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Stylus Counsel | Area Resident’s Records

Track 56 | God On My Side.

For a few years, around 15 years ago, I became a Soka Gakkai Buddhist to appease my ex-wife. Suddenly my music was full of references to the Lotus Sutra and I recorded a bunch of demo songs with names like Shoten Zenjin, Zange, The Opening Of The Eyes, Bamboo Grove and Change My Karma. Mostly, they were awful songs and I don’t think any of them ever progressed and made it onto any of my albums.

There are a few mainstream artists who subscribe to the same beliefs — Tina Turner and the late David Bowie most prominently. Tina has made many recordings related to the practice; she even wrote a book about it.

It’s not exactly Proud Mary. And that’s kind of what I’m getting at here — artists who become born again mid-career, or find some type of religion, faith or belief system while they’re already established, tend to produce piss-poor results. Or, at least, not terribly commercially viable ones.

Van Morrison took a shine to Scientology in the early 1980s. He even dedicated his 1983 album Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart to L. Ron Hubbard. It is universally considered his worst record — one which contains four instrumentals. Other notable Scientologists include Beck, Doug E. Fresh and Chick Corea.

One-off pro-Christian songs are often kind of fun — Have A Talk With God by Stevie Wonder, Jesus Is Just Alright by The Doobie Brothers, and Billy Prestron’s That’s The Way God Planned It.

But we’re looking at more than just one-offs. Like, for example, in 1979, freshly born-again Bob Dylan — one of the greatest anti-establishment songwriters of all time — put out three gospel albums. Slow Train Coming was the shocker, so much so it actually sold really well to curious fans. The two follow-ups, Saved and Shot Of Love, not so much. None of these albums are terrible. In fact, Shot Of Love was his best in years. But, if you’re a Maggie’s Farm fan, yeah, best avoid.

Little Richard didn’t quit rock to make a gospel album; he quit rock to be a preacher. In October, 1957 while on tour in Australia, he announced that God doesn’t like rock ’n’ roll. As soon as he got home he began attending theological college, even while his hits still ruled the charts. By 1962, he had a change of heart and returned to the rock flock — even playing shows with the fledgling Beatles in Hamburg.

Prince never let the fact that he was, at heart, a conservative Christian (he didn’t vote for Obama) get in the way of being playful and sexy. Prince Nelson was raised a Seventh Day Adventist and became a Jehovah’s Witness. He was baptized in 2003. For every raunchy song he did, you can find one equally religious.

Megadeth founder and frontman Dave Mustaine went from being born into a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses to being a teenage occultist, before announcing his emergence as a born-again Christian following a 2001 arm injury which initially was expected to end his guitar-playing abilities. For a time, he refused to perform on the same bill as anti-Christian bands. He also stopped playing some of the un-Christian Megadeth favourites.

Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) was also raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, but is now a staunch atheist. Björk has a great many songs about religion, but claims to be anti-religious. Brian Hugh Warner was raised in a Christian household, though the artist known as Marilyn Manson is perhaps rock’s most well-known Satanist, even an “Antichrist Superstar.”

Back in 2019, Kanye West — now simply Ye — announced he would only be releasing gospel music from now on. He put out Jesus Is King that year, before steering back to mainstream with Donda in 2021 and Donda 2 in 2022. These days he’s mired in controversy after making antisemitic remarks.

Time will tell how long Justin Bieber stays the course with his current born-again beliefs. He was baptized Pentecostal in 2014.

In 2017, M.I.A. of Paper Planes fame put out the single The One — her first after becoming a born-again Christian. Born Maya Arulpragasam, the British rapper was raised Hindu.

’70s soul icon Isaac Hayes connected with Scientology in the early 1990s, just a few years ahead of his debut with the satirical comedy animated series South Park, where he voiced the role of Chef. A series of episodes lampooning religions — including Scientology — eventually prompted Hayes to leave the show. It destroyed his finances.

At the height of his fame, Cat Stevens converted to Islam after a brush with death in which he nearly drowned. He prayed and promised to serve God if he was saved. A wave carried him to safety, he says. By 1978 he changed his name to Yusef Islam. Apart from a charity concert in 1979, he left the music business for 25 years. In September 2004, he was on a flight to the U.S. to meet with Dolly Parton when he was flagged as being on the “no fly list” and sent back to the U.K., deemed a terrorism risk. In the 1990s, he began making music again, but largely instrumental or spoken-word with Islamic themes. He was finally convinced to start making contemporary music on the occasion of the re-release of his Cat Stevens back catalog in 2000 and within a few years was performing Peace Train and Wild World.

MC Hammer was a street preacher and Christian rapper long before he was famous. He was in a group called Holy Ghost Boys. Raised Pentecostal, he let that part of his life take a back seat during the height of his Can’t Touch This and Too Legit To Quit fame in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Before the end of the decade, following a flirtation with gangsta funk, he was back in the faith — now claiming the MC stood for Man of Christ — and hosting an evangelical TV show. Before the return to preaching, he had gone from having amassed a fortune of around $30 million to being in debt more than $10 million. He filed for bankruptcy in 1996.

When it comes to Mormons, I would have thought the Tabernacle Choir was the most popular artist — certainly they were with my mom at Christmas. But there are some well-known mainstream musicians who are Latter Day SaintsDonny Osmond, Dan Reynolds and Wayne Sermon of Imagine Dragons, Brandon Flowers of The Killers, Gladys Knight and Dallon Weekes of Panic! at the Disco.

I’m not really familiar enough with most of any of these catalogs to know if Mormonism has made its way onto any of their albums. But I did make you a cool pseudo-religious playlist.


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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.