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Vatican Rock

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A new dispatch from the "everybody's a critic" department. The Vatican has released its list of the Top 10 Rock Albums of All Time.

According to the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano wrote in an editorial yesterday (Sunday): "A little handbook of musical resistance could be useful during this time of the year... [s]o as not to be totally overwhelmed, and to remember that an alternative exists, our modest guide can point you on the road to good music."

While the list is basically what you'd hear in heavy rotation on any "classic rock" station, it does make plain that Baby Boomers have fully infiltrated the Holy See. Male Boomers. White male boomers. It turns out that Catholic tastes are anything but catholic. There's only one group that contains any women, one Latino, one African-American. All groups are British, Irish, and American. Without further fanfare, here is the list:

The Beatles: "Revolver"
Pink Floyd: "The Dark Side of the Moon"
Oasis: "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?"
Michael Jackson: "Thriller"
U2: "Achtung Baby"
Fleetwood Mac: "Rumours"
Donald Fagen: "The Nightfly"
Carlos Santana: "Supernatural"
Paul Simon: "Graceland"
David Crosby: "If I Could Only Remember My Name"

It's a strange ranking, no? You can see why they might like Floyd's Dark Side -- "we don't need no education" or Carlos Santana's fluidly pagan spirituality. And, face it, it's a hoot to imagine the College of Cardinals rocking out like the Clintons to "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)."

And sure, you can see why such deeply spiritual songs didn't make it, like the Rolling Stones "Sympathy for the Devil," or Bob Dylan's "With God on Their Side," R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion," Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" or Tom Lehrer's "Vatican Rag."

And what about the Electric Prunes psychedelic rock Mass in F Minor? Or The Who's Tommy an album about spiritual searching and false charismatic leaders. Or Springsteen leading the mass singalong at the Church of Bruce?

And not one album by a woman? Did they forget that Aretha got her start singing gospel?

And only Anglophones? No Italians? No Abba?

Even stranger might be what was included. Why would an institution that depends on tithes rank as #1 an album whose lead song kvetches about excessive taxation? Or promote an album that throbs with worries about ghouls and monsters (an album that was actually banned along with Harry Potter at a neighborhood church)?

And seriously: Oasis, David Crosby and Donald Fagen?

Maybe the strangest inclusion is Achtung Baby (and not the more spiritually suffused War and Joshua Tree). The album's most famous song is the habitually misunderstood "One" -- a song about separation and disenchantment that's the #2 song played at American weddings after Noel Paul Stookey's "There is Love." It is simply impossible to imagine karaoke night in the Sistine Chapel with these lyrics:

Have you come here for forgiveness
Have you come to raise the dead
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head...

You gave me nothing
Now it's all I got...

You say
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can't be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt

But really, all this is sophistry. What business does the Vatican have in ranking rock albums anyway? Do rock critics rank papal edicts?

Well, perhaps they ought to. Having been a spare-time music writer for nearly 40 years, I guess the only thing left is for me to unveil my ranking of the Top 10 Papal edicts of all time (in chronological order):

Unam Sanctam (1302) - Boniface VIII asserts papal spiritual supremacy.

Summis desiderantes affectibus: (1484) -Innocent VIII explicitly grants authority for the persecution of witches, and to do whatever is necessary to get rid of them, leading to the publication of Misogyny's Greatest Hits album Malleus Maleficarum.

Inter Caetera (1493) - Alexander VI gleefully distributes all the land in the New World to Spain, never mind that there were actually already people there.

Exsurge Domine (1520) - which excommunicated Martin Luther, halting the Reformation in its tracks.

Cum Nimis Absurdum (1555) - in which Paul IV prohibited Jews from living in community with Christians, practicing any industry whatever, or owning any real estate.

Unigenitus (1713) - Clement IX condemns those rascally Jansenists in France.

Dominus ac Redemptor (1773) - Clement XIV "permanently" suppresses the Jesuits.

Pastor Aeternus (1871) - institutes papal infallibility. (He'd been fallible until the late 19th century...)

Humanae Vitae (1968) - Paul VI reaffirmed the church's traditional prohibition of contraception, leading to the neologism "technical virgin."

Then, finally, there's Humanae Salutis (1961), slightly out of chronological sequence, which convened the 21st ecumenical council. This was the Vatican's Sgt. Pepper, the high water mark of clerical openness. The Holy See never made another record equal to that one.

But the band didn't break up. They still play oldie concerts and hold weekly hootenannies. Sort of like the Beach Boys. Only with cooler outfits.