Religion in Rock Music

In looking at secular 'rock and roll' music (instead of the specific obvious genre of gospel, spiritual, or contemporary Christian music {CCM}), one can glean many prophetic, comforting, and other elements that can show influences from the songwriters' lives. Country music already had its Hank Williams' "This Little Light" now we will investigate pop and rock, though there is room for crossover, as folk rock and country rock are in the mix.


The king does the King

Elvis Presley's three Grammies were from the Gospel genre, of which he made 50 recordings, but some became crossover. "Crying in the Chapel" was probably his best known, maybe popular because it was safe, non-denominational. As a matter of fact Elvis won more Dove awards than grammies.



Even Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day" (I die) has overtones. And Jimi Hendrix, albeit 10 years later, talked of dying, (if "6 was 9") "And the Gods Made Love", (Electric Ladyland; he had some quasi-Hindu illustration on his Axis Bold as Love album cover, with him included as one of this Vedic Pantheon. Norman Greenbaum gave us hope with "Spirit in the Sky", and Jesse Colin Young with his Youngbloods looked forward to "...when the One Who left us here, comes for us at last.." in "Get Together" "...try to love one another right now... ."

Barry McGuire sang "Eve of Destruction" while he was a protest singer, and whether or not his seemingly prophetic secular hit song, with its cynical look at modern, callous industrial society...including a dire warning had an influence, he now is a Christian music perfomer, that does hit the oldies folk revival circuits, too. T There was another song: 2525, "...will man survive?." (You can hear the song on Cleopatra 2525.)

Eric Clapton wrote as his first penned lyrics "Presence of the Lord" specifically to be sung by tenor Stevie Winwood with Blind Faith on their one and only album. He was feeling good about leaving the "super group", Cream.

I have finally found a way to live just like I never could before.
I know that I don't have much to give, but I can open any door.
Chorus: Everybody knows the secret, everybody knows the score, yeah, yeah, yeah...
I have finally found a way to live in the color of the Lord.

I have finally found a place to live just like I never could before.
And I know I don't have much to give, but soon I'll open any door.



Winwood also had a hit, "Higher Love, "written by Will Jennings, whose family had a Methodist background.

Back on Track

Other musicians that later did gospel:



Some actually went back to popular music...the bills got to be paid:


  • Al Greene
  • Pat Boone, who was the clean cut kid who delivered to the Milquetoast culture, the "palatable" version of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutty" He later became a "born again" Christian, but made waves in 1999 with his crooning versions of contemporary Rock music hits like, "Stairway to Heaven", while dressed in leather.
  • Amy Grant: Some evangelicals looked at her askance for divorcing her husband and re-marrying.
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Marvin Gaye, whose father had issues with his secular activities, and other ones, led to his fatal shooting.
  • Little Richard

Making Waves

The Canadian group, Ocean, did member Gene MacLellan's number two hit of 1971, "Put Your Hand in the Hand", written originally for singer Anne Murray a couple of years earlier. Capital nixxed her singing the too religious song, and she was miffed she missed out on a hit (that she fussed wouldn't have been sung so off key. Maclellan played with Robbie Robertson his two groups the Consuls, and the Suedes. Their second unsuccessful album was an oxymoron way on the Kama Sutra label.

(The number one his of 1971 was ironically Two Dog Nights' "Joy to the World."


Put your hand in the hand of the Man who stilled the water
Put your hand in the hand of the Man who calmed the sea.
Take a look at yourself and you can look at others differently,
By putting your hand in the hand of the Man from Galilee.

Every time I look into the Holy Book I want to tremble ... (tremble),
When I read about the part where the Carpenter cleared the temple ... (temple).
For buyers and the sellers were no different 'fellers than what I profess to be,
And it causes me shame to know we're not the people we should be: So,


My momma taught me how to pray Before I reached the age of seven,
When I'm down on my knees That's when I'm closest to heaven.
Daddy lived his life, two kids and a wife, you do what you must do,
But he showed me enough of what it takes To get me through: (Chorus:)

Kris Kristofferson wrote "Why Me Lord?" it even made it over to some hymnbooks! It was made popular by Christy LaneI always thought he sang he was wasted, but not quite:

Why me Lord?
What have I ever done, To deserve even one
Of the pleasures I've known?
Lord, what did I ever do to deserve loving You
Or the kindness You've shown?

Lord help me Jesus I've wasted it...
So help me Jesus, You know what I am.
Now that I know that I've needed you...
So help me Jesus, my soul's in Your hands.
He also co-wrote with Marijohn Wilkin another crossover song, "One Day at a Time", also strongly presented on the airwaves by Christy Lane. There's also great sounding version by Johnny Cash:.
I'm only human; I'm just a man
Help me believe in what I could be and all that I am
Show me the stairway
I have to climb
Lord for my sake
Teach me to take
One day at a time

One day at a time, sweet Jesus
That's all I'm asking from you
Give me the strength to do everything that I have to do
Yesterday's gone sweet Jesus
And tomorrow may never be mine
Help me today
Show me the way
One day at a time. And Janis Joplin, who did Kris' "Me and Bobby McGee", had a beautiful song on her Got Them Kozmic Blues album: "Work Me Lord".


Now for other theological bents we had the one who wrote Jackknife Gypsy," Cat Stevens eventually become a Muslim. And, of course, many have heard George Harrison with the Beatles and solo: (My Sweet Lord { he designates this Lord as Hare Krishna})--even though he sings 'Halleluiah" ([Hebrew} for {Praise the Lord} {Jah}, the latter predominate in Reggae). Sued by the Chiffons for being to close to He's So Fine. There is a wonderful tune written and sung by Leonard Cohen, "Halleluiah" as well.

Hey Jude by the Beatles, was alleged, in error, to be singing to the patron saint of junkies (but, actually refers to Julian Lennon.) Let it Be, and whose "Mother Mary is not the Lord's Mother, but Paul McCartney's.

David Bowie on his Golden Years release sang "Word on a Wing", and what millennium could he envisioned where, ..."nothing's gonna touch you in those "Golden Years"."

Bob Dylan has to be considered the most prolific of this kind of writing (and this is not even considering his three blatant Christian albums.} On his first album titled with his name, Dyan sings: "Jesus' gonna make up my dyin' bed". Who could not forget the burning lines in Masters of War where Jesus could not forgive what they did (Weapon manufacturers setting back, watching, hiding in their mansions while death and fear are produced). And we are asked whether Judas Iscariot had 'God on his side." We are informed of Maggie's Ma, "the brains" of Maggies' Farm telling the servants of "man and God and law" Look at the references in "Gates of Eden," and the "flesh colored Christs" in "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." It has been written that at the Big Pink house in Woodstock, NY, he had a huge bible on a stand that was inspiration. Certainly, "Dear Landlord" is a prayer when one hears it on his post-motorcycle accident album, John Wesley Harding. The big questions that Christians sometimes ask, is he still a Christian? The verdict is still not out as maybe understandable so he is a private person albeit so public.



Iron Butterfly had "In Da Ga Da Vida" the drunken tongues translation 'in the Garden of Eden.' And Led Zeppelin gave us a Stairway to Heaven.


There are too many songs referring to angels, devils, Heaven and Hell for bandwidth to handle, by the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Judas Priest, and all the Mega Heavy Gothic Rockers. Perhaps we can codify all the lyrics like all classical writings, e.g. the Bible, Shakespeare, Homer and so many other varieties cataloged.

On Amos Lee's 2008 album release, Last Days at the Lodge, he sings, "Street Corner Preacher," and on his Mission Bell album of 2011 has a track titled, "Jesus."