August 15, 2004

God in popular song...?

I've mentioned before that I'm an athiest/agnostic who actually reads the Bible. I do it because I'm always struck by how true it is if you read it as a parable.
I was a practicing Buddhist for a few years -- off and on -- in the mid to late '80s and, while I stopped chanting and attending meetings, I've always valued my time as a Buddhist for what it taught me about the value of Faith.

One of the most popular stories told and retold by practicing Nicherin Buddhists, is the story of General Stone Tiger. He got his name by piercing a boulder with an arrow that he thought was the tiger that had killed his daughter. "It was his faith in the fact that the stone was a tiger that allowed the arrow to penetrate the rock", they told me.

When I insisted that it was a parable, most of my fellow Buddhists would insist that it was absolutely true. "Faith can change the physical world; it's all in the Mystical Law of Cause and Effect!"
When I asked if he or she had ever stubbed their toe in the dark because they were so-o-o-o convinced that the way was clear, but that the table leg had something to say about it, I usually got blank stares. That's pretty much why I stopped going to the meetings.

Anywho, for some reason I've been trying to think of occassions when God is mentioned in popular songs. Not the obvious references by, oh, the Singing Nun, or when God is specifically the focus of the song such as in Three Dog Night's Jesus Is Just All Right or George Harrison's #1 hit My Sweet Lord. I'm looking more for instances where God/Jesus/Zeus/Thor/Buddha/whatever is just mentioned in passing with no more drama than would be given to mentioning a refridgerator.

While I'm not sure that it was ever a single, the Beach Boys' God Only Knows has usually been mentioned as a "spiritual" love song because it mentions God in the title. But I've always heard it as almost a taking-the-lord's-name-in-vain moment.
White the song sounds beautiful, even somewhat spiritual, my guess is that Brian Wilson wrote the signature line, "God only knows what I'd be without you", according to the phrase's common usage - usually in exasperation: "Where's the beef?" "God only knows..."
So that doesn't count.

God is mentioned in the old song Little Green Apples, and it almost cuts the mustard, but there are two disqualifiers. One: it's in the chorus and, thus, too prominant a mention to satisfy me; and, two: it's delivered as part of a sarcastic lyric:

"God didn't make little green apples / and it don't rain in Indianap'lis in the summertime..."
It's like saying "I'm not a crook and the Pope ain't Catholic".
So that doesn't count.

Another one that almost made it was Meat Loaf's Paradise By The Dashboard Light. Near the end he bellows "I started swearin' to my god and on my mother's grave / that I would love you 'til the end of time...".
The problem with this one is that ir's delivered in anger/frustration, and that it says "my god", not "God". Jim Steinman, the author, was obviously worried about mentioning God by name and, in the end, chickened out and neutralized it to "my god".
So that doesn't count.

But, alas, I have found one! It's in John Denver's Rocky Mountain High. Tucked inside one of the non-repeating lines of the chorus we can hear:

"But the Colorado Rocky Mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply
Rocky Mountain high, in Colorado"

There it is. God is mentioned in passing, matter of factly, unassumingly, drawing no more attention to itself than the word "campfire" later on.

Are there any other examples of this?

There is one other that I've found that doesn't mention any God, but that certainly sounds like a hymn: the Jackson 5's (and, later, Mariah Carey's) I'll Be There.

If you take out the final half-verse, "If you should ever find someone new / I know s/he better be good to you / 'cause if s/he doesn't / I'll be there", it almost seems to have been first written as a hymn, sung by God, but then changed to become a standard love sung.

"You and I must make a pact
We must bring salvation back
Where there is love
I'll be there

I'll reach out my hand to you
I'll have faith in all you do
Just call my name
And I'll be there, I'll be there

And, ohhhhh
I'll be there to comfort you
Build my world of dreams around you
I'm so glad that I found you
I'll be there with a love that's strong
I'll be your strength. keep holdin' on

holdin' on, holdin' on, holdin' on
Yes I will, yes I will

Let me fill your heart with joy and laughter
Togetherness is all I'm after
Whenever you need me
I'll be there, I'll be there

I'll be there to protect you
With a non-selfish love that respects you
Just call my name
And I'll be there, I'll be there

And ohhhhh...
I'll be there to comfort you
Build my world of dreams around you
I'm so glad that I found you
I'll be there with a love thats strong
I'll be your strength; I'll keep holdin' on

holdin' on, holdin' on, holdin' on, holdin on''

I'd like to know if there are other examples of God being mention matter of factly in song along the lines of Rocky Mountain High. Anybody?

Posted by Tuning Spork at August 15, 2004 07:36 PM

The Doobie Brothers did "Jesus Is Just Alright".

...back to reading the post. ;)

Posted by: Ted at August 17, 2004 06:43 AM

Thanks, Ted... I thought so.
(I wuz gonna say the same exact thing... that oughta scare you, I think... lol.)

(And, I just remembered the MadLibs again. I'll do it after dinner... I miss them.)

Posted by: Stevie at August 17, 2004 06:13 PM

Ya know, I've been thinking on this, and I can't remember anything except some tunes from Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind and Fire (when they get spiritual). I'll try to nail down some titles.

Posted by: Ted at August 18, 2004 09:11 AM

Thanks for correcting my brain-lock on the Doobies.

Yeah, you just reminded me of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" where he sings "I can't believe what God has done / Through us He's given life to one..."
I'm not familiar with many Earth, Wind and Fire tunes, though.

But I did remember the Lionel Richie/Michael Jackson lyric from "We Are The World", sung by Willie Nelson, "As God has shown us by turning stone to bread..."/i>

There MUST be others...

Posted by: Tuning Spork at August 18, 2004 07:33 PM

Stevie Wonder did a song, also from Songs in the Key of Life, called "Have A Talk With God".

Earth, Wind and Fire did a self-titled song on their album Spirit, that had the verse:

Born of the earth, are nature's children,
Fed by the wind, the breath of life,
Touched by the fiery hand of God.

Posted by: Ted at August 18, 2004 08:50 PM

God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson. Jesus loves you more than you will know. Wo wo wo!

Posted by: Freedom's Slave at August 24, 2004 10:36 PM
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