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Pop Goes the Bible!

As the 400th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into English draws to a close Paul Gambaccini picks out some of the 100's of pop songs that have been inspired by the Old and New Testaments. The stories, characters and text have led to a huge catalogue of songs ranging from Elvis Presley ('Adam and Evil'), to Bob Dylan (Highway 61 Revisited), Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice ('Joseph' and 'Jesus Christ, Superstar'), The Byrds (Turn! Turn! Turn!), Leonard Cohen ('Hallelujah'), and U2 ('40' and 'Yahweh').

Paul talks to Tim Rice about his early schooling which laid down for him an intimate knowledge of Bible stories. One of his favourites was that of 'Joseph' and the musical that evolved became the foundation of the Rice/Lloyd-Webber partnership. His fascination with the stories and characters took Rice not only on to 'Jesus Christ, Superstar' but more recently to the story of King David and Saul. He talks about his continued absorption in the people within the pages of the Bible.

Diana Lipton, an Old Testament scholar, shows how many popular song treatments refresh the ancient stories by setting them in an entirely different and often contemporary context. She cites Bob Dylan's treatment of the story of Abraham and Isaac in 'Highway 61 Revisited', but also finds a connection in Tom Jones' hit 'Delilah'. Although the only Biblical connection is the name 'Delilah', the blind passion of both the character in the song and Samson provokes the same disastrous outcome.

U2, with their song '40', took much of the lyric from Psalm 40, and rock critic Neil McCormick points to the close connection between Bono and his religious upbringing, a connection which - as in many of the songs in this programme - feeds into popular song culture.

Producer: Richard Bannerman
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

Release date:

30 minutes

Last on

Wed 9 Nov 2016 01:30