In the late 60s, the Christian music sounded pretty abysmal. Most recordings consisted of nothing but hymns. Christian rock? Why – that was an oxymoron! All the good music was secular! Even Elvis Presley’s two religious albums were not rock and roll – they were hymns and gospel standards. If the King of Rock and Roll couldn’t make a real Christian rock album in the late 60s, was there any hope for the future of the genre? Sure there was – a movement called “The Jesus People” brought about a fresh voice to the Christian music world.
The Jesus People certainly didn’t start out with rock and roll songs, most of their music was folk oriented. There were members of the rock community however, who got “saved” and joined the Jesus movement. Larry Norman was one of these, and is credited with giving us the first Christian rock album – Upon This Rock.
Larry Norman wanted something different In his biography, he writes:
I wanted to push aside the traditional gospel quartet music, break down the church doors and let the hippies and the prostitutes and other unwashed rabble into the sanctuary, … I wanted to talk about feeding the poor, going into the world…. I wanted the church to get active and go out and do what Jesus told us to do. I felt that while the hymns had great theology soaked into their lyrics, that most of the modern music was anemic and needed a transfusion”http://www.musicianguide.com/biographies/1608003665/Larry-Norman.html
As to be expected – the conservatives of the church did not approve. Evangelists such as Bob Larson and Jerry Fallwell came out against Norman’s Christian rock. Jimmy Swaggart even called Larry Norman’s music “Spiritual Fornication.” Still – the album sold quite well.
Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music?
In 1972, Larry Norman finally released a second studio album – “Only visiting this planet.” This album features the song “Why should the Devil have All the Good music?” which pretty much became the Christian rock anthem. “…all the good music” spoke directly to Larry’s critics. Essentially, the thesis states – I really don’t care what you say, I’m going to rock and roll. That does not make me a heathen! Looking at the musical structure of the song, it sounds like a song recorded by Swaggart’s cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis. This almost makes one wonder. Did Larry, with the style of this song, take a direct jab at Swaggart?
Back to “…all the Good Music” the song pointed to the fact that despite the demand, Christian rock did not exist aside from Norman and a few others. The song pointed out a the empty pit. At the same time, “…all the Good Music,” not to mention the entire album served as a small but significant pebble in the task to fill this pit. Larry Norman’s “Why Should the Devil have all the Good Music” not only points out the problem, but also attempts to be part of the solution.
Geoff Moore revisits “…All the Good Music.”
In 1986 – I went to see the first concert that I wanted to to see (as opposed to being dragged by my parents). Petra headlined with Degarmo and Key playing before, and Geoff Moore opened. I really don’t remember much about Moore’s set, but I do remember him belting out a version of “…all the good music.” I admit, 12 year old me dug it.
Having said that – I wonder about Moore’s 80s version of the 70s rock anthem. Was it a tribute – or was Moore trying to say something else? Was Moore trying to tell us that there was still not any good Christian rock out there?
Honestly, while Christian rock had come a long way in the 14 years since “Only Visiting this planet,” the genre still had a long way to go. Yes – artists like Rez(surrection) Band came released several rock albums by then. As did Phil Keaggy, who might be the best Christian music guitarist of all time. However, looking at CCM magazine’s top 100 albums of all time, we see very little in terms of true “rock” albums released in the 70s and 80s. If you want to get technical, the only pre 1986 album on this list (aside from Larry Norman’s): U2’s “October and that almost feels like cheating. U2 really never viewed themselves then or now, as “Christian music, but rather they (or at least three of the four) view themselves as Christians who make music.
So yes – the seeds of revolution were in full swing when Geoff Moore did his 1986 version of “…all the good music,” but the genre had a long, long way to go. Incidentally – Swaggart still bashed rock and roll. Only a year later, he wrote the infamous book “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.” The battle still raged on and I view Moore’s “…All the Good Music” as an ongoing battle cry. Nonetheless – the battle raged well for Christian rock. The Devil did not have all the good music in 1986.
Geoff Moore gets lost in the distance.
In 1993, with his backing band “The Distance,” Geoff Moore released his most famous version of “…all the good music.” However – this time Moore got things very, very wrong.
Firstly – Christian rock saw an all time high with some pretty darned talented musicians. Phil Keaggy put out “Crimson and Blue” that same year. Petra released arguably their two best rock albums by then (“This Means War” and “On Fire”). Whiteheart released “Freedom” in 89 and “Tales of Wonder” in 92, (arguably their best albums). I could mention so many other amazing christian rock albums released by then by the likes of David Zaffiro, Stryper, Randy Stonehill, BloodGood, Steve Taylor, Rez Band….the list feels infinite! This is all to say that christian rock was…on a roll.
Heck – even conservatives got on board. No, neither Jimmy Swaggart or Bob Larson changed their minds – but really who cares about a fraud and a hypocrite? Christian festivals such as Jesus Northwest (which I attended several times in the 80s and 90s) featured so many Christian rock bands I can’t remember them all. Christian rock even saw a burgeoning underground christian rock scene, complete with it’s own festival (Cornerstone). A Christian “alternative” label (Tooth and Nail) was founded that same year. The battle was won by 1993. So, why did Geoff Moore insist on singing the battle cry again?
My best guess – Moore was out of touch. If you look at the title track of the album “…all the good music” appears on, you’ll see quite a frightening spectacle. Take for instance, the title track – “Evolution Redefined.” Now – I am not here to judge the theology of this song (young Earth creationism). This is a music blog, not a theology blog. What I will say – the song just sounds bad! The song bores me and feels lazy. The argumentation in mocking the teacher – nothing short of childish.
The song “Evolution,” and the rest of the album, feels like something a youth pastor might write to be “hip and with it for the young people.” This album does not sound like good rock and roll, nor does it really even sound like good music. Geoff Moore’s inclusion of “…All the Good Music” on this album makes no sense, and yet makes perfect sense. Moore is out of touch with the fact that Christian rock was alive and well. He still felt the need to bring this anthem out once again. Geoff Moore wanted to fight a war that had already been won.
Look – the Devil never did have all the good music.
With all apologies to Larry Norman, the song “…all the good music” suffers a major fallacy. The song suggests that if you cannot label the music “Christian,” if the music does not praise God in some manner, then the music worships Satan. Sure – there’s been plenty of rock bands that like to reject christian values. Some bands even go even further. AC/DC belts out songs like “Highway to Hell.” Judas Priest certainly used anti-Christian imagery in their music. Some bands worship(ed) Satan with their lifestyles – womanizing and substance abuse.
However, so many rock songs were not about Satan worship, drugs, or anything along those lines. In fact, the 60s were chock full of songs about peace, love, justice, and other values that – as far as I know – are Christian. There’s “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire (who later converted to Christianity). What about “Time of the Season” by the Zombies? “Love is all you need,” by the Beatles. There’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds which directly quotes the Bible.
Oh, but what about their lifestyles? While I said I am not going to argue theology here – I will quote scripture. Firstly Luke 6:43-45:
43 “…a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil [a]treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+6%3A43-45&version=NKJV
A song about good things, even biblical things should probably fall under the category of “good fruit” despite the lifestyle of the musicians. More importantly, if the song is “good fruit,” we can therefore quote James 1:17
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A17&version=NKJV
Even if you judge the artists – if the artist produces good fruit, one can scripturally say that this is the work of God and certainly not work of the Devil.
There’s also those rock and rollers who really weren’t into “carnal, sinful” lifestyles. Buddy Holly lead a pretty virtuous life. Cliff Richard, one of England’s most celebrated rock and rollers, was even known for being a Christian The band Argent even mentions Richard’s faith in “God Gave Rock and Roll to You.” Is it fair to say that, just because those two artists songs are “secular” that the Devil had a hold of their music? Yeah….no! It isn’t fair at all.
The Devil might have all the good music again.
Ignoring my last point, I want to close on this note: The Devil might have all the good music once more. Christian rock sucks right now. There’s a few bands out there that still make decent music. Stryper’s latest album might be my favorite of theirs since the 90s. Steve Taylor released a really good album a few years ago. The Choir Released “Bloodshot” recently as well. However – there’s next to nothing as far as new blood in Christian rock.
I won’t say that all new Christian rockers suck, Disciple, Skillet, and Red all sound decent. Still, Christian rock as a genre certainly has seen better days. Just take a listen to Tri-Rock radio sometime. Most of the good music played there comes from bands that have been at it for decades. Hardly any of their music is from new artists. We thought the war on Christian rock was over, and it might be – but the results are landing in Jimmy Swaggart’s side. It’s time to take back the good music from the Devil. It’s time to, as Argent says, Save rock and roll for everyone.