“Me and Jesus” was a hit back in 1972, coming in at number 98 on the Billboard Hot 100. This was the height of Contemporary Christian Music’s reign in America, when the “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell” soundtracks were consistently at the top of the charts, and Christian and secular bands alike laid down lyrics with Christian messages.
“Me and Jesus,” featured a simple melody and easy, Christian lyrics that now seem an ill fit for the contemporary music industry.
Yet Sundance Head’s soulful 2016 rendition of the song awed the crowds as he performed on the 20th episode of “The Voice”. Hundreds of hands waved in the air as Jason “Sundance” Head sang, “Jesus brought me through all of my troubles/Jesus brought me through all of my trials/Jesus brought me through all of my heartaches/And I know that Jesus ain’t gonna’ forsake me now.”
“Me and Jesus” was number 1 on the iTunes top 200 chart before the man was even done singing.
Head’s performance was about as far removed from contemporary pop music culture as possible, particularly with his old-time country fashion, bluegrass twang, and Christian lyrics. On paper, no one would ever think this could connect with a modern audience—so much so, in fact, that the show’s producers had reservations about Head playing the song.
But it did connect, and America loved it. So much so, in fact, that Sundance Head went on to dominate and win “The Voice”.
The question is: what, exactly, did Head tap into that had listeners all over the country raising their hands as if they were in church? How did this Christian song from the 70s come to such popularity in 2016?
C.S. Lewis once famously wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” It’s in this insight that we might find the answer.
That longing for another world has been the mark of 2016—a year so filled with tragedy, with contentious politics, with tiresome anger and hatred and violence, that the need for something higher, for something bigger and better and more beautiful has welled up in the populace.
Head, a Christian, believes in that message.
But his success on “The Voice,” and, now, in the music industry, lies in more than the physics of a bad year. The particular success of “Me and Jesus,” lies in the spiritual migration that’s currently taking place across America.
It’s no secret that the U.S. is moving away from its theological roots. The suspicion of overarching metanarratives—theories or stories that explain everything—has been the mark of our postmodern age. The idea of any one group holding “the truth” is now a difficult one to swallow for many.
Thus, Christianity is no longer the norm.
But as America continues to move away from organized religion, the country is simultaneously moving toward spirituality. And that is what made Head’s performance resonate so deeply with his listeners.
People still have that longing. They still want something more beautiful, more perfect and pure. And judging by the members of the audience who were standing, clapping, and even teary-eyed, Head delivered just that.
The lyrics of “Me and Jesus,” speak of attaining that beauty outside the walls of the church, of making an altar not from gold or mahogany, but from a stump, and the man who worships is described as having been a sinner, a drunk, and a loser. And, of course, this last line, repeated throughout the song, is what really got the crowd going.
“Me and Jesus, we got our own thing goin’/We don’t need anybody to tell us what it’s all about.”
Blake Shelton later Tweeted about the wild success of the song, writing, “You think people have lost their faith? Wrong. Congrats @sundancehead. #1 song in the land.”
The core of Christianity lies the life of Christ—a life spent helping the poor, walking through the muck, and suffering with the lowly. It was a life spent outside the locked doors of the church. It was a life that changed all lives—not only those of the religious.
Christianity has such potential for good—the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world, for example. But, as a whole, Christianity has been bogged down by bureaucracy, by man-made tradition, by prejudice and anger—all things Christ fought against.
Head’s triumph may be one of many signs that the country is about to undergo a spiritual transformation as Americans seek a kind of unity and joy that the normal world simply cannot give them.
Perhaps Blake Shelton was right. Perhaps America has not, in fact, lost its faith. Perhaps the growing numbers of the young who are leaving their church membership behind aren’t indicative of the collapse of Christianity, but of its rebirth as something closer to its origins—a celebration of love, kindness, and charity, and a worship of a God who embodies these traits in perfection.
And it's likely that we're about to see a lot more of that in the music industry as record labels catch on.
Head is now the recipient of 100,000 dollars and a record deal with Universal Music Group at age 38, and likely has an impressive career ahead. He is expected to begin working on his first professional music album, which we may have a taste of as early as January 2017.
Whether Head will continue on with his own brand of refreshing Christian song is unknown, but if he does, it will likely keep him atop the wave of spiritual joy and hope that may be cresting across the nation in 2017.