Lil Nas X certainly wasn’t the first pop act to crack the charts on the wings of a cloven-hooved Prince of Darkness
If you haven’t noticed, the culture wars found a new front recently when Lil Nas X released a new video where he apparently makes out with the Devil.
I haven’t watched it myself because I still have nothing good to say about “Old Town Road,” which got the Kidz Bop treatment and is still a favorite of many classrooms that I work in as a substitute teacher. Yet I understand that Nas’ embrace of the Devil (literally, in this case) has ruffled the feathers of many a pearl-clutching Moral Majority veteran on his provocative “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”.
To which I ask “where have you been the last 60-plus years of popular music?” The Dark Lord has long been the subject of songs and imagery in many rock and roll records since Robert Johnson went to the crossroads, and if you don’t believe me, just check out these four songs I randomly thought of to write about in response to repeated cries of “who will think of the children?”
Also, I’m sure that Nas being Black and gay has nothing to do with the outrage, as he has sarcastically suggested.
Charlie Daniels Band
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (1979)
Long before he became a walking endorsement for the NRA, the late Charlie Daniels was a working musician who recorded with the likes of Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Earl Scruggs among others. Striking out on his own in the Seventies, Daniels had a huge hit with this ode to a Satanic quota regarding soul-stealing, as his titular Satan must hurry to meet that quarter’s expectations (which raises more questions about why Satan can’t bend the rules in his favor, being his own boss and all). Anyway, Satan comes across fiddle-playing Johnny and offers him a fiddle made of gold in exchange for his soul, if Johnny can best the Devil in a playoff. Safe to say, the Devil messed with the wrong country boy, because Johnny plays up such a storm that he wins the fiddle and keeps his soul, fouling up Satan’s plans. Never mind that, as Fry on “Futurama” once said, a fiddle made of gold would sound terrible. Worth checking out is an early Nineties “sequel” which features (among other things) Travis Tritt doing some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen. It’s called The Devil Came Back to Georgia and…well, just watch the video below for the rest.
VIDEO: The Charlie Daniels Band “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”
“Highway to Hell” (1979)
Tony Stark’s favorite band, of course (though I make the joke often that all Iron Man action sequences could be accompanied by Belle & Sebastian’s “Seymour Stein” and lose none of their power), the loudest thing to come out of Australia has survived the death of original singer Bon Scott to power on well into this century. This song, the title track from their 1979 album (and the last with Scott), captures the Satanic vibe of late Seventies/early Eighties metal quite nicely (Van Halen’s “Running With The Devil” doesn’t do it for me, because of David Lee Roth’s amazingly cartoonish persona), and it certainly helps make the case that heavy metal is Satan’s soundtrack. Decades of overplay on rock stations have blunted its impact, but I imagine to fresh ears it still has the power to make you want to go to Hell because your friends are going to be there, too. Note: there is no relation to this song at the Michael Landon show Highway to Heaven, though there should’ve been.
VIDEO: AC/DC “Highway To Hell”
The Rolling Stones
“Sympathy for the Devil” (1968)
Speaking of “songs played to death,” this 1968 track leads off Beggars Banquet and has been used in literally every Martin Scorsese film ever since (yes, even in The Age of Innocence…don’t quote me on that, but I’m sure I’m right). It even got some play last year at Trump campaign rallies, where I’m guessing the lyrics either went over everyone’s heads or were an attempt to deliberately troll the media. Either way, the song has had a troubled life, suggesting from the outset that Mick Jagger is embodying the Devil incarnate to run through a laundry list of evil’s greatest hits (having the Czar murdered, leading Hitler’s invasion of Russia, etc.). It was also one of the songs the Stones performed at Altamont a year later, when Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death in full view of film cameras. Amended in the writing process after the murder of Robert Kennedy in June of that year, the song points the finger for the madness of the era squarely at the feet of the audience, and it seems that when Jagger and company took the stage in 1969, they unleashed dark forces that made the song’s words prophetic. You’d be forgiven if you thought that the Stones themselves made a deal with the Devil, as Keith Richards is famously still alive and the band a going concern decades after contemporaries like the Beatles called it a day. There might be something to those legends of summoning dark spirits, after all.
VIDEO: The Rolling Stones “Sympathy For The Devil”
“Jesus He Knows Me” (1991)
Off the top of your head, you might be asking why I’m including this song. It’s not really about Satan, is it? Well, in a way; it’s a commentary on the Religious Right movement as it stood in the late Eighties and early Nineties, when Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert were embroiled in sex scandels that totally destroyed their careers (well, until they made comebacks and began hawking supplements and bunkers for the coming End Times to gullible viewers). You see, the Devil might be working in mysterious ways, using “men of the cloth” to spread a prosperity gospel in which said men are enriched at the cost of their followers (thankfully, this is not something that occurs anymore…I’m kidding. It’s totally going on right now). In the culture wars of our era, it’s only a matter of time before the “moral majority” reveal themselves to be sinners like the rest of us, and their immoral behavior becomes tabloid fodder for much the same reason as the lifestyles of those they attack. At any rate, this is just a fun song about hypocrisy, coming from a group named after the first book of the Bible no less. And it’s a further reminder that Phil Collins was way, way bigger in the Eighties than kids today can possibly understand. Maybe there should be a religion around him?
VIDEO: Genesis “Jesus He Knows Me”