The Bible: An Epic Playlist

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Epic bible playlist

…To Revelation

Scritti Politti – “The Word Girl
from Cupid & Psyche 85 (1985; Warner Bros.)

[John 1:16] Green Gartside is a well-educated guy, and he has always made that apparent in his songwriting and his words. His time with Scritti Politti, especially, is one of sophisticated concepts and allusive wordplay. On Scritti Politti’s 1985 record Cupid & Psyche 85, Gartside took this approach to a new height, crafting a series of pseudo-romantic “love songs” and clothing them in – surprisingly enough for an avowed Marxist – Biblical allusions. These references are obvious right out of the gates, starting with the excellent opener “The Word Girl,” in which Gartside conflates his amorous idol with the New Testament understanding of Christ (“The Word became flesh” from John 1:14). Now that’s devotion (and heresy!). – Connor Brown

Pulp – “Dishes
from This Is Hardcore (1998; Island)

[John 2:1-11] You know you’re going through a serious personal crisis when you start comparing yourself to Jesus Christ. In “Dishes,” a standout track from 1998’s This Is Hardcore, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker astutely observes, “I am not Jesus, but I have the same initials.” Written when Cocker was 33, he began to see parallels between his own life and that of Christ, though he reaches the conclusion that he’s neither as remarkable nor as tragic a figure as the more famous JC. He throws in a few winking lines about a “cross to bear,” but he faces his mundane reality during the chorus: “I’d like to make this water wine/ But it’s impossible.” – Jeff Terich

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
from Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (2008; Mute)

[John 11] Nick Cave’s skill with lyrical imagery takes on the New Testament’s famous death-rebirth story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Cave’s Lazarus, or Larry, awakes in our modern world. Anyone who wakes up after being dead four days would certainly be an instant celebrity with nowhere to hide. “Cameras snapped him at every chance,” similarly to countless celebrities before him, Larry took refuge with sex and drugs. “I mean: he, he never asked to be raised up from the tomb.” After hitting rock bottom, the sardonic reimagining of the Lazarus’ story ends where it began. Larry winds up on the streets, “then the mad house/ Then the grave/ Oh, poor Larry.” – Dan Pritchett

GZA/Genius – “4th Chamber
from Liquid Swords (1995; Geffen)

[John 13:27-28] Fierce posse cuts have always been the Wu’s bread and butter. GZA’s “4th Chamber” isn’t any different: there’s the classic kung-fu movie sample, silky-smooth RZA production, and the A-game from some of hip-hop’s best lyricists. There’s a variety of topics covered here — rap bravado, government surveillance, the meaning of life-but of course the focus here is biblical. Ghostface Killah opens the proceedings and describes his carrying of the white stuff to Judas turning to the Romans as Jesus slept. The reasoning is murky, but the inevitability remains. – Dakota Foss

Talk Talk – “Ascension Day
from Laughing Stock (1991; Polydor)

[Acts 1:9-11; various New Testament] Mark Hollis worked in references to the Bible in various Talk Talk songs in cryptic ways — alluding without allowing them to explicitly guide the material. Given, much of the late-period Talk Talk material came out of improvisational techniques, so perhaps those were just some things running through Hollis’ mind at the time. In the case of “Ascension Day,” the theme — however abstract — mostly deals with the idea of fate, and does so through references to hell, Judgment Day and the ascension of Jesus. At least, that’s what it sounds like anyway. – Jeff Terich

Brand New – “Jesus
from The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me (2006; Interscope)

[Acts 2:29-31] Located three songs in on Brand New’s incredible The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, “Jesus ” is a show-stopping ballad in an album full of showstoppers. Lyrically, the album finds Jesse pondering his past sins and the very nature of the afterlife itself with numerous allusions to the Good Book (“Do I get the gold chariot?/Do I float through the ceiling?”). In a particularly gut-wrenching moment, Jesse begins to converse with Jesus himself: “Jesus Christ, I’m alone again/so what did you do those three days you were dead?/’Cause this problem’s gonna last more than the weekend.” The song seems to build up to a climax that never actually comes, which is all the more surprising on an album that seems to unleash hell in every other corner. “Jesus” doesn’t merely usethe pain of Jesus as a reference point — it manages to make it human. – Dakota Foss

Johnny Cash – “The Man Comes Around
from American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002; American/Lost Highway)

[Revelation 6:1, 6:8] The Man in Black had a knack for juxtaposing light with darkness in his songwriting and “The Man Comes Around” is no exception. “Will you partake of that last offered cup/ Or disappear into the potter’s ground.” Faced with his inevitable end drawing near, Cash introduces and concludes one of his last compositions with spoken word recitations of Revelation 6: 1 and 8. The song references several moments in Revelation, but Cash makes it feel like more than just an ordinary song, living up to the awe of the apocalyptic story concluding the Bible. Cash sounds at peace, and somehow manages to make the end of everything sound like a wonderful thing. – Dan Pritchett

The Clash – “Four Horsemen
from London Calling (1979; CBS)

[Revelation 6:1-8] The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse are known as Conquest, War, Famine and Death. While not directly related to the Bible, The Clash’s “Four Horsemen” appears to be more autobiographical and representative about the band (“Four horsemen and it’s gonna be us”) against a system of record labels. Consider the lyric, “Well they gave us everything for bending the mind/And we cleaned out their pockets and we drank ’em blind” and the ending verses which mostly consist of Joe Strummer bragging about playing rock music and reaching wide audiences that no one else can reach. If anything, The Clash were one of the few early bands that did help bring punk to a global platform. Discussing punk without mentioning them is like admiring the body but ignoring the head. – Giovanni Martinez

Number of the Beast

Iron Maiden – “The Number of the Beast
from The Number of the Beast (1982; EMI)

[Revelation 13:18] Quick, without Googling it or referring to your texts, can you name the number of the beast? If you didn’t say “666” then your metal cred just went down to pretty much nil. Sorry, dude. Not that Iron Maiden actually were the first to bring the devil and metal together (pretty sure that happened in the first track of Sabbath’s first album). But Maiden sure made it an anthem. Only one verse actually describes the number — Revelation 13:18 — but considering its prominence in the many centuries since the Bible was written, quite a few have memorized it. Bruce Dickinson actually visualizes the emergence of the beast and the end of times in this soaring metal classic, which almost makes the world’s demise sound fun. Probably not what the scribes behind the Book of Revelation intended. – Jeff Terich

Meat Puppets – “Lake of Fire
from Meat Puppets II (1984; SST)

[Revelation 19, 20, 21] Unlike Prince’s “7,” this track from 1984’s Meat Puppets II incorporates a single image from the book of Revelation referenced at 19:20, 20:10, 20:14–15, and 21:8. Fire and brimstone have come to represent the devil’s playground, although the Bible verses themselves imply he was cast into those surroundings as a punishment and fellow sinners would follow. While the Kirkwood brothers’ matter-of-fact chorus repeats that logic, their song verses do not—one laments a lady bitten by a rabid dog, the other sums up the struggle for people to make a comfortable home before their final permanent one. Nothing too blasphemous there; kinda sad, actually. Sad, too, is that it took Nirvana’s version from MTV Unplugged for the song to be publicly embraced, Kurt Cobain’s ragged vocals elevating the song to a creaking, bluesy gospel. – Adam Blyweiss

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