Song: “Where the Streets Have No Name”

An iconic soundscape, a structurally complex song, and a classic, all rolled into one

Song: “Where the Streets Have No Name”

Introduced by an iconic Brian Eno soundscape blending organ and synth pads, “Where the Streets Have No Name” is about the land of imagination and possibilities, as Bono writes in his recent book, Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story.

Released in 1987, the song reached #13 on the US charts.

While “Where the Streets Have No Name” has a simple chord structure, it was one of the most structurally challenging songs the band ever recorded. Fronting Joshua Tree, which was co-produced by Eno and Daniel Lanois, the process of getting the song right consumed 40% of the time needed to record the entire album, and its structure was even charted out on a blackboard. As Lanois said later:

It was a bit of a tongue-twister for the rhythm section, with strange bar lengths that got everybody in a bad mood. I can remember pointing at a blackboard, walking everybody through the changes like a science teacher.

U2 performed the song during halftime of the 2002 Super Bowl. As they played, names of victims in the September 11th attacks were scrolled on a giant screen. At the end of the performance Bono opened his jacket to reveal an American flag in the lining.

The version of the song featured here comes from the hybrid live/studio film and record sharing the same name, Rattle and Hum. While the film had mixed reviews and middling box office, it has aged well. The album was a major success, selling over 14 million copies, and spawning the hit “Desire.”

For a band then just over a decade old, the scenes below — shot from a helicopter circling Sun Devil Stadium — show how far and fast they ascended.

Enjoy!