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A List for Lent

written by: on April 11, 2011

An artist’s religion or lack thereof impacts his or her output, but the subject may not immediately strike popular music listeners as an inherently appropriate fit for inclusion on their favorite albums. In honor of Lent, here’s a list of notable pop/rock songs that incorporate Christian themes, whether or not their writers personally subscribe to the faith.

10. Talking Heads – “Heaven”

Listeners don’t expect to find much, if any, spirituality in the eccentric musings that inform Talking Heads’ lyrics. Despite its title, “Heaven” is no exception. “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens,” David Byrne tells listeners. For an artist who comes across as decidedly secular-minded in his work, Byrne probably wouldn’t ask for much more than that.



9. Shellac – “Prayer to God”

Steve Albini has long been portrayed as a notorious curmudgeon, so it’s not surprising that he supplied one of the more blasphemous songs on this list. In a direct address to the Big Man, Albini’s narrator requests that divine intervention snuff out two people who have wronged him. It’s one of the nastiest spiritual unions ever recorded, with a higher power or otherwise.




8. Kate Bush – “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”

Kate Bush wants to make a deal with God too, but her motives are far nobler than Albini’s. According to Bush, the song’s lyrics stemmed from her desire for males and females to switch roles every now and again, in the hopes each side might achieve a greater understanding of the other.



7. Jay-Z – “Lucifer”

His most recent accomplishments include the launch of a “lifestyle” blog and the release of an autobiography that doubles as a document charting hip-hop’s history. The man does it all, and according to verses like those heard on the Kanye West-produced “Lucifer” from The Black Album, Jay-Z’s ambitions occasionally skew towards the sinister. Sure, he offers to serve as God’s right hand man when he raps, “Like an evangelist, I can introduce you to your maker, bring you closer to nature …” However, it’s doubtful the good Lord would assign someone such a dubious task.



6. Joan Osborne – “One of Us”

Sure, this was probably the first song you thought of when you read the description for this feature (aside from maybe “Hallelujah,” but we don’t even have to go there). “One of Us” had to be included! After all, this song was so well represented on the radio it became Osborne’s only hit. Indeed, what if God was one of us? Perhaps, he’d need to re-examine his priorities.



5. Pixies – “Monkey Gone to Heaven”

Maybe it’s the environmental or numerical references, or maybe it’s the way Frank Black screams, “Then God is seven!” Either way, between its fascinating lyrics and a typically beguiling guitar solo from Joe Santiago, “Monkey” definitely has a little something for everybody.




4. Justice – “Waters of Nazareth”

Unlike the other songs on this list, “Waters of Nazareth” doesn’t contain any lyrics, so you won’t hear any vocalized religious content. However, you might call the beat-heavy instrumentation epic in biblical proportions. Plus, “Waters” is one of a handful of songs on the duo’s Cross that reference the Holy Bible in its title. Cross begat “Waters of Nazareth,” “Let There Be Light,” “Genesis.” Catch Justice’s drift?



3. The Jim Carroll Band – “Catholic Boy”

Featured on the 1980 album of the same name, “Catholic Boy” showcases the late writer’s penchant for delivering pointed, vivid verses. With an amped-up zeal worthy of the fieriest fire-and-brimstone preacher, Carroll tears into the song’s provocative passages with masochistic glee.



2. Tom Waits – “God’s Away on Business”

With the sort of shape-shifting voice befitting that one uncle who always tries to entertain you, Tom Waits can make pity parties fun. Bottom line here: God’s out, things are shit. The way Waits describes it, God’s been gone a long time.



1. The Velvet Underground – “Jesus”

He may feel like Jesus’ son under certain circumstances, but Lou Reed’s not above asking his surrogate dad for advice. Off the band’s self-titled, gorgeous third album, “Jesus” is a gentle, lyrically sparse appeal from a desperate individual. Religious or not, everyone can identify with the way Reed sounds here. Peace be with you!