|Photo: Alison Waddell ©2015|
The 6ths - "The Dead Only Quickly"
According to the songwriter's liner notes to his masterwork, 69 Love Songs, Stephin Merritt is a "rabid atheist". He is also my favourite songwriter and although he rarely tackles religion in his work, when he does he does so with wit and style. In verse two of "The Dead Only Quickly," he seems to be offering some degree of sympathy with the faithful: "It would be swell / To see some folk burn in hell..." But then comes the rejoinder: "But when they go / It's just as pleasant to know / That the dead only quickly decay..." leaving the listener wondering whether there isn't a trace of feline irony lurking in the shadows. The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon provides the masterfully understated vocal turn on this recording.
The Clash - "Rock The Casbah"
In the documentary film The Future is Unwritten, Joe Strummer describes "Rock The Casbah" as being about the inhumanity of religious fundamentalism. Not the kind of subject matter one expects to find topping the charts in 1982, but there you have it. I remember loving this song as a kid and love it slightly more now that I know what it's about.
Guided By Voices - "I Am a Scientist"
Another one of my all-time favourite tunesmiths: Robert Pollard. It's hard to imagine a finer moment in his extremely lengthy catalogue. "I Am a Scientist" comes across lyrically like his artist statement and perhaps the song that best defines him. Though making no mention of religion or faith whatsoever, it nonetheless seems to be about self discovery and finding meaning through art and being open-minded. "I know what's right / But I'm losing sight of the clues...to just unlock my mind / Yeah, to just unlock my mind..." A decidedly humble, secular and inspiring view in my book, making this song an appropriate fit on this list. I dare you to try to stop the hairs on the back of your neck from rising whilst listening.
Belinda Carlisle - "Heaven Is a Place on Earth"
This is another one that I remember from childhood as one of those songs that just makes your heart soar. It still does and as I read the lyrics to "Heaven Is a Place on Earth," I realized that this is pretty damn close lyrically to what I was trying to get at with one of my band's songs, "End Of Faith." Quoth Belinda, "In this world we're just beginning / To understand the miracle of living..." Dammit, she beat me to it. Heaven is a place on earth. And it is in the form of this song.
Kate Bush - "A Deal with God (Running Up that Hill)"
Yes, you read correctly: "A Deal with God" is the original, proper title of this Kate Bush classic. I am doing my part to help reclaim it! It was changed to "Running Up that Hill" at the behest of her fearful record company. Boooo! The public was very much ready for this — as its status as a classic attests. Hopefully, a lesson has been learned. The song isn't about religion; Kate Bush says it is about the misunderstandings that arise between men and women because of their differences. Still, the $uits feared that the lyrics would be interpreted as sacrilegious. They kind of are, actually — and that's why this song made it on this list (in addition to the fact that it is awesome).