Down From His Glory – The Musical Stylings Of The People’s Temple

The Christian cult led by Jim Jones and their unexpectedly wholesome LP of religious songs from 1973.

If we were to mention the recordings of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple, you will understandably think of just one thing – the infamous recording that someone, somehow made both leading to and during the cult’s mass suicide/murder in Guyana in 1978. But there’s more – and if you had no idea of just who was responsible for making the 1973 LP He’s Able, you might just think of it as pleasant, not especially remarkable Christian-flavoured soul music.

Indeed, in 1973, Jim Jones and the People’s Temple was still very much seen as a progressive religious organisation, run by a revolutionary leader who espoused socialist ideals and was determined to make his denomination multicultural and feminist. The People’s Temple had friends in high places and was seen as a force for good. The cracks were beginning to show – former members were making accusations of abusive and controlling behaviour, though Jones dismissed this as sour grapes and lies orchestrated by the Christian establishment. He was also arrested that same year for soliciting an undercover police officer and then masturbating in front of him in a San Francisco porn theatre; the case was dismissed and the files mysteriously sealed.

Perhaps Jones thought that it was the time for some good publicity. Whatever the reason, He’s Able was recorded, released and – like most Christian records – completely ignored by anyone not connected with the church. As the sleeve notes comment:

Our choir consists of people from all walks of life. We are dedicated to one common cause — making the humanistic teachings of Jesus Christ part of our daily lives. Our inspiration is a lifestyle demonstrated by our pastor, James W. Jones. Join us as we sing, in the joyous Gospel style, to the Glory of God Made Real. He has touched us in numerous ways, and we can truly say ‘He’s able!’

There is nothing in the music to hint of what was to come – though, in retrospect, the song titles and lyrics are a touch ambiguous – are they singing about God, Jesus or Jim Jones? There’s also a sense of defiance and social commentary in some of the songs like Black Baby that is unusual for the genre – but anyone suggesting that the songs give a hint of what was to come is not to be believed.

Inevitably, with no one around to enforce copyright, the album has been reissued by assorted obscure labels with rather less wholesome cover art and sometimes including the infamous Jonestown recordings as a bonus. If you are going to buy it, you really want the original version – though unless you somehow stumble upon a copy in a thrift store, expect to be paying around $600 for the dubious pleasure of owning it.

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