The Irish rock band U2’s hit tune Where the Streets Have No Name is just one of the group’s numerous great songs. Lyrically, the meaning of this track encompasses many of the causes that the musicians are passionate about.
As one of the most famous groups in music history, U2 has sold over 170 million albums and won 22 Grammy awards. But their songs often leave listeners wondering about the true meaning behind them.
Join us as we discover more about this tune and if they are, in fact, signing about an actual street.
Let’s dive in!
Who Originally Wrote Where the Streets Have No Name?
In 1976 a rock band from Dublin, Ireland, named U2 hit the music scene. The group consists of Bono (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), The Edge (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Adam Clayton (bass guitar), and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums, percussion). Each member attended Mount Temple Comprehensive School.
Despite their minimal music experience and knowledge, they signed with Island Records within four years of forming. They released their debut album, Boy, in 1980 and their second album, War, in 1983. War rose to #1 on the music charts due to the popularity of Sunday Bloody Sunday and Pride (In the Name of Love). Their 1987 album, The Joshua Tree, was their most successful.
The song Where the Streets Have No Name was the first track on The Joshua Tree. Bono penned the lyrics to the tune in 1986. However, recording the track took a lot of work and proved extremely difficult.
What Place Is Referenced in Where the Streets Have No Name?
Bono composed the lyrics to Where the Streets Have No Name while on a humanitarian trip to Ethiopia. However, the song has nothing to do with Ethiopia. Instead, the lead singer was inspired to write it after hearing about the town of Belfast in Northern Ireland.
It’s commonly believed that you can tell a lot about someone who lives in Belfast based on the street in which they live. Additionally, their income and religion are often telling of the type of person they are.
Bono dreamed of bringing people together from all walks of life. He said, “To me, that’s the way a great rock ‘n’ roll concert should be: a place where everyone comes together.”
The lyrics are very open-ended, which some people love, but Bono expressed his regret for this in interviews. He’s even gone as far as to say that he feels the song is incomplete because the lyrics are vague. However, many enjoy this fact because it allows them to adapt the tune personally, so it resonates more deeply with them.
Where Did U2 Famously Sing Where the Streets Have No Name?
The band chose Los Angeles’ Skid Row as the location to shoot the music video for Where the Streets Have No Name. It’s one of the most poverty-stricken areas in the country. They set up a stage on top of a liquor store next to the infamous Cecil Hotel and put on quite a show.
While editors didn’t use the audio from the performance in the video, onlookers were treated to a mini-concert. However, it wasn’t long before law enforcement came and shut them down. The clips in the video of the police shutting down the make-shift concert did actually happen. However, the video exaggerates the event to some extent.
In 1989, the video won a Grammy Award for Best Performance Music Video. Fans and music enthusiasts loved the rawness of the footage and its message. U2 took a risk shooting it, but the payoff was worth it. The result was a powerful video that helped communicate the critical message of the song.
Who Has Covered Where the Streets Have No Name?
The message of Where the Streets Have No Name has inspired numerous artists to cover it throughout the years. Were they better than the original? Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Axis of Justice – Concert Series Volume 1
In 2004, Axis of Justice covered Where the Streets Have No Name. The band is a non-profit organization co-founded by Serj Tankian and Tom Morello. Both men are incredible musicians and political activists.
The band often performed the song to end their concerts due to the perfectly fitting nature of the lyrics speaking towards equality for all. It was a relevant message of hope that fit the political message the group was spreading.
30 Seconds to Mars
Another great cover of Where the Streets Have No Name comes from the Los Angeles-based group 30 Seconds to Mars. In 2011, the band put their spin on the song by slowing down the introduction with vocals laying over synthesizer swells. The energy slowly builds until it’s off the charts with excitement.
While some covers are copies of the original, 30 Seconds to Mars makes this song their own. They manage to create an almost entirely new listening experience. Some might even argue they prefer this version over the original.
Sing 2- Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
The 2021 Illumination film Sing 2 also featured a cover of Where the Streets Have No Name. This version featured Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, and Nick Kroll. The artists combine for a melodic-filled rendition of the song that was key to the movie.
In the film, the performers from The New Moon Theater sing their version to convince Jimmy Crystal to allow the group to perform at the Crystal Tower Theater. Sing 2 is an animated film with children as its target audience. It introduces a whole new generation to the song’s powerful message.
What is U2 Doing Now?
After releasing 14 studio albums between 1980 and 2017 and having an enormously successful career, U2 has every reason to retire. However, the musicians don’t appear ready to start enjoying their golden years yet. In late 2021, The Edge disclosed that the group was working on a follow-up to their 2017 Songs of Experience album.
The band remains active in the music industry in varying capacities. For example, Bono voiced one of the characters in Sing 2. This is likely part of the reason the band’s song was in the film. The Edge stated, “That’s not a thing that U2 normally does, but it’s in the spirit of mixing it up, keeping people guessing, and trying different things.”
The group as a whole isn’t currently touring. However, Bono has eight dates in Spring 2023 for his Stories of Surrender show. All shows will be in New York City, and tickets will likely be hard to come by.
A Great Song With a Timeless Message
The message that U2 sang in Where the Streets Have No Name was relevant in the 80s and 90s. But it still rings true over 30 years later. However, many more people are embracing the fight behind the song’s lyrics today than there were in the past.
Bono and the rest of U2 desire to see humanity take steps forward to improve social justice issues. Luckily, their message continues to spread as their songs are still played on the radio and throughout many other pop culture settings.
What’s your favorite U2 song? Let us know in the comments below.