Ever since I saw U2 at the 200-seat Graham Chapel at Washington University in St. Louis in 1980 I have been a fan. It wasn’t until 1990 or so when I realized that they were the world’s biggest religious-rock band, putting acts like Pat Boone, Cliff Richard and the redoubtable Stryper to shame.
Bono and company have been preaching the gospel in so many words in almost every one of their songs. “Mysterious Ways” is of course about the Virgin Mary; “I Will Follow” about JC; “Elevation” – religious salvation or the resurrection itself. I could go on. It’s all subliminal (or subliminable, as some would say) lyrics under a barrage of usually sensationally creative music and structure.
The beauty of the lyrics is that they can be interpreted in different ways. One person’s heavenly elevation is another person’s acid trip, and the “she” in “Mysterious Ways” could well be about a high school crush. U2 understands that to keep fans and evangelize newcomers you have to be subtle, and let ambiguity take its course. Even the band’s name is ambiguous: a high-flying spy-plane, or maybe “you too” can join the team.
I don’t really care; I just like the music.
But I wonder whether there has ever been any subliminal messaging in pipe music. Has a band ever tried to sway judges by enveloping in its medley musical directions to give them the benefit of the doubt? Are there any instances of using a single tune to win a prize because of the tune’s non-musical significance?