True enough, Elvis Presley loved gospel music. And though he never shied away from singing of his love for the Lord, did anyone else? I mean besides Johnny Cash. Did the culture at large recognize Jesus in song?
Well, that is what this first MfM post of Eastertide is going to focus on: pop songs about Jesus. Many of them were mega-hits, others were one-hit-wonders. Some you’ll remember easily, others probably not.
Eastertide is roughly seven weeks long, extending from the Easter Triduum up until the Day of Pentecost. I’m willing to explore this over the next seven weeks if you are. To begin with, here are some modern songs that the mainstream culture created and embraced that relate in some way to the Son of Man.
For some of these, you might have to go directly to You Tube. First up is my all time modern favorite,
The Doobie Brothers (1972), Jesus is Just Alright. Yep, this is my favorite tune about Jesus that went mainstream. Wikipedia has the whole story: Jesus Is Just Alright” is a gospel song written by Arthur Reid Reynolds and first recorded by Reynold’s own group, The Art Reynolds Singers, on their 1966 album, Tellin’ It Like It Is. The song’s title makes use of the American slang term “all-right”, which during the 1960s was used to describe something that was considered cool or very good. Well, the Doobies version of this tune is the Gold Standard, in my book anyway. Even when it’s updated for 1996…
The Velvet Underground (1968), Jesus. Yes, this is Lou Reed singing. That’s right, the same fellow who sang “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” This song is a prayer, pure and simple.
James Taylor (1970), Fire and Rain. The third stanza begins with, “Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus…” You can claim that this song has no effect on you. And I would believe you just as much as I would believe that Ayn Rand didn’t hold grudges (which means not at all!).
Norman Greenbaum (1969), Spirit in the Sky. I bet you never saw this video. I said once before that I used to think this was T-Rex. Norman’s “one hit wonder” jams! Listen to that guitar and these lyrics, and try to keep still. I dare you.
Marvin Gaye (1970), Wholy, Holy. This song was eclipsed by several other great songs from Marvin’s smash hit album What’s Going On. I’m sure you remember the title track, as well as Mercy, Mercy Me. The second stanza of this song includes the following,
Jesus left a long time ago, said he would return
He left us a book to believe in
In it we’ve got an awful lot to learn…
And it will take an eternity to appreciate it all. I’m game, how about you?
Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebalek (1969), Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord). And certainly, we can’t forget the musicals from this era. Up first, Godspell. Wikipedia again: It started as a college project performed by students at Carnegie Mellon University and moved to La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in Greenwich Village. It was then re-scored for an off-Broadway production which became a long-running success.
Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber (1973), Superstar. From the Tony Award winning musical Jesus Christ Superstar. This is the most famous song from the musical. Here we have Judas and the Soul Sisters vs. the Angels.
Donna Summer, (1980), I Believe in Jesus. Who says we stopped singing about Jesus in the 1970’s? They must have not have been paying attention. Donna Summer, the woman who launched her career with Hot Stuff, from her album Bad Girls, gives us the right stuff with this song just one year later.
Depeche Mode (1989), Personal Jesus. I’ve shared this one before too. Consider that prayer is a lot like making a phone call to God, or as I told my daughter this morning, like sending Him a text message (and you can do it as often as you text your friends). Yep, Dad is weird.
U2 (1997), If God Will Send His Angels. If you need a modern group that doesn’t shy away from Jesus, look no further. As far as I’m concerned, Bono and the boys are an undercover gospel group.