Nearly 34 years after its release, “Pride (In The Name of Love)” remains my favorite U2 song. As is almost always the case with a popular song, it’s the music–in this case The Edge’s ringing, keening guitar line–that I mainlined and got high on when I first heard it back in 1984. It took a while for the lyrics to fully register, and I’m not sure when it was that I fully realized they invoked Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. But when I did, the song evinced that much more power and emotion.
One can find plenty of interpretations of the meaning of the lyrics: references to Christ (‘betrayed by a kiss’), Iron Curtain-era Berlin (‘caught on a barbed wire fence’), power politics (‘one man to overthrow’). Bono himself (U2’s lead singer) has looked back and rued some of the lyric choices he made (emphasis mine):
“As a lyric, it’s daft! It’s a missed opportunity…It’s no description of him, it’s more of a description of a feeling he unlocked in me.”
The meaning of the verse that begins, “Early morning, April 4…” is clear, though. [Bono has also noted that he got the time wrong: King was killed in the early evening, not early morning. In performance, the lyric is often changed to “Early evening, April 4…”]
YouTube offers up many videos that layer images of King over the backdrop of this song. I especially like this one, assembled by a young man in honor of Black History Month a couple of years ago. What’s disheartening is that several images are as topical today as they were 50 years ago today, on the day King was murdered.
Another take: John Legend’s version was included in a History Channel documentary tied to the 40th anniversary of King’s death in 2008. Its style is completely different, yet it still packs a punch…one of the many wonderful things about music.