Even in his early years Prince wore his faith on his sleeve. He wasn’t really shy about it. He says the entire Lord’s Prayer in 1981’s “Controversy.” Near the end of his apocalyptic party track “1999” he sings, “Can’t run from the revelation, no.” He opens “Let’s Go Crazy” with church and makes repeated references to de-elevator. He’s not singing about an elevator and he’s not saying “Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down?” He’s saying “de-elevator” and de-elevator is the devil. When he sings “We’re all excited but we don’t know why. Maybe it’s ‘cause we’re all gonna die,” he’s excited to die so he can go to heaven. The song ends with, “Hang tough children. He’s coming. He’s coming. Coming. Take me away.” That legendary guitar solo was his sermon. He was taking us all to church. These were just a few of the early spiritual references in his music.
Aside from the Lord’s Prayer, most of the references were at least somewhat masked. “Let’s Go Crazy” would’ve felt a lot different if he sang, “Are we gonna let Satan bring us down?” Prince was smarter than that. He let us all party to a song about God and the devil without us realizing it.
Then there’s “The Cross.” I’m no Prince historian, but I know a little bit. “The Cross” is the 14th track on his 1987 masterpiece Sign O’ the Times. Sign was Prince’s ninth album and his second double album. “The Cross” was the first Prince song I would classify as Christian Rock. Hardcore Prince heads might come back at me and say, “You forgot about ‘The Ladder’ idiot.” The ladder was part of 1985’s Around the World in a Day. Another beautiful song, but it feels more soul/gospel to me. “The Cross” is straight up rock music and it’s 100% blatant, no doubt about it Christian music. It’s beautiful. I’m not remotely religious, and in fact, I believe people who twist the words of their religious texts in to a reason to hate somebody are responsible for most of the evil in the world. That’s a conversation for another post. I also believe this: If religion – any religion – makes you happy and makes you a better citizen of the world, keep doing it. Prince found hope and love in God. This song is proof. A beautiful piece of art.
Interesting fact: When Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness he continued to perform this song but instead called it “The Christ” because he believed that Jesus died on a stake instead of a cross.
I give “The Cross” 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for anyone who loves a message of hope mixed with a lot of electric guitar.