When Did Evangelicalism Become Cool?

According to Philip Jenkins, about the same time that country music became cool:

In August 1968, the Byrds released the album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which pioneered a new style of country rock. It also initiated a revolutionary change in the country music world, which was at the time very conservative musically and politically, and where long hair was strictly taboo. (Merle Haggard’s Okie From Muskogee became a huge hit the following year, and a confrontational conservative anthem). At first, country listeners assumed Sweetheart was meant as a mocking retro parody, while the rock audience was bemused. Over the next few years, though, the two genres increasingly coalesced, with all sorts of fusion styles inbetween — country rock, Southern rock, outlaw country, and the rest…

Suddenly and shockingly, “country” culture became fashionable, as part of the Southernization that historian Bruce Schulman described as one of the key social trends sweeping America in the 1970s. This shift was greatly strengthened by the demographic and economic trends of these years, and the shift of wealth and population from Rustbelt to Sunbelt states.

Quite unintentionally, the Byrds also revived and legitimized Christian themes in music for an audience wholly unaccustomed to them. If you want to revive America’s roots music, it’s hard to do so without incorporating hymns, gospel and Christian songs, and Sweetheart of the Rodeo featured such evocative classics as “I am a Pilgrim” and “The Christian Life.”

Read the rest: RealClearReligion – When Evangelicals Were Cool.

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  • M. Horn

    This is a fascinating entry this morning. I’m intrigued! I guess that’s why I like Tony, even though I’m not quite as progressive lol.

  • Richard Bass

    Richie Furay as the missing link. He made the shift from Buffalo Springfield to Poco to pastor of Calvary Chapel in Boulder.

    • Thanks Richard for noting Richie Furay.

      From the Rock side you could point to the change of venue/purpose of Barry McGuire, who could turn an anti-war song — Eve of Destruction — into an apocalyptic anthem!!

  • Great post. Popular music carries a deep vein of bible religion. There is also Dylan’s 1967 John Wesley Harding (JWH!) with, on some reckonings, sixty plus biblical allusions.

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