Like it or not, love it or hate it, God is everywhere. Even if you don't think there is a God, enough people do, or were at least raised to, that we often find religion at the center of art. This has been true since the Middle Ages, and it is no less true today in the great medium of rock and roll.
Early American rockers like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins all came from charismatic Christian traditions, making their inclination to gyrate a bit while telling it like it is all the more natural. Johnny Cash was famously a devout Christian. Little Richard is an ordained minister. Why, even the artist once again known as Prince has been known to sing about the divine, if he isn't busy opining on the female anatomy. Dylan famously went through a fundamentalist Christian phase. Springsteen has both celebrated and sworn at his Roman Catholic upbringing, sometimes in the same sentence. Three-fourths of U2 are self-described Christians, with only Adam Clayton perfering the term 'spiritual' instead.
With that in mind, here's my list of the best 5 songs in the history of mainstream rock that are at least written in part about Jesus Christ:
- I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2: So many faith-based U2 songs to choose from, I went with this one, because it was both a number 1 hit AND the most transparent song possible. I mean, seriously, this could be a gospel song. Actually, this song IS a gospel song. Say what you want about Bono; he not vague about his faith.
- Every Grain Of Sand - Bob Dylan: What a gorgeous song. Again, plenty to choose from, both during Dylan's fundamentalist years and outside of them. This song speaks to the doubting person of faith in crisis, and features one of the most gorgeous harmonica solos ever recorded.
- Jesus Was An Only Son - Bruce Springsteen: I'll believe until my dying day that Bruce saw Mel Gibson's "The Passion Of The Christ" and was inspired to write this narrative about Christ's final hours. Bruce seems to have become more spiritual in his later years. If you have time, I'd love to discuss how his treatment of religion changed after his children were born. You bring the beer ...
- Talk About The Passion - R.E.M.: The most secular of all the acts on the list. Both Peter Buck and Mike Mills have claimed to be atheists, and Michael Stipe is a Buddhist, and no one has ever bothered to ask Bill Berry. Nevertheless, you listen to this song and tell me it's not about Jesus.
- I Would Die 4 U - Prince: No one serves up the sacred and profane quite like Prince. Now a devout Jehovah's Witness, this is another one that is so straightforward in its meaning that you can easily miss it. 'I'm not your lover, I'm not your friend, I am something you will never comprehend ...'