When U2 Decided to Explore America on ‘Rattle and Hum’
A hybrid project that boasted gutsy live reworkings of tracks from their smash album The Joshua Tree, cover songs honoring Bob Dylan and the Beatles and nine new cuts, U2's Rattle and Hum tried to be everything to everybody. It didn't quite get there.
Still, this double album – issued on Oct. 10, 1988 – remains an interesting crossroads moment for U2, then on the verge of moving into electronic and industrial sounds. But first they indulged in a quick backward glance, one inspired, according to frontman Bono, by a conversation with Bob Dylan. U2 would end up including a cover of his legendary "All Along the Watchtower" on Rattle and Hum and collaborating with Dylan on the new track "Love Rescue Me."
"If I'm honest, this was the end of a journey that Bob Dylan had sent us on," Bono once said. "In 1985, sitting backstage at his concert in Slane Castle, he said to me, 'You've got to look back. You've got to go back. You've got to understand the roots.'"
And so Rattle and Hum, released at the same time as a concert movie, found U2 blending highlights from their 1987 tour in support of The Joshua Tree (including a scalding opening take on the Beatles' "Helter Skelter") with additional tracks recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis. They paired up with B.B. King ("Love Comes to Town"), the Memphis Horns ("Angel of Harlem") and the New Voices of Freedom church choir (on a fearless update of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"). They even tried out a Bo Diddley beat on the No. 3 hit "Desire."
Along the way, U2 gained new confidence in both the choices they'd made – and the ones still to come. "That has been the payoff of working 10 years to get into this position," the Edge said at the time. "We no longer have to prove ourselves. It's in the music, and people can hear it."
Certified five-times platinum, the chart-topping Rattle and Hum was somewhat of a scattershot listen. But the album moved U2 toward their next incarnation on 1991's Achtung Baby. They discovered, through American roots music, a new appreciation for grooves, cutting down The Joshua Tree in the process.