10 Sacriliciously Blasphemous Songs

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We’re in the midst of a holy season, with Easter just around the corner, and a brand new Pope getting situated in the Vatican, which means on Monday we’ll probably be hungover from too many Cadbury creme eggs and chocolate pontiffs. (We’re only human!) But while piety is all well and good, it rarely makes a good pop song. In fact, looking back, there’s a much richer history of skeptics, heretics and provocateurs in rock music, and we’re choosing, instead, to celebrate them. We’re not advocating for any particular faith or absence thereof, mind you, just some good old-fashioned musical blasphemy. Here are our 10 sacriliciously blasphemous songs.

blasphemous songs Lennon - Plastic Ono BandJohn Lennon – “God
from Plastic Ono Band (1970; Apple)
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I’m not sure what the greater sacrilege in “God” is: That John Lennon sings “I don’t believe in Jesus” or that he sings, “I don’t believe in Beatles.” Because, by his account, the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, after all. In any case, “God” isn’t so much about a direct denial of particular deities or ways of belief, but rather at the entire idea of worship at all. To Lennon, at this stage, putting such faith or belief into idols like The Beatles may as well have been like giving oneself over wholly to religion, and neither one sat too well with him, particularly since the Beatles ended on such lousy terms. “God,” weighty as a title as it is, is merely acceptance of the matter-of-fact, and that sometimes those things we’re taught to believe in — whether Elvis or I Ching — are really little more than a myth. – JT

blasphemous songs Damned - Machine Gun EtiquetteThe Damned – “Anti-Pope
from Machine Gun Etiquette (1979; Chiswick)
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There is such a thing as Christian punk rock but it never made a lot of sense — if punk is about individualism, and being a bit of a snotty bugger, then how does religion factor into that? These are questions for another time, perhaps, but one of the funnier takes on religion in punk is The Damned’s “Anti-Pope.” Essentially, it’s two minutes of juvenile delinquency at the expense of conservative church-going folks. Dave Vanian notes that he’s going to church “to nick the collection plate.” And then has some fun at the preacher’s expense: “Let’s spread the news around town/ that the vicar’s a transvestite/ With a fetish for ropes and gowns.” Though that’s where the ridicule becomes especially situational; punks dressed in drag all the time, but such a thing could never happen in polite, moral religious society. It’s all summed up succinctly in the final verse, which was borrowed about 25 years later by Spoon: “Religion don’t mean a thing/ It’s just another way to be right wing.” – JT

blasphemous songs Depeche Mode - Some Great RewardDepeche Mode – “Blasphemous Rumours
from Some Great Reward (1984; Mute)
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When Depeche Mode recorded “Blasphemous Rumours,” they were working out some socio-political ideas that they mostly abandoned later on for ironically more profound personal statements. The ideas at play in “Blasphemous Rumours” are pretty heavy-handed, and while the song comes from the same sessions that produced the kinky, kitschy “Master and Servant,” the group sounds particularly gloomy. Dave Gahan sings a pair of tales, one of an unsuccessful suicide attempt (“Thank the Lord/ For small mercies“), and the other of a girl who dies from a horrible accident, despite a promising life ahead of her. It’s a none-too-subtle thrust of irony which, from the band’s perspective, a loving God would never allow. But hey, this kind of heresy is also pretty damn catchy, as when the song transitions into an upbeat, yet still somber chorus of “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours/ But I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor.” Not a bad rhyme scheme, either! – JT

blasphemous songs Slayer - Reign in BloodSlayer – “Jesus Saves
from Reign In Blood (1986; Def American)
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Up until at least the mid-’90s, every Slayer album featured some kind of pentagram or other form of Satanic imagery, which was essentially a marketing gimmick, but one that worked pretty splendidly for a while. See, pissing off religious types is Slayer’s raison d’etre, the creation of anti-Christian imagery right up their with sick-ass riffs on their personal to-do list. So “Jesus Saves,” just one of many songs in the vast Slayer catalog to point the finger at Christian hypocrisy, could be subbed for any of the others. But that the band packs so much vitriol in less than two minutes is something of a noteworthy accomplishment. “Jesus Saves” wins the land-speed record for greatest blasphemy the shortest amount of time. – JT

XTC - SkylarkingXTC – “Dear God
from Skylarking (1986; Geffen)
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Rarely does a child’s letter to God begin so innocently and end with such seething anger. When Andy Partridge wrote “Dear God,” he chose to have a young girl sing the first verse as a response to a series of books collecting children’s letters to God, which he found exploitative. Yet when Partridge takes over, his lyrics grow more cynical and angry, initially taking a humorous tack (“Don’t know if you noticed but/ Your name is on a lot of quotes in this book/ Us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look“) before laying into some monolithic beast created by man (“The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost/ Is just somebody’s unholy hoax“). Understandably, it was both the band’s biggest hit and the most controversial song of XTC’s career, with some people sending them threats and others, religious pamphlets. That it made some people uncomfortable is understandable, but it wouldn’t have made as big of a splash if it wasn’t such a damn good song. – JT

Nine Inch Nails - Downward spiralNine Inch Nails – “Heresy
from The Downward Spiral (1994; Nothing-Interscope)
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On Nine Inch Nails’ brooding masterpiece The Downward Sprial, mastermind Trent Reznor unleashed an anti-Christian diatribe titled “Heresy.” Lyrically, The Downward Spiral is a very insular record, but with “Heresy,” Reznor spat out oceans of venom directed toward organized religion and its followers. Propulsive synths and a relentless drumbeat all build up to the chorus where Reznor shouts “God Is Dead/And no one cares, If there is a Hell/I’ll see you there!” Reznor’s bold proclamation leaves no room for interpretation and it’s decidedly clear which side of the religious debate he falls on. Ultimately, the song crumbles into a cacophony of noise and destruction, making it the perfect soundtrack for any journey to the underworld. After a brief gestation period (like Jesus) Reznor has resurrected Nine Inch Nails for a new tour this fall. He has risen indeed! -RB

modest_mouse-good_news_for_people_who_love_bad_newsModest Mouse – “Bukowski
from Good News For People Who Love Bad News (2004; Epic)
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One of a few songs on Modest Mouse’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News that seeks to ask in the point of believing in an interventionist God, “Bukowski” is a slightly more introspective version of the anti-hero screaming at the sky in “Cowboy Dan.” Isaac Brock begins with a stumble through the unglamorous, hard-living existence present in the writings of  the title poet before getting to the really heretical meat. The song’s gothic, banjo-driven noir plays perfect backdrop to Brock’s existential critiques, observing “If God gives life, he’s an Indian giver” and later asking “Who would want to be such a control freak?” It’s not as brazen a statement as “God if I have to die/ You will have to die,” but it carries more weight. As Homer Simpson once said, “God is powerful, but also insecure, like Barbara Streisand before James Brolin.” Think about it. – JT

Jenny Lewis - Rabbit Fur CoatJenny Lewis and the Watson Twins – “Born Secular
from Rabbit Fur Coat (2006; Team Love)
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Jenny Lewis’s reputed atheism has made her a cult hero of sorts. And since most Rilo Kiley songs as well as those from her solo projects are lyrically dense, one expects an intersection of her ideals and creative output. In the song “Born Secular” from 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat, the music and lyrics equally convey that prayer and divine supplication are otiose. The lyrics, “God goes where He wants / and who knows where He’s not? / Not in me,” are about as defiant as it gets. But the point is driven home by the instrumental final three minutes of the song. As the Watson Twins “ahh” in a psalter-like fashion, the slow drums grow more and more frenetic, like a teen practicing his solos while the next door neighbors are trying to engage in quiet worship. The end result is akin to disrespecting that which, according to the sacrilegious person, does not deserve respect. – CG

Thermals - The Body, the blood the machineThe Thermals – “Here’s Your Future
from The Body, The Blood, The Machine (2006, Sub Pop)
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Sometimes all it takes is a pretty literal read of Biblical lore to shine a light on just how fucked up some of it truly is. That, essentially, is the whole of The Body, The Blood, The Machine, a semi-concept album by The Thermals about the tyranny of a Christianist state. But leadoff track “Here’s Your Future” is the most direct at getting at why the image of the Almighty is something fairly terrifying to build a community around. He’s vengeful (“He said ‘fear me again/ Know your father/ Remember that nobody can breathe underwater’“), kind of a fascist (“We’re building a boat/ Where God will create the new master race“) and outsources his own punishment (“I need you to pay for the sins I create“). The punchline is that everyone’s future in this scenario is pretty bleak. There aren’t enough Hail Marys or Our Fathers that can undo this kind of wreckage. – JT

fucked-up_chemistryFucked Up – “Son the Father
from The Chemistry of Common Life (2008; Matador)
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Before we get into the particulars of the questions Damian Abraham & Co. present in “Son the Father,” the leadoff track to Fucked Up’s 2008 album The Chemistry of Common Life, let’s just state some undeniable fact: this song rules. Six minutes of head-first brain-melting hardcore, “Son the Father” is amazing on a purely visceral level, but beneath its urgency are pointed critiques at the lessons of the Bible. Abraham (for whom it’s probably not lost that he bears a Biblical name) barks of building “monuments out of my brother’s bones” and “The sins of the father carried out by the son/ From Cain and Abel until the last living life is done,” putting some harsh scrutiny on the idea of a God who wants what’s best for His people. But the coup de grace is in the eloquently screamed chorus: “Being born’s hard enough in the first place/ who would ever want to be born again?” – JT

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