Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday 80s Flashback for January 17, 2014

Image from Tano Design's MLK Tribute Poster

[MLK] -- Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) would have been 85 this week had he not been assassinated. Monday, January 20, is a day set aside to honor his legacy and his vision for America. The legislation for MLK Day was signed in 1983 and the federal holiday was first observed in 1986. Dr. King's life was one of service. Therefore, his birthday has since become the MLK Day of Service (set by the King Holiday and Service Act in 1994). Dr. King's messages of unity and peaceful resistance are as relevant today in our course, loud, and overly violent culture. You can read and hear more after the break, where we'll look back 30 or so years to find some songs that resonant with, or at least extol, Dr. King's life and work.

Image from

Flashback #1"I just never understood | How a man who died for good | Could not have a day that would | Be set aside for his recognition."

Stevie Wonder wrote and recorded "Happy Birthday" for his 1980 album, Hotter Than July. It was released in 1981 as the album's fourth single. A social activist, Wonder was heavily involved in the campaign to have the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. become a national holiday. "Happy Birthday" was part of Wonder's efforts. As the synthesized music whirls, Stevie Wonder sings his bewilderment over the fact that anyone could be opposed to to recognizing King's legacy by setting aside a day to honor and remember him. According to Wikipedia, "Happy Birthday" failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. It did, however, make the R&B chart, and it became one of Wonder's biggest hits in the UK where it reached #2 in late 1981.

Flashback #2"Sleep |  Sleep tonight  |  And may your dreams  |  Be realized."

U2 is well known for singing about and participating in social justice movements. So it should be no surprise that they recorded a song about Dr. King. However, if you looked at the lyrics I quoted, you probably realize I'm not going to go with their hugely popular 1984 hit, "Pride (In the Name of Love)." Now, if you're familiar with the album responsible for that single (The Unforgettable Fire), then you might know where I'm going with Flashback #2. "MLK" is the final track on The Unforgettable Fire. It is a lullaby to honor Dr. King. It is the complete opposite of "Pride (In the Name of Love)" -- "MLK" is gentle while "Pride" surges forward; it is pensive and tender whereas "Pride" is anthemic. Because of these two songs, Bono was honored by MLK's official memorial, the King Center.

Update (1/17/14 10:17PM): I would be remiss if I didn't point out "Pride (In the Name of Love)" was a bonus Flashback in my January 14, 2011, post.

Flashback #3"Look what they've done to my dream."

I'll bet you never thought Queen's "One Vision" was a song about Martin Luther King, Jr. While the song does paint the picture of a man overcoming terrific odds, there is no direct reference to MLK, or anyone else for that matter. However, drummer Roger Taylor as claimed that his lyrics were "sort of half nicked off Martin Luther King's famous speech" (source: Queen - Days of Our Lives. Part 2. Queen Productions Ltd. 2002). And, as Freddy Mercury sings the line, "Look what they've done to my dream," can't you imagine Dr. King looking around the world today and shouting those very words in frustration? Released as the 1985 single from the band's 12th studio album, A Kind of Magic (1986), "One Vision" was nearly a worldwide hit, reaching the top 40 in many countries. In the US, it peaked at #61 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the UK, it soared to #7 on the singles chart. So, I wrap up this MLK special with Queen singing positively about hope for unity, about Dr. King's hope ... and vision.

Update (1/17/14 10:39PM): As I often include personal stories in these posts, I feel I should share that I once performed an interpretive dance to "One Vision." It did not, however, occur in the 80s. It was 2004. And that is likely all I should say about it ... for now.

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.

And if you are on Twitter, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.

I'll see you in seven!

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