When Jesus Left Birmingham

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"When Jesus Left Birmingham" is a gospel-tinged rock song written and recorded by John Mellencamp and released as a single in 1993 and as the first track on his full-length album Human Wheels on Mercury Records.

For the album, Mellencamp was seeking a more "urban" sound, with a heavy influence from contemporary R&B. The song was inspired by a revelry he witnessed outside his hotel early on a weekday morning in Amsterdam in 1992. The sight of businessmen carousing which struck him as a taste of "Sodom and Gomorrah", and made him wonder if there were any limits on human behavior.

The single, with the refrain "When Jesus left Birmingham, He left it there for you and me," features the "Sounds of Blackness" on backing vocals. The music video released to promote the song features children smoking and dressed as angels and devils amid other depictions of youth drug abuse.

The single peaked at #35 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Mellencamp recorded a different arrangement of the song in 1997, which appeared on his 1999 album Rough Harvest, which was his last record for Mercury.

References

  • Bessman, Jim (August 28, 1999) "Mellencamp Reaps 'Harvest': Offers Stripped-Down Covers And Rarities On Mercury Set." Billboard, p. 17