Welcome to Pop Music Survival Kit: The Perfect Songs for Every Occasion
I intended to write a breezy post about a pop song today, but then boom, the internet was full of stories about gay-related religious hysteria. I mean… I know there are stories like that every day, but today they just all hit me at once.
First, CNN let that poison-spewing Kansas pastor speak his mind about why the government should kill all gay people. Don’t you love it when a news organization whores for viewers by giving a fringe lunatic a national platform in the name of “balanced coverage?” This man wouldn’t even be news if the media (both citizen and professional) didn’t keep discussing him. If we would all just look away from his vile craziness, then he’d only be influencing the sadly misguided people in his pews. But that’s not how it goes, you know? (And look: I’m not above seducing readers. I did just write about naked people in music videos. But I’m also not a national news reporter. I’m a culture critic. But I digress.)
And then on the flip side, a California church bought a billboard that apologized to all people who have been hurt by jerks acting in the name of God. The parishioners were apparently inspired to act after North Carolina banned gay marriage, and they even put the billboard on a stretch of highway named after Billy Graham, everyone’s favorite Old Tyme Homophobe. I think that’s a pretty awesome thing to do, but still… it’s over the top. And today? On this Thursday? When I’m seeing CNN give Pastor Poison room to speak? I just need everyone on all sides of this culture war to chillax.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer three awesome songs with religious undertones that are not politically provocative, notably hateful, or otherwise insane. They’re just fun. Let’s take a few minutes to listen, and then, if we still feel like it, we can all go back to having hysterical debates about religion. Promise.
(1) “Nothing’s Real But Love” by Rebecca Ferguson
Like One Direction and Leona Lewis, Rebecca Ferguson got her start on the British version of The X Factor, and lord have mercy, she sounds like a soul music legend in the making. Just listen to what she does on “Nothing’s Real But Love,” wrapping her rich voice around the phrases without straining. She delivers power and passion without breaking a sweat.
And she does all that by referencing the traditions of gospel and soul music. She’s using the musical language of church tunes to remind us that love’s a lot more important than, well, everything. Is that a familiar sentiment? Sure. But Ferguson’s performance makes it exciting to be reminded.
(2) “Like a Prayer” by Madonna
’Nuff said, right? Even more than Rebecca Ferguson, Madonna gets inside gospel traditions on this classic song. That choir! That cheeky use of religious language! That once-controversial video that now seems like a tame statement about tolerance! If every conversation about religion were this anthemic and uplifting, then nobody would fight about their beliefs. They’d all be having too much fun. Or at the very least, they’d all be trading tips on where to buy a black nightie that can withstand the heat of a field of burning crosses.
This is my favorite song about a preacher who magically conjures a dove, eats it in front of his congregation, and makes them all jealous because they’re so hungry.
That’s a fantastic story to relate through song, but the music makes it even better. The gospel harmonies and handclaps are irresistible, and there’s an entire breakdown about cornbread.
(Fun fact: One of the background singers is named Sweet Pea Atkinson. Yes, lord.)
Best of all, this song has a low-key sense of humor about faith. You can still believe in stuff, even if you don’t take yourself seriously all the time.
Mark Blankenship tweets as @IAmBlankenship. He recently recommended songs to make your mom think you’re awesome.