Many people in the United States had yesterday off due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I used the day to think about the many songs that invokes King’s name, ideas, or soundclips.
10. Stevie Wonder “Happy Birthday”
Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” is not a great song but its strong ties to Martin Luther King Day make it a necessity for the top 10. The track was released in 1981 and was specifically written to give and anthem to the campaign to make MLK’s birthday a holiday. 30 years later, the tracks music sounds dated but the message remains true.
09. R.E.M. featuring Q-Tip “The Outsiders”
R.E.M.‘s first post-9/11 album was Around the Sun. Although the album is generally considered the band’s worst, it did contain several politically charged gems including “The Outsiders.” While the track has undertones of political conspiracy, standing up for what you believe, and scenes of protest, it is the outro rap by Q-Tip that invokes the words and name of Martin Luther King.
MP3: R.E.M. featuring Q-Tip “The Outsiders”
08. Times New Viking “Martin Luther King Day”
Who would have thought shitgaze frontrunners, Times New Viking would be such big MLK fans? Actually, I can not verify how big MLK fans they are. The fuzz out, lo-fi jam that is “Martin Luther King Day” is virtually incoherent. I assume they are singing the praises of racial equality and quoting the “I Have a Dream” speech, or they could just be singing about using the day off from school to get stone. Either way, it is a pretty good song.
MP3: Times New Viking “Martin Luther King Day”
07. Denny the Punk “King Luther Martin”
Sampling Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech has been a staple in dance music for more than a decade. I mean what could be better than creating a sweet instrumental with a famous speech laid over it? For example, take Dutch producer Denny the Punk who created this four-on-the-floor house instrumental and lays clips of the famous speech over it.
06. Young Jeezy featuring Nas “My President”
When President Obama was elected, many people felt it was the fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream speech. Who would be more equipped to lyrically summarize that then Young Jeezy, right? In the middle of yet-another-crack-rap track, Jeezy manages to interweave Martin Luther King, Obama, and hip hop culture in one easily digestible mix as he raps “Obama for mankind/we ready for change so ya’ll let the man shine/stuntin’ on Martin Luther, feelin just like a King/Guess this is what he meant when he that he had a dream.”
MP3: Young Jeezy featuring Nas “My President”
05. Murphy’s Kids “Thoughts on My Encounter with Martin Luther King III”
Ska has always been a genre that has fought racism and violence, so it is no surprise that there are more than a couple of ska songs with a Martin Luther King bend to them. One of the more recent examples is Virginia Beach’s Murphy’s Kids track, “My Thoughts on My Encounter with Martin Luther King III.” The track is about peace keeping and disarming both doctrines of MLK.
04. Lambchop “Sharing A Gibson With Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Only Kurt Wagner could drop references to Martin Luther King, Paradise Lost, and a glass of gin and vermouth with a pearl onion in a cool four-and-a-half minutes. “Sharing A Gibson With Martin Luther King, Jr.” is more of a fantasy encounter than a tribute but it does not change the fact that it is one hell of a story.
MP3: Lambchop “Sharing A Gibson With Martin Luther King, Jr.”
03. Common featuring Will.I.Am “A Dream”
Right now Common is more known for beefing with Drake than hocking peace and love but that’s exactly what he was doing on his 2007 single, “A Dream.” The track prominently sampled MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the will.i.am sung chorus.
MP3: Common featuring Will.I.Am “A Dream”
02. Public Enemy “By The Time I Get to Arizona”
“By the Time I Get To Arizona” was written by Chuck D in protest over Arizona’s refusal to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day. With the tracks raw instrumental and angry, militant lyrics, it is no surprise everyone was a little scared of what would happen when Public Enemy hit the Grand Canyon state.
MP3: Public Enemy “By The Time I Get to Arizona”
01. U2 “Pride (In the Name of Love)”
27 years after its initial release, U2‘s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” still remains the ultimate Martin Luther King tribute. It may seem odd that the ultimate tribute to an American hero comes from an Irish rock band but when you think about it, who knows more about racism than the Irish? Hibernophobia has been a problem in that part of the world since the Middle Ages so of course U2 would back anyone fighting racism. In their backing of MLK’s message they created a song that is a timeless tribute.
MP3: U2 “Pride (In the Name of Love)”