What better song to shine the lyrics uncovered spotlight on this Martin Luther King day (Jan. 16) than U2‘s ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love).’ The lead single from the band’s fourth album, ‘The Unforgettable Fire’, ‘Pride’ was a tribute to Dr. King and his vision. The single made it to No. 3 in the UK the band’s first top 40 hit in the States.
It was almost universally applauded for its sentiment, although one critic of the song was none other than the song’s lyricist, Bono. In the authorized band bio ‘U2 By U2,’ Bono said “I looked at how glorious that song was and thought: ‘What the fuck is that all about?’ It’s just a load of vowel sounds ganging up on a great man. It is emotionally very articulate – if you didn’t speak English.”
Though initially written as a song condemning president Ronald Reagan and his pride in the military strength of the USA, a visit to an MLK exhibit at the Chicago Peace Museum in 1983 along with a couple of books that Bono had been reading at the time, one on Martin Luther King and Malcom X, altered the course of the lyrics.
He contrasts the approaches of the peaceful King with the more militant X in one of the song’s earliest lines: “One man come in the name of love / One man come and go / One man come, he to justify / One man to overthrow”
The basic theme of martyrs, peace and love along with references to King (and Jesus Christ), paint pride as a universal concept of understanding, awareness and respect for humanity as opposed to using the word in an arrogant or boastful way.
The “Free at last, they took your life / They could not take your pride” line is a reference to King’s legendary 1963 ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, but the phrase is actually older than that, dating back to an an old spiritual song.
A factual error in the lyrics is the time of day King was killed. The lyric states “early morning, April 4,” but he was actually killed that evening. Bono later became aware of the mistake and has, from time to time, changed the lyric in live performances of the song to note the correct time of day.