I home teach some young single guys, and for Christmas I put together a CD of interesting covers of the Christmas songs from our hymnbook. Last month, they said it would be great to have a rockin’ Sabbath album for the rest of the year. As I thought about it, it seemed to me there were a fair number of songs on my iPod with religious themes. Despite stories about Mick Jagger on an airplane or witnessing demonic possessions at concerts, rock and R&B musicians have explored Christian and more generally religious themes in a way that is inspiring and thoughtful. I decided to put together a playlist from my own collection, and I set up some rules:
- the artist must be known for secular music generally, so no Christian rock or gospel choirs, as groovy as they might be.
- the song had to be devotional, however vaguely, and with a minimum of irony. ‘Say a Little Prayer’ doesn’t qualify, nor does ‘Jesus, Etc.’ or ‘Dear God.’
Here’s what I came up with:
It Was Jesus / The Man Comes Around — Johnny Cash: There’s a lot of choice here, but I grew up singing ‘It Was Jesus’ with my sister, she doing the backup and me hitting the low bits. And ‘The Man Comes Around,’ well, enough said.
Hallelujah — Leonard Cohen: Admittedly this stretches the outer limits of the second rule, but in there is a religious position I can identify and relate to.
Ring Them Bells — Bob Dylan: Again, the devotional aspect is fairly general, but still a song of praise.
God Is Love — Marvin Gaye. He recorded a fair amount of religious music, but this is by far my favorite.
I Can’t Wait To Meetchu — Macy Gray. I had this album and then heard a young woman quote the lyrics in a sacrament meeting talk, which made me listen a little more carefully.
Amazing Grace/Nearer My God to Thee — Ladysmith Black Mambazo. There are many, many covers of Amazing Grace, but I’m a fan of LBM, and the ‘Nearer My God’ is a great addition.
You Are The Light — Lone Justice. They were an LA based alt-country band from the early 80s, and the lead singer Maria McKee had a solo career as well.
How Great Thou Art — Elvis Presley. This is, I think, the only song in our hymnbook covered by Elvis.
Jesus — Queen. This at the top of my list of songs MoTab ought to do.
Jesus was an Only Son — Bruce Springsteen. I’ve had the lyrics running through my head during the sacrament more than once.
Morning Has Broken — Cat Stevens. Well, yeah.
40 — U2: Lots, maybe too much, has been said about U2 and religion, but this was a revelation for the teenage me, and reminds me of that youthful discovery that religion could be approached from another angle.
Jesus Walking on the Water — Violent Femmes.
Jesus Gonna Be Here –Tom Waits. In these last two, both personal favorites, is a great range of religious expression fairly normal in the Christian world but not embraced by Mormonism. Our loss, really.
There are a few obvious songs I didn’t include out of personal taste, like ‘Jesus is Just Alright’ and ‘Spirit in the Sky,’ and I am not very familiar with contemporary country music which seems a likely source of devotional music. Considering the rules, any recommendations?