When rock ’n’ roll emerged in the 1950s, ministers denounced it from their pulpits and Sunday school teachers warned of the music’s demonic origins. The big beat, said Billy Graham, was “ever working in the world for evil.” Yet by the early 2000s Christian rock had become a billion-dollar industry. The Devil’s Music tells the story of this transformation.
Rock’s origins lie in part with the energetic Southern Pentecostal churches where Elvis, Little Richard, James Brown, and other pioneers of the genre worshipped as children. Randall J. Stephens shows that the music, styles, and ideas of tongue-speaking churches powerfully influenced these early performers. As rock ’n’ roll’s popularity grew, white preachers tried to distance their flock from this “blasphemous jungle music,” with little success. By the 1960s, Christian leaders feared the Beatles really were more popular than Jesus, as John Lennon claimed.
Stephens argues that in the early days of rock ’n’ roll, faith served as a vehicle for whites’ racial fears. A decade later, evangelical Christians were at odds with the counterculture and the antiwar movement. By associating the music of blacks and hippies with godlessness, believers used their faith to justify racism and conservative politics. But in a reversal of strategy in the early 1970s, the same evangelicals embraced Christian rock as a way to express Jesus’s message within their own religious community and project it into a secular world. In Stephens’s compelling narrative, the result was a powerful fusion of conservatism and popular culture whose effects are still felt today.
Excellent…Valuable, clearly written and meticulously researched.
Stephens wants us to think of rock and Christianity not as enemies but as siblings engaged in a family dispute.
[A] beautifully written, well-researched book…What Stephens has provided is an extensively evidenced account of just how tetchy Christians—especially theologically and politically conservative Christians in the U.S.—have been about popular music, while also wanting to make use of it when necessary to promote their version of the faith.
Perhaps the most comprehensive history of Christian rock yet published. Armed with an astonishing array of archival material, from pamphlets to sermons to newspapers and magazines, Stephens blows through nearly 70 years of church, music, and cultural history…Revelatory.
Stephens’ deeply researched The Devil’s Music charts the long and oftentimes contentious relationship between evangelical Christianity and rock 'n' roll. Along the way, it offers some surprising historical insights and a somber lesson for social progressives who have long scoffed at their evangelical adversaries in America’s ongoing culture wars.
The Devil’s Music chronicles the development of popular music in America since the mid-20th century, attending to the audience as well as the performers. Focusing on the reception of rock by conservative Christians, it is a commentary on the emerging social role of Evangelicals and the politics of the period.
An engrossing story about American Christianity’s long and ambivalent relationship with what Fats Domino dubbed ‘the big beat.’
In this beautifully written, entertaining, and smart book, Stephens masterfully analyzes the religious roots of rock music, the evangelical response to the rise of rock music, and the ways in which evangelicals made rock music their own in recent decades.
Stephens brilliantly explores the many enmities, ambiguities, adaptations, and constant braiding of rock music and conservative Christian youth culture as the electricity of rock music jolted and shocked parents and captivated teens and young adults. The fiercely fought battles over music, values, and taste were indeed proxy wars for the soul of the nation.
An admirably balanced, exhaustively researched, consistently engaging narrative of the complex and fraught relationship between conservative Christians and popular music in the United States.
- 344 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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