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Playlist: Jesus Rocks!

A Christian oldies music playlist for all faiths


Playlist: Jesus Rocks!

Sister Janet Mead


Jesus Rocks!

It may not have been The Devil's Music, as parents and civic leaders warned, but rock and roll was, from the very beginning, a secular report. This was no doubt due to the genre's basis in blues and R&B. But as the fence between those musics and gospel began to come down (resulting in, among other things, soul), pop music began to reconsider faith, specifically of a Christian denomination. Factor in the hippie movement of the late Sixties and the resultant Jesus Movement (often unfortunately referred to as "Jesus Freaks"), and you have a perfect recipe for utopian early-Seventies rock. Some of these artists were testifying, some merely paying tribute to gospel influences, but the true test of good music is how it can move anyone with ears. And judging by the way most of these songs landed in heavy secular rotation somewhere, they must have done just that.


  1. Pacific Gas & Electric, "Are You Ready?"
    A true one-hit wonder, this blues-soul band created a true vision of a Second Coming for a war-weary world.
  2. Ocean, "Put Your Hand In The Hand"
    A classic example of Top 40 Jesus Freakdom, name-dropping the "man from Galilee" over a beat funky enough to have been sampled by hip-hoppers.
  3. Blind Faith, "Presence Of The Lord"
    The then-troubled Eric Clapton hit the high point of this band's brief career with this simple yet powerful testimony of faith.
  4. The Doobie Brothers, "Jesus Is Just Alright"
    A typically Doobieized version of a late-period Byrds recasting of a gospel standard. Also a hit!
  5. Ray Stevens, "Everything Is Beautiful"
    He'd gone serious at least once before, but this is a true miracle: a novelty artist attempting to create a Utopian gospel-piano anthem.
  6. Neil Diamond, "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show"
    How can a Jewish kid from Brooklyn capture the feel of a Southern gospel-tent revival so expertly? Because he's an artist.
  7. Edwin Hawkins Singers, "Oh Happy Day"
    Kicked off the pop-gospel craze, thanks to an enterprising San Francisco DJ. More R&B in delivery than most of its, uh, brethren.
  8. George Harrison, "My Sweet Lord"
    The ex-Beatle always claimed that this spiritual tribute (to Krishna, shhh) was inspired by the Hawkins song and not "He's So Fine." See what you think.
  9. Elton John, "Border Song"
    Aside from the pun on "Holy Moses," it doesn't mention the Lord, and Elton's gospel piano is still quite bluesy. So why did Aretha Franklin cover it?
  10. Paul Simon, "Loves Me Like A Rock"
    In one of his earliest crosscultural experiments, Simon enlisted The Dixie Hummingbirds quartet to back up his musings on mother's love and institutional purity.
  11. Norman Greenbaum, "Spirit In The Sky"
    Written more or less as a joke, but not recorded as such -- and that touch of psychedelic boogie is pure genius.
  12. Rick Springfield, "Speak To The Sky"
    Yes, that Rick -- still ten years from "Jessie's Girl" and already proving himself a heartthrob who could actually write.
  13. ZZ Top, "Jesus Just Left Chicago"
    Suitably apocalyptic lyrically, this slow grind is a favorite among Top fans, but the band also flirted with spirituality on "Have You Heard?" and "Hot, Blue, and Righteous."
  14. Godspell (Original Cast), "Day By Day"
    The world's second most popular Jesus musical produced this gentle yet uplifting song of praise.
  15. Sister Janet Mead, "The Lord's Prayer"
    That Seventies cliche about the folk-rock nun pretty much started here. Surprisingly pleasant for a Top 40 psalm.
  16. The Staple Singers, "I'll Take You There"
    Proved that gospel artists could create heaven (or at least indicate it) with very secular, if gentle and ethereal, funk.
  17. Murray Head, "Jesus Christ Superstar"
    The hit version of this Andrew Lloyd Webber perennial asks some intriguing, somewhat comic, and some say blasphemous questions about the man.
  18. Stevie Wonder, "They Won't Go When I Go"
    A pop song about the Rapture? Yes, and Stevie was deadly serious about it. Perhaps only Stevie could have made the concept so... musical.
  19. Billy Preston, "That's The Way God Planned It"
    The live "concert for Bangladesh" version of this Preston original captures the church raveup like almost no other.
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