Sunday Music: If Jesus Was The Sheriff And I Were The Priest

Bruce Springsteen played four songs for the legendary John Hammond to get his first record deal. However, as he told Malcolm Gladwell and Rick Rubin on the Broken Record Podcast, it was after the first song he played, “If I Was the Priest,” that Hammond said, “You’ve got to be on Columbia Records.”

The song is an epic poem from his “Springsteen could be the new Dylan” days. It’s full of character portraits, imagery, and its really, really long. There have been versions of the song floating around since the early 1970s, but it wasn’t until Springsteen’s 2020 album, Letter To You, that it got its proper release.

I don’t think I would have questioned this as an old song had I not been told. The song shows off both what Springsteen can wrestle with lyrically and the barroom sinner singalong style we’ve come to love the guy for. Plus, “there’s just too many outlaws trying to work the same line,” is just a hell of a refrain. It begs you to join in. Classic Springsteen.

Here’s a small sample of the lyrics and two versions of the full song below:

There’s a light on yonder mountain
And it’s calling me to shine
There’s a girl over by the water fountain
And she’s asking to be mine
And Jesus is standing in the doorway
In a buckskin jacket, boots and spurs so fine
He says, “We need you son tonight up in Dodge City
‘Cause there’s just too many outlaws trying to work the same line”

Now if Jesus was a sheriff and I were the priest
If my lady was an heiress and my Mama was a thief
If Papa rode shotgun on the Fargo line
There’s still too many bad boys trying to work the same line

One of the demo versions, solo with him on piano:

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