Mix Six: “Rock Gets Religion”

This is was posted on Popdose today, but I’ve mirrored it here for the handful of you who read this blog and don’t get to Popdose all that often.  Enjoy!

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When rock-and-roll reared its beautiful/ugly head, the backlash against it was pretty ferocious. The cultural conservative invective against this form of music ran the gamut of Satanism to sex — you know, the fun stuff.  Listening to rock music before it became mainstream was akin to what Yoda taught (or tried to teach) us about the dark side of The Force:  “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”  But with rock music, it was more like “Rock and roll is the path to a degenerate life.  Music leads to marijuana.  Marijuana leads to pre-marital sex.  Pre-marital sex leads to out of wedlock childbirth.  Out of wedlock childbirth leads to Satanism.”  See? It’s a simple, logical, and infallible linear path –just from listening to rock and roll. But a funny thing happened on the way to Hell: many musicians who partook of “The Rock and Roll” didn’t forget their religious upbringing.  Instead they wove religious imagery into their songs in a more literal way, or they used the same imagery to express the feeling the music gives them when they are enveloped in the Pure Form of the notes.

“Amazed and Confused,” Neil Diamond (Download)

“The Jewish Elvis” finally did what the Elvis Elvis did back in the day:  he made a movie in 1980 that was a remake about the way in which the religious traditions of community conflict with the pull of individualism.  Some may be thinking that including Neil Diamond in this mix is an anathema, but Robbie Robertson didn’t think so when he asked Diamond to sing “Dry Your Eyes” in The Last Waltz. It’s in that tradition that I’m putting Diamond’s attempt to weave in his Judaism into the songs he recorded for the film — which often address the character’s conflict with his father who (gasp!) disowned his son when he shacked up with a Shiksa after moving to L.A. to pursue his dreams of being a professional musician instead of a cantor at his local temple.

“In My Room,” Yaz (Download)

Yaz’s Upstairs at Eric’s was quite the influential album in the genre of New Wave. Awash in synth, the album contains song after song of blissful pop.  “In My Room” is a kind of post-modern pastiche of samples and loops that coalesce around The Lord’s Prayer.  The song was also used in a film that I haven’t seen in years (The Chocolate War). I’m not sure if there’s really a religious overtone in this song, or more of a transgressive one as the tune ends with, “And lead us not into temptation.”  Remember:  the main character is alone in his room, and you know what they say about idle hands.


“Secret Journey,” the Police (Download)

Sting deservedly gets mocked for his devotion to tantric yoga, but if past is prologue, then “Secret Journey” has an oblique correlation to Sting’s eventual embrace of certain aspects of Indian culture.  There’s no mention of yoga, or “tantric sex,” but there’s certainly a meditative quality to the song that ends with some kind of mystic self-awareness.  And just for the record: out of all of the albums the Police recorded, I think this is my favorite — even though Sting’s ego pretty much took over the recording process and relegated Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland to back up band status.

“Hallelujah (Live),” Paramore (Download)

The live version of this song adds the lyrics “Well I heard there was a sacred chord that David played to please the Lord/But you don’t really care for music, do ya/Well it goes like this/The fourth/The fifth/The minor fall/And the major lift/The baffled King composing Hallelujah.” I’m not well versed in “The Good Book,” so I really don’t know if this little lyrical addition has any connection to King David, but I presume it does. In that way, I’ll leave it to any of you Bible scholars to let me know.

“Yar Mein Nachoogi,” Junoon (Download)

Talk about a sub genre that’s just, well, novel!  What am I talking about?  How ’bout Sufi Metal. I’m not sure the label quite fits the music, but this South Asian/Pakistani band blends hard rock with more traditional Pakistani/Indian sounds, and lyrical content that evokes strong religious imagery.   Junoon are quite popular in their homeland and have been cranking out albums since 1996. Oh, and the band name roughly translates to “passion” — which you can certainly hear in in their music. Of course, with their blending of rock, indigenous sounds and religious themes, many critics compare Junoon with the next band in this mix.

“40,” U2 (Download)

This has always been one of my favorite album closers in U2’s oeuvre.  It’s a simple, but extremely heart felt song that adapts Biblical verse into the song.  According to the Wiki on “40” the band wrote it in 10 minutes, recorded it in 10 minutes, and mixed it in 10 minutes, and played it for another 10 minutes.  You add up all those 10s and you get “40.”  However, even though that’s a convenient back story about the song, the title actually comes from Psalm 40: 1-3.  Oh, and I still stand by my assertion that I know very little about “The Good Book” because remember: I found this bit ‘o trivia on Wikipedia.

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