Thursday, March 30, 2017

30 on the 30th: The Joshua Tree and "Running to Stand Still"

A few days ago, while listening to a local radio station, a series of songs, all from the year 1987--my senior year and my first year of college, a year fully three decades distant from me now--sent me on a nostalgia trip. Of course, when it comes to pop music, I do that rather easily. But a quick bit of Googling started me thinking as well: whatever social and psychological reasons may account for the affection I felt for that music, and for so much else that was on pop radio that year, the fact simply remains: 1987 was a tremendous year for solid, rocking, blusey, folky, loud, funky, brilliant, powerful pop tunes. Running through the list of albums released that year, albums that I have played to death (as both cassette tapes and compact discs) over the past 30 years, convinced me: this is a series worth putting on the blog.

So, while I missed January and February, beginning today, on the 30th of every month, through the end of the year, I'm going to highlight one of those great 1987 albums, and one track in particular from it that I remember and love. I'm not a music critic, so this is just going to be a personal reminiscence: 10 albums that are 30 years old (and I'm going to try to note them as close as possible to their actual release dates), that I still can happily listen to all the way through (and so should you).

First up, probably the biggest of them all: U2's The Joshua Tree, released in early March, 1987. An album that became so anthemic, so iconic, that of course it now attracts all sorts of revisionist criticism and contempt...but no one, not even the people who voice such attitudes, actually believe them, because the songwriting, the instrumentation, the vocals, the guitars, the drums, the whole package of American blues, Irish folk, barely sublimated Christianity, and focused rock and roll power, remains overwhelmingly excellent. With the possible exception of "Trip Through Your Wires," which is a pretty straightforward makeshift blues tune, there isn't a dud on the whole album, and fully half of the tracks are out and out masterpieces. For all that, it's not my favorite U2 album (I'm one of those oddballs that love the mix of apologetic pretension and self-indulgence on Rattle and Hum). But it is, probably, their one utterly essential recording. I can remember driving through the backwoods of central Virginia, in the summer of 1993, getting completely lost while looking for a friend's house during a weekend off from my internship in Washington DC, and playing this tape over and over--and somehow, in those hot green woods, the moody, passionate anthems of U2 were exactly what I needed to hear.

What track to play? "Running to Stand Still," the most beautiful tune on the album, a wonderfully humble collection of lyrics about love and self-destruction that carries across the decades all the more effectively for that simplicity. This is the live performance from Rattle and Hum, of course.

1 comment:

Tim Lacy said...

You and me both, Russell. I'm a huge fan of Pop and Achtung Baby, as well as the live album, Under a Blood Red Sky. I came to U2 on the last. - TL