The Nature of Rock Music and the Future of CCM
by Brian Snider
Christians can be so naive, especially when it comes to their involvement with rock and roll and their desire to bring it into the church house.
Today's carnal Christians refuse to purge rock and roll from their lives and recognize it as a part of their past. Yet rock and roll can have no more fellowship with Christianity than light can have fellowship with darkness.
Rock and roll is music of and about rebellion - rebellion against sexual inhibition; rebellion against authority; rebellion against truth; rebellion against restrictions of any kind. Rock and roll is profane and unholy and always has been. Even the seeming innocence of 50s pop tunes have their roots deep within the fertile soil of rebellion.
There is a mythical story that someone once asked movie idol James Dean what he was rebelling against, to which he replied: "Whaddya got?!" Whether he said it or not, this is the spirit of rock and roll.
To understand the true nature of the music, you must realize that rock and roll, in its purest form, is underground music. True rock and roll is not what makes the Top 40 pop charts. Rock and roll is a spirit of rebellion that is always far ahead of what's popular...it is always ahead of its audience. It cannot be brought out into plain view until its time has come.
To see the truth of this, and to understand the underground nature of rock and roll music, we must go back to the beginning of the rock and roll phenomena in the early 50s. We must try to remember where this music came from and catch a glimpse of where it is going.
As has been noted by many other authors, apparently with little effect, the very name rock and roll is a slang term for fornication. One of the first acknowledged rock songs was performed by Jerry Tyner and was called 60 Minute Man. It was an ode to fornication.
There'll be 15 minutes of kissin'
Then you'll holler "please don't stop!"
there'll be 15 minutes of teasin'
15 minutes of squeezin'
and 15 minutes of blowing my top
If your old man don't treat you right
come up and see Old Dan
I rock 'em, roll 'em all night long
I'm the 60 minute man
This song, as overt and unholy as it is, is tame by today's standards, yet at the time it was released it was strictly underground stuff, unfit to be played in decent households.
It should be noted that this nation once had high standards of decency, even among those who would not consider themselves Christian. Those standards, however, have declined in direct proportion to the rising influence of rock and roll.
No, we cant't say that rock and roll is exclusively responsible for this decline, but we can easily show that rock and roll is always ahead of the decline. In other words, rock artists and their music are always a decadent step ahead of the public. That's why, for the most part, real rock and roll is an underground form of music, unacceptable to the mainstream until they've been prepared to receive it.
The public was prepared for rock and roll in the 50s through some very interesting developments in marketing.
Enterprising record execs, always looking for the next big thing in music (some thought it would be Calypso) began to notice that white kids liked to buy records by black R&B artists. At the time, these records were unacceptable in white, middle class homes. This was due to the racial division that existed during the era. It was only a generation ago that America existed as two countries - one white and one black. At the time, many white kids were simply forbidden from purchasing "negro music."
Record companies began to realize that if they could find white artists to record these black tunes there was a fortune to be made. And make it they did. One of the first rock stars (though his contributions are largely forgotten or belittled) was Pat Boone. By the time he was 23 years old, Boone had sold 13 million records, remaking R&B for consumption by audiences who were not ready to allow this overtly sexual music into their homes.
Compare his sanitized, whitebread version of Ain't That a Shame with Fats Domino's earthy original. The difference in the recordings is like night and day. (Boone even wanted to change the name of the song to "Isn't That a Shame", but the record company realized that the original title would sell better.)
Pat Boone was allowed to sing rock and roll and R&B to America's youth because he sounded more like the crooners their parents were used to. And his records sold. And sold. And sold. And after being anesthetized by Pat Boone, the unsuspecting public was ready to accept the real thing.
Today, everyone knows the Fats Domino version of Ain't That a Shame...the underground version. But it was the mainstream Pat Boone who paved the way for the rollicking honky-tonk original.
(As an aside: Many Christians were shocked a couple of years ago when Pat Boone released an album of heavy metal music entitled In a Metal Mood. What irony! Pat Boone helped pave the way for heavy metal by making early rock records palatable to the public. His contributions to the acceptance of rock and roll were infinitely more damaging to the youth of this country than a campy heavy metal record which would only sell as a novelty item.)
The next big break for the rock and roll came in the form of a truck driver from Memphis, Tennessee. Not only was Elvis a white kid who could sing black tunes, he could sing them 'black'. What's more, he had learned to mimic the gyrations of black R&B singers.
Onstage, Elvis's movements were vulgar and sexual. He knew it and the girls who came to see him knew it. Within months of his arrival on the scene, his record sales had outstripped the far mellower Pat Boone. Soon, most of the major record companies had their own version of Elvis. Elvis and all the Elvis wannabe's had become mainstream enough to be accepted.
A quick listen to Big Mama Thornton's original version of Hound Dog reveals just how mainstream Elvis was. Thornton's version of Hound Dog is raw and grinding and makes Elvis sound like a Sunday School teacher by comparison. Again, the truth of the music had to reside underground, and could not come out in the light of day until the public had been prepared to receive it.
Alexander Hislop, in his book the Two Babylons, presents this satanic ploy very clearly as he describes the way that the idolatrous practices of Roman Catholicism were introduced into the early church. He notes that they were "brought in secretly, and little by little, one corruption being introduced after another....it was not safe, it was not prudent to do otherwise."
That's the way Satan operates. Deceiving slowly, but very deliberately. He didn't attack Eve but rather seduced her, and rock and roll is very seductive music. It appeals to the flesh and to the emotions and once introduced, it is as addictive as heroin.
Where ever this music has gone, it has destroyed that which is wholesome and right. As a musical form grounded in rebellion, it can do nothing else.
Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. James 3:11-12
Even the artists that we know as the mainstream pioneers of early rock and roll had to have their underground music 'cleaned up' before it could be sold to the public.
Before flambouyant homosexual Little Richard Penniman could record Tutti Frutti, the main lyric had to be changed from: "A wop bop a lu bop, a good (expletive deleted)", the line he normally sang in the juke joints and dives, to the more familiar, "A wop bop a lu bop, a lop bam boom." The masses were not ready for the real thing, so they were sold a 'cleaner' version. A few years later, they'd get the real thing by the boatload as the language in rock music degenerated.
Careful not to tip their hand too early, a record producer even had Bill Haley and the Comets change the original lyrics of "Shake Rattle and Roll" from "get out of that bed and rattle those pots and pans," to "get out in that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans." It wouldn't be right to have them in bed together. Not in the 50s. That would come later.
Little Richard later admitted that he was grateful for the boost his music had received from Pat Boone. In a 1990 interview, he acknowledged that his version of Tutti Frutti would have struggled if Pat Boone hadn't recorded it first. It was, he says, "a blessing...I believe it opened up the highway that would've taken a little longer for acceptance. So I love Pat for that."
The point is this: the rock and roll most people see is not the real thing. What the mainstream gets is simply a marketable version of the real thing. It's usually a sanitized version of what's coming around the next corner. By the time the real thing arrives for consumption by the mainstream, it is not real enough anymore for the purists. They've descended to new depths.
Rock and roll never sits idle. It is always knocking down walls of resistance. It is always mutating to a more perverse form of its previous self. The newest incarnation will always reside underground until the way has been paved for it to come out into the open.
Watch the progression from the innocent-sounding pop tunes of the Fab Four and the British Invasion to the drug and sex laden songs of late 60s. The Beatles went from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to "Revolution #9" in about 5 years.
Watch the progression from the hard rock or acid rock bands of the late 60s to the overtly blasphemous heavy metal bands of the 70s and 80s. Popular hard rock themes in the 60s were drugs and sex. Popular themes in the 80s and 90s are occultism, Satan worship and derision of Jesus Christ. (Why are Christians not able to make this connection? What good thing has rock and roll ever produced?)
Watch the progression from the war protest songs of the 60s to the violent and anarchistic punk rock songs of the Sex Pistols and the Dead Kennedys of the 1970s.
Watch the progression from pop sound of the first rap tunes, recorded in the early 80s, to the sinister gansta' rap of the 90s, much of which is performed by murderous thugs and drug dealers and which glorifies the same. Who could've forseen a song like Cop Killer at the beginning of rap music's popularity?
I got my black shirt on
I got my black gloves on
I got my ski mask on
This (expletive deleted) been too long
I got my twelve gauge sawed off
I got my headlights turned off
I'm 'bout to bust some shots off
I'm 'bout to dust some cops off
COP KILLER, better you than me
COP KILLER, (expletive deleted) police brutality!
COP KILLER, I know your family's grievin' ... (expletive deleted) 'em!
COP KILLER, but tonight we get even
This kind of song could not have been sold in the 90s had the ground not been plowed in the 80s. Minds and hearts had to be made ready.
So what does all this have to do with CCM? Very little, if it were not possible to chart the same downward progression within Christian rock. The fact, is, it is easy to chart this downward slide. Christian rock, like its secular counterpart, is always mutating to a more perverse form of its previous self.
The Christian rock of the late 60s and early 70s was largely centered around folk-type music or performed with slick-sounding larger ensembles, a' la, Andre' Crouch - musical styles widely accepted by the mainstream. And the lyrics usually centered on redemption and the salvation offered through Jesus Christ.
No one would have even considered adopting heavy metal to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ. No one in the mainstream, that is. Yet the seeds for that very thing were already taking root in the Christian underground. Heavy metal C-rock began to come out of hiding within a few short years of the first Christian folk and pop bands.
The rapid degeneration of Christian rock since its early days has been astounding.
In the last decade, we've seen an explosion in the forms and popularity of CCM. Christian rap, heavy metal, thrash, punk and grunge bands dot the landscape, which essentially means that the Contemporary Christian Music industry now offers everything the most depraved secular rockers can dish up. Mosh pits of writhing and flailing bodies are now a common site at CCM concerts.
Rock has a useful tendency to reveal more and more of its hellish origins through the names bands take for themselves. In secular rock, names like the Drifters, the Byrds and the Rolling Stones haven given way to names like Marilyn Manson and Megadeth.
CCM artists have followed the same downward path, moving away from names that describe their relationship with a savior to names that are more descriptive of their desire for self-glorification. With bands called Bumblepuppy, Blame Lucy, Eat the Menu, Eden Burning, Jaberwocky, Mental Destruction, Plankeye, Saviour Machine, Six Feet Deep, Velvet Hammer and Spooky Tuesday, one wonders what serious relationship these singers could possibly see between their 'music ministry' and the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Lyrics are another way to chart the downward spiral of rock music. Keith Green, an artist considered to be a groundbreaker for CCM, sang songs in the 70s and early 80s about his savior and his salvation. (Green was killed in a plane crash in 1983.) Just a few years later, it's getting harder and harder to find a CCM artist who'll even mention the name of Jesus on an album.
Keep in mind, it would have been unthinkable in the early 70s for a Christian artist to release a record that didn't mention Christ, but rock music, 'sacred' or secular, is always changing for the worse. What was unthinkable soon becomes standard, and then that standard must make room for a new, lower standard.
Scandals involving sexual immorality, greed and worldliness are rampant within the Christian music industry. But remember, rock and roll is music of and about rebellion. They go hand in hand. Where ever you find rock and roll, you will find the destruction it leaves in its wake. We don't believe that "songs and hymns and spiritual songs" are a contributor to licentiousness, but it can easily be shown that rock and roll is.
Tragically, though, scandals and the decline in the spiritual quality of the music have not dampened the enthusiasm of those lining up to get in on this gospel gravy train.
And that is a third way that you can check the downward spiral of Christian rock, by it's ever-growing popularity and the millions of dollars it generates. The 'Jesus' of CCM is making a lot of record executives very rich.
As we mentioned earlier, record labels are always looking for the next big thing. The next 'big thing' of the 80s was CCM, and during the last 10-15 years, major record companies have snapped up almost all of the small, independent Christian labels. The millions who buy and support the industry of Contemporary Christian Music obviously believe that a 'ministry' can be owned and operated by multi-national conglomerates, yet this is simply not the case.
A young lady struggling to make it in this business recently acknowledged that corporate ownership of Christian recording has brought many changes. She had attended a party given by Sparrow Records in Nashville, the label of Keith Green and an organization that was once widely known for its desire to set Jesus music to a rock beat and evangelize the world, and was surprised to find liquor being served to the guests. Whether it was willful ingnorance or naivete', she never made the connection between rock music and the lifestyle that inevitably comes with it.
The Lord Jesus Christ is not popular with the world, (Jn. 15:18) and is getting less popular every day, yet the popularity of Christian rock music seems to know no bounds.
Where is CCM headed? In the same direction all rock music is heading - toward greater freedom from the ties that bind.
Anyone foolish enough to board the Christian rock bus ought to at least know where the bus is going. CCM, like all rock, is going downward, and away from purity and righteousness. Those who ride along are slowly being seduced into accepting things they would not have accepted only a short time ago.
They are being prepared to receive the next wave, and the next. Rock and roll is never static and is never moving in the right direction. It is always moving to accommodate evil, and refuses to reveal itself openly.
Take a quick look at the future of secular rock, if you want to get a sense for the general direction the music is going. We can now purchase records by groups named Anti-Jesus and the Carnivores, Jesus in a Sidecar, Jesus Jones, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Jesus Chrysler Supercar, Jesus Gang, Jesus Presley, Jesus Wore Dickies, Kung Fu Jesus, MC 900 Ft. Jesus, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Our Smiling Jesus Band, Jesus Lizard, The Jesus Twins, Waco Jesus, dropkickme Jesus, lovebugjesus, jesusfish, Christ Denied, Auntie Christ, Christ on a Crutch, Christian Death and Jesus Christ Smokes Holy Gasoline.
The fact that so many rock groups openly mock the name of Jesus ought to be ample testimony as to the driving force behind rock and roll. This is the music of hell.
Secular rock will reach full satanic bloom when blasphemy like this is accepted by the mainstream, which by anyone's calculation can't be that far away. And already, the underground of CCM is following suit by providing a seedbed for the same type of antichrist spirit. Just ask the members of Seven Day Jesus, one of the latest bands to make a splash in the world of CCM.
Christian rock, like all rock, is mutating. What was once underground is now popular, and what is now popular is no longer enough. The future of CCM is still underground, waiting for an audience prepared to accept it.
For lyrics and sound samples, see the online tract: Christian Rock: Blessing or Blasphemy