U2 were clearly on their way up on March 9, 1987, when they released their fifth studio album, The Joshua Tree. Their two most recent studio albums, 1983’s War and 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, had each been certified platinum, signifying U.S. sales of 1 million copies.
Still, the band wasn’t yet on the top tier. Neither of those albums had managed to crack the top 10 on the Billboard 200 (they both peaked at No. 12), and neither spawned a top 10 hit on the Hot 100. The band’s highest-charting single prior to 1987 was “Pride (In the Name of Love)” — a classic, to be sure, but hardly a smash single. It peaked at No. 33 in December 1984.
By contrast, The Joshua Tree logged nine weeks at No. 1. That constituted the second-longest reign that year, trailing only Whitney Houston’s sophomore album, Whitney, which topped the chart for 11 weeks.
The U2 album spawned back-to-back No. 1 singles on the Hot 100, “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The two songs spent a combined five weeks at No. 1. Only one other artist, George Michael, topped the Hot 100 for five weeks in that calendar year. Michael achieved the feat with “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” a duet with Aretha Franklin, and his own solo hit “Faith.”
Two other songs from The Joshua Tree made the Hot 100. “Where the Streets Have No Name” peaked at No. 13. “In God’s Country” reached No. 44.
Here’s another indication of The Joshua Tree‘s success. Where War and The Unforgettable had grown into platinum status, The Joshua Tree was certified gold, platinum, and double=platinum simultaneously as soon as it became eligible (in May 1987). By the end of that year, it had been certified quadruple-platinum. In October 1988, it went quintuple=platinum. It jumped to Diamond status –signifying U.S. sales of 10 million copies — in September 1995.
When the Grammy nominations were announced for 1987, U2 were the only artist to receive noms for each of the “Big Three” awards — Album, Record, and Song of the Year. The Joshua Tree won Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards on March 2, 1988, beating Houston’s Whitney, Michael Jackson’s Bad, Prince’s Sign ‘o’ the Times, and the Dolly Parton/Linda Ronstadt/Emmylou Harris collabo, Trio. (Jackson, who had won Album of the Year with his previous album, Thriller, was seeking to become the first artist since Stevie Wonder in the ’70s to win in that category with back-to-back studio releases.)
U2 was Grammy-nominated for Record and Song of the Year for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” but lost them both. The band won a second award that night for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for their work on the album.
U2 have built on the breakthroughs they achieved with The Joshua Tree: They have amassed a total of 22 Grammys, more than any other group in history, and have won each of the “Big Three” Grammy Awards twice. They took Album of the Year a second time with How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2005); they took Record of the Year with “Beautiful Day” (2000) and “Walk On” (2001); they took Song of the Year with “Beautiful Day” (2000) and “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own” (2005). The only other artist to win each of the “Big Three” awards twice is Adele, who swept the awards five years ago and again last month.
U2 have amassed seven No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200, a total equaled or surpassed by just three groups in history. The Beatles lead among groups with 19 No. 1 albums. The Rolling Stones have had nine. Led Zeppelin has also had seven.
U2 have sold 52 million albums in the U.S., according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America. That puts them No. 10 among all groups, behind the Beatles (178 million), Led Zeppelin (111.5 million), Eagles (101 million), Pink Floyd (75 million), AC/DC (72 million), the Rolling Stones (66.5 million), Aerosmith (66.5 million), Metallica (62 million), and Van Halen (56.5 million).
U2 have yet to land another No. 1 single on the Hot 100, though they’ve returned to the top 10 with “Desire,” “Mysterious Ways,” “One,” and “Discotheque.”
The Joshua Tree continues to receive accolades. It ranks No. 27 on a Rolling Stone list (published in 2012) of the Greatest Albums of All Time. It’s the fourth-highest ranking album on the list that was released in the 1980s, behind the Clash’s London Calling (No. 8), Michael Jackson’s Thriller (No. 20), and Chuck Berry’s The Great Twenty-Eight (No. 21), a compilation of tracks recorded between 1955-1965.
The Joshua Tree was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014. It rose to No. 1 on Billboard‘s Top Catalog Albums chart in January of this year, just the latest indication of its enduring appeal. Starting May 12, Bono and company will hit the road for an anniversary tour, playing songs that will no doubt resonate as much now as they did in 1987, and sounding just as relevant as anything on the charts in 2017.