Presently I am reading Amazing Grace, The Story of America's Most Beloved Song by Steve Turner, author of some of the best articles, books and interviews in the history of Rock-n-Roll and a Christ follower. His bio as a music journalist is quite impressive (here).
The book is a biography of John Newton's life in-as-much as the incidents in Newton's life shaped the making of this song. It then shows how the theology of the song shaped Newton's life, including his fight against slavery. Lastly, it follows the song through its many incarnations and changes, along with the artists that brought fame to it. It is a fascinating story of a fascinating song, one that resonates in Native American reservations, cathedrals, ghettos, bars and gated communities. It is a song (and story) shared by the Christian Right and Secular Left, all wanting a part the legacy of John Newton and his disciple William Wilberforce.
As I read the book, I found out some fun facts about the song you may not know- most featured in the appendices:
- The song was featured in 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers and 1982's Star Trek II, along with other films such as Tommy Boy, L.A. Story, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (missed that one).
- It was unknown outside of church circles until the 1969 film Alice's Restaurant popularized it within the folk and counter-culture crowds.
- James Taylor, Placebo, Jill Scott, Bob Dylan, The Beastie Boys and Afroman have referenced Amazing Grace in their own recordings.
- You can buy Amazing Grace Bar BQ and Amazing Grace Bath Gel.
- Amazing Grace was performed at the funerals of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Richard Nixon, Joe DiMaggio, JFK Jr, Sonny Bono, Barry Goldwater and Alex Haley.
- Bob Dylan, U2, Deep Purple, Phish, The Eagles, Mary j. Blige and Sinead O'Connor have performed the song, but not released it (oh, to get hear a few of those versions).
- If you are visiting Perrysville, Ohio you can stop by Amazing Grace Llamas.
- If you are in Ithaca, NY you can sleep at the Amazing Grace B & B (serving only organic food).
- It has been recorded and released by these artists: Ray Charles, Destiny's Child, Robbie Robertson (from The Band), Jeff Beck, Bela Fleck, Pras, Dropkick Murphys (one of my favorites- and eventual ringtone), KC and the Sunshine Band, Ani Difranco (great version!), Allen Ginsburg, Kronos Quartet, Lemonheads, Arlo Guthrie, Willie Nelson, Yes, Throwing Muses, Bryan Ferry, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, Rod Stewart, Judy Collins (probably the most popular rendition recorded), The Faces, Merle Haggard, Jerry Garcia, Daniel Lanois, Jonathan Richman, Christina Aguilera, Sufjan Stevens, Victor Wooten and The Blind Boys of Alabama (plus hundreds more).