only result from that thing being good.

Combined, these elements are what warrant giving a song (or songs) classic status. These helped solidify than band’s place in the rock pantheon.

Regarding my buddy at the gym, I simply supported my opinion by turning to a couple other gym buddies and asked if these songs were classic, to which each responded yes. I told him if he asked around he would get more yeses than nos. It wasn’t convincing win, but I could see he was thinking about it.

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The Soundtrack of My Youth

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Now that the band has launched its Joshua Tree 2017 Tour, it is astonishing to believe that is has been nearly thirty years since their original tour.

I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic lately. If you have read my previous posts (When I Became a Fan) you will know that I have been looking back through the long lens of time and reminiscing about days long gone.

The origination of the word nostalgia is from the Greek nostos, meaning pain, grief or distress and algos, meaning homecoming. And it is true that when I think about when the album first released, there is a tug on the heartstrings that feels like pain, although not unpleasant.

If I could turn back time

For a little while now, I have been feeling a strong desire to return home—not a place but a time. The eighties seem so cheesy now, but it was a heady age filled with video games, hair gel and lots of MTV, although I had to go over friends’ homes to watch MTV. No cable for this guy back then.

I remember how truly wonderful it was to discover the band for the first time. Their music was new and different and came at a time when my life was in constant flux. High school was tough enough, but losing a parent made even the simplest things, like going to class, a much greater effort than I could have imagined. There were times when it felt like I had a tornado inside me and I really wasn’t equipped to handle it. As a matter of fact, I handled it badly and was failing at nearly everything in life.

Listening to The Joshua Tree made me happy and going to the concert helped me realize that things were not as bad as I thought. The best part of that time was that I learned that things get better—I got better. As they did, the music from that album took on greater meaning. Listening with my unsophisticated ears as Bono’s words went into my brain I slowly realized that there was so much poetry in their songs.

Lots of popular songs from the eighties had lame lyrics if you just saw them on the page. I never felt that with U2’s songs. There was something much more abstruse and challenging about their words and I liked that, even though I couldn’t discern the meaning some of the time.

But what a great time it was. That album changed the way I dressed. I abandoned sportswear and sneakers and started wearing a lot of black. Much to my mom’s chagrin, I grew out my hair and pierced my ears. After the music video With or Without You aired, I started wearing my hair in a ponytail. I also bought a black trench coat from a secondhand store and a pair of Dr. Martens boots. For me, it was somewhat transformative. There was something particularly enjoyable about it, like I was changing my identity.

There was also another change in me. It awakened the creative part of me that had fallen asleep during the time of my father’s illness. I learned that it was difficult to be imaginative when I was unhappy. The album made me want to write. And I did again.

I find myself wishing that I could go back and discover their music again—if only briefly—just to have the feeling again.

A really big album

It’s been nearly three decades since the release of The Joshua Tree and there are times when it doesn’t feel like it and there are times when it does. With the album approaching thirty, I wondered if the album is as huge as I remembered.

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Here are a few facts that I gathered:

  • Over 25 million albums sold
  • Ranked number 3 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Albums of the 80s.
  • Winner for 4 Grammy awards and numerous international awards.

That is quite a feat considering that there were so many great bands that were in the eighties. The ones that I remember were Van Halen, Motley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses and Metallica, but there were many others. In my high school those bands were all bigger and more popular than U2. But there was something cool about liking a band that was not as popular. And I did know that U2 was already big prior to Joshua Tree.

So here we are nearly three decades later celebrating an incredible album that marked the band’s rise into superstardom. What better way than to see them live? My only wish is that they perform the songs like they did during their first tour. For me, it’s how I remember those songs the best. It will be exciting to hear the whole album—live—just like we did way back when. For some of us, it will be A Sort of Homecoming (and you see what I did there?).

For all of us it will be a reminder that we are all still young, where it counts.