Sunday, January 18, 2009

25 Years Later: My remix of U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love) Revisited



Hang on. This is going to be one heck of a story, beating all my previous "Stories from the War" about my brief foray into the music business.

When U2 released "Pride (In the Name of Love) in 1984 and it became the group's biggest mainstream hit to date, I had mixed feelings as the music director of my college radio station at Georgetown University, WGTB.

I loved the song's sense of urgency and its driving beat. But I wondered how many white suburban kids eagerly snapping up copies of Unforgettable Fire (the album that featured the song) really knew whom Bono was singing about: someone who has always been one of my personal heroes. Remember: This was back before Martin Luther King Day was a national holiday.

So I locked myself in the studio of my college radio station with that record and another LP I had recently acquired that featured audio snippets from 1968 – including coverage of Martin Luther King's assassination on April 4, the subject of the song. Using two turntables and an old-fashioned cart machine, I assembled a crude mix that incorporated King footage, "Pride" and the album's other King-themed track, "MLK "and dubbed it onto an audio tape.

Fast forward to a few months later, I was backstage at U2's concert at Constitution Hall – to interview Mike Scott of the Waterboys, the opening act. Then Bono came into the room.

I must have bee too proud of my work because to this day, I can't believe how brazen I was. I walked right up to him and had him listen to the remix on my Walkman.

He loved it. I mean, he really loved it.

Getting really excited, he had me play it for each one of the other band members and band manager Paul McGuiness, who asked if he could have my tape. It happened to be my only copy, but of course I gave it to him.

The next morning I heard from the college radio guy at Island Records that the tape was all that the Bono talked about during a conference call with the label. They discussed putting it out as a special 12".

Needless to say, that never happened and I never saw the tape again. Nor did I hear anything more from McGuiness or U2.

A few months later, I did another mix at the radio station. Unfortunately, the timing isn't as perfect and some of the audio clips should be louder – but you get a sense of what I was able put together. All the clips double the impact and make the song an amazingly emotional experience, Bono's historical inaccuracies and all. I dubbed it onto a TDK D-90 cassette tape and took it with me when I graduated.

A few years ago, I dug the cassette out and did an mp3 rip. Not perfect, but now at least I had something that would survive longer than that lower quality cassette.

Here it is:

"Pride (InThe Name of Love") (1984 remix)

Still, the inferior quality of the second remix bugged me. Plus, as I listened to it more, I thought there could have been more audio clips from Martin Luther King himself. If I could go back in time, I'd redo it – which of course was a big old fantasy, much like that wide receiver who drops what could have been the winning pass in a championship game.

Then technology opened the door for me. The advent of a simple software program like GarageBand meant that I didn't need turntables any more. In fact, I could be more precise than I was back in my college days. Plus I had acquired some vinyl-ripping hardware. I started scouring used record shops, looking for that record.

The only problem was: I had no idea what it was called, other than it had to with 1968 and was put out by some Chicago news radio station. My odds of finding that record were pretty slim, I realized. In one last ditch attempt, I even contacted my old radio station – although they had transitioned out of LPs a long time ago.

Was I completely out of luck?

Nope. Ever hear of sites called Google and eBay?

That's right. By some blind luck on the same day, I was able to pinpoint the name of the record with a few random terms plugged into Google: "Chicago," "1968," "record" or something like that. The record was called "1968: The Impossible Year" and was put out by WBBM in Chicago in conjunction with a local savings bank. Here's what it looks like and you can even still buy it on eBay, if you're interested.

So now I had it: What was I going to do with it?

Well, things repeatedly got in the way – as life always does. But a few weeks ago I was inspired: Wouldn't this January be the perfect time to put something together to honor how far we have come since April 4, 1968. More than 40 years ago, this nation mourned the death of its first transformational African-American leader. On Jan. 20, the day after Martin Luther King Day, possibly the nation's next transformational African-American leader will take the oath of office for the Presidency – something few civil right leaders, including King himself quite likely, would have thought could have happened so quickly after all that 60s bloodshed.

Here is my new remix. I've done some research about who is talking and when. I knew right away that the music dedication was from Duke Ellington, who was performing at Carnegie Hall that night. The announcement of King's death was done before that concert by its promoter Robert Mosley. You can read an excellent firsthand account from one of the concert's participants here. Excerpts from two King speeches were used: The famous "I Have A Dream" speech and the chillingly prophetic "I Have Been to the Mountaintop" speech in which King eerily talks about his mortality the night before his death. I increased the volume of the audio clips and sprinkled them throughout the song.

"Pride (In The Name of Love)" (2009 remix)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on which mix works better for you. Although I really like the new version, it wouldn't surprise me if some people preferred the original mix.

It's true that whites now know who Martin Luther King is. Given the band's increasing social activism, the majority of U2 fans are also quite familiar with the true subject of the song. On Sunday, January 18, two days before the inauguration, U2 performed "Pride (In the Name of Love)" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. "On this spot, 46 years ago, Martin Luther King had a dream," Bono told the large crowd, gathered for a pre-inaugural concert that also featured Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Shakira. "On Tuesday, that dream cones true."

Keeping with the spirit of what motivated me, I created a slideshow "video" of the song and posted it on YouTube. You can see it here. Be sure to watch it until the end.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great back story about U2. Hearing your song made me wonder if you ever heard the song by the electronic group Moodswings. They a small hit song on the alternative charts in the early 90s that sampled heavily from MLK Jr's "I have a dream" speech. It featured Chryssie H from the Pretenders on vocals. Name of the song was "Spiritual High". Great song, inspiring.

Anonymous said...

Came across your remix while searching for guitar tabs for U2 music. I am a big U2 fan having grown up in the 70-80's but I must admit that being a non-American, I don't know much about Martin Luther King. Your remix brought U2's Pride song to life for me. I had tears in my eyes... and I am inspired to get to know more about MLK. Thanks for sharing your work and your story.

P.S. I liked the 2009 version better as the sound clips were clearer-- although the grainy sound of the earlier version gave it a more "authentic" feel.

Smokey said...

I have been looking for this mix since I heard it on the LA station KROQ-FM about 10 years ago. I think they cut the newscaster part at the beginning.

Thanks so much for this! It will go right into my library.