The Wounded Mosquito




A while back I gave a Sunday School lesson on Doctrine and Covenants section 25, which is well known as the revelation wherein the Lord instructs Emma Smith to compile a hymnbook for LDS church members. At the time I thought it might be fun to include a list of "disqualified Hymns" in my lesson, songs that didn't make the final cut. But I could never find a smooth way to integrate it into the lesson without throwing off the context and rhythm of the more important parts. Still, I think it's amusing to look at the way that concepts of a more eternal nature are interpreted and (mis)understood within the realm of pop culture, so here is a running list of songs you probably won't ever find in any hymnbook.

"In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", Iron Butterfly

This one is legendary if nothing else for it's epic 17 minute running time, which features a five-minute drum solo. But legend has it the original title was "In the Garden of Eden", and that when it came time to produce it, the lead singer was too intoxicated to get the lyrics straight. Given the clarity of the other lyrics, I think this is probably an urban legend, albeit a good one, and anyway the whole thing gained immortality when Bart Simpson smuggled copies of it into his church services. The ensuing confusion led to one of the greatest lines in TV history, when Homer leans over to Marge and whispers, "remember when we used to make out to this hymn?"

"Missionary Man", Annie Lennox

I first learned of this one through my mission buddy Spencer Affleck, who shocked his parents when they came home to find him blasting it on the stereo one day. His argument that the lyrics were actually very religious-based wasn't well received. In reality, the lyrics really are pretty right-on, and kind of fun, but I'm not sure anyone in church is ready to integrate the heavy drums and synthesizers quite yet.

"Presence of the Lord", Blind Faith

Of all the religious-related "pop" songs I've come across, this one has to be the most honest and sincere. I heard it for the first time the weekend before I left for my mission to Chicago, and the lyrics startlingly embody the sincere sentiments of anyone trying to reconcile his human weakness in the face of trying to find a better way of life (IE, in the "Presence of the Lord"). Of course, Eric Clapton's transcendent guitar solo helps, too.

"You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman", Aretha Franklin

This one is really only funny to LDS church members, because of an unintended allusion the title contains. Aretha is singing quite sincerely about how her man makes her feel appreciated and loved, but the term "Natural Woman (or Man)" is used in LDS scripture to denote the worldly self that must be subdued in order to remain in harmony with our higher spiritual ideals (IE, we must "put off the natural man and become as a little child"). Just a little fun via miscommunication.

"Natural Man", by Lou Rawls

Same idea, though Lou is a little more in contact with the LDS idea of a "Natural Man" on this one. I can't help but mention here that this guy's voice is one of my favorites of all time. For further evidence, check out "Love is a Hurtin' Thing".

"Hard Headed Woman", Elvis Presley

One of the all-time greats. This one recounts a handful of Old Testament stories that contain a recurring theme of a man being lulled into evil by the temptations of a wicked woman. The horrid sexist tone of the song is undermined and rendered almost harmless by the sheer asinine absurdity of it. Try the following:

"Sampson told Delilah,

loud and clear,

a-keep your cotton-pickin' fingers out my curly hair,

oh yeah"

Only the King could pull that one off.

"God Only Knows", The Beach Boys

Another sincere one, it took me a while to warm to this one because the title seems to be more a flippant expression than a sincere reference to Deity. However, after reading the "Pet Sounds" album liner notes, I learned that the Beach Boys actually conducted prayer sessions to create a spiritual feel to the record. That explains a lot. This has to be one of the most gorgeous songs ever made.

"Heaven and Hell", The Who

One of John Entwhistle's classic tongue-in-cheek gems, this one conjures up all of the cliché'd expressions and visions of the world's standard understanding of the polarized afterlife. I'm guessing Entwhistle was poking fun of the concept in general, but as a believer in the afterlife, I can at least appreciate his interpretation of the oversimplified understanding most people have of it.

"(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Gonna Go", Curtis Mayfield

This was Curtis Mayfield's first single after leaving the Impressions, and it embodies the social activist stance he carried through the rest of his life. It's less a criticism of afterlife understanding and more a criticism of humanity's universal guilt. Kind of like the Who song above, I feel like they're starting to get the idea that it's not the cartoon version they'd been taught, but they still aren't getting the real idea yet.

"Devil in Disguise", Elvis Presley

Yep, it's pretty much Elvis's fault Curtis and John are so aggravated.

Here are some more from the same category:

"Earth Angel", The Penguins

"Angel", Jimi Hendrix

"Friend of the Devil", The Grateful Dead

"Are You Gonna Go My Way", Lenny Kravitz

This one's pretty interesting. Lenny's a pretty spiritual guy, and reportedly this one is sung from the perspective of the Savior. You wouldn't think it at first listen, it's got the standard rock and roll riff and noise factor, but if you listen to the lyrics, it's actually pretty cool.

"Sympathy For the Devil", The Rolling Stones

Here's the opposite perspective. Kind of a modern version of "Hard Headed Woman" sung from the Devil's point of view. I think Mick wrote it cause he wanted to play up the whole bad boy image. It worked.

"Imagine", John Lennon

This one bugs me. Everyone plays it up as this uplifting inspirational anthem, but the lyrics are all anti-religion. "Imagine there's no heaven", etc. While I understand that his point is that we should focus on unity instead of the things that divide us, I still think it's sad to think of utopia as an existence where there is nothing to look forward to after death. I'm guessing he'd agree with me now.

Here's a few more random ones:

"I Say a Little Prayer", Dionne Warwick

"Son of a Preacher Man", Dusty Springfield

"Hells Bells", AC/DC

"Rock and Roll Heaven", The Righteous Brothers

I love "Unchained Melody" and "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin'", but with all due respect, this has to be one of the worst songs of all time. For some reason, every once in a while somebody decides to write a tribute song to all of the old dead rock stars. I think the only one that ever worked was "American Pie". This one sure didn't. Try this chorus:

"If you believe in forever,

then life is just a one-night stand.

If there's a rock and roll heaven,

well you know they've got a hell of a band."

It's the kind of thing that will leave you in convulsions.

"You Can't Always Get What You Want", The Rolling Stones

Kind of hard to see the Stones as the origin of this brand of inspiration, it doesn't make any specific doctrinal allusions, but it's principles are pretty uplifting. Then you tack on the boy's choir in the background and it's use in Kevin Costner's funeral at the beginning of "The Big Chill", and this one easily qualifies for the list. I don't know if it really quite compensates for Mick's other contribution to the list, but it's sure a great track.




I should have my pop culture license revoked. Kudos to Brad Kartchner for straightening me out on these unfortunate overlooks…

"Only the Good Die Young", Billy Joel

None other than Billy Joel's classic ode to an aspiring nun. It's kind of funny to put Billy on the side of the forces of evil, since most of the time he's considered a pretty tame alternative to 99% of the other music around these days. Nevertheless, apparently Billy would "rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints."

"Spirit in the Sky", Norman Greenbaum

Another obvious one. How could I miss this one? Kind of sounds like a born-again type of theme, and a few of my friends have frowned on the overly-simplified sentiments of the singer when it comes to qualifying for salvation. Still, I'd take this one any day if for no other reason than it refers to religion in a positive, non-fanatic manner. Incidentally, does anyone else get annoyed that every time a movie or TV show depicts a Christian, they are some loony fundamentalist that is completely removed from reality? Maybe it's just me.

"Stairway to Heaven", Led Zeppelin

One of the most oft-debated songs in LDS culture, I always took this one as being critical of someone shortsighted enough to "buy" their way into Heaven. Kind of a critique on the Tower of Babel folks. But I guess if you look at all of the words and symbols, the song is supposed to be evil. Oh, well. Someone told Brad once that "A Horse With No Name" was supposed to be evil, too. Yep, "A Horse With No Name."


"Devil Inside," INXS

This one came courtesy of my friend Emily Cawley. Yet another song I probably should have thought of earlier. Content-wise, there's not much to it outside of the idea of us all having a weakness for being bad, but the explicit attribution of the title more than qualifies it for the list.

The thing I really want to address here is the rumor I've heard that there's a reality show out there where people can compete to replace Michael Hutchence as INXS's lead singer. Weird enough of an idea by itself, but what makes this really sick is the fact that INXS has an opening because Hutchence HUNG himself fifteen years ago. Now they're using a REALITY SHOW to replace him? It makes you yearn for the "Kick" album days, doesn't it?

April 26, 2005 ADDS:

"Don't Fear the Reaper", Blue Oyster Cult

Back when I was working at a music store in Bountiful called "The Wherehouse" my manager Chad said the Stephen King miniseries "The Stand" made the best use of a rock song ever in a soundtrack by placing it over the opening sequence of dead body shots. I'll admit that it is a pretty good call, but not best ever. Besides, "Reaper" is all about suicide, and "The Stand" kicks off with a killer sickness that wipes out most of the population. Either way, our friends at the Blue Oyster Cult make the list for their little tune about Romeo, Juliet, and the Great Beyond. Still, if there is one song on this list to ignore in terms of its message, it would be this one.


"That's the Way God Planned It", Billy Preston

I had a tough time deciding whether to include this one or not, since technically would have to be considered a Gospel song. But the fact that I needed a positive song to follow up "Reaper" with, in addition to the fact that it was performed live at the Concert For Bangla Desh (one of the greatest assemblages of musicians ever, not to mention one of the best resulting concerts) gives it the nod. This is also an example of how fantastic Billy Preston is when he uses the B-3, and why he should have stayed away from those corny synthesizers later on.


"My Sweet Lord", "Awaiting On You All", George Harrison

Duh. How can I bring up Bangla Desh without mentioning the spiritual-heavy songs good old George played? Most everyone knows "My Sweet Lord", but only fans know about "Awaiting On You All". Of course, "My Sweet Lord" was the song George inadvertently patterned after "He's So Fine", and got sued for, so I guess you can't win 'em all.


"The Weight", The Band

I've been wanting to put this one in for a while, but haven't been able to justify it till now. The only directly spiritual connection is the verse about when the narrator meets Carmen and the Devil, and despite offering Carmen a ride, only the Devil comes along. No profound interpretation of doctrine here, but since I finally saw "Easy Rider" last week on AMC, I'm putting it in anyway. Just take a load off, baby.

May 19, 2005 ADDS:

"In My Time Of Dying", Led Zeppelin

Caught a live version of this yesterday on that 2 DVD set Zeppelin released a while back. "In My Time Of Dying" is kind of take on the old Gospel Spiritual ("If my wings should fail me, Lord, please meet me with another pair", etc., etc.), complete with the appropriate Zeppelin amp-up. At two different spots in the song (about 4:30 and 5:30 in, if I remember right), Jimmy Page rips into a pair of my favorite guitar solos of all time. In terms of guitar solo in a religious song, they still take the backseat to Clapton's "Presence of the Lord" performance, but I may have to give the accompanying drum nod to Bonham in "Dying" over Ginger Baker. Barely.

More to come…

If you have any other ideas, e-mail them to


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