U2 will reissue The Joshua Tree on June 2nd.
Recording "Where the Streets Have No Name" was such a hassle that Brian Eno nearly wiped the tapes in frustration. As the band started to assemble material for their new album, the Edge made it his mission to compose "the ultimate U2 live song." Installed in an empty room at the top of his equally empty new home, Melbeach, he worked tirelessly with a 4-track tape machine until he'd completed a hard-driving guitar riff that would become "Where the Streets Have No Name."
"It was a strange feeling when I finished the rough mix, because I thought I had just come up with the most amazing guitar part and song of my life, but I was totally alone in a big house with no one to share it with," he recalls in U2's autobiography. "I remember listening to the complete silence of the house for a few seconds after the music stopped and then doing a dance around the room, punching the air."
The rest of the band, who viewed the tricky riff with trepidation, did not match his enthusiasm. "He figured a guitar part that could switch from the 6/8 time and bring it into 4/4 for when the band comes in," Clayton explained in the Classic Albums documentary. "And I have to say, at the time I didn't appreciate the probably hours of thought that went into the idea. It just seemed like a way of fucking the band up."
In a 2008 interview with Mojo, Daniel Lanois remembers being equally perturbed. "It was a bit of a tongue-twister for the rhythm section, with strange bar lengths that got everybody in a bad mood. I can remember pointing at a blackboard, walking everybody through the changes like a science teacher." Further complicating matters was the fact that the song was far from complete. "[The Edge] had the beginning and the end, but he didn't really have the bit in the middle," says Clayton. "So we would spend interminable hours figuring out chord changes to get the two bits to join up."
Eventually, Brian Eno hit a breaking point ("It drove Brian mad," Clayton confirms) and, according to multiple sources, he had to be physically restrained from wiping the tapes of the song. "Brian thought if he could just erase it from the tapes we could stop working on it," Lanois told Uncut in 2003. "I'm sure they would have just come up with another song. It's interesting, sometimes the songs that receive the most attention are the ones that don't make it. You just hate to lose your investment. I'm not sure if Brian was right, but it did drive me a little bananas as well."
However, Eno sought to clarify the famous tale in the Classic Albums documentary. "That story's been told a lot of times and now I shall tell you the truth about it. That song was recorded so there was a version of it on tape. That version had quite a lot of problems. What we kept doing was spending hours and days and weeks, actually – probably half the time that the whole album took was spent on that song – trying to fix up this version on tape. It was a nightmare of screwdriver work, and my feeling was that it would be much better to start again. I [was] sure we would get there quicker if we started again. So my idea was to stage an accident and erase the tapes so we'd have to start again. But I never did."