"The desert was immensely inspirational to us as a mental image for this record. Most people would take the desert on face value and think it's some kind of barren place, which of course is true. But, in the right frame of mind it's also a very positive image., because you can actually do something with a blank canvas, which is effectively what the desert is."
"In God's Country" was a difficult song for the band to record, which they put down to not being trained musicians, and they do not speak overly highly of it. During The Joshua Tree sessions, they knew it was not going be one of their best songs but they needed more up-tempo songs. It was developed out of Bono's frustration at trying to get "...a bit of Rock'n'Roll out of [U2 guitarist], the Edge." Bono tried to inspire the Edge by teasing and playing on his competitive instincts by claiming to be a better guitarist. Of the song, Bono said "[My] lyric was really good, the tune is pretty good, and the hook is pretty average - thanks to the Edge." Played in the key of D, the verses of the studio version alternates between D and A minor chords. The first chorus repeats an Em-G-D-Em-G-D chord progression while the second chorus repeats a C-G-D-C-G-D progression.
Bono has stated that he originally didn't know whether the song was about Ireland or America, but eventually dedicated it to the Statue of Liberty. The song characterises the United States as a desert rose, a siren whose dress is torn in "ribbons and bows." The lyric speaks of a lack of political ideas in the West which Bono later contrasted to the revolution in Nicaragua where he had travelled during the recording of The Joshua Tree.
Along with "Where the Streets Have No Name," "In God's Country"'s "cinematic" lyrics and sound reference the desert in accordance with the band's wish for The Joshua Tree to have a sense of location.
"In God's Country" was released as a single in Canada and the United States in November 1987. The cover art (photographed by Anton Corbijn), sleeve (designed by Steve Averill), and B-sides ("Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Running to Stand Still") were identical to those used for U2's 1988 single "One Tree Hill," released only in New Zealand and Australia. The Canadian release was available on 7", 12" and cassette, while the US release was limited to 7" only.
"In God's Country" reached number 44 on the Billboard singles chart and number 48 as an import in the UK. The single's video appears on Outside it's America, a documentary tracking the band's first few weeks on tour through the American southwest in 1987. Sales of the single may have been hampered by the fact that its b-sides were two tracks from The Joshua Tree album instead of the usual non-album tracks. The music video was not released to MTV or other outlets.
An abridged live version of the song recorded on the 1987 Joshua Tree Tour appeared on the band's 1988 rockumentary, "Rattle and Hum", but did not appear on the accompanying album of the same name.
Hot Press editor and long-time U2 supporter, Bill Graham, described the song as "...U2 cruising, a starter and not a main course..." and referring to the lyric's cliches he said that the song is "...saved by the fact that [Bono] does Bono better than anybody else."