In the music industry, there are several different genres that focus on specific interests. Just like food, not everybody shares the same taste in music. Both the musicians and the audience will have a favorite, even if there is more than one style of music they like. Country fans clearly love country music but not every country fan likes the same style of country music. The same can be said for rock music. Just in the rock music genre alone there are several sub-genres that break this down much further. Some fans of rock music are big into hip-hop, rap, and R&B styles while others prefer heavy metal and punk. There are also rock musicians that dive into religious material, some of them even going as far as to make a niche out of it. Artists such as Hillsong, Michael W. Smith, and Third Day are just a few that made Christian rock their primary style of music, focusing strictly on catering to a category that has its own collection of genres and sub-genres.
Let’s Get Biblical
Long before there was such a thing called as a Christian music genre that feature several sub-genres of its own, there was music produced by a number of artists that went as far as using biblical scripture in the lyrics as they sang their song. They did this for the sole purpose of expressing themselves as a person, or a group of people, according to their Christian beliefs. Even after the music industry developed genres as a means to cater to the growth of Christian-related music, not every artist chose to narrow their style of music down just to please that particular genre alone. Some of these artists have demonstrated they know the bible well and it shows in their musical material, even if the Christian music genre will not recognize it due to whatever guidelines are in place according to whatever rules the music industry has in place.
Let’s Not Get Biblical
Plainly speaking, music is a form of spiritual creation. This has been the case since the dawn of time itself. Any form of art, regardless of what it is, owes its creation to the spirit of inspiration. Between the great painters that have priceless moments captured on canvas, as well as photographers who’ve done the same, how much of that has expressed forms of spirituality? Anything and everything that has an artist’s touch to it owes its very existence to a pioneering spirit that manifested something from mere thought to something of actual substance.
This form of creation exists in music as well. Just as there are musicians who are not the least bit shy to admit they’re followers of specific religions, there are also many who simply embrace spirituality without aligning themselves to any form of religious denomination. Regardless if it was their intent to deliver material of a biblical nature or not, sometimes even some of their songs have been known to bring a bible believer to their knees and say “Amen!”
Where It Matters Most
Whether the intent was to produce Christian material or not, sometimes there is the odd song that somehow managed to become an enigma. When something like this happens, the spiritual connection can be a profound experience. It’s not unusual for a rocker to admit there has been the odd occasion where the song would simply write itself out without effort. Sometimes, these are songs created that have a pretty clear connection to God, as if the Holy Spirit itself simply swooped in and took over.
In truth, the best modern music material putting God’s Word forth does not always come from Christian-related genres. Intentional or not, these artists beautifully practiced the very thing God had previously appointed His prophets to do, dating as far back as the beginning of people’s timeline. In all honesty, it is not about religious affiliations. It is about genuine spirituality from the original source that matters most.
Ten Best Rock-Style Gospel Songs
#10 – Miracle
From Chvrches, Lauren Mayberry wasn’t asking for a “Miracle” in 2018 but felt if love was enough it should be shown. In the music video, violence was everywhere that resulted in Mayberry becoming tackled, then forced to defend herself in an environment that can’t shake itself free from the world’s troubles. References of looking up in search of angels through the darkest of skies suggested a troubled narrator simply wanted the world’s madness to stop.
This is not the only song recorded by Chvrches to suggest biblically-related material. “The Mother We Share” made direct and indirect references to the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. Interestingly enough, the creation of the band’s name had nothing to do with biblical intent. As an alternative electro-pop group, the idea was to install “V” in place of “U” as a means to differentiate themselves from actual churches when it came to online search engine results. The V was a subtle nod to band names from a genre music style known as witch house. Upon the creation of the name, which is technically styled as CHVRCHΞS, there was consideration to place upside down crosses on either side of the name but ultimately decided against it.
On the music charts, “Miracle” was a number twenty-nine hit on the US Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart, a number sixty-one hit in their Scottish homeland, and a number eighty-six hit on the UK Singles Chart. The album, Love Is Dead, has thirteen tracks that mostly revolve around deity figures and religious beliefs.
#9 – Joy to the World
Jeremiah was apparently a good friend of Three Dog Night, as described in their hit single, “Joy to the World.” Although regarded as a bullfrog, this insightful person felt “Joy to the World” was worth singing about. This single came from the group’s fourth studio album, Naturally. The album came out in November 1970 but the edited version of “Joy to the World” was the one released as a single in February 1971. Originally, the opening lyric was supposed to be “Jeremiah was a prophet,” but this wasn’t favored. Instead, the prophet was replaced with bullfrog but the song’s message remained the same.
The importance of spreading joy was the key message behind this song, especially in a world that seemed to feel so dull. It became a certified gold hit by the Recording Industry Association of America and has inspired many artists to cover “Joy to the World,” including Christian artists that found themselves drawn to the lyrics, plus its theme, and the hero of the song as he shared the exact same name as one of the favorite biblical prophets from the Old Testament.
The popularity behind this song saw it played at the end of every Denver Broncos home victory, as well as other notable NFL games such as Super Bowl XXXII, Super Bowl XXXIII and Super Bowl 50. “Joy to the World” almost didn’t happen as two of the vocalists from Three Dog Night, namely Danny Hutton and Cory Wells, rejected it. However, Chuck Negron felt the band needed what he called an honest and “silly song” as a means to bring the band back together as a unit. Silly or not, it was serious enough to become a number one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 as well as on the Canadian Top Singles chart and on South Africa’s Springbok Radio chart. It was also, at the very least, a top thirty hit among the nations of Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the UK.
#8 – 2112
“2112” is a remarkable guitar-fused song that lasts twenty minutes as a genius musical composition by Rush. It takes up the entire side of their 1976 album of the same name. The lyrics were based on Anthem, a novella written by Russian author, Ayn Rand, who moved to the United States as a young adult. Her work focused on the concept of self-interest and objective reality. Designed as futuristic material, “2112” was a song that was divided into seven chapters. Between Overture, The Temples of Syrinx, Discovery, Presentation, Oracle: The Dream, Soliloquy, and Grand Finale, each of them began with a story, describing events.
The first part started the timeline a “2112” before going into the second part’s tale of priests looking to rule everyone. In Discovery, it’s about a man discovering a guitar, which was considered an ancient device in the storyline. This guitar is presented in part four to the priests but they want nothing to do with it, crushing it underneath their feet. The fifth part was the man returning to his cave by a waterfall and falling asleep. In dream, he encountered an oracle who led him back to his world, which was apparently a planet far away from earth.
The sixth part, Soliloquy, saw this man unable to cope with earth’s “2112” living conditions any further and praying his death will lead him to the place he dreamt about when he encountered the oracle. The seventh part of this song was Grand Finale, a fully instrumental piece that served as more than just beautiful music to the ears. “2112” was progressive rock at its finest as the inspiration behind this song came as Rush’s way of protesting against certain restrictions laid out by certain industrial leaders whom they didn’t agree with.
The first words of this song, “And the meek shall inherit the earth,” directly referenced a piece of biblical scripture (Matthew 5:5). Additional notes of interest behind “2112” is it’s also military time for 9:12. September 12th is Neil Peart’s birthday. Also, December 21st is the first day of Winter Solstice and the lunar calendar. Observing this date remains very important among believers who take their devotion to God very seriously.
#7 – The Rising
Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” came from his twelfth studio album, which is also named The Rising. Released in 2002, both the song and the album was inspired by the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001 in New York City when the two hijacked jets drove straight into the Twin Towers. The power behind “The Rising” rightfully earned a 2003 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.
It was also recognized by Rolling Stone Magazine as the thirty-fifth best song of the decade. For Bruce Springsteen, he was inspired by the New York City Fire Department as one of its firefighters climbed up the stairs of the World Trade Center in the mad rush to at least try and save some lives. In the lyrics, Springsteen took note of the desperate situation, finding himself in the process as the song’s narrator. The religious imagery of “The Rising” made references to the Holy Bible’s Mary Magdalene when she met the resurrected Jesus Christ at the tomb, three days after he was crucified on the cross.
Among some Christian-believers, “The Rising” still serves as an Easter-like anthem. Among believers who prefer to use Passover terminology and are fans of Bruce Springsteen and this song, it continues to serve as a source of inspiration. On the US Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart “The Rising” was a number one hit. Aside from the US Billboard Hot 100 only charting “The Rising” as high as number fifty-two, on a global scale it was at least a top forty hit among the nations of Canada, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, and Sweden.
The popularity of this song has become so great it is regarded as one of the best songs to Springsteen’s credit, at least according to some of his fans and music credits. The build of “The Rising” as Springsteen performed this song was tenacity at its finest, illustrating there is truly no power greater than believing in the impossible, especially at a spiritual level.
#6 – Rivers of Babylon
Most of Boney M’s music made historical references to significant events, including biblical ones. “Rivers of Babylon” was a brilliant history lesson told in lyrical form by a musical group that really knew how to deliver awesome music, regardless if it was a charted hit or not. In this story, the Hebrews from were taken from their homeland, namely Jerusalem and its surrounding communities, to a strange land known as Babylon.
By its river, these Hebrews were mocked by their captors to sing a song for them. Stories of this incident were recorded in the Old Testament, as well as references made in the New Testament. Although Boney M’s version is clearly the most popular as it topped most of the music charts around the world after it was released in 1978, they were not the first to record this incredible song.
In 1970, The Melodians were the first to provide the texts straight out of Psalms 19 and 137 from the bible. This version of the song was used in 1972’s movie, The Harder They Come. “Rivers of Babylon” earned global recognition, before becoming highly popularized by Boney M. To this day, their version remains as one of the all-time best-selling singles in the UK. Although the lamentations shared by the ancient Hebrews as they recorded their event were grievous, Boney M managed to make “Rivers of Babylon” sound like a tropical dance number with the deliberate intent to celebrate a key moment in Jewish history as these people not only survived the entire ordeal but thrived as some won over the hearts of many Babylonians.
This single was a number one hit among the nations of Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK. On the US Billboard Hot 100 it was a number thirty hit.
#5 – My Sweet Lord
“My Sweet Lord” was a single George Harrison released during the winter of 1970 from his triple album, All Things Must Pass. Although his song of praise favored the Hindu god known as Krishna, the overall message behind it was to convince all believers of deity-related faith to focus on what’s truly important instead of judging various religious factions and denominations that do not exercise the exact same worship practices.
The “hallelujah” and “Hare Krishna” chanted by the backup singers served as a choir-like performance that added a gospel feel to “My Sweet Lord.” Although Harrison performed this single as a solo artist, he had Eric Clapton and former Beatle bandmate, Ringo Starr, record this single with him. After “My Sweet Lord” was released it topped the US Billboard Hot 100, the Canadian RPM Singles Chart, and the UK Singles Chart. On a global scale, it was also a number one hit among the nations of Australia, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
In the US, “My Sweet Lord” became certified platinum by the RIAA and this was also the case with UK’s BPI. In Japan, it became double platinum while in Italy it was certified gold. Among the majority of the fans, they assumed the god whom Harrison addressed was the same from the Holy Bible and the Torah. When the issue of plagiarism came up against “My Sweet Lord,” it was learned the inspiration came from the Christian hymn, “Oh Happy Days” and not from recordings made of other singles by other artists.
#4 – Eye of the Needle
This remarkable piano ballad, “Eye of the Needle,” was a powerful performance by Sia as she sang about the unwillingness to break up with a lover. Emotionally overwhelmed, the Holy Bible’s Matthew 19:24 is referenced as “Eye of the Needle” stated it’s easier to travel through that than moving on with a broken heart. With the backup vocals coming across as a choir, this amazing song also saw Sia’s refusal to cater to the devil’s determination to drag her down.
The biblical passage Sia used throughout the song was a metaphor she used to deal with her emotional trauma. “Eye of the Needle” came from her 2014 album, 1000 Forms of Fear, and was a number thirty-six hit in Australia and a number seventy-one hit in France. Despite the lack of chart success this single had, there are over fifty million views of its music video among a few channels that strongly suggest “Eye of the Needle” has won over more than enough fans to officially call this single a solid favorite.
#3 – 40
“40” came from U2’s 1983 album, War. The entire album itself was an anxious recording, all of it revolved around the issues that plague society that leave pain, suffering, and death in its wake. “40,” as a single, is an incredibly intense song as Bono made reference to Psalm 40 in his lyrics. This song was performed as a lyrical prayer by U2 that brought in the familiar “how long” from “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”
Bono opened up the song with a plea to Jesus as he came to him, wishing to sing a new song instead of the painful ones he’s had to sing as a reflection of the world’s troubles. U2’s band roster, especially Bono, have made it no secret they are Christians. When asked in interview why they choose to produce mainstream music instead of strictly catering to the Christian rock genre it was answered with candid honesty.
As followers of Jesus Christ, who saw categories, divisions, and factions as folly, to narrow down who should have access to what and from whom is committing the sin of pride. Fans of U2 will remember one of their biggest hits, “Pride,” which was also the group’s way of acting as lyrical prophets. U2 has never been shy to express their Christianity but not in a manner that may be expected by religious denominations who seem to share the same expectations as the religious zealots whom Jesus criticized before he was crucified.
#2 – Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)
Written in 1950, “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season) was a song inspired by the Holy Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes. It was first recorded in 1959 by Pete Seeger, then released in 1962 as “To Everything There Is a Season by the Limeliters. In 1965, The Byrds turned this single into a number one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100, a number three hit in Canada, and a number twenty-six hit in the UK. Legendary to say the least, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” made reference how there is a time for everything, all according to season as part of God’s plan.
The biblical passage from Ecclesiastes is estimated to have been written anywhere between the third and tenth century Before Christ (BC), either written by a reflective King Solomon while he was still loyal to God or by a priestly figure prior to the exile of the Hebrews into Babylon.
#1 – Every Grain of Sand
Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand” is epic. In 1978, Dylan experienced a born again, spirit filled moment that forever changed his life from that day forth. Already a musical genius long prior to this, 1981’s recording of this song, as well as the album, Shot of Love, witnessed a new and improved Bob Dylan. At least this was the viewpoint of Bob Dylan fans who also happened to be devout Christians. Dylan poured out his testimony through “Every Grain of Sand,” which was evident in the lyrics stating he saw the master’s hand, belonging to Jesus, in every leaf that trembles, along with every grain of sand.
When Bob Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, it was stated “Every Grain of Sand” was his best work as a recording artist. This powerful song of redemption is filled with biblical references as Dylan perfectly executed how he experienced truth setting him free in the exact same manner it has been written within the pages of the Holy Bible on more than one occasion. Christian or not, “Every Grain of Sand” is that one perfect song for listeners that may be going through a troubled time in their life and simply an honest feel-good song.
Top 10 Gospel Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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