I tend to go on and on (and on) about how much I dislike “church music.” But after posting my least favorite Christmas songs recently I was inspired to then post my most favorite Christmas songs, just to prove that I’m not a complete curmudgeon and I do actually have some favorite Christmas songs. And then I thought, hey, instead of complaining all the time about the spiritual music I don’t like, I need to post some that I do like.
Bear in mind, most of this isn’t “church music” strictly speaking, in the sense that it would probably never be played in any church worship service anywhere, ever. But listening to these songs makes me feel the way that people seem to be feeling when they lift their hands in worship services. They’re all spiritual music to me.
“Halelujah” – Jeff Buckley
Not originally by Jeff Buckley, but it’s the first version of the song that I ever heard, before it was sung by every third contestant who’s ever appeared on “American Idol.” It’s still the only version that matters, as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve heard many interpretations of the meaning of this song, from the very sexual to the very spiritual. But if it’s supposed to be sexual, it certainly does go out of its way to use a lot of Biblical imagery.
To me, it’s a song about the enormous gulf that separates man from God, and how we stumble around trying to find Him, and how He yearns for us on the other side. That’s one of the most fundamental things that we fail to understand about God: He doesn’t just love us; He yearns for us. That feeling of something bigger than love — of yearning — comes through in this song, in spades.
“God’s Gonna Cut you Down” – Johnny Cash
God does love us, but you know what else he loves? Justice. And I so dig that about Him.
“Clair de lune” – Claude Debussy
I have no idea what the meaning behind this piece of music is, and frankly, I don’t care. It’s simply beautiful.
“Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” – Relient K
Great lyrics about how regret keeps grasping at our heels, even after we’ve seen the light. In it’s way, a very comforting, human take on salvation. Also, the louder you play it, the better it sounds, which is a big plus for me.
“Down to the River to Pray” – Alison Krauss
An old, old gospel song, obviously not originally by Alison Krauss. But, I love her, so here you go.
Another really old one. I first heard this version on the Ken Burns miniseries “The Civil War.” It just grabs me by the face and won’t let go. “Children, do you want your freedom?”
“Dare You to Move” – Switchfoot
I also encourage you to listen to this one at maximum tolerable volume. And then go out and turn the world upside down, because that’s what it makes me want to do.
“People Get Ready” – Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart
In this version, you have to put up with Rod Stewart’s singing, but in return you get Jeff Beck’s guitar. A pretty fair trade-off, I think.
“Freedom” – Mylon Lefevre
Who? What? Just give it a chance, and try to look past the 80’s-ness of it (oh my gosh, so much 80’s). And if you’re interested in hearing more Mylon, I contend that his Live Forever album, though hard to find even in the age of ebay, is one of the best live albums ever.
“Where the Streets Have No Name” – U2
My brother-in-law and spiritual adviser Jeremy hipped me to the meaning of this song: On earth, the streets are named after people, to glorify them. But in heaven the streets have no name, because all the glory belongs to God. Cool.
And remember how awesome this video was?
“Ode to Joy” – Beethoven
The fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. If I could only have one song for the rest of my life, it would be this one. And guess what? The louder you play it, the better it sounds.
If you’re inclined to crank it up, why not do it with a Japanese 10,000-voice choir, I say.