So the fly has been hard at work, blogging up a storm (at least by the standards around here) of late. It seems TOaO is now a site for song-analysis, and as you can see by the comments sections, I'm an avid reader.
But today my thoughts turn from song analysis to album analysis, or better, sequence analysis. This was spurred by Amazon's u2 sale today!!! Since I already own every song, I picked up my 4th copy of The Joshua Tree (that's not a typo: my original + tekne's original + the version from the complete u2 + today = 4). I imagine I've heard this album at least 1000 times, and I've heard many of the songs on it live more than a dozen times. So what struck me when I listened to it today, twice? It's this:
A large portion of u2's success, of u2's mythic status, of who and what they are as a band is owed to the sequence of the first 4 songs on this album. For those for whom this isn't written into their brains, that's 1) Streets, 2) Still Haven't Found, 3) With or Without You, and 4) Bullet the Blue Sky. All were huge hits. With or Without You might have been a bigger single at the time, but Streets and Bullet are played at EVERY u2 concert - something that can be said for very few of their songs, with only Pride going back farther. But the 'thing' about these 4 songs isn't about the individual songs; only the last is one of my favorites. And it's not clear that today songs like these would even be hits. Streets and Still Haven't Found just aren't those sort of catchy, poppy, rockin' songs that usual make hits.
But there is just something about the way they go together, about the way they create a space that is the American desert, set a mood, establish a sound. Bono has commented that later albums (like ATYCLB) had a lot of great songs, but had the wrong playing order, or for some reason just didn't come together as an album. The Joshua Tree definitely comes together as an album.
Even more interesting, to me at least, is the fact that these 4 songs really don't sound all that much like most of the 100s of songs that u2 has recorded. Indeed, now that they have 12 studio albums, it becomes even clearer that their biggest album is in many ways the one that's most distinct - more ballads, more anthems, less rock, more weirdness that's not easy to categorize (e.g. Zooropa has weirdness, but it's synthetic weirdness, whereas Joshua Tree has hippy moments on it).
Perhaps the fly can tell us, in future writings, about how to make an album. How to fit songs together. And how to come up with an opening sequence of 4 songs that make it possible to play an album 1000 times without the slightest hint of getting sick of it.