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Classic Album covers : The Joshua Tree - U2

The Joshua Tree is the fifth studio album by U2.. It was released on 9 March 1987 by Island Records

The iconic image on the back of the album cover is a lone twisted Joshua tree standing in the desert.  Few album covers ever drove home a sense of geography like that of The Joshua Tree

Indeed, The Joshua Tree is an album rooted in geography.  Much of the album’s lyrics and chiming, echoing sounds were inspired by the band’s fascination with the landscapes of the United States, particularly its deserts.  In the liner notes for the album’s 20th anniversary re-release, the band’s art director Anton Corbijn wrote that one of the titles originally tossed around for the album was The Desert Songs.  It was Corbijn who was ultimately responsible for the selected title.  In December 1986, Corbijn went with U2 into California’s Mojave Desert to shoot the photographs for the as-yet-untitled album’s artwork.  At the end of the first day of shooting, Corbijn relayed to the band the story of the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), the hardy monocot native to the Mojave.  Also known as the yucca palm, the Joshua tree is one of the few large plants that can survive the harsh climes of the Mojave.  The tree got its name from Mormon settlers journeying through the desert in the mid-19th century who thought that the twisted branches of the tree resembled the biblical Joshua reaching his hands to the sky in prayer.  Taken by the both the symbolism of the tree’s name and by the symbolism of the tree as a landmark encountered while traveling through a barren desert, whether physical or spiritual, lead singer Bono decreed the next day that The Joshua Tree would be the title of the new album

On that second day of shooting as the band and Corbijn drove along California State Route 190 (the highway that bisects Death Valley National Park from west to east) about 21 km (13 mi) southeast of the village of Keeler just before the park’s west gate the group spotted a lone Joshua tree in the desert a short distance south of the road – unusual, as Joshua trees usually grow in groves.  This would be the iconic tree that graced the album cover, although oddly enough not on the front of album, which instead used a shot of the band standing in front of Death Valley’s Zabriskie Point (itself a famous location in rock music history thanks to the Pink Floyd/Jerry Garcia-based soundtrack for the eponymous 1970 Michelangelo Antonioni film)

Unsurprisingly, the tree became a pilgrimage spot for U2 fans from around the world, marking the location of the iconic tree with left-behind mementoes, usually messages or designs made with assembled rocks.  Sadly, the tree blew down in October 2000 after living for approximately 200 years.  Today, the body of the fallen tree still lies desiccated on the Mojave Desert floor.  The location, however, is still easily discerned from the highway since another Joshua tree is growing a few metres in front of the fallen famous one, even closer to the road (the other locations pictured in the album art, on the other hand, still look identical more than two decades later)

The biggest misconception about the tree on the cover of The Joshua Tree is that it lies within the eponymous Joshua Tree National Park, which is a four-hour drive to the south from U2’s tree.  Sadly, this confusion may have led to the August 2011 death of a Dutch music promoter and his wife who died of heatstroke in Joshua Tree National Park while searching for the tree

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