Wednesday 8 February 2006

Essential popular music for theologians

“The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the centre of the jaunt.” —Bono

“A God enthroned beyond time in timeless eternity would have to renounce music.... Are we to suppose that we mortals, in possessing such a wonder as music, are more privileged than God?” —Victor Zuckerkandl

“I find the religiosity and the philosophy in the music. I don’t find it anywhere else.... The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.” —Bob Dylan

My old friend Tim Hormon, an Aussie pastor in Canada, is a rock and roll aficionado. So I asked Tim to come up with a list of essential popular music for theologians. He has chosen 15 albums—not simply his favourites, but 15 albums that have been important to him for theological reasons. What do you think?

1. Moby, 18
2. Jeff Buckley, Grace
3. R.E.M., Out of Time
4. Ben Harper, The Will to Live
5. U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind/War
6. Radiohead, OK Computer
7. Sufjan Stevens, Seven Swans
8. Bob Dylan, Saved
9. Pedro the Lion, Achilles Heel
10. Sigur Ros, Agaetis Byrjun
11. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Boatman’s Call
12. Explosions in the Sky, The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place
13. The Never Ending White Lights, Goodbye Friends of the Heavenly Bodies
14. Over the Rhine, Ohio
15. And just for fun: O Brother Where Art Thou? (soundtrack)


Jim said...

Wow it's a banner day! I have actually heard one of the songs on your list! Yes, just 1. #15. Nice movie, funny as all get out. And great songs.

As to the rest of your list I can only say, huh?

Chris Tilling said...

Oh Jim!

T.B. Vick said...

ok, there is absolutely no "essential popular music" list that can call itself essentail without the Beatles being on it.

All these bands and artists do what they do and write what they write because of the Beatles (with the exception of Bob Dylan).

And that's that!! Period!


Ben Myers said...

Yes, TB, Bob Dylan is the definite exception, since John Lennon said that the Beatles were transformed by Dylan's music. But of course both Dylan and the Beatles were indebted to Elvis.

Anonymous said...

Popular music... not so sure about that... I admit I'm no aficionado... still, I only recognize six of these... the others are completely lost on me. This list, I would guess, reflects a very particular musical taste... in any case, I'd wonder whether any popular music is "essential" for theologians.

Anonymous said...

I too hesitate to call any popular music essential, but I would recommend Dylan's Slow Train as well as Saved as two of the best examples of popular music written from a Christian perspective. Rolling Stone reviewed both albums, and if memory serves, expressed disappointment in Dylan's "conversion" more than anything else. They were and remain terrific recordings of thier kind.

Sean said...

What about Eminem?

Rory Shiner said...

I reckon "Song to the Siren" by This Mortal Coil deserves a listen from theologians.

Chris Tilling said...

Sean, I seriously, and with all my heart, hope that your words are a poor attempt at humour.

Far better for theologians is this German hit - it has sold well over half a million singles (truthfully), and I think you'll agree - better than Eminem.

Anonymous said...

Once again, popular? However, I do have deep feelings for Sufjan Stevens (although Illinois would have been a better album) and Over the Rhine. If you wanted to leave the world of whiteness. How about Tupac Shakur or Kanye West, both of whom have thoughtful, angry, and religious reflections on the African-American situation in the USA.

Ben Myers said...

Sorry folks: "popular" was my term, not Tim's -- on his own blog, he just calls it his "top 15 albums".

And Glenn: Middle-aged? Balding?! Why, scarcely 10 years ago Tim and I were still in a high school rock band together. So I can assure you that, in spite of his taste in music, Tim still has a very good head of hair....


Ben Myers said...

By the way, I'm suprised no one has mentioned Van Morrison's Astral Weeks.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks to you and Tim for submitting this list. As a vocational theologian myself, I listen carefully to what other theologians have to say when it comes to popular music. I am familiar with about half of the artists on the list, but others are unknown to me. This dates me I suppose and shows how un-cool I am :-) As time permits, I will have to give a listen to those on the list I have not heard. Personally, I tend to discover theological overtones more in individual SONGS rather than in an artist’s body of work per se. This may say something about the acquired quirkiness of my listening habits (I confess,I am an iPod junkie.) Of the many CDs I own, I cannot think of one where I appreciate each and every track—though some come close. I also think that some songs which are not explicitly theological are full of theological significance. I am sure that you would agree. Perhaps it would be good to see someone offer a list of SONGS that have been theologically significant for them.

AJ said...

I wouldn't have minded seeing some Death Cab for Cutie on this list, giving their fairly regular treatment of spiritual topics. Ben Folds is also interesting in that regard.

Anonymous said...

Hello? Leonard Cohen?

ethan said...

Dude...good list. But I'm sorry, I just don't see how Sigur-Ros or Explosions in the Sky have any place here. It's pretty music: pretty, and a complete divorce between meaning and beauty, a divorce which troubles me. Not that it's not worth listening to, but I don't see how it belongs on this list.

Also, I really enjoy Sufjan Stevens', music, but he has a ways to go before he belongs on a list like this...

But Jeff Buckley, Nick Cave, U2, Radiohead...all excellent.

I really enjoy your blog. Keep it comin'.

OKC Herbivore said...

great stuff-as addendum, something from DC hardcore, like Fugazi or Jawbox, and some hip hop, such as Mos Def, Arrested Development, The Roots, Common, and Jurassic 5.

But yeah Sigur Ros is probably the most influential (thankfully!) band in popular church music at the moment, in the States at least.

besideourselves said...

I'm young, hairy and from the 'hood - and even I recognise Dylan's Saved as the greatest album ever produced... ever. In fact I'm listenin' to "In The Garden" right now with goosies...


Anonymous said...

My own list would include The Indigo Girls, Bright Eyes, and Dar Williams... oh, and plenty of Tracy Chapman and Sweet HOney in the Rock

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