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Throwback Thursday: Sr. Janet Mead’s gold record

If you were near a radio in the mid-seventies you probably heard a lot of Janet Mead, even if you didn’t necessarily know who Janet Mead was. Her “rock” recording “The Lord’s Prayer” was, as they say in the business, burning up the charts in the late winter and early spring of 1974, peaking at No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100--during Holy Week, as it happened.

Peaking, but never really going away, and not just because the song embodied what the word “earworm” must have been coined to describe. It became a Sunday-morning staple on New York’s WOR, to which the knob on my parents’ car radio was permanently fixed. The song seemed stuck in heavy rotation—programmed to play repeatedly during the hours we’d likely be on our way to and from Mass—in the years between my communion and confirmation, a period that spanned three presidencies, three papacies, and, closer to home, the loyal service of three different Plymouth station wagons.

What I didn’t know then was that Janet Mead was Sister Janet Mead, of the Sisters of Mercy order in Australia, where she taught music at a pair of Catholic schools. Originally recorded as a B-side, “The Lord’s Prayer” ultimately went gold—selling more than two million copies in the U.S. (more than three million internationally).

Still reliably an answer in trivia contests on one-hit-wonders of the seventies, Mead retains the distinction of being “only” (only?) the second woman to chart a top 10 single while serving as a nun (some of you might be able to guess the other). Among the artists she shared chart space with in 1974 were Barbra Streisand, the Jackson 5, Todd Rundgren, Barry White, and Eric Clapton. She was even up for a Grammy in the Best Inspirational Song category, losing to none other than Elvis Presley and his recording of “How Great Thou Art.”

While the production company used its share of the massive earnings from “The Lord’s Prayer” to rebuild its studio (“featuring a Neve Customised Model 8038 24-track mixing console having 28 microphone inputs and simultaneous quadraphonic, stereophonic and monophonic mix-down,” read the publicity statement), Mead donated hers to charity. The song's popularity also won Mead a degree of fame she apparently hadn’t anticipated. She has been quoted as saying that the record’s success made for a “horrible time” in her life, even causing her to question her faith. She seemed to allude to this in notes accompanying her 1975 album “A Rock Mass”: “It is easy to see the effect of a pop-tune which is a success and heard all over the world, because it has very obvious results. Not so easy is it, to see the more lasting effects of the kind of person we allow ourselves to become.” 

Mead didn’t stop teaching, writing, or performing music, though she did eventually leave the Sisters of Mercy. Her original producer maintains a website from which her recordings are available. And “The Lord’s Prayer” still has a way of turning up, as in this clip of Stephen Colbert and Jack White recalling the hits of yore (slight language advisory). But Colbert and White are wrong in more ways than one by associating it with the sixties. "The Lord's Prayer" is pure seventies, unmistakably and, for better or worse, unforgettably.

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That shot of her laughing at the end -- I suppose it's meant to communicate Christian joy, but to me it reads as a cackle, as if she knows her song will work its way into your head and never, ever leave. I had never heard this before. Now I am afraid I will never be able to say this prayer without hearing it.

It sounds like an outtake from Jesus Christ Superstar, especially with that fuzzy guitar opening. Better lyrics though.

Memory is a funny thing. When I read your post, I had no idea what you were talking about. Then I played the video and sang the whole thing without a wrong note. So it must be in my brain cloud, just like all the songs from "Hair" were when Raber brought home an old vinyl LP of that three years ago.

But beating Elvis belting out "How Great Thou Art"? Not a chance.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaDSaq2J6Cs

 

 

 

Lord, I was alive and alert in the early 1970's, but I have no memory at all of this God-awful thing.  Perhaps I have just suppressed it?

I'm nearly in the same boat as Fr. K - don't recall hearing it on the radio.   But do remember hearing it during mass a few times (so that's where it came from!), but it never caught on as some other settings of the Our Father did.  

I kind of like it.  Anyway, way better than the Dominique -nique -nique  thing by the poor Singing Nun. Wasn't Elvis in a movie with a singing nun?  (Or mybe it was Elvis singing not the nun). 

Sick guitar; unfortunate vocals.

Oh the girls in school uniforms and the sister in a modified habit brought back memories of my Catholic high school experience. Were we ever that young and innocent? Indeed, we were. 

Irene, Elvis was in a movie with Mary Tyler Moore, who played a nun, and she didn't leave the convent for him even though he had not yet grown fat and taken to wearing glittery jumpsuits. Poor Jeanne Deckers left the sisterhood and committed suicide; there's a documentary about her life, "Sister Soirie -- Sister Smile." (Claire, correct my French spelling, please.)

I don't think the Our Father or most other prayers make very good songs. They don't don't have regular rhythm and so don't fit what most people are used to singing. As a result, without the leadership of a skilled cantor, the congregation sounds like it's keening what ought to be a joyful noise. I have learned to give this up to God.

Anyhow, Sr. Janet's Our Father is no worse than "Here I Am, Lord," the first parts of which are so far down the register you feel like you feel like you're gargling, but you have to start down real low so you can hit the high notes at the end. (Or at least I do; I don't have that Roy Orbison range I had even 10 years ago.)

No worse than the "Perry Como Our Father" either. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4u9fpENhj4

It's a question of genre. If you like sentimental schlock songs, go with Perry Como. If you like bouncey pop / lite rock, Sister Janet's version will appeal. It's a terrible recording, so you have to allow for that.

Are there hip hop or rap versions of the Lord's Prayer? 

Today would have been Sœur Sourire's 80th birthday, if she had not committed suicide.

 

(The Our Father by Sr. Janet is no worse than the many other songs recorded by religious during that period.)

Are there hip hop or rap versions of the Lord's Prayer?

Are there! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_AuF8976sw

 

If you really want a throwback women with great impact, how about Joan Baez who was Mexican. Not only was she prominent in the peace movement and civil rights. She and Steve Jobs were lovers. Who would have thunk it? Her grandfather on her father's side was a former Catholic priest who became a Methodist Minister. She and Bob Dylan were involved toghether in the Peace movement and at one time were an item. She recently played songs from the Civil rights era for the president. If Joe K does not remember her then we will have to officially retire him. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Baez

And not just in English.  Polish hip-hop!

(Pending confirmation from someone who knows Polish....)

 

I find it hard to believe that anyone who attended mass in the US in the 70s and never heard Sr. Mead's Our Father.  It was very popular with the folk group in the parish in which I spent my grade school and high school years in the surburbs of the Philadelphia.  I was 10 in 1974.

The Missa Bossa Nova was also very popular with our folk group.

I find myself singing this one to myself alot (echoes and all!):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=323PL6pi1bI

 

"Mead didn’t stop teaching, writing, or performing music, though she did eventually leave the Sisters of Mercy."

Well there's a surprise. 

For what's her worth, her Wikipedia page seems to imply that she is still a nun, although who knows who wrote the entry or how accurate it is.

By the end of the song, the recording started to sound vaguely familar, as if maybe I had heard once or twice many years ago, but it was certainly no longer a staple either at Mass or on the radio by the time I was a child in the eighties.

 

Curious that in the supposedly depraved late-60's and early 70's, it wasn't unheardof to hear religion in music. A few songs from Godspell charted. "Jesus is Just Alright With Me." Stuff like that.

By the Reagan years, the only way a Christian singer would chart was by abandoning the genre altogether--and no doubt Amy Grant had pop chops, enough to get noticed, anyway.

Charlotte Church's recent commentary struck me:

The music business is "a male dominated industry with a juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality" and increasingly wants "sex objects that appear child-like", Church claimed in her lecture. Young, female are made "to present themselves as hypersexualised, unrealistic, cartoonish, as objects, reducing female sexuality to a prize you can win," she added. (BBC)

"When I was 19 or 20 I found myself in this position, being pressurised into wearing more and more revealing outfits. The lines that I had spun at me again and again - generally by middle-aged men - were: 'You look great, you've got a great body, why not show it off?'

We've traded in schlocky music for schlocky music executives promoting posers. All the snickers aside about Sr Janet, I don't think today's music scene is nearly as sophisticated as it was in her day.

You really think that that aspect of the music industry--the guys in suits manufacturing performers to move units--is all that new?

Oh, absolutely not. What's new is the crassness of the sex and the blatant misogyny. By the way, if some moderator would remove one of my above posts, maybe the one without the link, that would be great.

I'm sorry, Catholics. My dad was Welsh. They get excited about singing in choirs. We were Unitarians (on the fringes of, but still part of that Welsh Congregationalist tradition). And, in my view, this is how a hymn sounds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5mqR-ehY9

A hundred years ago, kids would get beaten for singing in this language. Now they can pack a stadium and sing to the glory of God. As we were all meant to do.

 

 

Eh... I suppose that, in a way, it would just be absurd to deny that there is obviouly an upbeat in the "crassness of the sex" (though I'd question whether misogyny is more blatant). I wonder, though, if we don't need to, as it were, "adjust for inflation" when it comes to crassness. And when we talk about the "crassness of the sex," we are pretty much always, always, always talking about the performance of women. With respect to popular music, men have been able to be crass for a pretty long time. I am not trying to deny that misogyny is at play in how women performers get packaged--women are more highly sexualized than men in pop music--but I am trying to point out that, regardless of presentation, women just get perceived differently than men when they are presented sexually. People thought it was crass when Elvis shook his hips, but I don't think people thought he was being manipulated by execs. The same is true for Brett Micahaels when he was out on stage humping his microphone stand. But when women grind on something... well, somehow it dominates the news cycle. I can't help but think of Scalia complaining about women who swear...

Also, if you only look at those examples of music that draw the most attention, you're bound to miss the breadth and depth of what's out there (and there's more out there than ever before). Further, sex and crassness don't always go together, and crassness might not always be just about sex. And why is crassness automatically bad? Crassness has its place. If you want to say that crassness has too much of a place, fine--but I suspect that its dominace has a lot to do with bluenoses hyping it.

 

 

 

I've been trying to remember an echo version of the Lord's Prayer that was very popular in my grade school masses in the 70s.  I found it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jmYRSchx0E#t=23

Sr. Juliana Garza.

Here's a fun website with many familiar (at least for me) of sounds from Church from the 70s.

http://www.folkmass.us/

Here's one I completely forgot about:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GEYuxK3eIw&feature=c4-overview&list=UUQy...

The young Mercy Sister who led us in song used to get us worked up into quite a frenzy with a competition between classes (who could echo her the loudest.)

(an aside -- that young Mercy Sister has gone on to become a significant voice/leader among women religious-- http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/global-sisters-explore-models-effec... )

 

Jack - I never knew where that echo Our Father came from ... it was used in parishes i belonged to, too, in that time period, but I never saw it in printed form.  As far as I can tell, it spread in true folk fashion, with a guitarist from one parish teaching it to guitarists in another parish.  In those days, college students coming back from Newman Centers during the summertime were transforming the music at a lot of parishes around here.  

While most of this material hasn't "made the cut" into general use today, we shouldn't underestimate the tranformative power of the movement that used this material in the early days of the liturgical renewal.  This was the stuff that was sung from mimeograph sheets and inexpensive booklets in church basements in the days of the upstairs organ / downstairs guitar masses.  And it laid the groundwork for further developments - the St. Louis Jesuits, Glory and Praise, the Dameans, and then the great burst of creativity in the late '70s and early '80s that began filling up the hardback hymnals that most of us have in our pews today.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TsL0DO-c1E

I think that the reason the Mead song is grating is because it is so inorganic: the vocal style is just grafted onto the fuzzed-out guitar without any effort at bridging the two things. It's the same reason why most classical/pop crossover acts don't work: the performers don't really embrace the musical idiom of the genre they're adopting, and so their productions just can't escape the realm of novelty songs (and that's what the Mead song is--a novelty piece; I think those were just a lot more popular in the 70s).

I think that there's a reason why the vast majority of pop Christian performers can't get crossover success. It's not the content of the lyrics per se, but rather that that content co-opts the music as a whole. Marshall McLuhan may be standing in line behind me, so I'd better be careful, but I think there's some essential misfire in how the message gets embedded in the medium.

Besides, as a wise man once observed: "All the best bands are affiliated with Satan."

Jack, we used to sing that when I was in grade school (mid to late '80s), and like Jim Pauwels I never knew (or thought to wonder) where it came from. Jim, I'm grateful for your comment. There's so much sneering at the music and worship styles of those who came of age during and just after Vatican II -- a lot of it coming from members of my generation. But I have very fond memories of praying with that music at liturgies that were, for me, both formative and "transformative." And I can't but be grateful for the people who worked so hard to give me an experience of God's love and encouraged me to participate fully in the Mass, even if they did it while wearing a guitar.

It doesn't help that the recordings are so often terrible. I have a hand-me-down CD of Carey Landry's album Hi God! -- a staple of my own elementary-school years -- and while I'd be happy to sing the songs with my kids, I can't stand the sound of his voice.

And none of this is to say I feel bad about giggling at Mead's hit song -- Abe is right, it's a novelty. So very 1970s.

Abe, interesting points on here. I think Sarah McLachlan's prayer of St. Francis falls flat in a similar way, but in that song, the lyrics that are sacrificed to the style. The punch of the prayer lies in the paradoxes, and these get lost in those breathy background responses: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFkjdFgqOY4

Then there's this, which speaks to Jim Pauwel's point about music getting into the church. It's fun, but seems so totally pat, all's it takes to get those ghetto kids in is some cool singing nuns. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sI8lS8hr-nY Shades of "Going My Way," where Bing Crosby sets those boys straight by forming a choir! Ah, were it that easy.

 

 

 

You are thinking of Dolores Hart, an actress but not a singer, who was Elvis's romantic interest in Loving You and King Creole (1957 and 1958, respectively).  In 1963 she entered the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis (Bethlehem, CT), where she still lives.

A novelty in retrospect - but not by design, I'd say. Ray Stevens's "The Streak" and Jim Stafford's "(I Don't Like) Spiders and Snakes," which played alongside Mead that year, were clearly conceived and written as humorous performances, the former an instant-response to a fad. Mead's intent, successful in that she completed it, was to write a rock mass of which this version of The Lord's Prayer was a part. My reflex as a survivor of seventies "culture" is to consign this to the bin holding all the rest of that decade's junk, and yet there is something about the sincerity and earnestness of Mead's effort that stops me from treating it as just a joke.

Granted, sincerity and earnestness can make for bad art, and nostalgia can cloud judgment. But as some have noted and Jack and Mollie have picked up on, performances like these informed the music at liturgies some of us came of age with. Around the time Mead's hit was waning, I was playing my saxophone at the 10 am folk mass, alongside a dozen other kids on clarinet, violin, piano, drums, guitar, and trombone, under the direction of a dedicated parishioner and semi-professional musician who transcribed "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord," "We Beseech Thee," and many other pieces for us on sheets of notebook paper. He, too, wore a guitar, while his son payed upright bass.

That video of Mead is hokey but it looks a lot like my experience. And though I do wish, so very much, that I could get the song out of my head, I'm not as inclined to be as contemptuously dismissive of it as I once might have been. Or maybe I'm just getting sentimental in my middle age.

Googling "dolores hart photos" yields a trove of pictures from both before and after professing her vows, including an "after" shot with the caption, "God is the bigger Elvis".  Considering his physique in his later years (Elvis's, that is), that's a fairly bold theological claim.  O gates, lift high your heads!  Grow higher, ancient doors!

I hear a little bit of the Doors' "Love Me Two Times" in the music of this Our Father.  (The lyrics, not so much.)  Maybe with some "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" thrown in.

If you hear the Doors in this, please post what you're drinkin' so we can all enjoy it. 

I have to say I thought it conjured a little Jefferson Airplane in the beginning.

70s gave us the greatest devotional song of all time, the inimitable Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In the Sky".  I still get all happy when I hear it on the car radio every once and a while.

I'm interested in the video presentation with the song. They certainly didn't have music videos as a matter of course in the 70's. Except for a Beatles movie. Speaking of which, it seems like sort of a day-in-the-life slice of Sr Janet's ministry.

That opening sequence looked like the beginning of a tv show. I was thinking this could cut into introducing Linc, Julie, and Pete.

Some praying, but only with students. Some music classes, but also walking around with those younger kids, a ministry of presence. No other sisters. This portrays a woman religious very much in apostolic ministry--how people saw sisters in the 70's no doubt.

Too bad we weren't hip on the New Evangelization in the 70's. And yes, I do wish it were as easy as forming a choir.

In Jean's link to the Welsh choir there can be found another link to the Oxford HS choirs singing "You Raise Me Up." Now THAT is good!