Top seven spiritual rock and roll songs...

One of my favorite movies, High Fidelity, shows a young man's journey from selfishness and insecurity into the beginnings of what could become humility and maturity. And because the male characters all work in an indie record shop, one of the truly fun devices used to chart this sojourn involves making "top 5" lists of songs that describe an experience: top five break-up songs, top five monday tracks, etc. This clip shows each of the emotionally delayed guys at their essence: Jack Black as the total asshole, John Cusak as the depressed and aggrieved lover and Todd Louiso as the unappreciated but wise music geek into sensitive songs.

There are too many wonderful sequences in this film to suggest here - especially great is when Jack Black debuts what everyone thought was going to be an obnoxious punk band but what has become a truly soulful motown soul group - as well as conversation Cusak has with his idol, Bruce Springsteen, while pondering what the Boss might do while nursing a broken heart.

Which brings me to my top seven spiritual songs released by popular culture performers in both the electric and wooden categories (rock and roll and acoustic for those of the post Woodstock era.) I am NOT including any so-called Christian artists here because with the exception of a few - Slipknot and POV - they are too derivative for my tastes - and they're mostly preaching to the choir.


+ Beautiful Day by U2 - and there could be 100 other tunes from these guys, too - because they meet creation as it is, use their art and their prayers to get at the deepest issues facing all people and suggest a vision of what life could be like from within God's grace. Others in their catalogue would have to include: God Part II, When Love Comes to Town, Vertigo, Grace, Dirty Day and everything on Achtung Baby, Zooropa and Pop. The key to God's still speaking voice in this song is the coda where different visions of creation are lifted up including that of Noah's dove with a leaf in her mouth. All we have is this moment: don't waste it -redeem it!

+ Things the Grandchildren Should Know by the Eels - another band with a host of tunes that bridge the sacred/secular divide including: God Damn Right It's a Beautiful Day, Wooden Nickels and Soul Jacker. They tend to write about the agony of how life wounds us - they are often graphic and harsh - but never cruel or unfair. In fact, Mr. E is always looking for the lure of God in even the worst tragedies. Here God's presence is claimed after a lengthy litany of wounds are shared only to find that there have been little blessings mixed in along the way.

+ While My Guitar Gently Weeps by the Beatles - this song defines both the anguish of a world torn apart by war and greed - listen to Clapton's searing guitar solo that is the wailing of both Rachel's orphaned children and the Lord - and our ability to bring compassion to those who are hurting. The Beatles, of course, were masters of this - think Let It Be, Nowhere Man, A Day in the Life - but none of their songs cuts as deeply as Harrison's masterpiece.

+ Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan - the quintessential song of alienation and self-delusion: it is a part prayer of confession from someone who hasn't hit bottom yet but is clearly on the fast track to despair and part reality check by one whose been to hell and come back. The whole Highway 61 Revisited album, Blood on the Tracks, his two most recent releases plus Desire, Slow Train Coming and Oh Mercy are winners, too.

+ Smells Like Teenage Spirit by Nirvana - this is what the clueless soul falling into hell in Dylan's 1965 song sounds like thirty years later. It is much more cynical and angry but a brilliant description of what social losers felt like when the economic boom of the 90s left them behind. Cobain was a master song writer and prophet of angst - he embraced the sophistication of both the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix - and died way too early. I hear God's still speaking voice in this prophetic lament of one who is heart sick and aches for those who are the walking wounded, too.

+ What's Going On by Marvin Gaye - the heart and soul of Motown social critique and certainly Marvelous Marvin's most honest and tender recording. It is a bewildered look at the breakdown of North American urban life by one who is grounded in compassion. This is the prophet Jeremiah with a killer rhythm section!

+ What If God Was One of Us by Joan Osborne - arguably the best contemporary song about the incarnation in pop culture. This song - used on Joan of Arcadia and countless church programs - makes it clear that most folk are terrified of the enfleshment of God because then we would have to take ourselves seriously! Here's my band's treatment of a totally GREAT tune.

Tomorrow I'll share my thoughts on the wooden/acoustic tunes...


Black Pete said…
Oh good...I was hoping you would!
Luke said…
great to see ya jam'n and preach'n on the youtube. i LOVE that song, and think Joan of Arcadia really took that song and riffed on it. love that TV show.

i think your reviews rawk too.. i'll have to gather my top spiritual songs i keep going back to... and white ppl can rap! just look up the Flobots. RAWK!
Rev Nancy Fitz said…
Always inspirational and your band's addition was a great way to begin my thinking today. thanks
Anonymous said…
I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Anonymous said…
I think your list is missing the mark. Where were you in the 60s and 70s? God bless you!!

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