"Jesus Christ Pose" is the debut single by the American rock band Soundgarden, released in 1991 as the first single from the band's third studio album, Badmotorfinger (1991). The song was included on Soundgarden's 1997 greatest hits album, A-Sides.
"Jesus Christ Pose" features lyrics written by frontman Chris Cornell and music co-written by Cornell, drummer Matt Cameron, bassist Ben Shepherd, and guitarist Kim Thayil. Some see the song as defining the "essence" of Soundgarden, as it is credited to all four band members. Cameron said, "As soon as I played this pattern everyone dove right in, and within an hour we had the guts of the song. The approach we took on this one was pure assault of the senses. Canadians dance to this song."
According to a Rolling Stone interview, Kim Thayil explained the origin of this song:
"[It] was definitely a jam at rehearsal. I think Ben was just jamming up this loud and blurry, detuned bass line flopping around there. And Matt starts making it precise and coherent; Matt's drum part is insane – it's so fast and coordinated. And I picked up my guitar, thinking, "What the hell are they doing?" It took me a while to figure out what's going on rhythmically and where to punctuate the one, so what I start hearing is that swirling, kamikaze bat [guitar] sound at the beginning. And that was a groove. Then I revisit the feedback and beneath-the-bridge guitar squeals that I used to do in '84 and '85. I did that mostly out of necessity because I really didn't understand what it was Ben and Matt were playing; it was just too fast and involved.
Eventually, Matt and Ben lost each other, so we recorded it. Chris takes it home. We loved the groove, the action and dynamic of it. So Chris takes a recording home and works lyrics and around the lyrics finds a chorus. So he writes a couple other sections to help flesh out the arrangement dynamic and give room for the vocals. He brought that to rehearsal and we're like, "Holy shit, this crazy, insane car wreck is now a song."
"Jesus Christ Pose" was performed in drop D tuning and is in 4/4 time. Regarding the song, Thayil said, "The song's groove reminds me of helicopter blades. I bent the strings at the beginning and end of the song."
The band explained that the lyrics for "Jesus Christ Pose" concern the exploitation of religion for personal benefit. The song is a criticism of how public figures use religion (particularly the image of Jesus Christ) to portray themselves as being "better" than others, or as "martyrs". Chris Cornell specifically mentioned Jane's Addiction's frontman Perry Farrell as an influence on the song, explaining, "It became fashionable to be the sort of persecuted-deity guy." In an interview with Spin magazine in 1992, Cornell explained the term "Jesus Christ Pose":
"You just see it a lot with really beautiful people, or famous people, exploiting that symbol as to imply that they're either a deity or persecuted somehow by their public. So it's pretty much a song that is nonreligious but expressing being irritated by seeing that. It's not that I would ever be offended by what someone would do with that symbol."
"Jesus Christ Pose" was released as a single in 1991 in various versions with the previously unreleased B-sides "Stray Cat Blues" and "Into the Void (Sealth)". Outside the United States, the single was released commercially in the United Kingdom.
Greg Prato of AllMusic said, "In addition to Cornell's biting lyrics and vocals, the rest of the band helped fuel unquestionably one of Soundgarden's most vicious and venomous rockers. Breakneck guitar riffs do battle with sledgehammer drumming for most of the song's five minute and 50 seconds." Gina Arnold of Entertainment Weekly stated, "On songs like the cynical 'Jesus Christ Pose' ... Soundgarden sound a hell of a lot smarter than their peers, who seldom get beyond extolling booze, girls, and cars."
The music video for "Jesus Christ Pose" was directed by Eric Zimmerman, who would later direct the music video for "Rusty Cage". The video's intro includes words similar to John 3:16; "And God So Loved Soundgarden He Gave Them His Only Song". The video features the band members wandering around a desert interspersed with various images of crosses, cyborgs, a crucified girl, a crucified skeleton and even vegetables crucified in a human form. Thayil said, "A lot was chosen by the director Eric Zimmerman, and we checked it out and decided what we liked and didn't like." Cornell said, "It was a pretty unanimous decision by the band to have a woman being crucified in the video ... As a visual, it's powerful and it's also challenging to people, because women basically have been persecuted since before recorded history, and it would almost make more sense than seeing a man on it." He also added, "There's upside down crosses and right-side up ones. But there's certainly no blatant direction as far as religious conviction in the video."
Thayil said that the video was one of the few Soundgarden videos the band was satisfied with. He stated that "on the "Jesus Christ Pose" video we did a lot of experimenting at different kinda fun, cool things. I guess it seems fun to me because I didn't end up getting disappointed by it." The video was released in October 1991.
"Jesus Christ Pose" garnered attention when MTV banned its corresponding music video in 1991—it has not been shown by the channel in its entirety since. Many listeners were outraged by the song and its video, perceiving it as anti-Christian. The band actually received death threats about it on a UK tour in the early 1990s.
Thayil on the "Jesus Christ Pose" music video and controversy:
That was our first single from Badmotorfinger, but it never got any airplay because of the references to Jesus. And MTV wouldn't play the video because they didn't like the idea of a girl on the cross. There are no guitars in the video at all. There's not even a picture of a guitar in the video. It's like this hard, rock-fast, punk-metal video that has no instruments in the whole thing. And it's a six minute video!
The way [MTV's] programming works is like a commercial radio station, the shorter the video, the more videos they can play, and—they figured I guess that in the normal hours people watch videos they're not going to want to watch something for six minutes.
A live performance of "Jesus Christ Pose" can be found on the "Black Hole Sun" single and the compilation album Telephantasm. A performance of the song is also included on the Motorvision home video release.
The Killing Tree performed a cover of "Jesus Christ Pose" on the band's 2003 EP, We Sing Sin. A cover of "Jesus Christ Pose" was done by the band The Dillinger Escape Plan which was featured on the 2006 cover album, High Voltage!: A Brief History of Rock, as well as the band's 2006 EP of cover songs, Plagiarism. Fellow grunge rockers Pearl Jam have jammed to this song live.
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||30|
|Kerrang!||United Kingdom||"100 Greatest Singles of All Time"||2002||95|
|Kerrang!||United Kingdom||"666 Songs You Must Own (Grunge)"||2004||2|
|Q||United Kingdom||"The Ultimate Music Collection"||2005||*|
* denotes an unordered list