Friday, July 8, 2016

Story Songs: Jesus Rocks

While driving the other day, I heard Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" on a classic rock radio station. I had to turn up the volume to fully hear and appreciate Greenbaum's fuzz guitar licks that set the mood for the psychedelic gospel song that peaked at No. 3 in 1970.

After it ended, I started thinking about other songs that focused on Jesus. Oh, by the way, Greenbaum is a practicing Jew so it shows you don't have to be a Christian to sing about Christ. But I digress.

Without a doubt there have been a lot of Jesus-inspired songs that became popular hits since rock has been influenced by gospel, blues, country, well, just about every music genre.

I remember watching Elvis sing "Peace in the Valley" on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957.

The first gospel hit I recall on the radio was "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," a No. 1 song by Laurie London in 1958. It's been covered by countless artists since then.

The Edwin Hawkins Singers scored with  "Oh Happy Day," reaching No. 4 on the charts in 1969. Whoopi Goldberg led a rousing rendition of the song in the movie, "Sister Act,"  in 1992.

The super group Blind Faith (Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech) got religious with "Presence of the Lord," a song on the group's only album, in 1969. Clapton turns in a sizzling guitar solo.

In 1971, the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar," by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, made its debut on Broadway. It was controversial at the time, especially the rollicking hit, "Superstar," recorded by Murray Head with the Trinidad Singers. The song charted to No. 14 on the studio recording.

Another musical, released in 1971, was "Godspell," and it produced the hit, "Day by Day." The song, by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak and sung by the cast, reached No. 13 on the U.S. charts in 1972.

The Doobie Brothers got a lot of airplay from its version of "Jesus Is Just Alright," released on their "Toulouse Street" album in 1972 and reaching No. 35 on the charts.  It has some great guitar and vocals from Pat Simmons. The song, written by Arthur Reid Reynolds, was first recorded in 1966 by his own group. Three years later, The Byrds covered the tune on their "Ballad of Easy Rider" album.

Ocean's "Put Your Hand in the Hand" climbed to No. 2 in 1971. The tune, written by Gene McLellan, was first recorded by Anne Murray, in 1970.

In 1972, Rick Springfield released "Speak to the Sky," a top 10 song in his native Australia. It was his first hit as a solo artist, who went on to worldwide fan nine years later with "Jessie's Girl."

So there's a few Jesus-inspired songs from way back when, years before Christian rock had its own genre and stars.

Until the next time....

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