7 Secular Rock Bands that Have Surprisingly Catholic Songs

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Jesper Hedlund, Flickr

Christian Rock is a staple genre on the radio and iTunes these days, but what about Catholic Rock? Here are seven little-known occasions (amongst countless others) when mainstream/ alternative artists took their hand to religion.

While they vary in terms of earnestness, all the following songs verge on the explicitly Catholic:

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1) “Gloria” by U2

U2 concocted this early hit in an attempt to reconcile their Christian beliefs with their participation in the music industry. Bono’s rationale might sound a little bit more dubious, as he said of the song in the 1994 book, Race of Angels: “People saw that you could write about a woman in the spiritual sense and that you could write about God in the sexual sense.”

How very Joycean of you, Bono! Regardless, this is one of the few times in rock history you’ll hear the front man belt out lyrics in Latin.

2) “Hymn” by Ultravox

This synth-pop anthem owes its apocalyptic overtones in no small measure to the fact that it came out of the Cold War, but the expression of doubt in the form of a prayer still resonates.

Saints, grace, faith, and liturgical variations are not your typical topics for rock lyrics, even if they do occur in the context of a sort of Masonic inversion of the “Our Father.” The singer, Midge Ure, is perhaps more well-known for Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” He now works with the Catholic charity, Mary’s Meals, out of Scotland.

3) “Jerusalem” by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer

Are we in church? The vaulting purity of the vocals and the resplendent organ chords might lead one to believe so, were it not for the fact that this progressive rock band is notorious for their atheism.

Tongue-in-cheek as they may have been, this is a Spinal Tap take on a traditional hymn with lyrics from William Blake. You may be able to take a boy out of the choir, but you can’t take the choir out of the boy.

4) “Maid of Orleans” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

The synthpop band, OMD, is most famous for the song “If You Leave” closing John Hughes’ eighties classic, Pretty in Pink. But who knew they composed a love ballad for Saint Joan of Arc?

What’s more is the fact that it soared to the top of the charts throughout Europe, ranking as the 37th best video ever made by MTV Europe in 1991.

5) “Jesus” by Queen

Notwithstanding his Zoroastrian heritage (or perhaps because of it), Freddie Mercury left nothing untouched in his songs. This bluesy spiritual hearkens back to Scripture in the evocative rocking only Queen could conjure up.

6) “The Four Horsemen” by Aphrodite’s Child

Vangelis played the keyboards in this sixties progressive rock group from Greece. He later went on to create the famous score for Chariots of Fire. But long before that, he was orchestrating albums based straight off the Book of Revelation.

7) “After Forever” by Black Sabbath

The Irish Catholic bassist of Black Sabbath, Geezer Butler, wrote this song to counter the prevailing impression that Black Sabbath was indeed a Satanic band, given their name. Sure enough, music critics disparaged the overt religiosity of the lyrics.

As this selection goes to show, religiosity can be found even the most secular of music.

What’s another song that could be on this list? Share in the comments!

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Michael Walker graduated from the University of Dallas in 2013. He is currently studying for a Master's at the Dominican School in Berkeley, California. You can follow him on Twitter at: @PapistPoet.