John the Revelator (song)

"John the Revelator" is a traditional gospel blues call and response song.[2] Music critic Thomas Ward describes it as "one of the most powerful songs in all of pre-war acoustic music ... [which] has been hugely influential to blues performers".[3] American gospel-blues musician Blind Willie Johnson recorded "John the Revelator" in 1930 and subsequently a variety of artists have recorded their renditions of the song, often with variations in the verses and music.

"John the Revelator"
John the Revelator single cover.jpg
Single by Blind Willie Johnson
Released1930 (1930)
RecordedAtlanta, Georgia, April 20, 1930
GenreGospel blues

The song's title refers to John of Patmos in his role as the author of the Book of Revelation. A portion of that book focuses on the opening of seven seals and the resulting apocalyptic events. In its various versions, the song quotes several passages from the Bible in the tradition of American spirituals.

Blind Willie Johnson versionEdit

Blind Willie Johnson recorded "John the Revelator" during his fifth and final recording session for Columbia Records in Atlanta, Georgia on April 20, 1930. Accompanying Johnson on vocal and guitar is Willie B. Harris (sometimes identified as his first wife), who sings the response parts of the song. Their vocals add a "sense of dread and foreboding" to the song, along with the chorus line "Who's that a writin', John the Revelator" "repeated like a mantra".[3]

Johnson's lyrics reference a number of passages from the Bible:

[call] Well who's that writin'? [response] John the Revelator[4]
Who's that writin'? John the Revelator
Who's that writin'? John the Revelator
A book of the seven seals[5]

[call] Tell me what's John writin'? [response] Ask the Revelator
What's John writin'? Ask the Revelator
What's John writin'? Ask the Revelator
A book of the seven seals

Well who art worthy, thousands cried holy[6]
Bound for some, Son of our God[7]
Daughter of Zion, Judah the Lion[8]
He redeemeth, and bought us with his blood[9]

[Repeat verses 1 & 2]

John the Revelator, great advocator[10]
Gets 'em on the battle of Zion
Lord, tellin' the story, risin' in glory
Cried, "Lord, don't you love some I"

[Repeat verses 1 & 2]

Well Moses to Moses, watchin' the flock[11]
Saw the bush where they had to stop[12]
God told Moses, "Pull off your shoes"[13]
Out of the flock, well you I choose[14]

[Repeat verses 1 & 2]

The song was released as one of the last singles by Johnson and is included on numerous compilations, including the 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music.[2][15][16]

Son House renditionEdit

Delta blues musician Son House recorded several a cappella versions of "John the Revelator" in the 1960s. His lyrics for a 1965 recording explicitly reference three theologically important events: the Fall of Man, the Passion of Christ, and the Resurrection.

[call] Who's that writin'? [response] John the Revelator[4]
Tell me who's that writin'? John the Revelator
Tell me who's that writin'? John the Revelator
Wrote the book of the seven seals[5]

[call] Who's that writin'? [response] John the Revelator
Tell me who's that writin'? John the Revelator
Well who's that writin'? John the Revelator
Wrote the book of the seven seals

You know God walked down in the cool of the day[17]
Called Adam by his name[18]
And he refused to answer
Because he's naked and ashamed[19]

[Repeat verses 1 & 2]

You know Christ had twelve apostles[20]
And three he led away[21]
He said, "Watch with me one hour,[22]
'till I go yonder and pray."

[Repeat verses 1 & 2]

Christ came on Easter morning
Mary and Martha went down to see[23]
He said, "Go tell my disciples[24]
To meet me in Galilee."[25]

[Repeat verses 1 & 2]

This version was included on the 1965 album The Legendary Son House: Father of the Folk Blues (Columbia). An alternate version from the same session is found on the 1992 reissue Son House — Father of the Delta Blues: The Complete 1965 Sessions (Columbia).

Renditions by other artistsEdit

"John the Revelator" has been recorded by a variety of artists, often with different songwriter credits.[26] English electronic music band Depeche Mode adapted the song for their 2006 album Playing the Angel. Released as a double-sided single "John the Revelator / Lilian", it is credited to Martin Gore. He described it as "a heavily re-interpreted old gospel tune about the author of the Book of Revelation". The band rejects the original's unwavering faith with the response "Armageddon? Gee, thanks."[27]

References and notesEdit

  1. ^ Johnson's original 78 & 1993 Columbia Complete CD don't list a writer; House's 1965 Columbia LP shows "Public Domain" & 1992 Complete DC lists "Traditional/Arranged by Son House"
  2. ^ a b Sleeve notes from Dark Was the Night by Blind Willie Johnson, Columbia/Mojo Working Blues 1998
  3. ^ a b Ward, Thomas. "Blind Willie Johnson: 'John the Revelator' – Review". AllMusic. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Revelation 1:1-3 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
  5. ^ a b Revelation 5:1 And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
  6. ^ Revelation 4:8 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
  7. ^ Luke 1:35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
  8. ^ Revelation 5:5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
  9. ^ Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
  10. ^ 1 John 2:1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
  11. ^ Exodus 3:1 Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
  12. ^ Exodus 3:2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
  13. ^ Exodus 3:4-5 And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
  14. ^ Exodus 3:10 Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
  15. ^ Keefer, Jane. Folk Music - An Index to Recorded Resources
  16. ^ Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume 2: Social Music
  17. ^ Genesis 3:8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
  18. ^ Genesis 3:9 And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
  19. ^ Genesis 3:10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
  20. ^ Luke 6:13 And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles.
  21. ^ Matthew 26:36-38 Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
  22. ^ Matthew 26:40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
  23. ^ Matthew 28:1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.
  24. ^ Matthew 28:5-7 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.
  25. ^ Matthew 26:32 But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. A variety of spiritual meanings have been attached to this line (see, for example, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-07-25. Retrieved 2008-09-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)).
  26. ^ "Blind Willie Johnson: 'John the Revelator" – Also Performed By". AllMusic. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  27. ^ Fortner, Stephen (November 1, 2005). "Depeche Mode: The Grand Architects of Electronic Pop Play It Analog on Playing the Angel". Keyboard.