#11 Life’s Railway to Heaven, (sometimes called “Life is like a Mountain Railway,” or “railroad”) performed by Patsy Cline & Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash & The Carter Family, The Oak Ridge Boys, Roy Acuff, Merle Haggard, Boxcar Willie, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many others.
Mormonosity: 7/10. It’s obviously christian, but there’s nothing that’s clearly LDS about the lyrics until you learn that Eliza R. Snow, Zion’s Poetess, wrote them (minus the refrain). Then you can start to see some Mormon content. I think that it highlights, in particular, an LDS view of the partnership between an individual and Jesus as a compromise as opposed to a radically grace-oriented view that can lead to a Calvinist theistic determinism or a radically self-oriented view that can lead to you being really into Ayn Rand.
Quality: 9/10. You did something right when nearly every legend of Country music has taken a stab at your song. I’m sure Hank Williams would have done his own version if he’d stuck around a little longer. It’s a beautiful and seamless combination of the two things those ol’ country folk just loved: trains and Jesus. That said, it doesn’t come across as pandering or obvious. I wouldn’t mind this song being played at my funeral.
Highlight: There’s plenty of good here, but I particularly enjoy the moment of candor in Jerry Lee Lewis’ performance linked above at the end of the song when he admits that the song makes him nervous on moral grounds.
Things get weird when: You realize that most people who know this song, old southern baptists, probably don’t have a lot of good things to say about the LDS.
Likelihood of being played at a Mormon dance: 6/10. It’s no Boot-Scootin’ Boogie, but there’s no reason to ban it either.
#12 Late Nineties Bedroom Rock for the Missionaries by Broken Social Scene
Mormonosity: 5/10 LDS missionaries may all look the same, but the culture and rules of individual missions can vary pretty broadly. Rules about permissible music are particularly diverse*. I’ve heard of missions where rules are based on brand (all CDs must have the name of the church printed on them), time period (nothing allowed that was written after 1800), and style (instrumental only). This song is an instrumental, so if it refers to Mormons it’s a pretty clever title since most missionaries would able to listen to it, indeed, in their bedrooms.
*My mission president leaned hard to the liahona side of the liahona-iron rod continuum. He taught us and then let us govern ourselves with the admonition to follow the spirit. No music was banned outright (though I think he did mention that it’s better to avoid Black Sabbath) and some institutions were poked (“If your companion only wants to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, let him. He’ll get sick of it in about two weeks.”) I gained a hero as well as a working knowledge of the amazing Spanish indie pop scene.
Quality: 6/10 The song has some nice textures and is not unpleasant or boring.
Highlight: You might think that the connection to Mormons described above is pretty tenuous. But what would you think if I told you that members of Broken Social Scene have also played in bands called The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir and Apostle of Hustle?
Things get weird when: The above highlight is a trick. Those bands are real Canadian indie bands, but every indie band in Canada has at least one member who has toured or recorded with Broken Social Scene.
Likelihood of being played at a Mormon dance:2/10. It would get past the lyrics committee but not the distortion committee.
#13 The Mess Inside by The Mountain Goats
Mormonosity: 2/10 “We took a weekend, drove to Provo. The snow was white and fluffy. But a weekend in Utah won’t fix what’s wrong with us. The grey sky was vast and real cryptic above me. I wanted you to love me like you used to.” There is no skiing in Provo. There’s nothing, really, except a big University and a great Thai place. So it’s reasonable that the narrator had some kind of Mormon connection. Then again, John Darnielle tends to incorporate geographic references in all his songs with abandon, so don’t read too much into it.
Quality: 9/10. To me, Mountain Goats is good but old Mountain Goats is best Mountain Goats. This one is from their mid-period but it sounds more like the home-taped albums than the other recordings from the last decade. Solid lyrically, this is very much a straight-ahead Mountain Goats tune throughout.
Highlight: The lyrics take the pathos from Morrissey’s line “Nothing’s changed, I still love you. Only slightly less than I used to, my love” and flips the roles and then stretches it into a song-length tear jerker. So the lyrics are a highlight.
Things get weird when: He doesn’t mention Café Rio, so he’s probably never actually been to Provo since that’s what people who have been to Provo talk about.
Likelihood of being played at a Mormon dance: 6/10. I don’t see why not. The only risk would be that kids start listening to the Mountain Goats and never get married because of the raw and honest take on romantic relationships found in so many of their lyrics….okay, I guess I can see why not.
(Thanks fairly random reader)
#14 Jesus Verbo No Sustantivo by Ricardo Arjona
Mormonosity: 8/10 Ricardo takes a shot at the LDS with the lines
Jesus convertia en hechos todos sus sermones
Que si tomas cafe es pecado dicen los Mormones
Tienen tan poco que hacer que andan inventando cada cosa
Jesus hermanos mios es verbo, no sustantivo
Jesus turned all his sermons into actions
(With you so far)
The Mormons say that to drink coffee is a sin
(Okay, I’m not sure how that’s related to the first part, but yes.)
They have so little to do that they go around inventing everything
(Even if the word of wisdom was revealed because Joseph Smith was bored, how does this relate to the theme of the song?)
Jesus, my brothers, is a verb, not a noun
(And, the trump card in any argument: repeating a vague phrase over and over again. I guess we just got Jesused.)
Quality: 2/10 Lyrically, this is a shmaltzy, wildly-popular, less-thought-out Spanish reinvention of John Lennon’s Imagine. Ricardo isn’t a big fan of reading the Bible and praying because, Jesus is, like, a verb, not a noun maaaan. (He’s also against infant baptism, tithing, and confessing sins, Ricardo never really does get around to saying what we should be doing instead, aside from “acting” and “practicing love.”) Musically, he doesn’t get much more creative than D-A-B-F#-G-D-G-A . In other words, one of the most common chord progression in popular music.
Highlight: Latino Richard Marx has a big reveal halfway through the song: He hates organized religion because as a kid the most religious person in his neighborhood was an old lady who stole 100 balls from him. I’m not kidding.
Things get weird when: He claims that there are more religions in the world than happy children. And he insults the widows.
Likelihood of being played at a Mormon dance: 8/10. The tempo is perfect for a slow song, and it has maudlin piano playing, goofy string parts, and a nicely emotive vocalist. They’d just need to edit out the Mormon verse, and put the infant baptism one in twice and this could be the new “Lady in red”.
#15 Nephicide by Jogger
Mormonosity: 2/10. I wish this was a murder ballad from the perspective of Laman and Lemuel or perhaps Laban’s ghost, but it’s not. Still, the lyrics are indecipherable enough to not know for sure that it’s not about the first author of the Book of Mormon.
Quality: 4/10 Is this what the Williamsburgites are listening to now? This is some weird hybrid stuff: Death Metal that is more influenced by The Postal Service than Slayer. Strangely, it kind of works. I would never listen to this again, but I kind of get it.
Highlight: Though (as an internet commenter is wont to point out) the combination of death metal imagery and suburban living is not wholly original, the video is pretty entertaining. Why are those kids so against people drinking things?
Things get weird when: there is a totally unexpected 70’s AM radio groove dropped in the middle that takes over the rest of the song
Likelihood of being played at a Mormon dance: 0/10. Do the Nephicide!
TO BE CONCLUDED!
Leave your suggestions and feedback in the comments or email me here: firstname.lastname@example.org