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The Truth in John Prine’s “God Only Knows”


John Prine is one of the most celebrated songwriters in the Country and Americana industry. He is a master storyteller – able to create picturesque landscapes of life’s little facets that are both easy to understand and easier to latch onto.

John Prine, John, Prine, God, God Only Knows, The Tree of Forgiveness, Tree
via Danny Clinch/Rolling Stones

He has been an inspiration to a lot of country artists like Johnny Cash, George Strait, Norah Jones, Bob Dylan, among many others. Also, he is known to have a heart of gold.

Prine is a two-time Grammy Award winner. His talents have been recognized by songwriters and artists from across the musical spectrum. He is also a member of Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, a PEN New England Lyrics Award recipient, and a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominee.

John Prine, John, Prine, God, God Only Knows, The Tree of Forgiveness, Tree
via John Prine’s Official Facebook Page

His 2018 album The Tree of Forgiveness is the first material that he has produced in 13 years and that project earned him three nominations in the 2019 Grammy Awards. It is insightful, as well as emotion-invoking. Each song was meticulously crafted to project an aspect of what a person goes through in their lives. It is here where we heard hits such as “Summer’s End,” “When I Get to Heaven,” and “God Only Knows.”

John Prine’s “God Only Knows”

As usual, “God Only Knows” is reflective in nature. The way Prine rasps the first line is renouncing that our Lord only knows the price that we have to pay for the people who we’ve hurt in the past, or how he feels at the end of the day. It’s a complete surrender to our God, and he completely and perfectly embodies that.

The song is straightforward, and it offers no sugarcoating. Prine plays with the idea of death and mortality, at the same time juxtaposing his rumination about his life and the consequences that he might face. In essence, his lyrics speak the truth that only God would know.

John Prine, John, Prine, God, God Only Knows, The Tree of Forgiveness, Tree
via John Prine’s Official Facebook Page

“God Only Knows” is actually decades old. In an explanation to UK’s The Sun newspaper:

“We had written a song, If You Don’t Want My Love, in the late ’70s, which I recorded for my Bruised Orange record. When I was back out in LA, I went to see him to play him the track and before I left that night we wrote God Only Knows. I never thought it was totally finished so I took it out for this record and finished it. I really love how it turned out with Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires playing and singing on the track.”

Listen to the touching song here!

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