Where the Streets Have No Name
(I Can't Take My Eyes Off You)

Writers - Hewson/Evans/Mullen/Clayton - Gaudio/Crewe
First released - 1991
Original album - Discography
Producer - Julian Mendelsohn, Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - PopArt, Ultimate, Behaviour 2001 reissue Further Listening 1990-1991 bonus disc, Smash
Other releases - single (UK #4,* US #72, US Dance Sales #3, US Dance #4)

*In the U.K. this was one side of a double-sided single with "How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?"; as such, both tracks deserve credit for the single's #4 placement.

"It's just show business. There's no difference between Whitney Houston and U2."
                       – Neil in an interview circa 1988

Neil and Chris have said that they were drawn to U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" by the opening guitar sequence, which struck them as similar to the sort of repeating riff that might be played on a synthesizer. And they claimed that they made it into a medley with the 1967 Frankie Valli chestnut "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" (though they've said they were actually more familiar with the 1982 dance remake by the Boys Town Gang) simply because harmonically it seemed the natural thing to do. (The original leaves "I" out of its title, while the Pet Shop Boys include it.)

It's virtually certain, however, that they had something much more in mind. In fact, this track is one of the most insidious deconstructions of rock mythology that you're likely to find anywhere. It completely takes the wind out of U2's sails, essentially revealing the original to be precisely the dance track that it is but tries hard not to be. This is underscored in the video and during their "Performance" tour through the use of imagery from the American West, albeit with fey twists. "In our live concert," Neil has stated, "'Streets' was meant to be totally the opposite of anything U2 would ever be—all these dancers and me in a pink satin suit." Turning it into a medley with such an innocuous love song further subverts the song's lyrical mythos, even trivializing it. A musical non sequitur, it can only be explained as outrageous satire, implicitly suggesting that there's little if any substantive difference between the two songs.

It's also no accident that this medley was paired up with "How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?" as a double A-side single. Both recordings deal in one way or another with the pretensions of pop/rock stars—a fact made all the more apparent by their respective videos, shot in similar styles by the same director in such a way as to emphasize the connection.

Interestingly, Neil and Chris take pride in the possibility that what they did here may have helped to "loosen up" U2, which shortly thereafter began progressively to deconstruct their own image and mythos via the albums Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop. As Neil puts it, "We did with them what they've done with them before they did it, if you know what I mean."

As for U2's original lyrical intent, I had long suspected that this three-quarters Christian band was referring to heaven as a place where the streets have no name. An email correspondent wrote that he believed these Irish lads were actually referring to the fact that, in Northern Ireland, locals made a habit of taking down street signs so that the non-local British police would have great difficulty finding their way around. But perhaps we should let Bono have his own say. On the official U2 website, he states that someone had told him you could tell how much money someone in Belfast makes by the name of the street on which they live. This set him to thinking about a place where the streets have no name—that is, where there aren't any such economic distinctions, or at least where they aren't important. Heaven again? Yet in an extensive interview in the November 3, 2005 issue of Rolling Stone, Bono suggests that it was inspired by a refugee camp in Ethiopia:

"[O]utside the context of Africa, it doesn't make any sense.… In the desert, we meet God. In parched times, in fire and flood, we discover who we are.… [W]here the streets have no name. You can call it 'soul' or 'imagination,' the place where you glimpse God, your potential, whatever."

I like this explanation, but there's no getting around the fact that the story has changed. This just goes to show how one shouldn't put too much stock in what artists say about their own art (re: the "intentional fallacy"). And it also demonstrates once again how a rich piece of work invites multiple interpretations—yes, even from its own creator.



Officially released

Official but unreleased

List cross-references