Top Tens And The Girl I Didn’t Love
I remember the first time I fell in like.
I say like, because although I would have given her my last Rolo (as the advert at the time suggested) I hesitate to use the word love too often, especially regarding the infatuations of a single figures aged Phill. But I did like her. She was awesome.
I found that the old cheesy line about how “all the songs on the radio suddenly make sense” actually turned out to be not too far from the truth. Though the songs weren’t on the radio – they were on my dad’s tape player, and it wasn’t that they didn’t make sense before and now they suddenly did; It was more a case of now having someone to link all those ideas too.
It didn’t last. In truth, it never started. I think she was intimidated by my good looks and all-round brilliance. Either way, I did finally grasp something of the power of a song’s lyrics. To some, a particular grouping of words may mean nothing more than the concrete definitions they were supposed to convey. To others however, those words may link to a certain experience, opening up a world of connected thoughts and feelings. We sometimes pick up on more than the Artist intended to say.
I find that this happens to me frequently now. Perhaps in the case of other ‘in like’ episodes (but that’s really not your business is it now?), but more often in regard to the One I love.
So often I find myself listening to songs on the radio and hearing within them lines of solid gold, expressing perfectly something of the nature of God and the truth He has revealed in scripture. Undoubtedly, most of these incidences were not the Artist’s desired expression and the rest of the song may travel some distance wide of that mark, but in that one moment, in that one lyric, the truth is there nonetheless.
A friend reminded me of this very fact recently as we listened to one of the songs below, and inspired me to produce a list of my top ten God-bothering mainstream songs. So here it is. I invite you to peruse the list, admit how right I am, then add your own in the comments.
1. Some Might Say – Oasis
Why it’s great: I came quite late to the Oasis party, but it’s true to say that in the nineties Oasis had the perfect sound; More interesting than Take That and Celine Dion, yet not so musically self-absorbed as their Brit-pop rivals Blur. The slow distorted opening chords of ‘Some Might Say’ pave the way for a song with as much swagger as Oasis’ frontman, whose raspy vocals carry the anthem perfectly. A simple song, but brilliant with it.
Why it’s God-bothering: With a general sense of hope throughout the song, the lines that always catch my attention are in the second verse:
Some might say they don’t believe in Heaven / Go and tell it to the man who lives in Hell.
The existence of God, and by extension Heaven and Hell, are often hotly debated. Here I think we see something of what Paul speaks of in Romans 8:22; that Creation groans in it’s current state. We look around and know within us that there is something wrong with the world. We feel it should be different. That feeling in us is our longing for God’s restoration of all Creation, for it all to be made right. Some do indeed say that they don’t believe in Heaven, but they must wrestle with the questions of the man who feels the fallen-ness of the world and clamours for the hope of change, particularly as they will so often find that they are that man.
2. The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song – The Flaming Lips
Why it’s great: There’s a chance you may not have heard of the Flaming Lips. This is a mistake on your part and you must make every effort to rectify it as soon as possible. I suggest starting with their gleefully bizarre 2002 offering ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots‘. The Flaming Lips never fail to delight with a great mix of energetic, uplifting music combined with curious videos and extraordinary live performances. This song (and it’s slightly disturbing video) provides no exception. Weird, fantastical and beautiful all at the same time.
Why it’s God-bothering: Despite general popular opinion, Wayne Coyne has repeatedly denied that this song was directed at George W. Bush and his perceived failings as the most powerful man on earth. It’s attack on those in power is evenly balanced with a call for self examination – what would you do in such a position? It is here that we arrive at the insightful lyric:
Are you crazy?
It’s a very dangerous thing to do exactly what you want
Because you cannot know yourself or what you’d really do
With all your power.
Coyne hits on the problem of relative morality. None of us are immune from corruption, none of us are able to live perfectly, selflessly, and lovingly of our own volition. It is dangerous for any one of us to choose to live according to our own desires, and as Paul points out in Romans 8:5-8, we are unable to free ourselves from this problem. The good news is that Jesus is able and chooses to do just that. In Romans 8, Paul goes on to speak of the change brought about when God dwells in us; we give ‘all our power’ to God in submitting to Him and we are given life and the freedom to break free of our own self interest. We are made able to love.
3. Teardrop – Massive Attack
Why it’s great: Well, listen to it. Elizabeth Fraser’s haunting vocals combine perfectly with music that somehow manages to be slow and soothing yet express a real sense of suspense and even urgency right through to the climax of the song where we a left with the refrain ‘You’re stumbling a little’. If I ever sat down and created a list of my ‘top 10 songs of all time’, this song would almost certainly feature.
Why it’s God-bothering: It’s true that the whole song possesses a very ethereal character, but what I love and connect with every time I hear it is it’s concrete, no-nonsense take on ‘love’. The opening lines of the song run so:
Love, love is a verb / Love is a doing word
In these two lines Fraser, stepping outside the boundaries of a dirge of modern songs expressing float-away sentiments of how it feels to love someone, comes closest to what we see as true love expressed in the Bible. Over and over again the idea that love is about action is impressed upon the reader of scripture, climaxing with the ultimate demonstration of love in the crucifixion of Jesus. John puts it like this:
16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
1 John 3:16-17
So we see that love requires action or it is no kind of love at all. The call from scripture is for Christians to move away from simply telling people that they love them and to move towards showing (acting out) that love.
4. Nothing – A
Why it’s great: Turn your stereo up, press play, and bask in the killer opening hook. ‘A’ never seemed to progress beyond this modestly placed top 9 hit (it reached number 9 in the UK charts in 2002), which is perhaps unfair as their album ‘Hi-Fi Serious‘ is definitely worth a listen, filled as it is with similar pop-rock hooks. This song is definitely the stand-out track on the album.
Why it’s God-bothering: In a similar vein to the previous entry in this list, A show themselves to be once again positing a biblical idea of love. Okay, the song doesn’t exactly excel in lyrical brilliance, and it may be a tenuous link, but the chorus of
Gimme some love / Gimme skin / If we ain’t got that then we ain’t got much / And we ain’t got nothing
constantly reminds me of the beginning of the Apostle Paul’s great treatise on love:
1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
This is a swift kick to the pants for those of us that fall into the trap of ‘religion’, thinking that our good deeds and religious acts are the things that please God. We are set straight on that issue here. All of that is useless unless it comes from a heart that loves God and loves people.
5. Delicate – Damien Rice
Why it’s great: Damien Rice is easily one of the best, if not the best, of the glut of singer-songwriters that have turned up in the last few years. Perhaps this is because he fills each role in the title ‘singer-songwriter’ so well. The video above gives a glimpse of the strength, passion and emotion in his voice as he sings cutting yet gentle lyrics surrounded by Rice’s glorious arrangement of strings.
Why it’s God-bothering: I could be wrong, but I don’t think that Rice actually had the Church in mind when he wrote this song. His words however perfectly mimic God’s attitude towards worship when he sings:
Why do you sing Hallelujah / If it means nothing to you?
This is exactly the issue that God has over and over again with Israel, his people, in the Old Testament. In Isaiah we find God saying:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is made up only of rules taught by men.
Isaiah 29:13 (NIV)
God is clear; He doesn’t want fine words and nice singing and seemingly charitable acts of sacrifice if they are all just a mask hiding what’s on the inside. Jesus quotes this passage again in Mark 7 when speaking to the religious leaders of his day – and we are not exempt.
If we think we have got it sorted because we were once Christened or we attend church every Sunday, or we are the loudest singers in the congregation, or we are the most passionate preacher, we are sorely mistaken. God’s purpose for us is that we are changed on the inside as well as the outside, that we would have a new heart.
6. You’ve Got the Love – The Source ft. Candi Staton
Why it’s great: Released twice in the nineties and again in 2006, it entered the top 10 each time and despite this often being a sign of lowest common denominator music (music snob, moi?), it truly is a masterpiece. Candi Staton’s glorious vocals and lyrics transcend whatever music is put behind them (though the piano and strings of the New Voyager 2006 mix suit them perfectly) and create a song that is full of heartache and hope.
Why it’s God-bothering: OK, this one is a bit of a cheat. The vocals for this track are taken from a song recorded by singer Candi Staton (older folk may know her for this) for a documentary in the eighties. Candi is a Christian and her lyrics reflect that. To such such an extent that it seems surprising that the remixes were embraced by the listening public. In reality, I could just post all the lyrics here, but to keep in line with the rest of the list, I’ll choose my favourite bit:
Sometimes I feel like saying “Lord, I just don’t care”, but you’ve got the love I need to see me through.
In a single line, Candi captures both despair and hope. In the moment when things become too much, when loving others just becomes something too burdensome to care about, our hope is in God’s love. In two ways. Firstly, God loves us enough not to abandon us sat on the floor in a self pitying sulk – he continues to love us and nothing will cause that to cease (Romans 8:38-39). Secondly, God changes our heart – it is with his love that we are able to love others.
7. Susan’s House – Eels
Why it’s great: It’s hard to say. I like Eels. They make good music. Not outstanding music, but good music. I can’t really say that there is anything incredible about this song, I just love the piano hook in the chorus and the general sentiment of the song.
Why it’s God-bothering: Released in 1997, the song deals with a few of the issues facing society at that time. The issues haven’t changed much in over a decade. Eels’ frontman, ‘E’, encounters a number of troubled individuals in his neighbourhood and recounts their stories. The killer line for me comes at the very end of the song:
They go into the 7-11 / And I keep walking / And I keep walking
For this, I think you have to listen to the song to catch the inflection of E as he sings those last lines. The remorse is clear as he recalls walking past those troubled individuals and doing nothing to help. Again we arrive at what God describes as ‘true religion’:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
How often do we find ourselves walking past when we see real need in our communities? We, the Church, need to work to ensure that we don’t just ‘keep walking’ when we come across the suffering in society.
8. F.E.A.R – Ian Brown
Why it’s great: I am a sucker for strings. This songs has them in bucketloads. Sweeping strings that carry on throughout the song combined with Brown’s clever, if sometimes forced, acrostic lyrics that repeatedly spell out ‘FEAR’ make this a very interesting song. Also, the backwards video is awesome.
Why it’s God-bothering: ‘You’ve got the fear’ is the chorus we are greeted with in this song, and fear permeates the whole piece. It is awesome then, that in the midst of these fear ridden lyrics, we find the very cure for fear:
Final Execution And Resurrection
Granted, others may view this differently, but to my ears this is an echo of the life and death and life of Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus often told his hearers not to be afraid, and the writer of Hebrews explains why:
14Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplished many things, but the writer of Hebrews focuses in on one of these accomplishments: Death is no longer something for the Christian to fear. In His resurrection, Jesus triumphs over death – it is no longer the end for us. The promise for Christians is eternal life and this promise transcends any of the dangers or hardships we may face in this world.
9. Something’s Missing – John Mayer
Why it’s great: John Mayer is one of those curious artists that are apparently massive in the USA but relatively unheard of in the UK (see Dave Matthews Band for another example). I first came across Mr. Mayer as I perused the shelves of HMV one fine pay day a few years ago. It is one of the few instances in my life where I have gone and asked at the counter what was playing in the store. The chap at the counter directed me to this song’s album and it was not a disappointment. Yes, it’s a bit soft rock, but I can live with that. The songs are well crafted, pop-y enough but not too much, and he’s got a good voice. A good listen.
Why it’s God-bothering: In ‘Something’s Missing’ Mayer deals with the emptyness that he feels results from modern life and our consumerist/materialist outlook. However, he extends beyond materialist desires and even points to relationships and good health not satisfying the ‘itch’ that he feels. At the end of the song, we are witness to his checklist:
Friends (check), Money (check), Well Slept (check), Opposite Sex (check), Guitar (check), Microphone (check), Messages waiting on me when I come home (check)
In spite of all these things, Mayer still finds that something is missing. Something that he can’t put his finger on, but that has some grounding in loneliness. Christians have found many cheesy ways to express this point, but the simple fact is that what is missing is God. In the book of Genesis, we see God create the world, place Adam in it and give him a wife, a companion. God’s plan for them is to look after the Garden they were placed in, to procreate, and to enjoy a relationship with Him. The Fall, which is recounted in chapter 3, ends with Adam and Eve being driven from God’s presence:
24He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
This, along with the damging consequences of sin in their personal relationships, sees the beginning of this feeling found so often in people. Something is missing. Something is not right and we are not sure what. It is the result of being seperated from God and messed up in how we relate to each other.
Fortunately, in his atoning death and ressurection, Jesus paves the way for us to be re-united with the God we were seperated from by our sin. God is no longer distant, in fact He lives in us:
13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
The promise for the Christian is this – God is with you. Always. In Him is found everything we need, so that we can say with the Psalmist that God is our portion, God is enough.
10. Hoppipolla – Sigur Ross
Why it’s great: If you’ve been to Firwood Church, chances are you’ve heard Andy Evans mock me from the front about this band. You should not listen to him however, for his mocking comes from a place of fear and ignorance. His mocking picks up on the fact that Sigur Ross are an Icelandic band who sing in a mixture of English, Icelandic, and Hopelandic. The latter is a made-up nonsense language. I agree that this sounds foolish, but listen to the song. The fact that you have no idea what is being said opens up the song, as Jonsi Birgisson’s voice becomes simply another instrument in the band. Hoppipolla is a glorious, uplifting, orchestral affair. If you don’t like this song, I believe that you must be a little dead inside.
Why it’s God-bothering: I left this one till last because it is a bit of a cheat. It’s not the lyrics that I am interested in here (I don’t speak Icelandic or Hopelandic), it’s the music. Every song on their album Takk (Thankyou) is beautiful. What is it about music that so moves us? Why are we so compelled to create and listen to it? Why do we find more freedom in expression in it than anywhere else?
Music is a gift from God, engrafted into our nature. It is constantly featured as a part of His worship in scripture. Not only do we find a whole book of the bible devoted to it (Psalms), we find individual songs throughout the rest of scripture, from Genesis (Adam’s song over his wife) to Revelation (the worship of Jesus).
When we see beauty and truth in music we behold something of the Glory of God and his creation. This gift of God, like any gift, can be twisted and used for other purposes. We should not abandon music because of this however, but look to what is good and point to the truth and beauty that show the Glory of the ultimate Creator.
So, there are my ten. There were others, but you’re only allowed ten in a ‘Top 10’ list. It’s the law. You, however, may feel free to either comment on my selections – agree/disagree/tell me I’m crazy – or even add your own selections in the comments section below.