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September 2017
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Choosing a single spiritually significant/meaningful song is very challenging, for a tune that carries such meaning one hour may be displaced the very next hour when I drop the needle on a new track.  At one moment, the Eagle’s cover of Tom Waits’ “Ol’ 55” transports me to a world beyond this one, at another moment, I’m wearing out the grooves on Marvin Gaye’s “If I Should Die Tonight,” Jerry Butler’s “A Brand New Me,” or Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready;” at yet another moment, no song takes me out of myself and to the contemplation of otherness better than The Band’s “The Weight” or “I Shall Be Released,” or the first cut on Derrek and the Dominoes landmark album, Layla, “I Looked Away.”  For me, it’s not always a song’s lyrics that make a tune spiritually meaningful to me; in fact, most of the time, the lyrics are the least powerful elements of a song for me, and the stunning beauty and unity of the music often determines a song’s spiritual meaning for me.  After thinking quite a bit about this question, I almost chose “I Looked Away,” for if you listen carefully to the song, you can feel–and I mean really feel–the momentous spirit of the song, and–though other songs on the same album can do the same–it carries you out of yourself and encourages a palpable sense of yearning and desire for community.  However, the song I chose is Mountain’s “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown from the band’s Climbing album.  From Corky Laing’s cosmic drums that launch the song to Steve Knight’s Bach-like organ and mellotron chords to Felix Pappalardi’s mesmerizing bass lines and to Leslie West’s inimitable and dazzling lead guitar licks, the haunting beauty of the song takes me out of myself, transporting me to another place and provoking wonder and awe that for five minutes music evokes spiritual unity.  One measure of a spiritually significant song for me is whether or not I’d choose to have the song played at my funeral or memorial service, and “Theme for an Imaginary Western” has alwyas been high on that list.


Henry Carrigan



  1. Thank you for reminding me of this song. My older brother was a Mountain fan and it brings back good memories of sneaking into his room and playing my albums on his fancy turntable. 🙂
    Sometimes a certain chord progression just does it. Absolutely.

    Comment by Ann — December 17, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

  2. A beautifully written Henry. I’ve, like many others, always loved “Theme”, fro the first time I heard it at Woodstock, to this very moment. I’ve listened to it several times in the past two days. A nostalgic mood, missing my friend Kevin who requested I play this for Him at His memorial service. The longing, as you say, is palpable. Fantastic recording that moves me in ways that defy description.I’ll have it played at my memorial also, when that time comes.
    Thanks for your insightful comments.

    Comment by James Hennessy — March 17, 2017 @ 7:07 am

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