What are the 10 best songs about Jesus?
There is a saying - sometimes attributed to Salvation Army founder William Booth - that goes: “Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?” Booth wasn’t around to hear the likes of The Rolling Stones’ 'Sympathy for the Devil', but it’s unlikely his opinion would have changed if he had.
It isn’t really surprising: songs about Jesus are usually the domain of Country & Western singers or ‘Christian Rock’ outfits. So, are there any good songs about Jesus? Well, yes, if you look hard enough – but hey, you’re all busy people, so in the spirit of Christmas, we had a rummage through the crates to bring you our Top 10. Enjoy.
10. Jesus Is Just Alright
The Doobie Brothers
Originally written by Arthur Reid Reynolds and previously covered by The Byrds, The Doobie Brothers’ version was a hit for the California band in 1973. Fisrt featured on their second album, Toulouse Street, they’re not exactly giving the big man the hard sell with the title, but the song is a stomper all the same.
9. If Jesus Drove a Motor Home
Religious subject matter is a recurring theme of Jim White’s songwriting, so there are plenty of his tracks to choose from, but we’ve opted for this number from his 2004 album, Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See. White re-imagines Jesus as a Winnebago-driving hippy who has come to town to eat at waffle houses listen to Bob Dylan tapes, but the song’s message about putting aside religious differences is an enduring and important one.
8. Shine On Sweet Jesus
The Flaming Lips
The fourth album from The Flaming Lips, In a Priest Driven Ambulance (With Silver Sunshine Stares), was released in 1990 as a concept album based around Wayne Coyne’s lyrical obsession with religion at that time. In light of this, we could have chosen pretty much any of the tracks on the album, but it’s the opener that caught our ear. Coyne’s lyrics are somewhat open to interpretation but it’s one of the best moments on the record.
7. Jesus Hairdo
The Charlatans’ 1994 album, Up To Our Hips, wasn’t one of their best, but it did still reach No. 8 in the UK Album Chart and ‘Jesus Hairdo’ is probably the main standout track. Tim Burgess laments about America’s influence on the world over the band’s trademark baggy groove, with the closing moments serving as a reminder of the talents of the sadly departed Rob Collins on keyboards.
6. I Have Forgiven Jesus
This cut from Morrissey’s 2004 solo effort You Are The Quarry forces its way onto our list through a combination of hilarity and sheer arrogance, as Moz continues to grind his personal axe against the rest of the world. Not even Jesus himself can escape the ire of Manchester’s unhappiest man, but not to worry: Moz has magnanimously let him off the hook. Despite Radio 1’s refusal to playlist the track, it still reached No. 10 in the Singles Chart in Christmas week on its release. We can only assume JC is sympathetic to the vegetarian cause.
5. I Saw The Light
The The’s 1994 album Hanky Panky consists entirely of cover versions of songs by country music legend Hank Williams. The highlight of the record is their rendition of ‘I Saw The Light’, featuring a blues-influenced, riff-driven rearrangement by Matt Johnson & Co. that takes the song into completely new territory. It’s even better than the original.
4. Jesus Walks
Back when Kanye was still looking for a label he was reportedly turned down by various executives when he played them a demo of ‘Jesus Walks’, as they feared he would be difficult to market since he didn’t conform to the stereotypes of what a hip hop artist should be. There’s a palpable irony to this; not only has Kanye become one of the biggest-selling hip hop acts ever, the song’s lyrics actually address the very fact that the entertainment industry eschews songs about faith while being quite happy to promote music featuring lyrics about sex and violence. Based around a sample of ‘Walk With Me’ performed by the Addicts Rehabilitation Choir, it’s one of the best tracks on his debut, The College Dropout.
3. Jesus Christ Pose
From the Seattle band’s 1991 album Badmotorfinger, Chris Cornell wrote the lyrics about what he perceived to be the exploitation of religion by public figures, even mentioning Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell as an example. At nearly six minutes long and with a video depicting a woman being crucified, the band struggled to get radio airplay and coverage on MTV on its release, but despite this the single still charted at No. 30 in the UK. With it’s frenetic, pounding drums and Kim Thayil’s chugging guitar riffs, it’s one of their best.
2. Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam
Made famous by Nirvana when they covered the song for their MTV Unplugged appearance in 1993, the original by Glasgow band The Vaselines first featured on their 1988 EP, Dying For It, and is a parody of the Christian hymn ‘I’ll Be A Sunbeam’. Changing the lyrics to subvert the song’s meaning, Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee turned it into an anti-religious protest song (“Don’t expect me to cry for all the reasons you had to die / Don’t ever ask your love of me”). Not the most festive number on our list, granted, but still a great song from a great band.
1. Personal Jesus
Taken from their album Violator, ‘Personal Jesus’ has since been covered by Marilyn Manson and Johnny Cash, but we still love the original the best. Prior to its release in 1989, the band placed adverts in the classifieds of regional newspapers with the words “Your own Personal Jesus” and a telephone number which, when dialled, allowed the caller to listen to the song. The song’s writer, Martin Gore, has said the lyrics inspired by Priscilla Presley’s book, Elvis and Me, particularly the way ‘The King’ was idolised by both her and his fans, even saying in 1990: “We play these god-like parts for people but no one is perfect, and that's not a very balanced view of someone is it?"