Where the Trees Have No Name

U2 found creative inspiration in the high desert for their 1987 album, The Joshua Tree



After choosing to photograph their alum cover in Joshua Tree National Park in 1987, U2 decided to change the name of their 1987 release from The Two Americas to The Joshua Tree.

Photo courtesy of Universal Music Group

When the Irish band U2 began work on its fifth album in 1986, its members had one destination in mind to capture the accompanying visual: the American West as personified by the Coachella Valley. “We wanted to find places where nature and civilization met. The whole idea, the theme, was desert and ghost towns,” says cover designer and art director Steve Averill about the iconic shoot that begat the indelible images used for the band’s multiplatinum 1987 watershed album, The Joshua Tree.

That wasn’t always the name of the record, though. “It originally had the working title The Two Americas,” Averill reveals. “The title came up during the journey, an idea Anton [Corbijn, the photographer] had to go to Joshua Tree National Park. The biblical side of it all, and being in America, resonated with Bono and everybody else in the band, so that became the title.”

The black-and-white wide-screen cover shot of the band in the foreground with majestic valley terrain behind them was — and still is — quite a stark image to behold. “What I was trying to do with the way we shot the pictures and framed the cover was to suggest the landscape vision and cinematic approach that was taken to the recording,” explains Averill. “My intention was to give a Sergio Leone/John Ford kind of feel to it by using a shot where the band was off to the left as opposed to being in the center.”

The cover was actually shot at Zabriskie Point, says Averill: “We were up high where the telescopes are, and we walked into the dry bed where the rainfall goes. That landscape is weird, you know? It’s kind of lunar. The American landscape is quite different from where we had been shooting in Ireland, that’s for sure. That whole area, the valley, was fairly incredible. It made you realize the size and scope of America.”

The Joshua tree itself appears to the right of the band on the back cover and also directly between them in the middle of the inside gatefold shot. Averill, Corbijn, and U2 collectively felt the cover photo of just the band and the landscape was more appropriate for where the music was going. And, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the fabled tree is no longer with us. “The tree has fallen down since we were there, yes,” confirms Averill. “I saw a shot of it online — it actually keeled over and died. Sad, but there you go. It was an iconic tree in itself, but it didn’t even know that it was.” And now it’s become one with the good earth of all God’s country.

Comments to this website are moderated by staff. While all comments are welcome, we encourage all to be polite and please do not use this system for advertising or business promotions. Any complaint towards a business or service should be directed directly to that business and not posted here. If anyone has a complaint that a comment is defamatory, please contact me at tmay@palmspringslife.com and I will take appropriate action promptly. Thank You

Add your comment:
Edit Module
Palm Springs Life
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

The Evangenitals' Alternative, Edgy Music Finds an Audience

From what started as an imaginary band between founders Juli Crockett and Lisa Dee, The Evangenitals have found an audience for their off-beat, no-holds barred music.

Lisa Vanderpump Will Preside Over Palm Springs Festival of Lights Parade

A place on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars and now Reality TV star Lisa Vanderpump will be the Celebrity Grand Marshal of the 23rd annual Palm Springs Festival of Lights Parade on Dec. 6.

"The Imitation Game" Garners Ensemble Award from Palm Springs Film Fest

"The Imitation Game" will receive the Ensemble Performance Award at the 26th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala on Jan. 3.

Tom Dreesen Performs Act to Benefit Barbara Sinatra's Children's Center

Tom Dreesen recalls Frank Sinatra didn't go to bed until sun up, so they would leave Sinatra's Rancho Mirage compound in the middle of the night and drive around the Coachella Valley talking politics, sports, and Sinatra's childhood.

Neil Sedaka Covers 50-Plus Years of Hits in McCallum Show

Neil Sedaka has been performing for more than 50 years, and the legendary singer reveals he is working on a "very serious musical" about his life, struggles, and comeback featuring all of his songs.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions + Contests

Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.
Fashionista Friends

Fashionista Friends

Experience the glitz and glamour of Fashion Week El Paseo 2015.
2014/15 Best of the Best

2014/15 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.