On my mission, in one city my companion and I had to walk 45 mins to get to our area to teach. We were newly together and frankly, she was driving me nuts. She insisted on singing hymns the entire time we walked through the banana fields and winding rural paths. Relentlessly. Finally, I couldn’t take it any more, so I started belting out Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” She recoiled as if I had just taken a big swig of Vodka, wiped my mouth, and then offered it to her. But then, she accepted the proffered folk song olive branch and started to sing it with me. She shrugged and said she guessed it was not inappropriate even if it wasn’t a hymn.
Guthrie wrote that tune in 1940 based on an old folk melody. Many of the church hymns and other Protestant hymns were written to existing folk tunes (some of which even doubled as drinking songs). On a recent trip to Tokyo Disneyland I noticed that so many of the songs we were hearing in Westernland would likewise be pretty awesome if sung by MoTab. On a related note, there is nothing that sounds more racist than Goofy speaking Japanese (Cantonese isn’t great either).
In that tongue-in-cheek spirit, I suggest the following songs (with possible lyrical modifications) would make some great additions to the hymn book to freshen up our singing:
- She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain. We’d have to tone down the “yee-haw” chorus, but this is another one that with a few lyrical modifications could be either about pioneers arriving in the Utah valley or about the second coming of Jesus. This stuff practically writes itself.
- They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot. It’s a little anti-progress from hippie Joni Mitchell, and in that sense, perhaps not the best match. But it does remind us to focus on the gifts God gave the earth rather than the works of man.
- Free to Be . . . You and Me. Americans in their mid-40s may remember this great titular song from an album recorded in 1972 by a bunch of feminists. For many of my same-age peers, this was our first album. Some may say we don’t advocate self-acceptance but rather self-improvement, not freedom, but rather obedience. But we do have strong hymnal precedent. The chorus of this song fits nicely next to “Oh Ye Mountains High” which includes the line: “Where the clear blue sky / arches over the vale of the free.” Now contrast this line from Free to Be You and Me: “To a land where the river runs free / To a land through the green country / To a land to a shining sea / To a land where the horses run free / To a land where the children are free / And you and me are free to be.” You can almost hear the Nephites, Israelites and early pioneers joining hands and singing along these refrains as they imagine the future promised land.
- When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again. This one is actually super close to the Battle Hymn of the Republic and without the tongue-twister lyrics. To make it religious, just change “Johnny” to “Jesus” and “Hurrah” to “Hosannah.” I should totally have been a Broadway lyricist!
- Ave Maria. OK, I recognize that we don’t have any foreign language lyrics in the hymn book except “in excelsis Deo” which doesn’t really count since it’s a dead language used mostly in religion and law and internet conversations to point out other people’s folly. We also don’t have any hymns to Mary, although we do mention her in a few Christmas hymns. Still, this is an incredibly touching hymn about the grace of God, and it blesses Mary in the tradition of Psalmic writings. I’m thinking here of Schubert, but I’m open to other versions.
- Edelweiss. I grant you that it was written for a musical, making it decidedly modern, and it is about a flower and Austrian patriotism. But, it’s not a far cry from “For the Beauty of the Earth.” Consider these lyrics: “Small and white clean and bright / You look happy to meet me / Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow / Bloom and grow forever.” It practically screams Mormonism with its emphasis on purity and whiteness, good cheer and the plan of happiness, and eternal progression. Plus, alpine flowers and nationalism.
- Zip a Dee Doo Dah. Too silly? Not if you plop it between “Scatter Sunshine” and “You Can Make the Pathway Bright.” Consider the parallels with these lyrics: “My, oh my what a wonderful day!” = “Oh how lovely was the morning!” “Plenty of sunshine heading my way” = “If there’s sunshine in your soul today.” “It’s a truth; it’s actual. Everything is satisfactual.” = “Oh say what is truth / tis the . . . [insert stuff that is truth].” Not such a stretch after all!
- What Child is This? / Greensleeves. All right, so it was written by a serial homocidal adulterer who was either a heretic or head of the Church of England, depending on your perspective, but it is an amazing song and one of the best Christmas hymns ever written with the “What Child Is This?” lyrics. English hymn books include “God Save the King / Queen” (while American hymn books contain the pilfered “My Country Tis of Thee”), so there’s no reason not to include this for nationalistic reasons. Time to get with the program on this one.
- All You Need is Love. I actually have heard this one sung in a sacrament meeting as part of a missionary farewell. The singer was the missionary’s former music teacher who sang this song with a guitar. I think he was flummoxed when the members didn’t clap along and not a single member of the bishopric waved his lighter during the chorus. Still, how can you go wrong singing a song that is so peaceful and loving, albeit written by the Beatle most likely to punch someone in the face in a bar?
- I Will Wait. OK, not necessarily for the hymn book as choral singing isn’t ideal for this Mumford & Sons song, but imagine its potential for missionary farewells. It’s got to be better than The Hollow of Thy Hand which sounds quite a bit like Terry Jacks’ Seasons in the Sun come to think of it. Speaking of which, Seasons in the Sun would make another good one for mission farewells! Maybe if we change “it’s hard to die” to “it’s hard to go.” The departing missionary and his or her girl/boyfriend could sing it like a Captain & Tenille style mash-up.
What songs do you suggest?