Ministers denounced it from their pulpits. Sunday school teachers warned their classes of its demonic origins. Yet Christianity and rock ’n’ roll music were surprisingly intertwined from the time when the music first made national headlines in the mid-1950s, and have remained closely linked ever since. Historian Randall Stephens tells the tale of their relationship in The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ’n’ Roll, new this month.
As Stephens shows, the long and complex affair between believers and pop culture has been a dynamic story of how the faithful encountered and reacted to the perceived moral chaos surrounding them. Here’s a bit from the book’s introduction:
Rock ’n’ roll’s exciting, unconventional mix of country, gospel, and rhythm and blues was first broadcast on the nation’s radio stations in the mid-1950s. What had seemed like an undeniable abomination would, after the 1960s countercultural revolution, appear less and less problematic. American Christians eventually made an uneasy peace with the pop music that they had once battled so relentlessly. With each passing decade, it had come to seem less and less threatening to the faithful. Pop genres would become key to American Christian identity and church growth, helping make evangelicalism the largest American religious tradition by 2008. As organs and pianos dominated religious music in earlier eras, guitars, drums, keyboards, and bongos were now typical in evangelical churches. Stripped-down praise choruses became the order of the day. Much of what animates evangelical churches in the twenty-first century comes directly from the unlikely fusion of pentecostal religion, conservative politics, and rock and pop music.
A book about music will of course arouse the ears, so Stephens pulled together a playlist of songs and artists that he considers in The Devil’s Music. Have a listen via the player below.
And, from Stephens’s own archive comes the following string of endorsements from some of the book’s key figures.
And the Beatles themselves: