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Friday, June 11, 2010

Spirit in the Hit Parade

          Christian and other spiritual themes have appeared frequently throughout the history of popular music.  This is not a surprise since many musical artists got their starts by singing and playing in church.  Even a few hundred years ago the music biggies were writing much of their work for the church.  In the United States of the 19th century, much of the popular music of the masses came from Negro spirituals or music influenced by the genre.  The music of the slave culture carried on to the popular music of the 20th century.

       In the first half of the 20th century it was not unusual to hear traditional Negro spirituals performed by popular artists.  Songs such as "Dem Dry Bones" and "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" were standards in the repertoires of many artists.   Rock and roll incorporated even more of the black traditional music and it was a standard practice for artists like Elvis Presley or Tennessee Ernie Ford to release entire albums of hymns and gospel songs.

         The fifties saw big hits like "I Believe" by Frankie Laine and "He" by the Maguire Sisters.  As the radical movements of the 1960s and 70s began to influence music, the radical nature of Jesus began to become popularized.  God themed songs by Norman Greenbaum, Johnny Rivers, and Ocean were hitting the charts.  Actual gospel groups like the Staples Singers charted with traditional Christian songs.  Many of the artists performing these songs were not Christian, but the Jesus songs caught on with record buyers.

         Some songs like "Get Together" became anthems of the hippie culture of change.  "Get Together" was written by Chester Powers, who under the name Dino Valenti recorded with the Quicksilver Messenger Service and other groups.   The song "Get Together" was recorded by numerous artists and made the charts a few times.

          In the 70s the phenomena of Christian rock artists began emerging onto the scene.  Into the 80s some mainstream artists were still recording Jesus songs but often with less benign intent.  On the other hand there were acts such as U2 and Van Morrison who were recording music with spiritual content.   To the present day, Christian influenced music continues to appear on the music charts.  Now there are so many more genres and categories than there were a few decades ago that artists may sometimes cross over to reach multiple audiences.  In music, God is still as significant as love, vice, and cars.


  1. Another wonderful musical post I actually konw these, Cliff Richard was and still is a great favourite of mine he is a friend of Daniel.
    Elvis of course had many inspirational songs to his credit.

    Just sorting out my classicals for Monday.

    Take care.

  2. There are a lot of secular bands with Christian themes like U2. My favorite is a very heavy rock band called KillSwitch Engage. They have a video for Rose of Sharyn, which is really powerful.

  3. It's funny how after all of these years, the drummer for U2 is still not a Christian, despite the influences of his band mates.

  4. Thanks for all this info! I always learn so much when I come to your blog. When is it going to make me more popular? Huh?

  5. Yvonne -- I'm looking forward to your classical list. Wish more people would participate. I'm going with some real obvious selections since not many are joining in.

    Alex -- I watched the KSE video. Interesting setting, music was okay for what it was--I'm not a huge fan of screaming. I was concerned about that vocalist hurting himself. Thanks for directing me to it as I like to stay educated about music.

    L. Diane -- I can think of some marriages that are the same way.

    Bossy Betty -- Popular? What do you mean popular? I see how many comments your posts get. You look pretty darn popular to me.

    Carol- Thank you, I love you too. Oh you meant the band. I thought it was twitter speak.

  6. That was great, the line about God being as significant in music as vices and cars. All the angst and love and loss in those songs...a bit more of Him, I think, is in order.

  7. I instantly thought about Mariah Carey. Do you think that some artists stray too far from their religious roots when they make it big?

  8. of the singers with the Mighty Clouds of Joy was claimed to be an athiest.

    there are a good number of R & R artists that were also Christians.

  9. Raquel-- I guess that's why there's a separate genre of Christian music. It would be nice if more people who follow pop music were praising God.

    RWI -- I think success and money often moves people further from God because they are so caught up in worldliness. Many artists on the other hand, especially when their popularity begins to diminish, start turning to God. The question is concerning their sincerity.

    Bud -- I've heard stories of artists in Christian music and even ministers being atheists-- it's kind of weird. And many artists are Christians, that is true.

  10. I'm certainly learning a lot about music here. As far as I’m concerned, if Elvis sang it, it sounded wonderful regardless of the genre. This post also made me want to go dig out my Jesus Christ Superstar album:)

  11. I'm not particularly religious, and I tend not to like Christian rock, etc. because it's so overwhelmingly positive it makes me uncomfortable. I do like to hear a good singer such as Elvis sing classic hymns, however. But only in small doses.

    And although my mother wouldn't let me see it, I loved Jesus Christ Superstar. I don't know what the heck she thought was so bad about it. Same story we learned in Sunday school, just set to awesomely funky music.

  12. This brought back memories of my mom playing Tennessee Ernie Ford's albums...even as a child I certainly loved his voice, and as far as Elvis is concerned, I'd listen to anything of his!

  13. Jane-- A lot of Elvis fans for sure. Superstar is a classic.

    Elizabeth -- the story told in Superstar was told a bit differently than the typical Sunday school version. Not all Christian rock is super positive. In fact some is kind of depressive and controversial. Try groups like Adam Again, Daniel Amos, or the 77s. Or an artist like Bruce Cockburn. There is certainly some positive messages in these artists, but also some things that will make you think. There's a lot of variety out there.

    Cheryl -- I can recall watching Ford's TV show. And I grew up with Elvis's music.

  14. Your background music reminds me I did not even consider "JC Superstar" for my would have made it.

    It is interesting that Christian music still has a presence, but Christianity seems to be missing from all other walks of life.

  15. Frankie Lane's "I Believe" was one of my favorites! :)

  16. Disc-- The subject matter of Christian music has a presence in music, but I don't always know how sincere it is.

    Paula-- "I Believe" is a lovely song.


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