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Where The Streets Have No Name

by

U2



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

In 1985, Bono visited Ethiopia after performing at Live Aid. Many people assumed this song was about that trip, since the streets there really don't have names, just numbers. The song is actually about Ireland. In Ireland (and Northern Ireland), the many cities are divided: rich/poor, Catholic/Protestant, etc. By knowing which street a person lives on you can tell their religion, wealth and beliefs - it's where the streets have no name.
Brian Eno produced this and played the organ intro. The Edge did a D-chord delay arpeggio thing on his 4 track at home for the rest. (thanks, Flanagan - Canada, for above 2)
Steve Lillywhite, who produced U2's first 3 albums, was brought in to do the final mix.
This is the first track on The Joshua Tree, which became the fastest selling album in both the US and UK.
This was extremely difficult to produce. The arrangement was written on a blackboard because it was so complex.
Producer Brian Eno estimated that the recording of this song absorbed over 40% of the time spent on The Joshua Tree. Eno became so frustrated trying to mix the track that he almost destroyed the tape and started over. According to the co-producer Daniel Lanois, the assistants never followed Eno's frustrated instructions to wipe the tape. Daniel Lanois recalled to Mojo magazine January 2008 about the song's tricky birth: "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. There's a part of Eno that likes instant gratification. He'd rather throw something difficult away and start something new."
The video showed U2 putting on an impromptu concert on the roof of of the Republic Liquor Store on the corner of 7th and Main Street in Los Angeles. This was an innovative way to shoot a video, leading to some surprised looks as some onlookers were delighted, while others were upset because they were stopping traffic. The concert/video shoot took place March 27 1987. U2 played the song 4 times, and also played "People Get Ready," "In God's Country," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Pride (In The Name Of Love)." It won the Grammy for Best Performance Music Video in 1989.

The concept was similar to the Beatles famous Apple Records rooftop concert on January 30, 1969, which they used in their movie Let It Be. When asked about the similarity between U2's rooftop video and The Beatles rooftop concert, Bono said, "We've ripped off The Beatles many times before."
This song has a very long instrumental intro. Bono's vocals come in at 1:46.
The single also included "Sweetest Thing," which became a hit when it was re-released in 1998.
Bono (from Propaganda 5, 1987): "Where the Streets Have No Name is more like the U2 of old than any of the other songs on the LP, because it's a sketch - I was just trying to sketch a location, maybe a spiritual location, maybe a romantic location. I was trying to sketch a feeling. I often feel very claustrophobic in a city, a feeling of wanting to break out of that city and a feeling of wanting to go somewhere where the values of the city and the values of our society don't hold you down. An interesting story that someone told me once is that in Belfast, by what street someone lives on you can tell not only their religion but tell how much money they're making - literally by which side of the road they live on, because the further up the hill the more expensive the houses become. That said something to me, and so I started writing about a place where the streets have no name." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
U2 performed this at halftime of the 2002 Super Bowl between the Patriots and Rams. As they played, names of victims in the September 11 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.
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Comments (44):

This has one of the most powerful song intros I can think of. Just that alone would make a good instrumental, if lengthened. I wish religious folks would stop insisting it's about Heaven (a place never proven to exist). The songwriters say it's not, and it doesn't mention dying to get there, so give it up. "High on a desert plain" reminds me of California where the album cover was shot. Too many people try to force interpretations of drugs, sex or religion on every possible song.
- Jim, Pleasant Hill, CA
christian artists like mercyme sing this song also so i think its about heaven where the streets don't need a name.
- amanda, bradford, PA
I worked in Belfast for a bit a few years ago. "What street do you live in" is a well known opening line when you meet someone, because everyone knows from the name of the street whether you're a Catholic or Protestant.

And "high on a desert plain", well that's obviously Jerusalem. The ancient winding streets in the heart of the old city have no names.
- Simon, London, United Kingdom
One of my all time, any time favorite songs. This song defines U2's quintisential sound which was developed by Dave Evans (the Edge) over time. It began as a new wave sound like "Flock of Seagulls" guitar using tape delay but quickly improved in the early 1980's using digital delay which is a time based effect. Digital delay (a subset of digital signal processing) was invented around 1980 by electrical engineers in Los Angeles. It became popular in the audio recording industry where an analog signal is converted to a digital signal, processed, and converted back to a analog signal. Digital delay is an audio effect which records an input signal to an audio storage medium, and then plays it back after a period of time. The delayed signal may either be played back multiple times, or played back into the recording again, to create the sound of a repeating, decaying echo. The Edge plays varius increments of delay throughout many of his songs and makes changes using a pedal. This is typically done where he splits his guitar signal into two Line6 or MXR rack mounted Digital Delay units nd
- Steve, Trabuco Canyon, CA
This is the first song I ever remember hearing. For most people it's nursery rhymes, for me it's Joshua Tree in my dad's car. Beautiful, meaningful song.
- chloe, St. Louis, MO
The song is about Milton Keynes. The band were trying to get to the MK Bowl and got lost. In Milton Keynes the streets are numbered not named. From their fustration to get directions came the lyrics. But song words can mean whatever you want, that's the strength of music.
- Micheal, Leeds, United Kingdom
It is quite possible that a pluralistic view of this song exists: including contrast between the wealthier streets of Belfast, "where you can tell how much money someone has by the street they live on" and high on the desert plains (where love turns to rust and a possible connection of the color of the sand). Additionally, heaven isn't out of the question. Belfast may have been the germinal idea, but exacting one meaning is difficult when many artists are just trying to rhyme.
- Dan, Flemington, NJ
This song is about Heaven. It's obvious to us Christians, but you can take it for whatever you wish. Everyone can interpret stuff differently. But Tuesday, I was at the U2 concert and heard Bono say "I'm goin, are you?". It was awesome
- Daniel, Atlanta, GA
A painstakingly hard process to record and the song's main mix nearly destroyed by Brian Eno, the band relishes the fact that it is their most reliable burst of ignition when played live. They appreciate its place and its mystique in part precisely because it was so terribly hard and time consuming to record. Bono has described it as, "the moment God walks through the room." Whenever they're having a bit of an off night, they're not playing well, the crowd does not seem as energized as they'd hope, this one is a game-changer.
Since 1987, they have played this song on almost every full length U2 concert with very few exceptions.
- Justin, Boston, MA
this is my favorite song its brilliant!
- akiva, manhattan, NY
When I was on a tour in Ireland our tour guide was playing U2 and played this song. I mentioned that it was one of my favorite U2 songs and he talked about how the instrumental at the beginning was supposed to be a helicopter and that the song was about a guy who was at war and had fallen in love with a girl in some small remote village "where the streets have no name" before his regiment moved on and he just wanted to get back to her. I liked the idea. :)
- Jessica, Centerville, UT
I heard this song in a store today after hearing it 100 million times and not really paying attention to the lyrics. For some reason, today, every single word made sense and fell into place for me. I agree with the posts that say that lyrics can mean what you interpret them to mean, and I am sure that the author had something specific in mind when he wrote this song, just as I am sure that the song meant something to me because of my present situation. In any event, I don't believe that this song is about any one place. "Where the streets have no names" is unchartered territory. He wants to run, wants to hide, wants to tear down the walls that hold him inside...he wants out of his present state, he wants something that he can't have and can't figure out how to get it or how to get "the dust cloud" to disappear and get some "sunlight on his face" = he wants freedom. I believe that he is in love with a woman and doesn't know how to tell her. He builds and then burns down love - he talks himself into telling her that he loves her but then he talks himself out of it because he is stuck inside the walls of his own mind which is telling him that she is going to reject him. He wants to go "high on a desert plain", or to the next level, past the rut he is in, and he wants to go there with the woman he loves. The only way to get there and to be with her is to tell her, its all he can do.
- Lisa, New York, NY
There is a place know as the Million Dollar Theater in the area but it was not the location for the video shoot.

The video was recorded at occurred on top of the Republic Liquor Store on the corner of 7th and Main. All the buildings shown in the video are still there although the liquor store is now a taco stand.
- Brian La Belle, Los Angeles, CA
The meaning of this song is quite obvious to those of us living north of Los Angeles. To begin, the title of the album in which the song is found is titled "Joshua Tree." This is an obvious reference to the Mojave Desert where the Joshua Tree is indigenous. In the Mojave Desert there is a valley named Antelope Valley. This valley is located "high on a desert plain," because the Antelope Valley is located in the "high desert," The high desert experiences torrid summers and freezing winters. It is a place where I can almost always "feel the sunlight on my face." because it is almost always cloud free and sunny. This God forsaken place is extremely windy and dusty and you can see a "dust cloud disappear without a trace." It is ALWAYS so windy that you would feel that "We're beaten and blown by the wind, Trampled in dust." This valley is extremely flat, and even though it is a lousy place to live the land is cheap so there is a huge amount of homebuilding always happening. So again "We're still building," fits perfectly. The flatness of course does nothing to stop the constant wind. Moreover, because of the flatness, when it does rain the water has nowhere to go and "The city's a flood," as the streets flood immediately whenever there is rain. Oh and as to the names, or rather the lack of names of the streets, when the streets were originally laid out the streets that run east and west are named "A Street," "B Street," "C Street," and so on. Every tenth of a mile a street picks up a number like "A-3 Street." No kidding you can look all this up on Google Maps. The streets that run north and south are named by numbers, so the street names read like "45th Street East. Thus it's a place were "The Streets Have No Names." Q.E.D.
- Steve, Santa Clarita, CA
Man, I love u2. I really really love U2. They are one of my favorate rock groups. I been I really big fan of them when I was in 11th grade. Their music is really inspirational. This song gets me to think about heaven. I just can't stop loving this band.
- danleichty, rochester, MN
This is simiply the greatest song ever written. It IS DEFINETLY about Ireland. I see this prejudice and snobbery everyday in my local town so it is not just about Dublin or Belfast. Bono puts so much emotion into the performance of this song live. GENIUS!
- Niall, limerick, Ireland
I think that this song can be about anything you think it could be about. It's not just about one thing. It's about many things
- Dani, Fuquay Varina, NC
Wow. It's amazing what people will do to meanings of songs. Of course, every song has its own meaning to everyone, but when someone tells someone else (as JR from Florida just did) "listen to the words people this song is not about dublin or new mexico...its about heaven," they are kind of discounting what the artist has actually said about the song.
To JR (and probably many other people), the song is about Heaven. To the Irish (and U2 specifically), it's about Dublin. I always thought it was about New Mexico because I drive through NM all the time and see all kinds of streets in the desert with no name.
Believe it or not, while U2 are 3/4 Christian, not ALL of their songs are about God, Jesus or Heaven. They may be that to you because that's what you see in them. That's fine. But don't try to tell everybody else that's what the song is about when Bono himself says differently.
- Mark, Austin, TX
listen to the words people this song is not about dublin or new mexico...its about heaven 'when i go there, i wanna go there with you' umm hello? i dont think hes talking about the 2nd floor of his house in dublin
- JR, New Smyrna Beach, FL
Quite Possibly the greatest Rock Anthem ever!!!!
- Ron, Corona, CA
I agree with Johnny, how he said he gets it mixed up with "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." This is one of the coolest songssss!!
- Jemma, Dublin
i just love this intro so much!but it's very scary similar to the intro from pinball wizard/the who.could this be the inspiration for the intro of "where the streets have no name"???
- Rachel, hilversum, Netherlands
one of the greatest songs ever, a climax of every U2 concert. The guitar intro is just fascinating. U2`s performance of this song in Boston 2001 on Elevation tour is in my opinion one of the greatest version of Where the streets have no name. Simply a masterpiece!
- Boris, Maribor, United States
Where the streets have no name is simply my favorite song. I heard it live in Montreal last week and oh god! When i heard the guitar intro break out i was just extatic. During the chorus all the crowd (21000!!) just sang(no shouted!!). It was simply magic!
- Charles, L'assomption, Canada
I always got this song confused and it still reminds me of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking for" y is that? running with bulbusaurs. sruasublub htiw gninnur!
- Johnny, Los Angeles, CA
I've always thought of this song as a metaphor for heaven, especially when Christian band MercyMe performed it on tour. I understood it to be talking about a fallen world and the glorious place we'll go after we leave. I bought the MercyMe DVD and they say something to the effect of "People always ask us what our favorite song about heaven is. And 'I Can Only Imagine' will always have a special place in our hearts. But our favorite song talks about a place where all th honor and all the glory and all the recognition will go to the Creator of the Universe. You won't see George Washington Avenue or Abe Licoln Road. All of the honor will go to God where the streets have no name."
- Sara, Quinton, OK
Although Belfast may have been the inspiration, i see a link between the land of the Joshua Tree and his description of "where the streets have no name". i live in northern LA County, which is in the Mojave Desert. Here, we live "high on the desert plain", i see "dust clouds disappear without a trace" every day, the Joshua Trees grow, and our "streets have no name". All our streets, other than those in new, cutesy housing developments, are numbers or letters: alphabetical avenues running east-west and numeric streets running north-south. Few can imagine LA County as being remote, but believe me, there are miles of open country out here. Many of the roads are simply dirt tracks out through the desert that lead nowhere...i live along one of these, and quite happily, too!
- karen, Antelope Acres, CA
I want to run ... I want to hide... I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside... C'mon...I feel like this every single day...To me its a metaphor for anybody that ever wanted to do something different then they are actually doing now. Im sure thats not the true meaning but I think it says something when you can take a lyric and interpret anyway you want....Thats why they call it ART...
- jamie, Bethesda, MD
It is about Belfast Ireland. Read into it's history and you'll understand how it makes sense.
- Brett, Grand Rapids, MA
Bono himself said it was about Belfast,Ireland.
- J, Boston, MA
Wrong. The song is about Los Alamos, New Mexico. When research on nuclear bombs was conducted during the War, all the street signs were taken down to make any spies the more conspicuous.

Belfast is not "high on a desert plain." Los Alamos is.

"I want to run, I want to hide...
I see the dust cloud disappear
Without a trace, I want to take shelter from the poison rain...we're beaten and blown by the wind".... all references to nuclear explosion.

"We're still building" is perhaps a reference to still building nuclear weapons. "And when I go there I go there with you, It's all I can do." ... is perhaps a reference to the futility of protest.

Anyways... that's what I think.
- Terry, Ocean Springs, MS
U2 is inarguably one of the finest, sweetest and greatest creative minds produced by Mother Earth.
U2 is not a band, it is a beautiful phenomenan, vibrating every instance of God's creation at the core. U2 is a medium through which God is speaking to humanity in a language called music. Live forever U2!!
- Murali, Hyderabad, India
When I lived in Ireland, people used to look down on me because I was a Southsider and that meant I was lower class. I remember once my father and I sat next to a man on a bus who asked us; "Are you Northsiders or a Southsiders?" My dad looked him straight in the eye and said "We're Southsiders and we're proud!" This song reminds me of that time. It makes me think of how someday maybe people will let go of our differences.
- Amy Friel, Barrie, Canada
Some people say that there is some link between the lyrics and Bono's experience in Ethiopy, during a huge hungery.
The title and chorus "where the streets have no name" refers to the sort of camp where thay stayed and ethiopeans lived at.
some others lines such as "i go there with you" make reference to his wife, ali, who he went there with.
who knows? Heaven thing is a simple and obvious interpretation, and I like it much more.

(Ethiopy/ethiopeans = i don't think they're spelled like that.. sorry)
- ALE, Necochea, Argentina
great song indeed! especially the video which they shot in crowded LA. Simply an amazing song
- ALI, LAHORE, Pakistan
I live about 3 miles from Ground Zero, and I saw both towers fall on 9/11 so when I saw Bono with his jacket, and the names scrolling, at the 2002 Super Bowl, I was incredibly close to crying, it had so much emotion and sincerity in it..it was just overwhelming...The best half time show I can remember. Simply amazing, simply U2.
- Scott, NYC, NY
Actually, It's about Heaven. It's a place where there are no street names because everything in Heaven will be pointing to God and everything there will be praising God and not focusing on anything else because God will be so great.:). I heard Bono say that at a concert one time, then he said a prayer and they played this song. It was amazing.
- david, North Augusta, SC
This song is used by the Vancouver Canucks of the NHL as their opening theme song. It's mixed with another song
- Mike, Oliver, Canada
The Pet Shop Boys did a respectable cover of this on their greatest hits album in 1991, which also made No.4 - Bono was not impressed with it initially, but The Edge apparently liked the way they fused it with the chorus of "I Can't Take My Eyes Off You".
- Dave, Cardiff, Wales
i always thought this song was about racism. where everyone can live blindly
- Marco, Los Angeles, CA
"where the streets have no name", "i want to tear down the walls", a call to abandon boarders and countries and unite as one people.
- Matt, Belfast, Ireland
I can respect U2's creativity and the fact that they are doing what no one else does, yet they still manage to suck worse than Oasis.
- alatriel, lothlorien, Other
I must say that U2 is one of the greatest political bands ever. Why? Because they criticize the US in many ways while at the same time having the courage to express their fondness for the country, its culture, and its music. In other words, I don't think the Super Bowl halftime show was a kiss-butt thing with this band . . .
- Dan, Fort Collins, CO
When they performed this at the Super Bowl, they literally gave it a different connotation. I listened to the lyrics. Suddenly, it seems that it could be about a person who wants to be with a lost loved one "where the streets have no name" perhaps a poetic analogy for the afterlife/heaven/nirvana/valhalla (pick your choice). very poingnant
- Jared, Meadville, PA
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