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.