Although its mostly known to U2 fans as the pre-recorded opener to 1997’s Pop*Mart Tour, Pop Muzik was originally recorded and released back in 1979 by English musician Robin Scott, under the name M. The original song was a hit for Scott, reaching the top 10 in several countries, including the United States and his native UK. Scott has said that the song was his attempt to sum up the previous 25 years of popular music, saying “it’s all just pop music”.
In 1997, when U2 were looking for a theme song to play as they approached the stage for their upcoming tour’s shows, they chose to record a cover of Scott’s big hit. They approached several of the day’s top remixers – including Steve Osborne and Junior Vasquez, both of whom they had previously worked with – to remix the original song for U2’s use. The band settled on Osborne’s remix, and a version of that remix was recorded with Bono on the vocals for release on the “Last Night on Earth” single. Another version of the Osborne remix was used, with the original Robin Scott vocal, as the intro music to every Pop*Mart concert.
Interestingly enough, two other U2 commissioned remixes, the one by Junior Vasquez, and another by the UK’s Dub Pistols, were released in 2009 on Pop Muzik – The Remix Ablum. It’s an arresting experience to listen to these other remixes and wonder what might have been if U2 had chosen to use one of them instead of going with Osborne’s version. I personally am kind of partial to Vasquez’s version, but I can’t blame U2 for making the decision that they did. Neither the Vasquez mix nor the Dub Pistols version have the same propulsive energy as the Osborne version, and it’s that same quality that made it perfect for U2’s use at their live shows.
If you look hard enough online, you might be lucky enough to come across a couple of demo recordings that U2 made of the “Pop Muzik”. One such demo recording that I’ve heard features Bono reciting the lyrics over the original Robin Scott vocal, to what I can only assume is an early version of Osborne’s remix. It feels a bit slower and doesn’t have the same punch as the final recording. A second demo recording also exists, with Bono doing the vocal in a much higher register than what he recorded on the officially released version.
Other than the pre-recorded version that played before the Pop*Mart concerts, U2 have never performed Pop Muzik live, and I’d be extremely surprised if they ever do. A few years ago, when U2 soundchecked “Mofo” during Vertigo Tour, there was a rumor that that song might make an appearance, preceded by the “Pop Muzik” intro as part of an encore. That’s the only way I ever expect to hear “Pop Muzik” appear at a U2 concert again – as an intro to some Pop material. Otherwise, I’m perfectly happy to hear U2 perform their own songs, leaving this cover in the past.