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Listening to U2's The Joshua Tree on CD back in high school, I frequently noticed that the song Exit started with a short section that sounded more like the preceding song, One Tree Hill, than like Exit.

I noticed today that this is called out in the Wikipedia page for The Joshua Tree:

In 1996, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab remastered the album and released it as a special gold CD. This edition rectified the incorrect track splitting between "One Tree Hill" and "Exit" that affected some CD releases; the quiet coda that concludes "One Tree Hill" had previously been included in the same track as "Exit".

How does this kind of mistake happen?

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When this album was made, CDs were just on the verge of breaking through to mainstream adoption. The established technologies --records and cassettes --were generally played through from beginning to end. The idea of tracks as things that could be played in isolation, or shuffled around, was relatively new. The technology was mainly seen as a novelty that would allow you to skip a track you didn't want to hear.

It was also relatively common at that time to have segues or transitions between adjacent tracks, where it might be ambiguous which track they belonged with. Quite a number of albums of the time have questionable tracking decisions. (XTC's Skylarking is an album of the same vintage that also doesn't break easily into individual tracks --it was actually recorded, beginning to end in one pass.) That's still an issue even with modern concept albums if they have song transitions (Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer is a good example).

What probably happened was that someone made an arbitrary decision on the tracking. If the band even reviewed the CD version, they probably just listened to it all the way through, and didn't even notice the tracking issue. Even if the error had been caught, it might not have seemed important.

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