Gospel protest?

This story in the New York Times about country singer John Rich cutting a populist protest tune about the greedy gall of our banking overlords helping wreck the economy and then taking performance bonuses reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to ask: is there much of a history in gospel music of writing songs that speak directly to social or economic upheaval? I’m not talking about evergreen culture-war music (i.e. “We Want America Back” or “Cry for the Children”) but songs that explicitly comment on current events.

I have this gut feeling that there were vague references to 9/11 in songs that came out in the earlier part of the decade. But apart from bespeaking my absentmindedness, this may suggest that what songs did emerge to address the situation did so in ways that were latent and/or late-coming.

Perhaps this makes sense. Southern gospel orthodoxy is built around the notion of a never-changing God who holds the world in the predestinarian sovereignty of his immortal hands. What seems like a world-historical upheaval to us in our mortal myopia is merely a blip in the cosmic weather pattern that the almighty sees and ordains from on high. Thus the sg response is the same in crisis and in calm: the redemptive crucifixion of Christ covers all.

Be that as it may, you can bet your bippy (as my psych professor in college would have said) that some emcee has already used the current economic crisis as a set-up for a song or five in an attempt to make old material seem newly relevant. “Here’s an old song that has never been truer than today …  listen as we sing, ‘I Hold a Clear Title …’”

But I wonder if we’ll see any lyrics that overtly reference the Great Recession. Anybody wanna take a stab at a hook? “Jesus already bailed us out”? “Bailed out by the blood”? “No credit default swaps in heaven”? “They’ll never foreclose on my mansion in the sky”?

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  1. quartet-man wrote:

    The Gaither Trio added an “energy crisis” verse to the song “I Just Feel Like Something Good Is About To Happen.” It was on their 1980 Live Across America lp, but I am sure they did it prior to then. By memory (and I don’t think exact) but it went something like this”

    Well, I’ve read all the bad news in the paper this year gas is even higher still.
    And if the price of gas keeps on soaring we’ll have to sell the car to pay the bill.

    Well shortage won’t affect the trip that I’m takin’ and O.p.e.c. will not have a thing to say.
    ‘Cause on this trip I won’t keep track of mileage……….the throttle will be open all the way!

  2. Nate wrote:

    L5 Added a verse to “In His Grip” that was about 9/11 it was on their Heroes DVD.

  3. quartet-man wrote:

    In retrospect, I think the line was closer to
    “’cause when I leave I won’t keep track of mileage…..”

    The Oaks added a bridge to their song American Family referencing things that happened on 09/11.

  4. Kyle wrote:

    The Oaks cut an entire patriotic project afer 9/11 (”Colors”), and recut their 1989 hit, “An American Family.” They had the writer (Bill Corbin) add a bridge directly referencing 9/11…

    “But the whole world is different now
    Blood’s been spilled on our shore
    In hard times we pull together
    That’s what a family’s for….”

    The tag was edited slightly as well to include, “We’re all part of the story of an American family”

  5. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    GVB recorded “The Really Big News” a few years ago.

    I’m aware of one group that is recording Anne Murray’s classic “Little Good News” to put on their next CD.

  6. joe wrote:

    I don’t guess it would be considered SG, but the Imperials’ “No Shortage” comes to mind: “There’s a shortage of fuel oil, there’s a shortage of gas…”

  7. Grigs wrote:

    Now might be a good time for somebody to cut the Phil Cross tune “They Can’t take That Away From Me”. You could use current events to set it up in concert.

  8. Jim P wrote:

    I don’t know about more recent writing, but the older books are full of these kinds of topical songs. The 1930s and early 1940s brought There’s No Depression in Heaven (1942), No Depression Over There (1935) and No Depression in Heaven (1932), among others. (Apparently any good title is worth almost copying.)

    One of my favorites is 1946’s There’s No Housing Shortage in Heaven.

    “Credit default swap” might be hard to fit into musical meter . . . .

  9. Andrew S. wrote:

    Somebody could take the first few lines of “Gettin’ Ready to Leave This World” and augment them to make a point. “Laying up my treasures in that home above, trusting-fully trusting in the Savior’s love. umm..Sounds interesting..

  10. Mike McIlwain wrote:

    I have an old gospel convention singing songbook that has a prohibition song in it called “Goodbye, Booze, Goodbye.”

  11. Dave Martin wrote:

    I don’t rememer how it goes, but I remember the Kingsmen doing a song titled “Energy Crisis” in the early 80’s.

  12. Kyle wrote:

    I guess you could count “Good, Good News” as a time-sensitive song, as it refers to “all 100 channels, HBO and Pay-Per-View.” If it were to be sung today, I’d think that the line would be altered slightly to “all 1000 channels.” Guess it’s a good thing it didn’t say, “All 13 channels, UHF in color, too”….

  13. Ben Harris wrote:

    I can’t remember any of the great writers of Gospel Music, ie Mosie Lister, Fanny Crosby, Hamilton, and many others, writing about political or historical events. Those events in the scheme of things are so very fleeting in scope whereas, “How Great Thou Art” or “Pass Me Not” are forever timely.

  14. Bud wrote:

    I think another reason for the absence of this type of song is the SG emphasis on individual experience. While I cannot support this with evidence, the use of the pronoun “I” in songs is prevalent. There may be a mentality that does not lend itself to composing or singing about corporate religious or social experiences.

  15. Angie M wrote:

    Well, there was the Hinsons song, “TheCost of Living’s Going Up (And So am I).”

    How about “Sky-High Credit Score”?

    “There’ll Be No McMansions in Heaven.”

    Something about long-term returns…

    That’s all I got.

  16. Scott wrote:

    Perhaps the McKamey’s could do a come-back tour with a new hit single:

    “King Jesus Backed My Mortgage (I Don’t Need No Fannie Mae)”

    Someone could come up with a whole series of these…

  17. wackythinker wrote:

    Bud, if we wrote about “corporate religious or social experiences”, wouldn’t that be p&w, rather than sg?

  18. Bud wrote:

    wackythinker (#17)
    Yes, though not necessarily P&W. A person has to think outside the SG box to write these songs, and the audience for them would also have to be willing to think outside that box, which probably does not come naturally to either set of people.

  19. revpaul wrote:

    #17 Wackythinker, you’ve certainly lived up to your name! P&W indeed.

  20. T wrote:

    Um how about

    “I’ve Got All My Money IN A.I.Jesus”

  21. gina wrote:

    McKameys “come-back tour”? Where’ve they been?

  22. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Lee Roy Abernathy wrote “Television” back when television was new.

  23. Norm Graham wrote:

    In the early 70s when the Oak Ridge Boys were still in gospel music, they recorded a song that said “We lost our four big chances — Calvary, Dallas, Memphis, LA” which is about the deaths of Jesus, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. “In 2000 years four chances a cross and gun stole them away.”

  24. quartet-man wrote:

    You’re right Norm, but it wasn’t released I think until after they left HeartWarming or roundabout. It was put on the Lighthouse and Other Gospel Hits with other previously unreleased material and one previously released one to make up an album. They used a picture from the Street Gospel photo sessions for the cover. This would have been 1973 I think. The song is reminiscent of one that Kenny Rogers did.

  25. rr wrote:

    The song that has been ringing in my heart during the current crisis is “In Times Like These”.

    In times like these you need a Savior
    In times like these you need an anchor;
    Be very sure, be very sure
    Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

    This Rock is Jesus, Yes, He’s the One;
    This Rock is Jesus, the only One!
    Be very sure, be very sure
    Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

    In times like these you need the Bible,
    In times like these O be not idle;
    Be very sure, be very sure
    Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

    In times like these I have a Savior,
    In times like these I have an anchor;
    I’m very sure, I’m very sure
    My anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

  26. Mike McIlwain wrote:

    I have the album Vista “Lighthouse” album that Norm and Q-man referenced. The “Calvary, Dallas, Memphis, L.A.” has one glaring fault when it comes to theology. It is a tragedy that Dr. King, Bobby Kennedy, and JFK were all assassinated. However, when Jesus’ death was horrible and gruesome, it was Christ’s death on the cross that provides salvation for His people. That’s the scandal of the cross, Christ’s unseemly death provides eternal life. It should not be compared to the death’s of four great humans.

  27. Steve wrote:

    This might fall into the “evergreen culture-war” genre that Doug mentioned, but Gold City’s “Only God Knows” was a strong statement about abortion, not only its inherent evil but also the sociopolitical atmosphere that has allowed it to thrive in our nation (”Can you tell me what has happened to America?”).

    Personally, I think it’s sad that this issue no longer seems to stir much indignation among Christians. I must admit that song always puts a much-needed lump in my throat.

  28. quartet-man wrote:

    #26 Mike I agree with your point and theology of course, but as I recall the point of the song was that those who killed those men had no reason or right to and that the deaths were tragic. Of course in Christ’s case it was the most tragic, but was God’s will and something wonderful came out of it that solely gives us hope.

  29. jbr wrote:

    I can recall a song Truth performed called “Living Life Upside Down” (by Russ Lee) that touched on the sensitive political issue of abortion. Here’s the second verse…

    We’ve got a program for saving the earth
    While unborn children are denied their right to birth
    One baby’s blessed, another cursed
    Have we made this world better or worse
    Now that the life of a tree comes first
    And you say we’ve risen to a new age of light
    You’re telling me what used to be wrong is now right
    But I say, I say,
    (repeat chorus)

    What if we’re living, what if we’re living,
    What if we’re living life upside down.

    Love it…

  30. Robert wrote:

    We have our own rendition of Under God that Phil Cross wrote and the Booth Brothers made popular. We set it up with some statements about current events. It draws a standing ovation 99% of the time.

  31. Cora wrote:

    Barbara Fairchild’s “Burning Bush” from 2001:

    “…in demonstrations you burned the likeness of our President…
    …our leader stands fully clothed in the armor of the Lord…
    …God’s used a burning bush before!”

  32. Joy wrote:

    THere is a song from the early 70’s I think. Gerald from GV brought it back several years ago but it is in line with things that are happening. “Redemption Draweth Nigh” which is a song that all christians should listen to and heed.

    Years of time have come and gone
    Since I first heard it told
    How jesus would come again someday
    If back then it seemed so real
    Then I just can’t help but feel
    How much closer His coming is today

    Signs of the times are everywhere
    There’s a brand new feeling in the air
    Keep your eyes upon the eastern sky
    Lift up your head
    Redemption draweth nigh

    War and strife on every hand
    And violence fills our land
    Still, some people doubt He’ll come again
    But the Word of God is true
    He’ll redeem His chosen few
    So don’t lose hope
    For soon Christ Jesus will descend

    Sings of the times The things happening now are but a sign of the times, things that have to happen to set the stage, so to speak, for the secnd coming of Christ.

    Another one is “I Found Jesus” by Bill Gaither which has a good message.

  33. Samuel wrote:

    I actually have “Calvary, Dallas, memphis, L.A.” on the Oaks’ “Lighthouse” record. I never really understood what it exactly meant. It thought it wabout racism in the U.S., because the Jews, the Irish, and the African-Americans were discriminated.
    The lines talk about how a man named John and his brother Bob stood hand-in-hand with a broken black man called King. Now I see what it means.

  34. Eldon Wright wrote:

    As for songs relationship with the current or times past, I can give you a particular song I recorded with the Joymasters in 1976 that certainly is far more applicable today than 34 years ago. Our version of “Old Budda” we recorded at Hilltop (which according to Terry Blackwood was later copied by the Imperials complete with the exact arrangement) is an in-your-face song that few, if ANY, artists today have the nerve to perform. I included it as the lead off of a compilation of over 40 years of my recording with various groups on the CD “Politically Incorrect
    Southern Gospel”.

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