Once in a while I’ll write about which Christian songs are my favorite of all time. Feel free to let me know your favorites, or if you agree or disagree with how I describe these songs.
Bob Dylan, Gotta Serve Somebody (1979)
The “Poet of This Generation” caused quite a stir in the late 70s when he announced he had become a born-again Christian. Then he followed up the proclamation of his new faith with the album Slow Train Coming, and watch out! What an uproar among his longtime fans, especially when they went to his concerts at the time to hear his NEW music! Even so, a number of critics who may not have liked Dylan’s new-found faith still like the rejuvenated sound that came across on the album.
Among his new songs was Gotta Serve Somebody, which is about as direct a song about following Jesus as you can get: “You gotta serve somebody/ it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord/but you gotta serve somebody.” Some listeners may have whined about the song being dogmatic—but enough liked it to put in the Top 25 on the Billboard charts. The song earned Dylan a Grammy in 1980 for Best Rock Vocal Performance.
The song musically avoided the genres that dominated the charts in 1979, disco (which was waning) and punk/new wave (that was on the rise). The song may also contain an interest nudge in the ribs of another artist who (until this time) was a friend of Dylan—John Lennon.
Back in 1970, Lennon recorded an atheistic anthem called God, in which he denounced belief in God and just about everyone else he could think of—Jesus, Buddha, even his ex-band The Beatles (except when he warbled “I just believe in me/Yoko and me/and that’s reality.” Uh, sure, whatever you say, John). Anyway, in the song, he screams, “I don’t believe in Zimmerman” (being Dylan’s real last name). Now in Gotta Serve Somebody, one of the last lines is: “You may call me Bobby/Or you may call me Zimmy,” with the stanza later ending, “You can call me anything/It don’t matter what you say/You’re still going to have to serve somebody…” Could Dylan have been taking a sideswipe at Lennon’s reference to him in God? It makes you wonder, especially with Lennon’s caustic reaction to Gotta Serve Somebody, writing an awful tune called Serve Yourself as his “answer” (then again, Lennon may simply have been upset about Dylan getting a Grammy out of the song).
Regardless of whether all that holds any water, Gotta Serve Somebody is still just as challenging today to Christians and non-Christians alike, as it was when it was first released.
Rich Mullins, Peace (A Communion Blessing from St. Joseph’s Square) (1993)
"Do this in memory of Me," Jesus said about the ordinance of communion—and yet I’m not aware of many songs about this important part of our Christian walk that reaffirms our salvation covenant. Up until I first heard this song, I was only aware of two: the 70s song I Am the Bread of Life and Trust by Smalltown Poets (technically, you could also include How Beautiful by Twila Paris).
Peace, like many of Mullins’ classics, captures our imperfect attempts at living out our faith. Just the first few words in the song are stunning: “Though we’re strangers, still I love you/I love you more than your mask/And I know you have to trust to be true/And I know that’s much to ask…” In the midst of this struggle to put aside our masks to accept true fellowship, one can almost see Mullins opening his arms to his brothers and sisters: “But lay down your fears/Come and join this feast/He has brought us here/ You and me …”
This song can make you appreciate the Lord’s Supper so much more, especially if your church faithfully practices it on a consistent basis (and it can sadden you if it doesn’t). You can find this gem on Mullins’ classic CD A Liturgy, a Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band and the compilation Songs 2.