ROCK AND REVIVAL

I recently did a column on RealClearReligion about a music-related topic that I think needs further exploration. This also segues nicely from John Fea’s post about 1980s Christian music, and John Turner’s piece on Explo ’72.

Briefly, I noted that in the 1970s, America witnesses a religious revival with a strong youth focus, as ably described in a book like Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism. This is among other things the age of the Jesus People. Yet that revival is very odd if you think about it, given the massive cultural disaffection of the late 1960s, and the strong evangelical distaste for long hair, never mind the whole subculture of sex, drugs and rock and roll. In my column, I suggest that trends in secular rock music laid the essential foundation for the shift, and especially the country rock revival that grew out of the Byrds album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. As the rock culture delved ever deeper into roots music and gospel, musicians were of necessity exposed to revivalist and Christian themes, with the language of pilgrimage, redemption and sin, not to mention Satan himself. The music popularized these notions in mainstream youth culture, to the point that they became not just fashionable but unavoidable.

What I am suggesting, in short, is that quite unintentionally, secular music created an environment in which young people became quite comfortable with the language and mindset  of evangelical revivalism, even before the actual movement touched them. The self-conscious Christian rock movement largely dates from Larry Norman’s 1969 album Upon This Rock – see the wide-ranging account in David W. Stowe’s rewarding No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism (2011).

In my column, I mention a couple of bands using such themes in the period 1968-72, including the Byrds and the Grateful Dead, but lots of other possibilities come to mind, including the Band and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and a number of the founders of alternative country music. Don MacLean’s AMERICAN PIE also had Satan laughing in delight… In England, the popular group the Strawbs fits the model very well, and they had a huge cultural influence in the early 1970s. (Understand that I am drawing a distinction with the boom of the later 1970s: Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming appeared only in 1979).

So assume I was doing a course on Rock and Revivalism: what else would I have on my IPod from these early years?

  • http://sbcimpact.org David Rogers

    If you are not already familiar with it, the liner notes of Larry Norman’s album “Streams of White Light Into Darkened Corners,” in which he covers a number of songs from the era with religious themes, provide a lot of interesting insight into this topic:

    http://www.amazon.com/Streams-White-Light-Darkened-Corners/dp/B000GWCIOS

    • Philip Jenkins

      Thanks so much! Great reference.


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