Excited to offer up the following taste of the new issue of The Mockingbird:

“The song that launched a thousand sermons” is one way to describe Don Henley’s 1989 single “The Heart of the Matter”. Mark our words: the composition will outlive anything else the ornery Walden Pond advocate has written, “Hotel California” included—for no other reason than the fact that it still gets routinely name-checked in Sunday sermons across the world, more than 25 years after it was released. Of course, it is a great song. Even those who harbor reservations about The Eagles (e.g., Jeff Lebowski) recognize its power; such is the universal appeal of forgiveness. (The cover version by India.Arie is particularly good). But there is something curious about the tune’s enduring stature, especially in religious circles. Aren’t there any other pop songs about forgiveness?

The answer is yes, but not as many as one might hope. Given its origin in the blues, rock n roll, and pop music more generally, comes by its emotional palette honestly: desire, frustration, hurt, despair, sadness, anger—these are the primary colors of the form. There are gazillions of songs that plead for a second chance (“I Want You Back”), gazillions of songs of repentance and regret. There are gazillions more about standing one’s ground, about enough being enough. But forgiveness itself is different matter. Not exactly the sexiest of subjects. An anthem about forgiveness will not get a party started—it may even spoil one. Revenge is much more apt to get fists pumping. Or maybe it’s just too hard to do forgiveness justice in less than four minutes without sounding trite (not that that’s stopped anyone before…). Whatever the case, examples are few and far between. With that in mind, here are a few options for your listening pleasure:

1. “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” – Irma Thomas. One of Randy Newman’s earliest compositions believe it or not, as well as one of Irma “Queen of New Orleans” Thomas’ signature tunes, this 1964 single is as good a wedding sermon as has been written. Love = forgiveness, pure and simple. It’s a sentiment that is as true (and countercultural) as Thomas makes it sound here. The song was used to stunning if ultimately heartbreaking effect in the second episode of BBC’s Black Mirror.

2. “Human” – The Human League. A pocket synth-opera of romantic reconciliation, League mastermind Phil Oakey takes the “I’m only human” trope and nails it to the wall. “Born to make mistakes” is more like it. That is, just because it’s in his nature to be hurtful does not somehow excuse his wrongdoing. The cherry on top comes in the bridge, when female foil Joanne Catherall grants the singer forgiveness and then asks for it herself. A beautiful picture of the healing that can ensue in a ‘low anthropology’ situation where culpability is shared.

3. “Sweet Lady Genevieve” – The Kinks. Again, pleas for forgiveness from a jilted lover are a dime a dozen in pop music, which makes Ray Davies’ affecting sojourn on the underrated Preservation Vol 1 that much more special. One prominent critic called the song “the real candidate for Davies’ forgotten masterpiece” and you can see where he’s coming from. True to form, Ray hides behind a character (the affable Tramp) to convey his emotions, but this time he’s is more transparent than usual, aiming his words at his estranged wife Rasa. Sincere but not morose, and featuring some wonderful harmonies from brother Dave, “Sweet Lady Genevieve” boasts one of The Kinks’ best latter-day melodies.

03f353ce564975c9cd14e2eb0fd97f514. “Have Mercy on the Criminal” – Elton John. A nice change-up from the romantic hijinks documented in most of these songs, Bernie Taupin came up with one of his most menacing and compassionate lyrics (a difficult combination), and Elton ran with it. The arrangement is bonkers, yet lends the death-row theme surprising gravitas. You can tell everyone involved is engaged in what they’re doing. No wonder the song is one of Elton’s favorite album tracks from his early 70s glory years.

5. “All Is Forgiven” – Jellyfish. Speaking of bonkers, this manic track from San Francisco power-pop heroes’ second record turns up the eccentricity to 11—the Queen-sized back-up vocals are particularly over the top—but manages to hang on to the titular pronouncement, which is repeated throughout. “Though he soured the milk of human kindness/ All is forgiven”. Would have loved to see where the band went from there, but alas, the song proved to be a pipe dream.

6. “The Good Son” – Nick Cave. All of the songs on this list deal with forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean they all venerate it. Cave’s characteristically dyspeptic take on the Elder Brother in the Prodigal Son makes the offense of Christ’s parable plain. Forgiveness as an affront to decency and deserving, one which inspires resentment, agony, and even hatred—as you might expect, it’s not the easiest song on here to listen to.

7. “Sweet Forgiveness” – Iris Dement. One of the many highlights of the Arkansas native’s debut record, “Sweet Forgiveness” is a work of such jaw-dropping profundity that it belongs in every church musician’s back pocket, offertory-wise.

8. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances” – Daniel Johnston. Kurt Cobain’s favorite troubadour set Ephesians 4 to music and the result was one of his most beloved tunes. The command to forgive may be the height of the law, but in Johnston’s fractured hands, the plainspoken truth of the Pauline edict shines like a beacon of hope to those who know how painful the reality of scorekeeping in a relationship can be.

9. “You Are Forgiven” – Anaïs Mitchell. Now we’re getting personal. Mitchell wrote this for her father and included it on her stellar 2012 record, Young Man in America. But the intention hardly matters when the listener is this directly and poetically addressed. Mitchell’s slightly off-kilter persona may require a couple of listens to get used to, but if you can stick with her, the dividends are tremendous. It has become a true Mockingbird favorite: “Everything you should have said/ Everything you said instead/ You are/ You are forgiven”.

Bob_at_Easel10. “A Quick One, While He’s Away” – The Who. Pete Townshend’s dry run for Tommy may be slightly silly in places, but this mini-opera—about a women who cheats on her absent husband with “Ira the Engine-Driver”—contains a few of his band’s greatest moments, chief among them being the final two minutes, where all the guys repeat the chorus of “You Are Forgiven”. Wes Anderson fans will recognize the song from Rushmore, where it soundtracks the montage of Max and Blume’s escalating acts of antagonism, an inspired juxtaposition.

11. “I Forgive You” – Maria McKee. Oddly enough, there’s an Anderson connection to this one as well: the key musical moment in Wes’ debut film, Bottle Rocket, belongs to Love’s “Alone Again Or”, one of the only tracks from that band’s 1967 album Forever Changes not written not by bandleader Arthur Lee. Instead it was penned by a guy named Bryan MacLean, who also happens to be Maria McKee’s considerably older half-brother. He dropped out of the psychedelic world to pursue sacred music, and little sis actually cut her teeth on some of the Gospel tunes he wrote–before she came to prominence herself as the singer for 80s college rockers Lone Justice. But this song, from her 1993’s classic (and terrifically titled) solo record You Gotta Sin to Get Saved says it all. Essentially an update of Irma Thomas’ defense of what the world calls being a doormat, Maria has the pipes to make her unfashionable statement ring out.

12. “True Love Tends to Forget” – Bob Dylan. 1978’s Street Legal was the first place where signs of Dylan’s interest in Christianity made it onto tape, and looking back, this ode to absolution constitutes some uncanny foreshadowing. Favorite quartet would have to be: “You belong to me, baby, without any doubt/ Don’t forsake me, baby, don’t sell me out/ Don’t keep me knockin’ about from Mexico to Tibet/ True love, true love, true love tends to forget.”

13. “So Long You Pretty Thing” – Spiritualized. If the majority of the songs on this list are horizontally oriented—forgiveness from other human beings—this one finds Jason Pierce confessing his exhaustion and desperation, asking Jesus himself for some clemency, or a “reason to be clear”. But unlike with so many of his band’s spiritually inclined tunes, Pierce seems to find an answer here. It comes in the form of a truly triumphant chorus, one that bids farewell to old sources of comfort and welcomes the New. “So long you pretty thing/ God save your little soul/ The music that you played so hard/ Ain’t on your radio/ All your dreams and diamond rings/ And all that rock and roll can bring/ So long, so long.” Angelic.

For more Forgiveness-related goodness, order your copy of issue 5 today.