When John Lennon said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, Christian music knew it had to do something, because in a sense, he was right.
The Beatles and rock ’n’ roll were of course not more popular than Jesus, a man whose life is chronicled by a book that has sold multitudes more copies than any copy of anything in any form, but the music that people like the Beatles were playing was vastly more popular than the Christian music that had been so popular throughout hundreds of past years. The industry of Christian music freaked out. They had to revitalize. Rock bands were getting the attention of the new and all-important medium of television. The music that had been played in church for hundreds of years was falling by the wayside. People needed Christian music more than just a couple hours on Sunday, and the only way to get it to them was in the form of rock ‘n’ roll.
Music has been around as long as people have and much of it is historically Christian. Most of the classical music we still hear like Mozart, Bach and Handel was sanctioned and paid for by the church. Before the time of radio, people got basically all of the music they heard from church. Hymn writers like Charles Wesley and Fanny Crosby were household names. The dawn of radio changed that, but not completely. Jazz and swing were popular in the early ages of radio, but there was no way to incorporate Christianity in a 12-bar blues instrumental or a bebop jazz tune, so Christian music remained basically hymn-based. That’s where it should have stayed. Christian music had a genre. It sounded like something specific.
The dawn of rock ‘n’ roll really opened the door for a drastic shift in the style of Christian music. The simple chords and ease of putting lyrics to them made it very enticing to write regular rock songs and just put Christian lyrics on them. By doing that Christian music adopted a genre that already existed. Rock had a certain sound, and by copying it, the Christian music industry created a second tier that it was immediately placed on. Many Christian songs have a near-identical equal in the secular music industry. It’s a knock-off of the original; Mega Blocks to Legos, Coco Roos to Cocoa Puffs, Sam’s Choice to Coke. For the past 50 years, Christian music has been playing copycat to whatever is popular on secular radio. They haven’t changed the message, but the music that delivers it has become stale and unoriginal.
Christian music is genreless. Turn on the Christian radio station and listen for 30 minutes. You will hear two piano ballads, three pop/rock songs and one pseudo heavy metal thrasher. It doesn’t sound like anything specific. When I put on the pop station, I know what I’m getting. There’s a genre there, but Christian music lacks that. A hundred years ago, it didn’t. Look through a hymnal, and you’ll find that there used to be a genre in Christian music. It used to have a particular sound. I personally believe that its sound fit its message, and many of the songs are still moving today, in music and in lyrics. That’s where Christian music should have stayed: hymns. With the always changing tides of American style, who’s to say hymns wouldn’t become popular again? In fact, “old-timey” music has made a revival and can be seen in a lot of what we call “indie” bands today.
Christian music does have an audience, but it’s an audience that listens because the message brings them to the music. If Christian music had its own interesting genre and wasn’t so unoriginal, maybe the music would bring people to the message.