With today's post we come to the hardest section of this series to write. It is my considerate belief that the vast majority of the world's music today is demonic in origin and affect. In effect, it is opening doors to the occult world in the minds of its purveyors and consumers. For the next month or so I am going to lay before you the case for that belief.
This section is difficult to write for several reasons. First, I have to force my own mind back through all the accumulated evidence I have piled up in order to support this contention. It is a mental and emotional exercise for me that is similar physically to wading through an open sewer. Additionally, I expect as a result of what I write to experience an elevated level of pushback. I anticipate a dump truck load of criticism, insult, complaint, and just plain disagreement to land on my head in the process. Many even of my own friends and church members will not agree with me. But as I said to my wife a moment ago what I am going to say over the next month or so needs to be said and I have determined to say it. So here we go…
A funny thing happened in Western civilization sixty years ago – music changed dramatically. Previous to 1955 popular music had a smoothness to it even if that smoothness increasingly had a swing in it. Historically that musical flow was tied to the Western concept of music generically known in our day as the classical style. But even the increasing inroads of ragtime, jazz, and big band or swing music had more flow than rock to them. The charts previous to 1955 were ruled largely by crooners such as Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennet, and Frank Sinatra. While such music did not die in 1955 it was in for a rude surprise. To mix metaphors, it would soon be forced to play second fiddle in the orchestra of American popular opinion.
There is a vigorous historical debate over which song, which producer, and which artist can lay claim to the first rock and roll song. I have read several entire books or sections of books in relation to this. What is inarguable is that the first chart topping rock song was Bill Haley and the Comets 1955 "Rock Around the Clock." Like a dam that had been gradually weakening and leaking for years and then suddenly bursts that song exploded on the American music scene and the new genre it represented swept everything else before it. What had been a smooth albeit swinging popular music became a beat dominated rhythm oriented beast practically unrecognizable from its humbler forebearers of jazz, boogie woogie, rhythm and blues, and country.
The speed and depth of this change is astonishing. What Bill Haley introduced and Elvis Presley popularized and the Beatles metastasized became in fifteen short years the mindless pulsating sheer noise of Black Sabbath's heavy metal. Certainly the American youth movement and culture of the post WWII generation contributed to this as did the rise of radio. But however you define and describe its birth the end result was a new music form related to its fathers but actively distinct from anything that came before it – rock.
Western music had for centuries been composed of three elements: melody, harmony, and rhythm. In fact, music cannot exist without rhythm of some sort for without it there would be no organized structure. I grasped this first as a small boy growing up in a house with four older sisters who all played the piano. My oldest sister became somewhat advanced on the classical side and I can still picture her metronome ticking away at faster and faster speeds as she practiced hour upon hour in our dining room. Even the stately religious hymns of yesteryear have rhythm as evidenced by the various time signatures at the beginning. Not only has Western music had elements of rhythm in it for as long as we have record but it is also factual that rhythm is mentioned in the Word of God, and in a positive context to boot. Praise him with the timbrel and dance. (Psalm 150.4) The timbrel is a small hand drum essentially rather like the tambourine of our day.
I say that because I do not want to leave the impression in what comes next that I believe rhythm in music is wrong. I cannot and dare not for at least the reasons I have just cited. But although this is true it is also true that something dramatic and deep changed in the music of Western civilization in the 1950's. There developed an ever increasing emphasis on rhythm, and a driving beat that had never before been near as prominent in any form of popular music. Alan Freed, the Cleveland area disc jockey who did not coin but did first popularize the use of the term "rock and roll", would repeatedly shout into his microphone in those heady days of the 1950's, "Feel the beat!" while simultaneously pounding on a phone book. You can argue with me about the effect of that beat but you cannot argue that it rose up in the 1950's, that it took over everything, and that it is the single most recognizable fact about rock music. Charles T. Brown says in his 1992 book, The Art of Rock and Roll, "Perhaps the most important defining quality of rock and roll is the beat… Rock and roll is different from other music primarily because of the beat." Frank Garlock explains it this way in his 1998 book Music in the Balance, "In order to know what rock is, we must understand the specific characteristics that make it unique. First and most important is the beat. The rhythm in rock is the dominant part of the sound." Alan Freed's biographer John A Jackson agreed titling his 1991 book about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame disc jockey, Big Beat Heat.
Rock music as represented by one sub-genre or another is the most dominant form of music in Western culture and has been for the past sixty years. Indeed, Malcolm Downey asserted in his 1978 book Summer in the City that rock music was "not simply another branch of popular culture. It has shown itself to be perhaps the most significant art form to emerge this century." The only thing I would change about that quote would be to remove the word "perhaps." It is the soundtrack that fills our lives. It backs the majority of television commercials. It is played in almost every restaurant, store, dealership, and waiting room in the country. It is played on the majority of radio stations and streaming internet channels. Talent shows and television specials top-heavy with rock routinely top the Nielsen television ratings. The Pentecostal preacher David Wilkerson said it well in 1985's Set the Trumpet to Thy Mouth, "Rock music is the biggest mass addiction in the world's history."
For centuries Western music flowed. Now for a few decades it has rocked, pounding its rhythms straight into the conscious ears and subconscious minds of billions of people. Music is an emotional language. What has this language been saying? What has this language been telling us?
For the next few weeks I intend to give you the answer whether you like it or not. And if I am right then the ramifications of that answer will ripple through the breadth and depth of your life, your children's lives, and your church's life. Alternatively, you are welcome to assert that I am wrong, but as you whistle past the graveyard of the music in your life know this: the ramifications likewise are just as huge and ignoring that particularly unpleasant fact will not make the fact go away.
Everything changed. Are you going to let it change you?