Music Part 4 – Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?

The (Christian) Music that Shaped Me – Part 4

(In this series I’ve been sharing music that has been influential to me, personally. My hope is twofold: First, that some of my younger friends will be able to appreciate “from whence we’ve come” and to be encouraged to continue to seek fresh ways to communicate their faith through music. Second, that those of my generation will enjoy looking back a bit, but more than that, I pray that we will continue to recognize and encourage the creativity of today’s Christian musicians. Here’s where you can find the Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

I had a recurring dream when I was a young college student.

Promise not to laugh?

Ok. Here goes.

In my introduction to this series I mentioned that one of my absolute favorite bands of all time (even now) was Blood, Sweat and Tears. But I also had this desire to serve God with my music. So, in my dream I was the leader/arranger/trombonist (no, I wasn’t the front man) of an amazing band who performed music in the jazz/rock style of BS&T. We were performing a special “homecoming” concert at the little church where I grew up. The place was packed. It was awesome!

Alas, it remained an unfulfilled dream. The timing was all wrong. It combined two things that were seen to be in conflict: a “worldly” form of music with Christian content.

Many today are familiar with the “worship wars.” You might even be one of the casualties of that conflict. The clash was (is?) over styles of music, and how some styles may be more suited to serve your congregation in the leading of corporate worship than other styles. I’ve got to admit that I have become extremely weary of this whole discussion, and generally refuse to engage in it, because it always, ALWAYS, comes down to personal preference.

But in the 1970s, the conflict was deeper. It wasn’t about the worship services of the church. This wasn’t even on the table. At issue was whether some types of music could be used for any Christian purposes at all! Could heathen music carry a Christian message? The sound of the music itself was viewed by many as being worldly, evil and even satanic. Some popular preachers referred to rock music as “a new kind of pornography.” At youth rallies and even at the NACC in the late 60s and early 70s there were classes and workshops exposing the evils of rock music.

I listened. I thought about it. But, I didn’t buy it. Still don’t.

Certainly, there were lyrics and subject matter that would often be antithetical to a Christian world view. But the sound? The notes? The rhythm? The harmony? How could it be possible that some of the most loved and enjoyed (that is to say, popular) musical sounds NOT be used to bring attention to the Creator of all creativity? I thought about this a lot but had a hard time putting it into words.

Enter Larry Norman.

Larry Norman released an album in 1969 on Capitol Records called Upon this Rock. Here’s what he said about the album:

“Upon This Rock” was written to stand outside the Christian culture. I tried to create songs for which there was no anticipated acceptance. I wanted to display the flexibility of the gospel and that there was no limitation to how God could be presented. I used abrasive humor and sarcasm as much as possible, which was also not a traditional aspect of Christian music. I chose negative imagery to attempt to deliver a positive message, like “I Don’t Believe in Miracles” is actually about faith. “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” talked about something I had never heard preached from a pulpit as I grew up. “The Last Supper” and “Ha Ha World” used very surreal imagery which drug users could assimilate. My songs weren’t written for Christians. No, it was not a Christian album for those believers who wanted everything spelled out. It was more like a street fight. I was saying to Christians, “I’m going to present the gospel, and I’m not going to say it like you want. This album is not for you.”

As you can probably imagine, he received quite a bit of criticism for this album. In fact, Capitol didn’t really know what to do with it. It didn’t sell very well for them, so it was sold to Heartwarming/Impact Records, a Christian label. Considering their existing catalog, this was a real stretch. You can read all about the album here.

A few years later, in 1972, he released his second album: Only Visiting This Planet. This album has received a lot of acclaim over the years. In 1990 CCM magazine even voted it  “the greatest Christian album ever recorded.”

That sounds like a bit of an overstatement…but still.

On this album is a song that asks a simple question: Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music? I think it might’ve been written partly in response to the criticism he had been receiving. The song sounds kind of goofy and fun, but for me, it is deceptively deep. In one simple question he captured what I had been thinking about, and what I still believe is a huge concept which many have a hard time embracing.

Of course, the idea of “good music” is, at its heart, subjective. Yes, I know there is such a thing as objectively bad music. But in this context I don’t think the point is about quality but about style. And style is a matter of taste. I mean, if you don’t like rock, or jazz, or classical, or whatever…fine. But the fact that you don’t like it doesn’t make it bad. It just means you have a preference.

I believe music, all music (and in fact, all art) is a gift from God. The composer or performer may not be aware of that fact…he might even deny it. That doesn’t change the fact that the artist’s creativity has its source in the Creator. How ironic is it that the artist may even attempt to use his gift in a crusade against the very One who gave the gift?

Consider: What is it that makes a work of art a Christian work of art? What turns music into Christian music? Is it the content or the artist? Can a piece of music be considered Christian simply if a Christian performs it, regardless of the source? Does a song have to present the gospel to be a Christian song? What if I wrote a song about the things that make me angry? Could that be a Christian song? (Check out Psalm 44 or Psalm 109)

Larry Norman was on a quest to reclaim all music for God. Even the kind of music that he and all his hippie friends liked.

The thing is, I think it might’ve belonged to God in the first place.


Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?
Larry Norman 1969

I want the people to know that he saved my soul,
But I still like to listen to the radio.
They say rock ‘n’ roll is wrong,
we’ll give you one more chance.
I say I feel so good I gotta get up and dance.

I know what’s right, I know what’s wrong, I don’t confuse it.
All I’m really trying to say
Is why should the devil have all the good music?

I feel good every day,
‘Cause Jesus is the rock and he rolled my blues away.

They say to cut my hair, they’re driving me insane,
I grew it out long to make room for my brain.
But sometimes people don’t understand,
What’s a good boy doing in a rock ‘n’ roll band?

There’s nothing wrong with playing blues licks,
But if you got a reason tell me to my face
Why should the devil have all the good music?

There’s nothing wrong with what I play,
‘Cause Jesus is the rock and he rolled my blues away.

I ain’t knocking the hymns,
Just give me a song that has a beat.
I ain’t knocking the hymns,
Just give me a song that moves my feet.
I don’t like none of those funeral marches,
I ain’t dead yet!

Jesus told the truth, Jesus showed the way,
There’s one more thing I’d like to say:
They nailed him to the cross, they laid him in the ground,
But they shoulda known you can’t keep a good man down.

I feel good every day, I don’t wanna lose it.
All I wanna, all I wanna know
Is why should the devil have all the good music?

I’ve been filled, I feel okay,
Jesus is the rock and he rolled my blues,
Jesus is the rock and he rolled my blues,
Jesus is the rock and he rolled my blues away.

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