Pride (for the sake of argument)
It’s a conversation that’s happened time and time again. Late at night in any given bar, someone breaks out the top-five lists. Desert island, etc. On a special night, you’ll get a douchebag who takes it too far: “What’s your favorite song of all time?”
I have a stock answer, and not wholly untruthful: “Sitting On the Dock of the Bay.” It’s one I can listen to anytime of any day and never be tired of — perfect imagery, and a great backstory. And while I’m comfortable enough calling it my favorite song of all time, I don’t think it’s the greatest song of all time.
That goes to U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love).”
“Pride” is the most well written, perfect rock anthem of all time. Or maybe we can say it’s the most perfect modern pop(ular) song of all time, since Bill Haley, at least. I mean, it’s apples and oranges to put it up against Beethoven.
You see, U2 did it with this one. Not only did they write a great song, they wrote the song. It has everything we want: a soaring chorus, a universal theme, a poignant history, and it’s completely unforgettable without being offensive in the least. You can dance to it, or you can pump your fist (and don’t ever miss an opportunity to fist pump).
Up until 1984, bands had been trying to figure it out. Some knew exactly what it was they were deciphering, while others stumbled blindly. The missing piece that unified all bands, the perfect formula, the great connection …
Listen to some of the classics before this. Rarely were there dynamics. Once a song started, the level at the beginning lasted most of the way through. In fact, not until Cobain (and by only a couple years, the Pixies before him) was anyone credited with Loud Quiet Loud. That’s because songs were usually quiet or loud.
“Pride” picks up right from the start, driving first with The Edge’s guitar and then really gets moving with Larry’s drumming. It doesn’t so much pull back with Bono’s opening line, but gives plenty of space for those lyrics to hit, not that you’re sure exactly what he’s singing about yet.
But then it hits — that chorus! In the name of love / What more in the name of love. It’s belted out, not just into a microphone, but across a country. A war-torn Africa of the ’80s; a United States in the middle of decadence; a Russia on the verge of collapse. And you can hear that Bono believes every word, right into that second verse with its final line, one man betrayed with a kiss. It’s not the first time U2 used religion in their song, but never before had it felt like a boxer’s final blow.
And has a bridge ever been used so skillfully? This whole song could have been a load of generalities, but it lands with an MLK tribute. Early morning, April 4 / Shots rang out in the Memphis sky / Free at last, they took your life / they could not take your pride.
There isn’t a time that bridge has played that I haven’t had goose bumps, even to this day. And I’m not even that sentimental.
Play this song anywhere. Put it in a different country in any time in the last 30 years, and people will scream it at the top of their lungs. Sure, there are other songs that could elicit such a reaction, but none as perfectly comprised as this — call it the perfect storm of pop songs, one musicians would try to emulate for decades to come: Pearl Jam’s “Alive,” The Killers’ “When You Were Young,” Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire” … hell, all of U2’s biggest hits thereafter.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find a song so powerful that uses so little with as much universal appeal as “Pride,” the greatest rock song of all time.
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.