1. “If I Believe You” – The 1975
The 1975 were in Champaign just a few weeks ago, and this song included in their encore prompted me to write this playlist. The use of gospel in modern pop and rock music is a welcome intersection of genres. The 1975 love to play around with sounds and styles, but the hymnal accompaniments arguably exemplify some of their most diverse experimenting.
2. “Blessings” – Chance the Rapper
It’s no secret that Chance the Rapper loves to involve gospel influences into his songs and collaborations. Just take, for example, the version of Waves he pushed Kanye West to release on Life of Pablo circulating around Facebook from a few months ago. Perhaps my favorite thing about this song is the youthful vocals of the female singer. There’s a delicate simplicity to her addition that makes it seem more personal that other songs on this playlist.
3. “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Live Version)” – U2
Present on Rattle and Hum, this version of this song offers some of the most uplifting and joyous melodies from the very beginning of the song. It’s my favorite performance, both in-studio and live, from U2 with solo features from the gospel choir littered throughout the verses.
4. “Smooth Sailin'” – Leon Bridges
It would be an error to exclude Leon Bridges – in all of his modern jazzy glory – from this list. His female vocalist compliments his voice perfectly with graceful riffs and harmonies. My only complaint? That she isn’t featured more prominently.
5. “Hand of God” – Jon Bellion
This R&B meets rap (really, it’s more like spoken word) song is more explicitly religious. Some of the instrumental additions seem to echo the additions a gospel choir would offer, but in the latter half of the song, a male vocalist sings an uplifting refrain finally introducing the gospel choir and energy the opening half works up to.
6. “Ultralight Beam” – Kanye West
With a song with such religious tones, the powerful choir is a perfect inclusion. Rap and gospel can be rooted so closely to each other – combining them at their best like Chance and Kanye do provides a needed stylistic nod to that, especially with gospel’s lacking solo focus in today’s musical scene.
7. “Shake it Out” – Florence + the Machine
Florence Welch’s voice is essentially a gospel force in and of itself. She belts out her notes with a startling, contemporarily unmatched precision. While there might not be choirs featured in this selection compared to the other songs on this playlist, this spiritually strong track has similar sounds provided by her voice individually.
8. “Only He Can Heal Me” – Bloc Party
For most of these selections, gospel choirs or influences have been used to bring more power and force to the song. In this song, they instead use hymnal chants and an overall spiritual message that differs, not only from Bloc Party’s older style, but from the other, more obviously energetic songs on this playlist.
9. “Heaven’s Wall” – Bruce Springsteen
Bruce is another artist who loves to get out of the box of what’s expected of rock music, especially when he ties in country and bluegrass elements. In one of his most recent experimentations, he brings gospel choirs in for the choruses to supplement his biblical chant.
10. “All These Things That I’ve Done” – The Killers
I’ve always dubbed this song a “marathon song.” While I can’t say that I’d ever see myself actually running a marathon, this tune – one of my favorites by The Killers – makes me feel as if I could. Similarly to “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” it offers a strengthening modern rendition of a song bolstered by the hymnal choruses prevalent at the end of the song.
11. “Like a Prayer” – Madonna
Who can deny Madonna’s powerful, neverending influence on pop music? Miley Cyrus, Carly Rae Jepsen, Katy Perry…They’re all women who were largely taught to push pop boundaries because of Madonna’s trailblazing ways. “Like a Prayer” is a perfect example of her fusions with other genres and her fearless approach to music in the name of creating flawless songs.