Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

You Gotta Sin to Be Saved by Maria McKee

You Gotta Sin to Be Saved

Written and performed by Maria McKee

Released on the album by the same name. Click here to listen to hear song on You can listen to a live version here. You can buy the song on iTunes here and the album here.

There’s going to be a lot of saving going on cause if you listen to this song, you know there’s a lot of sinning happening. Full of gusto and heart, this raucous song puts forth a clear proposition: someday I may be saved, but before I get there, I’ve got some living to do. Think gospel song only this one marches down a different aisle.

Maria McKee’s voice – full-throated, even full-bodied – makes the case and the carousing band offers the full support with saxes, a Hammond organ, guitars and rousing vocals. No doubting the conviction of McKee’s singing, the song captures the spirit of an amuck Vegas weekend and you want to go along for the sheer fun of it.

The gambit offered is simple enough. McKee turns to her fiancé (“ya been my Romeo ever since we was in school”), reaffirms her love (“”I’ll love you till I die), then lets him know her predicament: “I could never be your bride ‘til I tame my wicked side.”  She swaggers, she vamps, but this is no tease; she’s pure lustiness, you can just picture the wicked grin.

Like any great vocal performance, it’s not the words that matter, it’s the meaning conveyed by McKee’s voice. Signing the chorus of “whoa-oh-oh-o” is enough. With the swirling organ – part church, part carnival – the handclaps, the saxophone providing the context, McKee sings the chorus of nonsense words strutting like a woman on the verge of some serious wrongdoing. “What’s a girl to do now Daddy, I’m drownin’ in a sea of boys.” It’s enough to make you want to hop on for a ride and hold on for dear life.

The song’s full of great humor as when she sings, “There ain’t no harm in lookin’, but I look too close sometimes.” Of course, she offers the libertine’s cure, “I’ll never fix my rovin’ eye ‘til I tame my wicked side.” You hear this much vitality and you have to wonder if she’s ever coming back.

By the third and final verse, McKee’s looking over her shoulder for that bolt of lightning:

Now I pray the Lord won’t scorn me if I make an honest vow
To someday wear a dress of white ‘cause scarlet’s what I’m wearin’ now

The original recording sounds as if cut live in the studio, the sound large, messy, impassioned and great fun, like a drunken chorus rising up at a great party.


Maria McKee first made her mark as the lead singer on the L.A.-based band Lone Justice. They fused country and L.A. punk and scored something of a hit with “Ways to be Wicked” written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell). (Here’s the video for the song.) Plenty of critics loved the band, but they never sold many records and disbanded in 1986 after releasing their second studio album. You can read more about Lone Justice here.  No Depression offers a good selection of reviews and articles on Ms. Mckee here.

Maria McKee has forged a solo career on her terms, singing background on albums by other groups (e.g. U2) and putting out a steady stream of her own recordings. Here are some videos to check out: “I Can’t Make it Alone,”  “Show Me Heaven,” “Life is Sweet,” and “If Love is a Red Dress.” You can check out her website here.


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