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Tom Tobben

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The Judeo-Christian world has just recently celebrated their holy seasons of Easter and Passover. Therefore, what better time than now to consider a group of songs that contemplate the nature of God and what this God may, or may not, represent to different people and groups, including believers and non-believers, and what impact this higher being may, or may not, have on our lives.  Perhaps just as important, the contemplation of God or some higher being may be equally, if not more, a contemplation of our own human nature and imperfections.

The songs I have selected this week attempt to offer different and conflicting perspectives, so there’s no intended proselytizing here. Rather, it’s an opportunity for us to consider the songs as a reflection of modern humankind’s attempts to address the question of our mortal lives and our relationship to a higher being, whatever form or nature that may (or may not) take.

So, without further ado, here are this week’s four battle songs. Because of the specific thematic nature of this week’s subject matter, please consider the lyrical content of each song, as well as its musical quality.

Song #1: “He Come Down”, Beach Boys (from their 1972 album Carl & The Passions So Tough):

“He Come Down” lyrics:  https://genius.com/The-beach-boys-he-come-down-lyrics

Song #2: “Imagine”, John Lennon (from Lennon’s 1971 Imagine album):

“Imagine” lyrics:  https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/johnlennon/imagine.html

Song #3: “Almost Like the Blues”, Leonard Cohen (from Cohen’s 2014 album Popular Problems):

“Almost Like the Blues” lyrics (contained in the video) – By the way, is Cohen taking issue with John Lennon’s message in “Imagine”?

Song #4: “God’s Song”, Randy Newman (from Newman’s 1972 album Sail Away):

“God’s Song”lyrics: https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/randynewman/godssongthatswhyilovemankind.html

 

In considering this week’s possible songs, I realized that there are tons of songs that attempt to address the notion of humanity’s relationship  to a higher being, so I’m hoping you all will come up with plenty more songs that will add to this week’s theme and give us more to think about. 

For example, here are a couple more very different songs that specifically relate to the recent religious holy days I mentioned above:

 

For copy and paste purposes:

“He Come Down”, Beach Boys

“Imagine”, John Lennon

“Almost Like the Blues”, Leonard Cohen

“God’s Song”, Randy Newman

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Cindy Hood

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Tom, You have 4 very thought provoking songs here this week.  They're all very good, too.

Here are my choices on the four:

Gold:  Imagine by John Lennon.  This will always be a favorite.  It's all about how peaceful this world could be and what he hopes it could be if people could put aside their greed of money and power to love instead of fight.  A great song on all merits.  John was a good and peaceful man.  How is it that someone like him could die so violently and senselessly?

Silver:  God's Song by Randy Newman.  His music is usually light and somewhat silly, but this one is very thought-provoking in how people put their faith in God as being good when He lets so many suffer their own hardships as well as suffering of people all over the world with war, intolerances, poverty, illness and religious persecution.  

I'm a big fan of the tv show Supernatural.  The season 14 finale was on Thursday night.  In season 4, the writers introduced angels to the show and it started as the prelude of Armageddon.  They carried the angels throughout the rest of the seasons.  They also introduced "Chuck" - a writer that was discovered who had written about the lives of the Winchester brothers in a series of books that mirrored every event of their lives.  It was determined that Chuck was a prophet. At the end of season 5, it was obvious that Chuck was actually God.  Thursday night, Chuck/God appeared to Dean and Sam Winchester at the end of the show.  He basically told them that all of their suffering and their fighting evil at their own peril, was nothing short of a game or story at His amusement.  They were a good story and He was the writer of it. 

Bronze:  Almost Like The Blues by Leonard Cohen.  This one is in sharp contrast to John Lennon's, Imagine.  John's hopes for the future of the world and how beautiful and peaceful it could be.  Cohen's views are the brutal truth of how the world really is and it's not a pretty picture.  I loved the music to it, but was initially turned off by his rough vocal.  As I listened through the song, I felt that his gravelly voice complimented the message in his lyrics and gave it authenticity.  

Tin:  He Come Down by The Beach Boys.  I love the Beach Boys and most of their vast catalog of songs and though this is an uplifting, 'Sunday-go-to-meetin', gospel type ditty, I felt that plugging the Maharishi in it was very cheesy.  This is an era of their music career that I really didn't like.  Back in the early 70's, the Maharishi was at their concerts for a time, before and after the shows for prayer sessions with the fans.  Then, there was Mike Love with the very long hair and beard, the long white robe, prancing and dancing around the stage banging on a tambourine... ugh!  Apparently, the fans didn't appreciate it because their ticket sales plummeted, putting them close to bankruptcy.  They were saved when Capitol Records released the Endless Summer album and they started back on the rise again, so I've read.  

So sorry for the long dissertation, Tom.  Good lot of songs though!


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John B

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Reply with quote  #3 
wow, great contest!  I would hope everyone listens to the less familiar ones by Randy and LC, also, before they vote.   

Religion has a lot to answer for, because it seldom has to answer for anything.  What other conclusion can I make, for why Mueller stopped and David Miscavage is forever free with his tax free billions, except the FBI decided, on both occasions:  'oh...you have religious support, our bad, sorry to bother you.'

1.  'That's Why I Love Mankind' by Randy

(ha ha.  god as a practical joker: 'just kidding. and wait til you hear about what he planned for job!).  Randy is understated in this song.  What did he say that wasn't true?   

2. 'Almost Like the Blues' by Leonard Cohen

by this point, he could barely make musical sounds with his voice.  his look-a-like younger brother Tony Bordain probably could have sang this better.  still a great song.  yes, of course, he referenced 'Imagine'.  his song was more about the real world.

3.  'Imagine' by John with Yoko

growing up, indoctrinated by my parents' superstition, so forced/into more church (and after-church) than any little kid should be subjected, I use to be afraid of this song.  Especially that first line.  then John sort of backed down about any possible atheism suggestion, might hurt the commerce, so tried to gloss over the line about joining him and the world living as one (or thinking all alike? like the hippies around the campfire in the commune).   all in all, nice melody, but kind of overrated.  I like "Oh, Yoko" better.  'You are Here' is better.   Certainly 'God' is better.   Don't be alarmed, baby boomers, it doesn't really matter how I vote anyway.  this will be a landslide gold winner, gold like Lennon's Rolls Royce.  Inspired the line by Elvis Costello, in 'The Other Side of Summer': "Was it a millionaire, who said 'imagine no possessions'?  a poor little schoolboy who said 'we don't need no lessons'?'  the same guy who beat his 1st wife, sang about how a young female should 'run for your life if you can, little girl, because if he catches her with another man, that would be the "end" of the little girl.  Also, put someone into the hospital who dared suggest he had a fling with Brian Epstein.  the same peaceful guy. True dat.  

4. 'He Come Down'

uh...early example of 'ebonics (criminal slang)'?  shout out to Big L.   you know, the tense thing, like in Chinese the same.  by far, the least comprehensible lyrics of the 4.  I once had this song on a 2 album set with 'Carl & the Passions, so Tough'  and it skipped.  the drums are mixed so LOUD.  Never thought of returning it since it was just a lessor song.     

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Larry Franz

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Reply with quote  #4 
I believe we should focus more on this world and less on some other reality that's said to exist. As for voting, I'll follow John B's lead.

Gold -- Randy Newman -- It's a tough song but one of his best. And to think it was only last year:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Larry Franz

A few favorites unlikely to appear in the battle:

Randy Newman -- "Same Girl" and "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)"

Great choice, Tom!

Silver -- Leonard Cohen -- I'd never heard this, and that rough vocal also put me off at first, but I really like this one. 

Bronze -- John Lennon -- I generally prefer John's music to Paul's, but this one not so much. 

Pewter -- The Beach Boys -- Some of this is fine, but not enough of it (I've never been a fan of gospel singing). It's not that great as theology either.


Tom's introductory remarks made me think of this old one about human nature, our imperfections and making our way in the world.

Dionne Warwick -- "Alfie"
youtube.com/watch?v=cW2fLeD5Pow

A much newer one. It sounds spiritual anyway:  Gem Club -- "Red Arrow (John)"

I watched you as you slept
Red arrows fell around us
And before the sea came in
I knew you were the one
We are turning
In the circle of the sun
We are falling
Into our new forms
I feel light i feel sent
Catch me racing across the skyline

youtube.com/watch?v=aRUx7gNBsho

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John E

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Reply with quote  #5 
An interesting theme, with unlikely choices! These songs are so diverse that it's hard to put them in any logical order of preference, so here's my best shot:

1. Leonard - Although I own all of Leonard's albums, I'd forgotten this one. It's one of his lesser ones, but still interesting. Much of Leonard's writing is about God, and he does indeed take various positions regarding his subject. "If it Be Your Will" is one of his best.

2. Lennon - I don't know if John was exactly atheist, but he clearly had a problem with organized religions and their effect on the world.

3. Randy Newman - I haven't really got into this song, but it sounds interesting and worth further investigation.

4. Beach Boys - Probably the most typical gospelly track here, but a rather obvious one and not particularly great

Here's a couple more God songs:

Blues of the Jews (Leonard Cohen). Song starts at about 1 minute 20 seconds



I am the Lord (Felicity Buirski). Felicity was a friend of Leonard, and he championed her first album (which includes this song):

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John B

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Reply with quote  #6 
"it's not that great as theology, either."  

Larry said a funny. 
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Tom Tobben

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Reply with quote  #7 
Thanks to our early voters and commenters -- Cindy, John B., Larry, and John E. I've really enjoyed reading your thoughtful comments and your taking the time to focus on each of this week's four songs. As John B. mentioned, please make time to get to know the songs and powerful lyrics by Randy Newman and Leonard Cohen, as well as the entries by the Beach Boys and Lennon before casting your votes this week.

Cindy, thanks for your thoughtful comments about the songs and your personal anecdotes. 

Larry and John B., thank you both for your thoughtful and insightful comments, as well as your votes.  I too loved Larry's line about "it's not that great as theology, either", in reference to "He Come Down".

John E., thank you for your votes, and as always for your further insights into Cohen's fascinating songs and lyrics. And thanks for mentioning his classic "If It Be Your Will" -- what a compelling devotional song:


Here's another popular song from a couple decades ago to throw into the mix for this week's theme:


And another powerful contribution from the last decade, perhaps a bit more controversial to some people:


Looking forward to more comments, songs, and votes from everyone this week.  
 
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Al Forsyth

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Reply with quote  #8 
Tom,

Contemplative week.  First, remember in the post Woodstock era (early 70's) the rise of the religious themed plays and films, which were musicals!
The big ones were Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell.  


One could say that J. Lennon was in keeping with that time period.
youtube.com/watch?v=sJrwTgFt3Ek

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Larry Franz

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More from Randy Newman.

"I Think He's Hiding" from his first album (1968), which was out of print for 15 years. His vocal is poor but he could write.

Come on, Big Boy
Come and save us
Come and look at what we've done, With what you gave us
Now I've heard it said, That our Big Boy's dead
But I think He's hiding

youtube.com/watch?v=fs1az3oduLU

"He Gives Us All His Love", rather oddly from the same album (Sail Away, 1972) as "God's Song".

He knows how hard we're trying
He hears the babies crying
He sees the old folks dying
And he gives us all his love

youtube.com/watch?v=6VrJsFpmG2w

"How Great Our Lord" from Randy Newman's Faust (1995). Sung by James Taylor.

[Lord:] Sorry ladies, to make you wait
There's a couple of Buddhists at the Pearly Gate
They asked permission to come on board
[A:] What'd you do Lord?
[L:] I had 'em put out with the trash
Sing it!

[A:] Whoa Lord!
How great our Lord.....

[L:]
 Folks up here, they ask me why
Things go so badly down below
I tell them when they ask me why
I really do not know

[Angel:] But you do know, don't you Lord?

[L:] 'Course I do! Sing it!

youtube.com/watch?v=FLhdu4hHHqQ

"Harps and Angels" (2008)

As I lay there on that cold pavement
A tear ran down my face
'Cause I thought I was dying
You boys know I'm not a religious man
But I sent a prayer out just in case
You never know
Lo and behold almost immediately
I had reason to believe my prayer had been heard in a very special place
'Cause I heard this sound
Ooooh
Yes
Ooooh
Yes, it was harps and angels....

And a voice come down from the heavens above
It was a voice full of anger from the Old Testament
And a voice full of love from the New One
And the street lit up like it was the middle of the day
And I lay there quiet and listened to what that voice had to say
He said, "You ain't been a good man
You ain't been a bad man
But you've been pretty bad
Lucky for you this ain't your time
Someone very dear to me has made another clerical error..."

... So actually the main thing about this story is for me
There really is an afterlife
And I hope to see all of you there
Let's go get a drink

youtube.com/watch?v=IA321mtBnFw

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John B

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Reply with quote  #10 
it suddenly occurs to me that Tom Waits gets a lot of cred for songwriting things Randy did before. 
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John E

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Here's an alternative "Hallelujah" for May Day: 

 
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Al Forsyth

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Reply with quote  #12 
Favorite angel song:  I believe in them!

Maybe not as contemplative, but... Bonnie and Ruthie tell it!
youtube.com/watch?v=HnCX5OvBfD8

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Al Forsyth

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Votes:  and very easy for me this week to distinguish (sometimes I tie myself in knots over these).

GOLD - to the anthemic song - Imagine.  The Beatles had begun to write and record anthem songs.  This one, however, had Yoko's thinking all over it.  She now receives writing credit?  

Broadcast Music, Inc. has it as one of the most performed songs of the last century.  WoW!  They know it because they do it! 

The no barrier theme is interesting, but do people really get at what they were thinking here?  Dunno.  Even the video is art in itself:  This Is Not Here!  I always thought that it was Ringo on it. 

Silver - Yes the Beach Boys were getting cool in the post hippie-dippy years (which were still hd) and beginning to get notice for it.  Where is Lee Marshall when we need him?  This song has some really wonderful Gospel coming in differing forms throughout.  LOVE the piano in it.  The funny thing in all of Carl And The Passions is how all over the place it really is.  

Bronze - Leonard Cohen is just too heavy-Chevy for me, usually, but I did get through this entire song.  He is just in another dimension lyrically and everythingly.  But he touches you somehow.  

Tin - Tom has cited the albums from whence the songs came and this is interesting to itself.  This was Randy Newman's big one.  Listed as one of the top 500 albums and no less than Brian Wilson, himself, citing how it influenced him.  B. Joel lifted some of this melody and changes for New York State of Mind (not much though). 

Heavy week, Tom.  
I'll put The Weight back on you! Not as contemplative, but some ...
youtube.com/watch?v=hsFOKNQxIhQ
And what every day should be, according to Brian:
youtube.com/watch?v=othG9M3ieVc



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Darren J. Ray

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Reply with quote  #14 
I felt like spewing up when I read Al's line about Joko receiving a writing credit for 'Imagine'. 

Co-wrote? 

What? Just because her Grapefruit book had a line about 'imagine clouds dripping' and 'imagine goldfish swimming across the sky'?

John was just being kind referencing her in that 1980 interview. 

So she records the song - I won't even subject anyone here to it - and claims co-writing credit on Lennon's best selling record. 

This woman has no shame. 

I notice she waited until Cynthia had died before she pulled this trick. 

Yeah, Al. She's an artist - a BS artist. 

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Al Forsyth

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Reply with quote  #15 
Darren, 

It was news to me.  I hadn't followed what took place two years ago and it did seem odd for a nearly 50 year old song to change authorship/ownership. But with John saying it in 1980 there has to be "some" truth in it.  
https://www.npr.org/2017/06/17/533368546/yoko-ono-joins-john-lennon-with-credit-line-for-writing-imagine
Cost of the Dakota may be going up or something.  Oh well, history (herstory) is rewritten yet again.  
Here's another take of the song - beautifully done:
youtube.com/watch?v=kGnfqRR509M

Here's some angry John from the end of the Beatles - an insight into him. 
youtube.com/watch?v=uaWeOfZXeRo

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