1. Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen
Hallelujah is a classic song exploring the themes of regret, reconciliation and understanding, and ultimately, peace. Rich with references to the Old Testament Scriptures, this track is a lament about love and loss. Yet, in Hebrew, “hallelujah” can be interpreted as jubilating at praising God.
Leonard Cohen examines the human condition through the lens of biblical narratives to provide solace, comfort, and counsel to the broken-hearted, which is all of us at some point. He released the song in 1984, and countless musicians have recorded the work, each adding a voice to the chorus of talents who’ve cried out “hallelujah.”
2. Hold On, Help Is On The Way – Whitney Houston
Hold On, Help Is On The Way is a testament to Whitney Houston’s celebratory singing style. The tune wears its heart out in the open with simple yet heartfelt lyrics like, “See I’ve tried it and I know, Help is on the way.” Selling eight million copies worldwide, this was Houston’s third soundtrack album. Written for the 1996 comedy-drama, The Preacher’s Wife, starring Houston and Denzel Washington, this song was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Original Musical, or Comedy Score.
3. Down to the River to Pray – Alison Krauss
Down To The River To Pray has been called a spiritual and a hillbilly hymn. Alison Krauss made the work timeless yet contemporary and it gained a cult following when it was featured in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Also known as The Good Old Way, Down In The Valley To Pray, and Come, Let Us All Go Down, the title is as mysterious as the song’s origins. Who created this work? Some attribute it to Indigenous American Peoples’ pieces repurposed with Christian lyrics. Or perhaps the tune’s a variation of a work by George H. Allen from the Slave Songbook.
4. One Day – Matisyahu
Singer, songwriter, reggae vocalist, Indie rocker, and beatboxer Matisyahu was the creative talent behind One Day. In an interview, he said, “It is an anthem of hope with a big beat, the kind of song that makes you bob your head and open your heart at the same time.”
He performed this track at an extraordinary concert, courtesy of collaborating with Koolulam, an Israeli social-musical initiative that hosts monumental events. The evening was the basis for a unique performance as Koolulam brought together 3,000 strangers on February 14, 2018, to sing One Day in three tongues.
5. Amazing Grace – Judy Collins
Amazing Grace has been reckoned to be performed 10 million times annually. John Newton, former enslaver, penned this beloved gospel standard of many Black churches. The story is that when his ship was caught in a gale, he bargained, pleaded, and prayed with the Almighty. And he found grace. Amazing!
Newton captained three more voyages before he retired and was ordained as an Anglican priest. He wrote 280 hymns, including Amazing Grace. It has been sung by Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston, Ray Charles, and LeAnn Rimes, among others.
6. Shackles (Praise You) – Mary Mary
In 2000, the gospel singer-songwriter duo Mary Mary released what many consider their signature track in the states. Critics call Shackles (Praise You) “one of the pioneer and trend-setting songs of urban gospel music.” The title might suggest getting people under control, but to hear Mary Mary sing this song is to witness prayer.
This is sung in faith amid everyday joys, problems, and pressures. It is a modern take on a timeless conversation between a supplicant and a Higher Power. It kicks. It’s got a beat. Can we get an Amen to that?
7. G.O.D. (Gaining One’s Definition) – Common Feat. Ce-Lo
When an artist is called one of the “Top 20 Most Woke Rappers Dropping Wisdom,” it makes us want to sit up and take notes. G.O.D. (Gaining One’s Definition) appears on the album Thisisme Then: The Best Of Common, which came out in 2007 on Relativity Records. It covers Common’s early rap music and has singles from his first three albums, plus High Expectations from the Soul In The Hole soundtrack.
8. The Wind – Yusuf / Cat Stevens
Cat Stevens takes the topics of fate and spirituality as his subjects. While exploring different philosophical systems, his journey led him to convert to Yusuf. He told Rolling Stone in a 2022 interview, “My goal was to be able to detach myself from my physical surroundings and material things. I was very earnestly searching.” This beautiful song is a breath of fresh air and a form of audible prayer and meditation.
9. Praying – Kesha
For anyone emerging after a hard-fought battle, this 2017 tune is a good anthem for you. Praying tells the story of a woman who has been abused and narrates how she finds her inner strength and learns to stand up for herself. The singer tells the world “I’m proud of who I am.” It is also about hoping prayer will lead the abuser to realize the wrong that person committed. This track is a plea, an acknowledgment, and a cry from the heart. It’s a statement and standing up for yourself while acknowledging past pain and owning your agency.
10. Everlasting Arms – Vampire Weekend
Inspired by a hymn from the late 1890s Leaning On The Everlasting Arms, lead vocalist Ezra Koenig, who was raised in the Jewish tradition, discussed the idea of seeking. He stated, “It’s a beautiful idea, being part of a community. But you lose some sense of your ability to reason and individuality when you become part of a group. Religion is a great jumping-off point for thinking about how to live, period.”
11. Believe – Lenny Kravitz
Believe, the second single from Lenny Kravitz’s 1993’s Are You Gonna Go My Way, is a rock ballad with string orchestration that finds the superstar singing about the power of faith. He explained on a Reddit AMA that the song is “about the power of God, self, and positive thinking, which all equates to love.”
Its lyrics concern one being able to achieve freedom and “eternal grace” if they believe in themselves and put their faith in God. Picture, “I am you… And you are me, Why’s that such… a mystery?, If you want it… you got to believe, Who are we?, We’re who we are, Riding on, The great big star.” This track was put out by Virgin Records and reached number 60 on the Billboard Hot 100.
12. One of Us – Joan Osborne
Lenny Bruce joked that the problem with the parable of Jesus is that we get the wrong lesson. We pick up on the nepotism angle. But suppose the Higher Power presents like One Of Us? “Just a slob like one of us, Just a stranger on the bus.”
Here, Joan Osborne invites us to imagine viewing each individual not as Jesus but as someone just as sacred: a unique individual. We’re all an intricate and necessary part of the mystery in our flawed, messy, and inarticulate humanity, and everyone deserves understanding, care, love, and acceptance.
13. Can Anybody Hear Me – Meredith Andrews
The connection to the sacred. It might be described as a candle flame, providing illumination, beauty, and warmth. Yet, for all that, it flickers. This is for those who’ve experienced a connection with a Higher Power and yet felt a slackening of faith. For those times when, as Meredith Andrews explains, you walk through the valleys and feel distant from that Divine wisdom and love.
“Wondering when You’ll visit me again,” she sings, which is a part of prayer, a constant conversation, even in the silence—perhaps, and paradoxically and poignantly so, especially in the silence. “When will You come?, If there is anything at all.”
14. God’s Gonna Cut You Down – Johnny Cash
Don’t be arrogant, because as The Man In Black’s song title says, God’s Gonna Cut You Down. Also known as Sermon, God’s Gonna Cut ‘Em Down, Run On, and God Almighty’s Gonna Cut You Down, this tune warns the wicked that there will be repercussions for evil acts. The bill on one’s deeds is due, and this traditional folk song was first recorded by the Golden Gate Quartet in 1946. Since then, it’s been covered by musical artists in a variety of styles, including Odetta, Elvis Presley, Blind Boys Of Alabama, Tom Jones, and Marilyn Manson.
15. I Pray – Amanda Perez
The end. Pain. Loss. We all deal with existential questions: what is the meaning of life and death? The inquiry: What next? What happens after death for both the one who has passed and those who are left behind? The anguish of missing a lost loved one is as honest and raw as any physical pain.
In this 2004 R&B song, Amanda Perez speaks to those she has loved who are now deceased, telling them she’ll honor and never forget them. While she acknowledges a desire that some things could be different, the track expresses a yearning for a time when there’s a reunion and reconnection. It is a wish that resonates.
16. Would You Harbor Me – Sweet Honey in the Rock
Sweet Honey In The Rock brings their inimitable, harmonic, transcendent, and warm sound to the question: who do we harbor? It’s simple to be understanding of those with whom we sympathize. But what about the others? Some would say those others are our teachers. As Sweet Honey In The Rock sings, “Would you harbor a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew?, A heretic, convict, or spy?, Would you harbor a runaway woman or child?, A poet, a prophet, a king?”
17. Prayer for Humanity – India.Arie
India.Arie captures what many of us feel, whether we are Secular Humanists, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, or the myriad and rich indigenous native traditions. Here are her meditation and lyrics for Prayer for Humanity: “That we know that nobody really, Wins the war (really wins the war), And every leader knows, What power is really for.”
However, India.Arie doesn’t leave us with uncertainty and disharmony. The track finishes with this hopeful refrain, “That we can live in harmony, See ourselves as a family, This is our prayer (this is our prayer).”
And this is why Prayer For Humanity is music to our ears. Besides winning our adoration, respect from critics, and love from fans, India.Arie has also been honored with four Grammy Awards, including Best R&B Album, and she has sold over ten million records worldwide.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.