1. ZZ Top, "Jesus Just Left Chicago" (available on Tres Hombres)
After His resurrection and ascension, Jesus apparently develops an intense interest in courting the disciples of R&B. Over machine-tooled, loping blues, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons describes the further travels of Jesus, as He returns to Earth and wanders from the Windy City to New Orleans, stopping off in Mississippi, where "muddy water turned to wine."
2. Harry Nilsson, "I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City" (available on Harry)
Following a rumor and his own secret wishes, Harry Nilsson packs his bags and heads to NYC, because he's tired of "seeing my prayers goin' unanswered." In real life, Nilsson had hoped this sly rip-off of his own cover of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" would become the theme to Midnight Cowboy, but just like in the song, Nilsson knocked on Jesus' back door and got no reply. But at least he was still in the city, "where I've always wanted to be." The Lord works in mysterious ways.
3. The Replacements, "Can't Hardly Wait" (available on Pleased To Meet Me)
If Harry Nilsson couldn't find the Lord in the city, that may be because He was hanging with Paul Westerberg of The Replacements, who confides that "Jesus rides beside me / He never buys any smokes." Is He making a stand against tobacco abuse, or is He just a cheapskate?
4. Green Day, "Jesus Of Suburbia" (available on American Idiot)
Could Christ be reborn as a latchkey kid, hooked on "soda pop and Ritalin," and suffering for the sins of his party-minded single mom? Green Day certainly thinks so, and the fact that the hero of this miniature punk-rock opera runs away from home and chants "I don't care if you don't care" implies that this whole savior business isn't part of the new Jesus' plans.
5. Swervedriver, "The Other Jesus" (available on Ejector Seat Reservation)
Maybe it isn't that Jesus has returned to Earth and started doing new stuff; instead, a multitude of Jesuses are running around providing individualized salvation. In Swervedriver's swirly dream-pop classic, bandleader Adam Franklin grapples with his "schemes" and "sins" and what they might mean to his immortal soul, but then he lucks out and sees "the other Jesus walk down my street." Presumably this one will be more lenient.
6. The Vaselines, "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam" (available on The Way Of The Vaselines)
The lyric doesn't reveal the cynicism inside—Nirvana's cover changed the title to "Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam"—but The Vaselines' crotchety response to the traditional religious song has the Lord rejecting the singer. Would our man J.C. do that? The Bible says no, verily. In any case, it's hella catchy, in a dour, Scottish way.
7. Wilco, "Christ For President" (available on Mermaid Avenue)
Woody Guthrie wrote the words, Billy Bragg passed them on to Wilco, and Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett wrote the hootenanny stomp that suggests how Jesus would make a great president, because He'd provide "a job and a pension for young and old." But if nominated, would He run? If elected, would He serve?
8. Beck, "He's A Mighty Good Leader" (available on One Foot In The Grave)
Re-working a traditional gospel song made popular by seminal bluesman Skip James, Beck moans a haunting lo-fi acoustic ode to Jesus, who spends His time these days leading people "all the way, Lord, from up to heaven." When Beck sings, "He led my mother," the mournful tone overwhelms the words of praise.
9. Ryan Adams, "Jesus (Don't Touch My Baby)" (available on Demolition)
Continuing the "Jesus as angel of death" theme, Ryan Adams sings this syrup-slow, spacey song about how much he loves his girl, and how much he wants Jesus to stay the hell away from her. "Jesus don't know you / He was just saying 'Hi,'" Adams whispers, desperately trying to keep his voice down so that He won't overhear.
10. Tom Waits, "Jesus Gonna Be Here" (available on Bone Machine)
A song-length version of that old bumper-sticker "Jesus is coming… look busy!", Tom Waits' spare gospel-blues number swerves between anticipation and hyperbole, as Waits promises He'll cover us all "with a blanket from the moon." Even with lines like "I've been so good / except for drinking," Waits' simple, only halfway ironic expression of faith impressed actual gospel artists like Ashley Cleveland and The Five Blind Boys Of Alabama enough that they've both covered the song.
11. King Missile, "Jesus Was Way Cool" (available on Mystical Shit)
Not so much a new adventure as a tweaking of the old ones, King Missile's sardonic spoken-word favorite reminds us that He could turn water into wine. But did you know that He could turn wheat into marijuana, or sugar into cocaine? In addition to walking on water, He "swam on the land," and if He'd wanted to, He could've played guitar better than Hendrix, scored more goals than Wayne Gretsky, and baked the most delicious cake in the world. All bandleader John S. Hall can do is concede Jesus' awesomeness. "No wonder there are so many Christians."
12. Ministry, "Jesus Built My Hotrod" (available on Psalm 69)
He made the moon and the stars, so why is it a stretch to think He made Ministry's racing machine? The slurred lyrics—courtesy of guest vocalist Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers—don't get too specific until the spoken-word bit at the end: "Jesus built my car / it's a love affair / mainly Jesus and my hot rod." Whenever possible, opt for the "Redline/Whiteline Version"—at eight minutes, it thrashes long enough to give even Christ Himself a bad case of hesher-neck.
13. The Screaming Blue Messiahs, "Jesus Chrysler Drives A Dodge" (available on Bikini Red)
The long-forgotten late-'80s Britpop giants The Screaming Blue Messiahs name-checked their namesake on a storming call-and-response anthem that ties together Jesus, American capitalism, and how much fun betraying your principles can be. "The Virgin Mary's in a Travelodge," bandleader Bill Carter gasps, and what she's planning on doing there will probably necessitate a change of moniker.
14. Carrie Underwood, "Jesus, Take The Wheel" (available on Some Hearts)
Lots of people ask Jesus for help when times are tough, but Carrie Underwood's team-written smash country hit gets specific about what He needs to do. She's spinning out on the highway with a baby in her car's back seat, and she's asking Jesus to turn into the spin on her behalf so that she can straighten out and make it to the shoulder. And while He's at it, if He could fix the mess that made her a distracted single mom in the first place, that'd be great, too.
15. Spacemen 3, "Walking With Jesus" (available on Sound Of Confusion)
Lots of people walk with Jesus figuratively—just check out sales of those "footprints" posters for proof—and maybe Jason "Spaceman" Pierce is, too. But his Jesus isn't carrying him, He's listening to Pierce sing about the impossibility of giving up earthly delights, even if it means going to the southern underworld. Cue the feedback freak-out, baby.
16. The Velvet Underground, "Jesus" (available on The Velvet Underground)
Ultimately, the Jesus of today would probably be doing what the Jesus of Biblical times did: trying to save souls. Even the soul of a degenerate heroin addict and S&M devotee like Lou Reed, who, in the starkest, loveliest moment of The Velvet Underground's starkest, loveliest album, sends up a simple prayer: "Jesus, help me find my proper place / help me in my weakness, 'cause I've fallen out of grace." When He's done driving cars, saving the blues, and ferrying people to the land of the dead, He'll get right on that, Lou.