My mother once told me that her favorite song was “MLK”. I think that this opinion has changed since then, but many years ago, when she first realized how important the band is to me and so made an attempt to familiarize herself with them, “MLK” was probably the first song that really spoke to her. I get that – it’s a lovely little song that almost sounds worshipful in its quiet intensity. The music consists of just an organ, with only four chord changes throughout the four-and-a-half minute affair. The lyrics are also fairly simple, with a verse, a bridge, and then a repeat of the verse. But in that simplicity there lies a power and dignity that most artists aspire to but never reach. Fortunately for us, we’re talking about U2, a band which is no stranger to either “power” or “dignity”. The opening line, “Sleep, sleep tonight, and may your dreams be realized” is the precursor to a phrase that would become a major part of the U2 mythos in later years – “Dream out loud”, and the meaning behind those words belies their unassuming delivery. “Be at peace”, Bono is saying “and may all your hopes and ambitions come to fruition”. Seeing as how the song is named after American civil rights leader, it’s easy to assume that perhaps the greatest dream that Bono is hoping will come true is one that Martin Luther King, Jr. treasured – the dream of equality. It’s not just an American dream, though – it’s one that is dear to true believers everywhere, all across the world.
“MLK” made its live debut on the second leg of the Unforgettable Fire Tour, all the way back in October of 1984. The song appeared at most of the rest of that tour, as well as most dates of the next three tours – the Conspiracy of Hope Tour, The Joshua Tree Tour, and the Lovetown Tour. After Lovetown, “MLK” didn’t appear as frequently for a few years, missing the ZooTV Tour entirely, and only appearing at about a fifth of the Pop*Mart shows, none of the Elevation gigs, and a small handful of shows on the Vertigo Tour. “MLK” did appear, in what is my favorite live rendition to date, at the 2002 Super Bowl when U2 performed the half-time show at that event. The song finally reached the limelight again when it was revived for the 360 Tour, on which it appeared at a majority of the shows performed. It seemed that the song was due for another opportunity to shine when “MLK” was performed at the opening show of the Joshua Tree Tour 2017, but it was dropped from the set-list after that first show and has yet to be performed again. I would be surprised if “MLK” never earns a prominent spot in another U2 tour, due to it’s short length and the fact that it makes a nice segue between two other songs, with its simple instrumentation. “MLK” is an important song in U2’s catalog, and it’s one that I think would be a mistake for the band to ignore on future tours.
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