“Where the Streets Have No Name” is the opening track from their 1987 album The Joshua Tree. It was released as the album’s third single in August 1987 . Bono was inspired to write the lyrics by the notion that it is possible to identify a person’s religion and income based on the street on which they lived, particularly in Belfast. Amidst difficulties recording the song, producer Brian Eno attempted to erase the song from the recording tapes. The song’s signature is a repeating guitar arpeggio utilizing a delay effect that is played at the beginning and end of the song.
The song peaked at #14 in Canada, #10 in The Netherlands and #4 in the United Kingdom. The song has become one of the band’s most popular songs, and it has remained a staple of the band’s live act since the song debuted in 1987 on the Joshua Tree Tour. The song was notably performed on a Los Angeles rooftop for the filming of its music video, which won a Grammy Award for “Best Performance Music Video”. Rolling Stone ranked the song at #28 on its list of the “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.”
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.
You can almost tell what the people are earning by the name of the street they live on and what side of that street they live on. That said something to me, and so I started writing about a place where the streets have no name.
Legendary producer BRIAN ENO hated U2’s iconic song WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME so much; he tried to erase it in the recording studio.
The track, from the band’s 1987 album Joshua Tree, went on to become one of their most famous hits, and was named by Rolling Stone magazine number 28 in their 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of all time.
But U2 owe its release and subsequent success to a young technician who physically fought Eno, who produced the record, to stop him from wiping it from existence.
During an appearance on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle TV show, guitarist The Edge reveals, “He had witnessed us try so many ideas it was all grey. So he decided to erase it and start again.
“He sent our junior engineer out of the room so he could erase it. The engineer had to physically grab him and pull him out of the control room.”
This video was directed by Meiert Avis. The song was performed to playback on the rooftop of the Republic Liquor Store at East 7th Street and South Main Street in Los Angeles on 27 March 1987. The scenes including the police shutting the video down due to safety concerns are real. In 1988, the music video won a Grammy Award for “Best Performance Music Video”.
At the beginning of the video, a radio broadcast of the band’s song “Bullet the Blue Sky” can be heard. The main concept of the video was a homage to the Beatles’s final concert, which was on the rooftop of their record company headquarters in London.
Crowds were invited via the radio announcement, which caused the chaos that sparked police to try and stop the shoot. It was later noted that had things been more organized, the video would have looked nothing like the Beatles’s last performance.