Something I have never done before here is to post any songs for Easter – which is this weekend, in case you hadn’t noticed. There are, I think, two reasons for this. Firstly, I am not particularly religious and the long weekend may, as a result, seem less important for me than for others. But that doesn’t stop me recognising its significance: we were all brought up here learning the story of the crucifixion of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection. The second reason is that many of the songs I know for this time are either hymns, or are based on hymns, and those aren’t really my style. My stepmother is an ordained priest in the Church of England, so I’m always reminded of what this weekend means, and I hope that those who celebrate it derive fulfilment from their faith.
But the thought occurred to me that if I looked a little harder I might find some suitable tunes, and searching for Jesus, Easter, crucifixion and resurrection has given me a few to play for you. These may or may not speak of Easter to you but they are all good to hear, so here goes.
My teenage years saw the early career of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, and the musical shows they created. Their first big hit was Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in 1968, which was followed by Jesus Christ Superstar, from which my first selection is taken:
The show actually first saw the light of day in October 1970 as a double LP concept album, on which Murray Head sang the role of Judas Iscariot. He didn’t play the role in either the 1971 Broadway or 1972 London productions of the show, though. The album was a huge success in North America, topping the charts in both Canada and the US, though it only reached #23 in the UK. Superstar was released as a single a year earlier, and peaked at #6 in Canada, #14 in the US, and #47 in the UK. In my memory it was a much bigger hit than that – funny how our memories play tricks on us, isn’t it? I’ve always thought this was a fantastic song, and this is my favourite version. There was much controversy over the show, which many saw as blasphemous and overly sympathetic to characters like Judas, but that doesn’t seem to have damaged it at the box office. It was produced in a number of other countries, too: in Sweden it played in 1972 and the role of Mary Magdalene was taken by a young Agnetha Fältskog – I wonder what happened to her…
My next two choices are both by artists who have featured in Tuesday Tunes over the past couple of weeks, but as they are both long term favourites of mine I guess that isn’t really a surprise. The first of these comes from John Mellencamp:
When Jesus Left Birmingham was the opening track on John Mellencamp’s album Human Wheels, released in September 1993, peaking at #7 in the US and #37 in the UK. An interview with Billboard magazine quoted him as saying of this song “I wrote ‘When Jesus Left Birmingham’ in Amsterdam in 1992 after driving back at 2 a.m. from a concert we’d done down in The Hague. When we got to the hotel, it looked like Sodom and Gomorrah, with dozens of well-dressed businessmen all around the area picking up prostitutes and going wild. I thought, ‘There’s something wrong here: It’s a Wednesday night, at an hour when anybody sane is asleep, and these people are just getting started!’ It gave you the sense that there’s no bottom line any more in anyone’s behavior.” In that sense, it is quite a moralistic song, and is one which I think fitting for a religious weekend. The video makes the point about excessive behaviour well, in my view.
The second song from one of my favourites could hardly be more appropriate. This version is from the VH1 Storytellers show and the Boss takes us though its meaning as he goes:
As Bruce says in the video, this was a track on his Devils And Dust album, which was released in April 2005, and of course reached #1 in both the US and the UK. This performance was broadcast on 23 April, as part of the promotion for the album, which was released three days later. He takes an approach to the story which focuses on a mother who is about to lose her son, and I find it a very poignant song. I’m sure it has a lot of meaning for many, sadly.
I’m going down a different track with this next one. It isn’t often that a song with such overtly religious lyrics becomes a huge smash hit:
Norman Greenbaum began his musical career in 1967 as a member of Dr West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band, who had a minor US hit with the strangely titled single The Eggplant That Ate Chicago. This song was the title track of his first solo album, and was released as a single in December 1969. It was #1 in the UK, Canada, Australia, and West Germany, and reached #3 in the US. He is the epitome of the classic one hit wonder club, having never troubled the charts again here in the UK. It’s still a great and memorable riff, though.
I’m including Joan Osborne’s One Of Us as, although it isn’t specifically related to Easter, it is a thoughtful song which asks some big questions:
The song was written by Eric Bazilian of The Hooters, who have featured here recently. His band has a well-known song, Satellite, which satirises the evangelical types who make money out of fake Christianity on tv, but this one takes the approach of asking what it might be like if God was just like us, doing everyday things. It is an intriguing thought, and I’ve always enjoyed the song. It was first released as a single in February 1995, ahead of its album, Relish, the following month. These were her debut records, and they did well for her. The album peaked at #9 in the US and #5 in the UK, and the single reached #4 in the US and #6 in the UK, and topped the charts in both Australia and Canada. In case you were wondering the album version of the song, which is the one I’m playing here, starts off with the first four lines of a recording titled The Aeroplane Ride, made on October 27, 1937, by American folklorist Alan Lomax and his wife Elizabeth for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, with Mrs Nell Hampton of Salyersville, Kentucky, singing a variation of the 1928 John S. McConnell hymn Heavenly Aeroplane. (Thank you, Wikipedia!)
I know of a couple of songs with resurrection in their title. One, Resurrection Shuffle by Ashton, Gardner and Dyke, appeared in Tuesday Tunes 58, but this other one is new for me. It has nothing really to do with religion or Easter, but I like it and it does mention ‘divine intervention.’ I rest my case:
Love Resurrection was Alison Moyet’s debut single, after the break up of the duo Yazoo in which she made her name. It was released in June 1984, and peaked at #10 in the UK and #82 in the US. It then became the opening track on her first solo album, Alf, released in November 1984, which went to #1 in the UK and New Zealand, made the top ten of several countries across Europe, and managed to get to #45 in the US, where she has enjoyed relatively little success. She has a wonderful voice, and I feel she deserved to do better over there – still, she has sold around 25m records worldwide so probably isn’t complaining. I often think that Adele has taken her as a role model, to much greater effect.
I’m closing today with a little piece of frothy fun. I recall seeing this movie as a kid, as it was a standard part of Easter tv here, and it has lost none of its charm in the many years since then. The movie was Easter Parade, and this is one of its best known songs:
Sadly, as that clip is from a trailer by Warner Brothers and they clearly didn’t want to give away the whole movie, it is rather truncated. It gives you the feel for it, though. Judy Garland and Fred Astaire were the stars of Easter Parade, which was first released in 1948 and still receives a fair amount of tv airplay nowadays. All of the music for the film was written by Irving Berlin who, like certain bloggers (ahem) wasn’t shy about recycling his material. This was actually the third time he had used this song in a musical movie, after Alexander’s Ragtime Band in 1938 (sung by Don Ameche) and Holiday Inn in 1942 (sung by Bing Crosby), and it was a hit single for Liberace in 1954. This is, I think, my favourite version, and as I said the clip takes me right back to my childhood.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this selection of songs for the most part loosely related (at best) to Easter. Enjoy your Easter, however you spend it and whatever it means for you, and try not to overdo the sugar rush from all of that chocolate. See you again soon.