Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Songs to Inspire

I am taking things in a little different direction for this post, and it’s thanks to my friend Brandon Flowers from The Killers. In my post about Brandon’s new solo album “Flowers” a couple weeks back, I revealed that he is a Mormon (surprise!), albeit the occasional smoking and drinking kind apparently. Nonetheless, he put one “gospel” type song on his new album, and it brought to mind a couple other faith-related songs by otherwise mainstream artists. I went through my iPod and found some songs that pondered God or faith in the lyrics. Mind you, I only came up with a handful of such songs; I think possibly a lot of artists assume that songs dealing with faith won’t be appealing to their listeners. Perhaps Kanye said it best (but then doesn’t he always?) when he said, “If I talk about God then my record won’t get played” in “Jesus Walks”. After listening to these songs collectively for a couple days, I think I have somewhat gleaned what message each was aiming for. I like it when music makes you think, and these songs did. I’ve included the genre for each because there is quite an array.

• “On the Floor” – Brandon Flowers (alternative). Brandon described this song as “gospel”, which gospel singers might take exception to, but it does have the organ music you often associate with that genre. Brandon finds himself “on my knees begging please” and finding himself “waiting to believe.” He’s taking stock of his life and what he’s done; you’ll see that theme in other songs here, as well.

• “Dear God 2.0” – The Roots (hip hop/rap). The lyrics in this song are expressing doubt in God because of the suffering seen all around, ticked off in rap fashion. One thing I like about The Roots in general is that they combine rap with really pretty vocals, and this song is no exception. Sample rap lyrics: “Why is the world ugly if you made it in your image and why is living life such a fight to the finish?” Sample “regular” lyrics: “Dear God, I’m trying hard to reach you…Dear God, I see your face in all I do.” Heavy stuff from The Roots, but the song itself has a cool sound to it.

• “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” – Johnny Cash (country, of course). If you’ve seen one of my favorite movies of all time, “Walk the Line,” you know that Johnny Cash got his start with church hymns. This song has kind of a “chain gang” sound to it and is a little more fire and brimstone than the others. Basically, if you do bad things, God will hold you accountable. Now you know.

• “Dive” – Steven Curtis Chapman (inspirational). This is the only song in the group that is actually of the “spiritual” genre, and I honestly have no idea how it ended up on my iPod. Apparently I have never really listened to the lyrics because I did not realize it had religious undertones. Actually, they’re not undertones- it’s pretty overt: “Sink or swim, I’ve diving in.” Good song with more of a rock/pop sound.

• “Jesus Walks” – Kanye West (hip hop/rap). This song has kind of a “marching” sound to it as the background to Kanye’s rapping about asking God to show him the way because the Devil is trying to “break me down.” He’s nervous that he’s done too many bad things and been away from God too long to talk to him anymore. One could make the argument that Kanye should revisit these lyrics as his tantrums don’t always seem to reflect that he’s following a super spiritual path. Warning: even though this song is heavy on the Jesus talk, there is plenty of decidedly unholy language within.

• “Show Me What I’m Looking For” – Carolina Liar (pop). You’ll recognize this song because it was fairly popular last summer. “Save me, I’m lost. Oh Lord, I’ve been waiting for you.” Wow, I’m starting to feel bad for these artists- they seem to really be struggling.

• “One of Us” – Joan Osboarne (folk-rock). You might also remember this song. Joan ponders what God looks like and what she (or we) might say if we happened to be sitting next to him on the bus, and most interestingly, what you might ask him if you were allowed just one question. I don’t think he was disguised as the man next to me on my train ride home while I’ve been writing this; there was an unpleasant odor and I actually tried to be inspired to not think bad thoughts about him since I was writing about tolerance and goodness (I was not very successful). Special shout-out to my very favorite song from Joan Osboarne, “Cathedrals”- beautiful.

• “Heaven Help Us All” – Ray Charles and Gladys Knight (blues). Now this sounds like a gospel song. Gladys can belt it out like nobody’s business! Basically, Heaven help everyone, good and bad. I think Ray and Gladys have a full choir supporting them in this song and you may be tempted to don a robe and put your hands skyward.

• “Dear Lord” – Joseph Arthur (rock). This song has a bit of a twang to it. This is an honest song in which the singer believes when he needed God, He wasn’t there for him. Since he lost faith, he’s now looking for Him and is remorseful for not keeping his faith. It’s hard not to have felt this way at some point.

I think there are quite a few country songs that have religious messages, but my collection of songs is pretty light on country. I found it interesting to listen to the lyrics of these songs by artists who do not usually sing about such topics. A bit much en masse for a simple walk to the train? Perhaps, but my brain isn’t really doing much else at such times anyway, so it was a nice diversion.

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