Can pop music reach empyrean heights
and move the fallen human soul toward God?
Most often, when pop music tries to do this the results are abysmal. Yet, once in a while, a rock’n’roll song brings heaven down into our vale of tears (or launches us toward the throne of the Creator). Depending on one’s personal taste in music, this can be very subjective, I know. One man’s high art is another’s velvet painting . . .
I bring you two versions of Psalm by the 70’s glam-rock band Roxy Music.
This song has always intrigued me.
First the original studio version from the album Stranded (1973). It builds slowly, the rhythm becoming more insistent, with the London Welsh Male Choir singing as the song crescendos to its finish. The rhythm of this composition has always made me think of those New Orleans jazz funerals or Creole-Indian Mardi-Gras parade struts: a sort of stuttering syncopated marching-band beat on the snare, much like Dr. John’s version of Junco Pardner.
I have sometimes wondered whether Ferry was affecting the persona of a Bible-believer in this song for purposes of irony or mockery. But after pondering the lyrics to many of his other songs [like Triptych or In Every Dreamhome a Heartache] I get the sense that this is a straightforward heartfelt song. I guess only Bryan Ferry and the Lord know for sure.
Try on your love / like a new dress
The fit and the cut / your friends to impress
Try on your smile, square on your face
Showing affection should be no disgrace
Try out your God / hope He will send
Kindness from strangers on whom you depend
Try on His coat; a mantle most fine
Myriad colours: his harmony-thine
Believe in me once seemed a good line
Now belief in Jesus is faith more sublime
Head in the clouds, but I can’t see the Lord
Short of perfection . . . I’ll try to be good.
I’ll stand at His gate / I’ll wait for His sign
Then I’ll walk in His garden when it’s my time
Drink from His cup . . . hush now, don’t you cry
His quiet waters will never never run dry
Nearing death’s vale; he’s here by my side
He leads me to paradise: a mountain so high, high, high high high…
Don’t be afraid. Just treasure His word
Singing His praises; I know that I’ll be heard
He’s going to take you by the hand.
He’s gonna make you feel so good
Open up your eyes—and then you’ll see all that you should
Forget all your troubles; you will feel no pain
He’s all that you need. He’s our everything
When I’m feeling all at sea, and deliverance is that distant shore
I will not be worried. Someday His house will be my home
For ever more . . . for ever more . . . for ever more . . . for ever more
For ever more . . .
Compare this track to the live version below. Bryan Ferry enunciates every word clearly; the band members play with totally relaxed precision. The song is all about God. Wow. There is not much Rock’n’Roll that reaches these heights […a mountain so high, high, high] and this is why Roxy Music is my all-time favorite band.
Is this at the level of liturgical chanting and holy high art? Definitely not. In fact the first few lines introduce an element of campy glam-fashion superficiality that is at odds with the rest of the lyrics.
A beautiful song, and to me, truly heavenly Rock’n’Roll.
This song is poetry.
By the way, ALL of Roxy Music‘s work is this good!