Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Dan DeLuca's Papal Playlist: Music to elevate the heart and soul

In a recent The New Yorker - the one with a Harry Truman-esque Kanye West holding up a newspaper headlined TRUMP DEFEATS KANYE on the cover - there's a lengthy "Letter From The Vatican" by Alexander Stille about Pope Francis' efforts to "sh

In a recent The New Yorker - the one with a Harry Truman-esque Kanye West holding up a newspaper headlined TRUMP DEFEATS KANYE on the cover - there's a lengthy "Letter From The Vatican" by Alexander Stille about Pope Francis' efforts to "shake up" the Catholic Church.Among the men of the cloth Stille talks to for the piece is Georg Gänswein, personal secretary to Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI. The hunky archbishop, apparently "frequently referred to a Gorgeous George, or the George Clooney of the Vatican," seems a tad peevish in opining that "the Pope is not a pop star."

Isn't he? As he gets ready to arrive in Philadelphia this week for the World Meeting of Families, the city is bracing for the biggest crowds the Benjamin Franklin Parkway has ever seen.

The former Buenos Aires bouncer is expected to display his power as a draw a magnitude beyond that of a mere rap star like Jay Z, who - despite having a nickname, Hova, which is derived from Jay-hova and suggests that he is an actual rap god - could pull in only 70,000 people per day for his Made in America festival this month. The throng of pilgrims for Francis is expected to amount to 1.5 million.

What's music got to do with the Pope's visit? Well, there's a huge concert on the Parkway on Saturday to celebrate it, with Aretha Franklin headlining, plus Colombian songwriter Juanes, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, the Philadelphia Orchestra, "We Are Family" Philadelphia sibling act Sister Sledge, and Colorado pop-rock band The Fray.

And music, of course, is the art form most associated with the divine. When the great neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks died last month, I went back to look at an interview I did with him in 2007, when he had a book out called Musicophilia. Sacks theorized that music is associated with the divine because "it's not about things. Or rather, if it's about anything it's about feeling, and the will and the human heart, and that makes us feel unearthly."

We don't know that much about Pope Francis' musical taste. The Argentine born Jorge Mario Bergoglio is a tango enthusiast, and this March saw the release of "Para Que Todos Sean Uno," a song whose title translates as "So We Can All Be One," with music by Italian-Argentine songwriter Odino Faccia.

In a 2013 interview, the Pope talked about his passion for Caravaggio's paintings, and his love for Roberto Rossellini's film Rome, Open City. Musically, he talks about how much he's into Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, and also operas by Wagner and Puccini.

The playlist that follows explores music to which Francis is believed to be partial, mixed with a wide variety of songs from different genres that express spiritual yearning and inquiry. In the online version of this story and on my blog at, please listen up on Spotify to your Papal Playlist.

1. "Gloria: In Excelsis Deo," Patti Smith. "Jesus died, for somebody's sins ... but not mine!" Those opening lines from this signature song by the punk-poet who spent her formative years in Germantown and Deptford might move some to label her a blasphemer. But not Pope Francis, who invited Smith to play at this Vatican Christmas concert last year.

2. "Highway 61 Revisited," Bob Dylan. A Biblical tale of the Old Testament variety. Religious imagery courses through Dylan's work. This one makes the cut over the (underrated) songs on Slow Train Comin' and Saved.

3. "God Only Knows," The Beach Boys. "A teenage symphony to God" is what Brian Wilson told people he was attempting with his unfinished 1960s opus Smile. This tune comes from 1966's Pet Sounds, the masterpiece he did get done.

4. "Like A Prayer," Madonna. The title cut to a 1989 album by the Catholic pop star who will undoubtedly have a Pope week provocation in store when she plays the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday.

5. "Badlands," Bruce Springsteen. As with Dylan, there are many spiritual Springsteen avenues. But let's go with the Boss gazing skyward in concert when he sings: "I believe in the love that you gave me/ I believe in the faith that could save me."

6. St. Matthew Passion, Anne Sophie von Otter and Baroque Concerto Copenhagen. Johann Sebastian Bach liturgical music of which Pope Francis has declared himself a fan.

7. "Spirit In The Dark," Aretha Franklin. Secular hymn by the Queen of Soul, who will sing on Saturday. From Oh Me Oh My: Aretha Live in Philly, 1972.

8. "How I Got Over," Clara Ward. Hymn written by the great Philadelphia gospel singer that became a civil-rights movement sing-along, and also inspired The Roots' 2010 album of the same name.

9. "Amazing Grace," The Swan Silvertones. The enduring 18th-century hymn by the close harmony group led by the amazing falsetto of Rev. Claude Jeter.

10. "Strong As Death, Sweet As Love," Al Green. Underheard 1975 classic from one of Jeter's ardent disciples, the Rev. Al's voice soaring skyward as he hopes to find salvation "with the grace of God above."

11. "The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea," Louvin Brothers. The greatest of country sibling duos, expressing a belief that even the debased may be ultimately exalted.

12. "Sisters Of Mercy,"

Leonard Cohen.

"They brought me comfort, and then they brought me this song." Salvation in the form of a visit from the muse, from the Canadian Jewish Zen Buddhist.

13. "Divine Intervention," Matthew Sweet. Sweet must have felt that divine intervention was at play to have both Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd play on his 1991 album.

14. "Jesus," Velvet Underground. The Velvets were supposed to be all about decadence, but this quietly desperate prayer is a model of understated beauty.

15. "Jesus Walks, Kanye West. Before he was Yeezus, West introduced the world to has ambition on this gospel rapper, with an assist from John Legend.

16. "We Are Family," Sister Sledge. The 1979 hit written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic, now perfectly repurposed for the World Meeting Of Families.

17. Mass In C Minor, Claudio Abbado. Mozart, a Francis fave, with the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by the late Italian maestro.

18. Parsifal: "Amfortas! Die Wunde!," Jonas Kaufman. The Pope is partial to Parsifal where Wagner is concerned, he told interviewers in 2013.

19. "Sinnerman," Nina Simone. Francis has said he identifies with the sinner Jesus points at in Caravaggio's Calling Of St. Matthew. Simone recorded her definitive version of this African American spiritual in 1965.

20. "After The Gold Rush," Thom Yorke. The pope is an eco-warrior, and one suspects he would get along fine with Neil Young. But Young has pulled his music off Spotify, so this cover is by the Radiohead singer.

21. "Get Right With God," Lucinda Williams. Slide guitar roots boogie music that aims to get in the good graces of the Lord, from 2001's Essence.

22. "The Christian Life," The Byrds. An unironic Louvin Brothers cover, from the 1968 Sweethearts of the Rodeo album, featuring Gram Parsons.

23. "Gimme A Ride To Heaven," Terry Allen. Otherwise known as the "hitchhiking Jesus song" from underrated West Texas songwriter. Comic relief.

24. "Reason To Believe," Rod Stewart. Tim Hardin's soul-searcher, sung by a spiritually seeking Rod the Mod.

25. "Spirit In The Sky," Norman Greenbaum. A 1969 fuzz-rock smash for one-hit wonder Greenbaum, a Jewish psychedelic rocker who saw country star Porter Wagoner sing a gospel song on TV and thought he'd try his hand at writing his own tune about spending the afterlife with his "friend in Jesus."