Where the Streets Have No Name

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Where the Streets Have No Name

performed by U2
written by U2 (music), Bono (lyrics)
released August 31, 1987

[Verse 1]
I wanna run, I want to hide
I wanna tear down the walls
That hold me inside
I wanna reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name

[Verse 2]
I wanna feel sunlight on my face
I see the dust-cloud
Disappear without a trace
I wanna take shelter
From the poison rain
Where the streets have no name

Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
We’re still building and burning down love
Burning down love
And when I go there
I go there with you
It’s all I can do

[Verse 3]
The city’s a flood, and our love turns to rust
We’re beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled in dust
I’ll show you a place
High on a desert plain
Where the streets have no name


Where the Streets Have No Name is a song by Irish rock band, U2, and it features as the opening track from their The Joshua Tree (1987) album. The song was also the third single released from the album and it was a success – peaking at number thirteen in the US, number fourteen in Canada, number ten in the Netherlands, and number four in the United Kingdom. The song has remained a staple of their live act since the song debuted in 1987.

From Wiki:

“Where the Streets Have No Name” is played in the key of D major at a tempo of 126 beats per minute. The introduction and outro are played in a 3 4 time signature, while the remainder of the song is in a common 4 4 signature. The song opens with an instrumental section, starting with chorale-like sustained synthesiser notes. The guitar fades in after 40 seconds; this part consists of a repeated “chiming” six-note arpeggio. A “dotted eighth” delay effect is used to “play” each note in the arpeggio twice, thus creating a rich sound. The bass and drums enter at 1:10.

The introduction, following a I–IV–I–IV–vi–V–I chord progression, creates a “wall of sound”, as described by Mark Butler, against which the vocals emerge after nearly two minutes. The guitar part played for the remainder of the song features The Edge strumming percussive sixteenth notes. The bass and drums continue in regular eighth and sixteenth notes, respectively, while Bono’s vocal performance, in contrast, varies greatly in its timbre, (“he sighs; he moans; he grunts; he exhales audibly; he allows his voice to crack”) as well as timing by his usage of rubato to slightly offset the notes he sings from the beat.

This development reaches a climax during the first chorus at the line “burning down love” (A–G–F♯–D); the melody progresses through a series of scale degrees that lead to the highest note in the song, the A4 at “burning”. In later choruses, Bono sings “blown by the wind” with the same melody, stretching the same note even longer. After the third chorus, the song’s outro is played, the instrumentation reverting to the same state as it was in the introduction, with a six-note guitar arpeggio played against sustained synthesiser notes.

The meaning of the lyrics are open to interpretation – even according to U2 frontman Bono who penned them.

The lyrics were inspired by a story that Bono heard about Belfast, Northern Ireland, where a person’s religion and income were evident by the street on which they lived. He contrasted this with the anonymity he felt when visiting Ethiopia, saying: “the guy in the song recognizes this contrast and thinks about a world where there aren’t such divisions, a place where the streets have no name. To me, that’s the way a great rock ‘n’ roll concert should be: a place where everyone comes together… Maybe that’s the dream of all art: to break down the barriers and the divisions between people and touch upon the things that matter the most to us all.” Bono wrote the lyrics while on a humanitarian visit to Ethiopia with his wife, Ali; he first wrote them down on an airsickness bag while staying in a village.

According to him, the song is ostensibly about “Transcendence, elevation, whatever you want to call it.” Bono, who compared many of his lyrics prior to The Joshua Tree to “sketches”, said that “‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ is more like the U2 of old than any of the other songs on the LP, because it’s a sketch—I was just trying to sketch a location, maybe a spiritual location, maybe a romantic location. I was trying to sketch a feeling.”

The open-ended nature of the lyrics has led to many interpretations. Journalist Michael Campbell believed the lyrics send “a message of hope” and wish for a “world that is not divided by class, wealth, race, or any other arbitrary criterion”. With regard to the place Bono was referring to in the song, he said, “I’m not sure, really, about that. I used to think it was Belfast…” Journalist Niall Stokes believes the title was influenced by Bono’s and his wife Ali’s visit to Ethiopia as volunteer aid-workers. Bono has expressed mixed opinions about the open-ended lyrics: “I can look at it now and recognize that [the song] has one of the most banal couplets in the history of pop music. But it also contains some of the biggest ideas. In a curious way, that seems to work. If you get any way heavy about these things, you don’t communicate. But if you’re flip or throwaway about it, then you do. That’s one of the paradoxes I’ve come to terms with.”

In a 2017 interview, Bono said he still felt that the song’s lyrics were incomplete, stating “lyrically it’s just a sketch and I was going to go back and write it out”. He expressed regret for rhyming “hide” with “inside”. However, the Edge disagreed with his comments, stating that he loves the song and that Bono is “very hard on himself”. Eno responded by commending the “incomplete” lyrics because he feels “they allow the listener to finish them”.

The song’s music video also has a unique story.

The video begins with an aerial shot of a block in Los Angeles, and clips of radio broadcasts are heard with disc jockeys stating that U2 is planning on performing a concert downtown and expecting crowds of 30,000 people. Police show up to the set and inform the band’s crew of the security issue that the film shoot is causing, due to the large number of people who are coming to watch the performance. Two minutes into the video, U2 are seen on the roof of a liquor store at the corner of 7th St. and S. Main St., and perform “Where the Streets Have No Name” to a large crowd of people standing in the streets surrounding the building. Towards the end of the song, the police tell the crew that the performance is about to be shut down, and eventually police walk onto the roof while the crowd are booing the police.

The video for “Where the Streets Have No Name” was directed by Meiert Avis and produced by Michael Hamlyn and Ben Dossett. The band attracted over 1,000 people during the video’s filming, which took place on the rooftop of a liquor store in Downtown Los Angeles on 27 March 1987. The band’s performance on a rooftop in a public place was a reference to the Beatles’ final concert, as depicted in the film Let It Be.

The video won the Grammy Award for Best Performance Music Video at the 1989 Grammy Awards. I’ll warn anyone who watches this at work, or around children, that some of the, um, theatrical elements, of this video include some swear words. If you do watch it, though, it feels very much like stepping inside a time machine.