Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

L’Osservatore Romano leads the way

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 14, 2010

In order to keep up with that trendsetter of news sources, L’Osservatore Romano, I want to announce my own appreciation for those profound works of popular music which have done so much to improve our lives over the past fifty years or so.

Personally, although I can enjoy the Beatles now, when they were performing I disliked them intensely. I guess I was too strait-laced, and I thought they were taking music in a less than healthy direction. Also, I have always preferred singers with good voices. But neither then nor now have I ever even remotely imagined that the “value of their musical inheritance” is “inestimable,” as L’OR’s writers concluded in their feature article commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' break-up in their April 10th issue. (Hold your emails, Beatles fans!)

But I’ll tell you what is inestimable, starting at the very end of the Beatles era and working back. I refer first to Don McLean’s American Pie, released in 1971. What with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost taking the last train for the coast, well, it’s hard to get more profound than that in commercially popular music. It’s about the death of Buddy Holly (“the day the music died”), but who cares? I’ve never met anyone who dislikes that song, suggesting that it speaks to the deepest core of human nature.

Or how about Gordon Lightfoot’s Beautiful, released about the same time (1972). If there’s one song I’d love to sing to my wife after nearly 38 years of marriage, that would be it.

Does anybody remember I am the Lion by Neil Diamond? It was released on the famous Tap Root Manuscript album in 1970, the same year the Beatles broke up. I remember it well, and I also remember my kids jumping around singing “hey, hey”, “hey, hey” in the 1980’s, when they were little. That gets fairly close to inestimable.

And let’s not forget that before there was Beatle-mania in 1964, there was Kingston-mania, starting in 1958 with the release by the Kingston Trio of Tom Dooley. Perhaps it’s the L’OR writers who should be hanging down their heads.

Going back just a little further, we find Harry Belafonte singing Day O (also Mama Look-A Boo Boo, though that’s a bit hard on fathers). Harry also made Mary’s Boy Child popular in 1956. That song should put me one up on L’Osservatore Romano in the minds of most readers.

And oh by the way, contrary to the beliefs of many, it was not the Beatles who sang the most memorable version of Pete Seeger’s adaptation of chapter three of Ecclesiastes, Turn Turn Turn. Though it sounds a lot like them, it was The Byrds, my friends. They released it in late 1965, though Judy Collins had done it in 1963, when the Beatles were just beginning to be recognized internationally.

Ecclesiastes. Now that’s inestimable! And I think I’ll quit while I’m so far spiritually ahead of the Vatican’s own newspaper.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Ken - Apr. 19, 2010 8:04 AM ET USA

    Who thought the Beatles recorded "Turn, Turn, Turn"? I was a devout Catholic then (my salad days as it were) as I am now and I loved the music of the Beatles. I didn't care for their songs with drug imagery, but most of their songs were fairly simple about loving someone else. I disagree that rock had some special connection to hedonism - again most of the songs from that era were simple love songs compared to the graphic lyrics you hear today.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Apr. 17, 2010 7:16 PM ET USA

    As someone who enjoys and performs sacred and secular music from the Renaissance era, I've seen many bawdy lyrics from 500 years ago. The Beatles are mere innocent babes compared to some of those old timers!

  • Posted by: ebierer1724 - Apr. 15, 2010 11:24 AM ET USA

    It's too bad that L’Osservatore Romano cannot comment more on current music. (enter smug remark about how this IS current for the Catholic Church here)

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Apr. 15, 2010 9:18 AM ET USA

    The songs of the Beatles and almost all of the pop music from that era was blatantly sensual.... That it wasn't "nice" to listen to..., that I regretably cannot deny, I myself listened to far too much. Some people think that the Devil is stupid.... If you want to catch a soul, you don't use unattractive bait.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 15, 2010 8:06 AM ET USA

    American Pie: "I’ve never met anyone who dislikes that song . . ." Good to meet you, Dr. Mirus; I LOATHE that song.

  • Posted by: mikezart6808 - Apr. 15, 2010 7:14 AM ET USA

    It's interesting how counter cultural many of these songs were as they went on the airways. But as you say the words speak to the human heart, and that makes it still valid among listeners today. I believe anything classical will stand the test of time. As rock has its connection with hedonism (which in my opinion is why it so often leads to drugs and sex) we have s duty to re-Christianize these songs. We need to answer what they're asking for and longing for in their lyrics.