April 12, 2005

Charting Jesus

Sister Janet Mead

While listening to the “rock” version of “The Lord’s Prayer,” I was remembering how my 2nd grade self mistakenly thought it was being sung by Sally Field, since she was The Flying Nun. And then it hit me: There sure were an awful lot of religious hits in the hedonistic 70s!

Without thinking (or researching) too hard, here’s a short, chronological list of 1970s Jesus tunes that made Billboard’s Top 40:

“Spirit in the Sky” – Norman Greenbaum
1970, reached #3
“My Sweet Lord” – George Harrison
1970, reached #1
“Put Your Hand in the Hand” – Ocean
1971, reached #2
“Speak to the Sky” – Rick Springfield
1972, reached #14
“Jesus is Just Alright” – Doobie Brothers
1973, reached #35
“The Lord’s Prayer” – Sister Janet Meade
1974, reached #4

There’s also the volcanic impact of Jesus Christ Superstar. As an album released in 1970, it sold 3 million copies before it became a Broadway hit in October 1971, which ran until it became a hit movie in August 1973. Since church attendance sharply declined in the 70s, most of us school kids knew the story of Our Lord only because of this rock opera, and though it may be a strange thing mystifying, we’re cool with that.

It’s been well documented how and why America was so disillusioned and decadent in the 1970s. But we had a heaping handful of Jesus-Specific Top 40 hits in the 4 years before President Nixon imploded our country. After August 1974, I suppose we were too busy crucifying our faith in government to bother with pop hymns.

Looking back, rather than religious beliefs, it used to be that your political party was decided by whether you were a union or non-union worker, and how your family had always voted.

As far as 20th century presidents and religion went, John F. Kennedy was noteworthy as the first Catholic president, and Jimmy Carter was vocal and proud of his religious faith. They were Democrats. Nixon helped reveal the Republican party as Beelzebub’s henchmen, and President Reagan’s religion was downplayed because he’d been divorced.

Somewhere along the way, abortion rights became a political football, so teams divided up at the 50 yard line. The somewhat previously pious Democrats were marked Godless because they chose women’s rights, while the Republicans gained a piety they’d never had by siding with the Evangelicals’ interpretation of God’s word. They also learned that, if handled properly, this position produced strong campaign contributions and voter turnout.

If you believe the tales as spun by the current administration and its media outlets, America has been a moral Christian majority for 5+ years. If so, where are the Jesus Specific mainstream chart hits? Well, Sheryl Crow had a Top 40 hit in 2004 with “Light in Your Eyes,” in which “One” is Biblically capitalized (and references Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” in a guitar break). She is a notorious and vocal Democrat.

Song titles on Christian Rock and Christian Adult Contemporary charts are certainly specific. But when a Christian act decides to go for the lucrative mainstream audience, they achieve their peak sales success by erasing all overt religious references (Jars of Clay) while also downplaying their Christian background (Creed), or they avoid the hypocrisy by going completely secular (Sixpence None The Richer).

If our current society is as genuinely religious as portrayed, there should be a glut of forthright and proud declarations of Lord love all over commercial radio, much like there was in the years before President Nixon. In truth, until our government comes back around to honoring the founding principal of our country, separation of church and state safely resides on the pop charts.


Anonymous said...


Darren Snow said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
darren said...

Just wondering if you knew about Evanescence and their rise on the Jesus-rock festival circuit and subsequent, f-bomb-encrusted denials of their involvement with that scene. (Man, if there IS a hell...)

Then there's devout pop-tart Stacie Orrico, whose hit "More to Life" was, on the surface, merely anti-drug--but meant to be a gateway anti-drug, if you will, to Sunday School.

Also, every angst-rockin' package tour these days contains at least one holy ringer; at the recent Taste of Chaos gig--headlined by professional bad boys My Chemical Romance and the Used--opening act Underoath declined to autograph a female fan's midriff on moral grounds.

One more: Superdrag's erstwhile singer John Davis is doin' it for Jesus these days.

But yeah, we're not seeing the worship-infused mainstream hits like in the old days. Despite the burgeoning popularity of Bible-rock, radio still prefers songs that require radio edits.