According to a report in The Sun, Justin Bieber is recording a religious concept album.
The pop star is said to be on the lookout for songs with a Christian message after reconnecting with his faith through the Pentecostal megachurch Hillsong Church.
“There are key themes of love and redemption in the tracks he has created so far,” a source told the newspaper. “It will certainly surprise some fans.”
The inference seems to be that pop songs with a religious theme are automatically awful or, at least, don’t fit in the charts. The devil, as they say, has all the best tunes.
But there are plenty of examples of mainstream artists turning their faith into great pop songs – from Stormzy’s Blinded By Your Grace (“Oh my God, what a God I serve”) to Bob Marley’s One Love (“Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right”).
So here are five other songs you might not realise had a theological theme.
1) Lenny Kravitz – Are You Gonna Go My Way
One of the most insistent riffs in rock is married to a lyric about a messianic figure recruiting disciples.
“I am the chosen, I am the one,” sings Kravitz. “But what I really want to know is/Are you going to go my way?”
The song came to Kravitz in a flash of inspiration – he recalls scribbling the lyrics down on a brown paper bag – but it reflects his real-life faith.
The star has a tattoo on his back which reads “My heart belongs to Jesus”, and he once called Christ “the ultimate rock star”.
2) Candi Staton – You Got The Love
Disco diva Candi Staton recorded You Got The Love in the 1980s after turning her back on secular music and devoting herself to the church.
Bizarrely, the song originally featured in a video about the world’s fattest man and his endeavour to lose weight.
It only became famous when dance act The Source remixed it in 1991 – bringing lyrics like “My saviour’s love is real” to raves up and down the country.
The song’s success prompted Staton to reassess her career.
“It was such an inspirational song it allowed me to rethink,” she told The Guardian. “People in church used to tell me secular music was the devil’s music – but I realised it wasn’t.”
3) U2 – Until The End Of The World
There’s a strong spiritual theme running throughout U2’s career – at one point, they even considered ditching the band to devote themselves to the church.
So many of their songs are based on biblical teachings that churches have started holding “U2charists” – communion services where the band’s songs take the place of hymns.
Their most powerful song, narratively-speaking, is Until The End Of The World, which is sung from the perspective of Judas Iscariot in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The song takes place as he betrays Jesus – delivering a pre-arranged signal that identifies him to the Temple Guards, who arrest him, ultimately leading to the crucifixion.
“I kissed your lips and broke your heart,” sings Bono/Judas. “You, you were acting like it was the end of the world.”
4) The Byrds – Turn! Turn! Turn!
“A time to be born, a time to die/A time to plant, a time to reap/A time to kill, a time to heal/A time to laugh, a time to weep.”
The Byrds’ 1965 hit is based, almost verbatim, on chapter three of the Book of Ecclesiastes, where King Solomon contemplates the meaning of life, God and eternity.
It was “probably the only time a song was at number one on the charts right out of the Bible,” guitarist Chris Hillman later told the US Library of Congress. “I know Pete [Seeger, songwriter] made his half of the publishing. I don’t know if King Solomon’s heirs ever got a dime.”
Hillman wasn’t religious at the time of writing the song – in fact, he said the lyrics were almost “tongue in cheek” – but he converted to Christianity later in his life.
5) Prince – Let’s Go Crazy
OK, so it opens with Prince sermonising over a church organ – but a lot of people missed Let’s Go Crazy’s religious message amid the lyrics about sex and “purple bananas” (don’t ask).
The song is a plea to make the most of life without succumbing to the temptations of the devil – enigmatically characterised as “de-elevator” who is trying to “bring us down”.
For those on the path of righteousness, the reward is the afterworld: “A world of never ending happiness [where] you can always see the sun, day or night.”
Prince recorded songs that were more explicitly religious (including a jazz-funk Jehovah’s Witness concept album called The Rainbow Children) but he never made faith sound this much fun again.
- Kanye West – Jesus Walks
- Mumford and Sons – The Cave
- Carrie Underwood – Jesus, Take The Wheel
- Nina Simone – Sinnerman
- Bob Dylan – Gotta Serve Somebody
- The Fray – You Found Me
- Mary Mary – Shackles (Praise You)
- Bob Marley – Redemption Song
- Kendrick Lamar – Faith
- The Headhunters – God Made Me Funky