The latest part of the ongoing series chronicling, in no particular order, the greatest 1001 recordings made by Christian artists
Continued from page 1
THE DEVIL STOLE THE BEAT
But the flaw in Dave's perspective goes deeper than his black gospel blindspot. Dave rightly accredits rock music classics as being permeated with a transcendent joy, a kind of life-enhancing spirit, which goes way, way beyond the simple musical forms of the genre.
Dave is much taken to musing about teenage rebellion, creative energy and the elevating power of rock'n'roll music as he seeks to codify the nature of the magic, which lifts humble ol' pop and rock records into timeless works of art. But Dave, with no Christian faith, and no particular reverence for the church save the standard, slightly idealised benevolence towards black and hillbilly churches common among liberal rock historians, fails to recognise the spiritual dimension of all good art.
In a nutshell Mr Marsh fails to recognise that God speaks to us through creation and where the creative gift, which is quintessentially one of the ways man is made in the image of the creator God, is used effectively it speaks of God.
The joy, the surging power, the very essence of life itself which Dave finds at the centre of rock and soul music, is an echo, a reflection, of the source of all creativity and the giver of all life. Dave doesn't recognise that of course. But committed Christians, by the grace of God, do. And we can also clearly identify the despoiling influence of the Enemy in the history of rock'n'roll. As the great black gospel singer Mahalia Jackson observed when asked for her comments on rock 'n' roll music, "the Devil stole the beat." The Devil did indeed steal the beat and some of the songs, championed by Mr Marsh, though they vibrate with life-loving-energy, are marred by lyrics of lust and fatuous rebellion.
Since my Christian conversion in 1980, and my switch from 'secular music journalism' to 'Christian journalism' in 1981, a conviction has grown steadily within me that because Christians have received, in part at least, a revelation of the source of the life and joy which is at the centre of music, many of the finest examples of music are those where this realisation is expressed in a song's lyrics.
At first this conviction was limited to a long-term sphere of interest in African American gospel. To me it was easy to hear, that however effective and soulful Tina Turner might sound as she asked "What's Love Got To Do With It?" the essential lie within the lyric limited it's effect. Only when a singer of similar vocal proficiency (for instance Tata Vega) brought in a world view that love has got everything to do with it, was popular music taken to a new level of perfection.
My taste for black gospel superseded my taste for soul music as it became clearer and clearer to me that the Swan Silverstones could have sung any Motown act off the stage and that Vanessa Bell Armstrong still has the gospel fire Aretha Franklin had, in part, capitulated to showbiz. But then came my immersion into the best kept secret in Britain's music business - the world of contemporary Christian music.
Here was music that couldn't claim, as black gospel could, to be a creative wellspring from which secular sources had drunk deep. As those within Christian music with creative inferiority complexes are so fond of reminding us, contemporary Christian music (or Jesus rock as it was in those formative years in the mid-'60s/early '70s) comes after the Lord Mayor's show. It is said to have been developed, in part at least, by spiritually naive and aesthetically stinted musicians pouncing on to the world's music (the Beatles et al) to 'use' it for evangelism and other ministries. Though that's true as far as it goes it fails to take account of Christian music pioneers and later exponents who display the musical chops to have 'made it' on the world's terms if they'd been prepared to bow the knee to the Top 20 (Larry Norman through to the Choir, the list is surprisingly long).
It also fails to take account that few artists in a movement as vast as popular music, are true stylistic originators anyway. The key consideration is not how 'original' is the artist's recording but does it have that 'better felt than tell't' magic which rises above the mountains of competent but ordinary pop, rock and soul.
POP SONG MINISTRY
Every since 1968 when Larry Norman sang that most achingly poignant account of the Rapture "I Wish We'd All Been Ready", contemporary Christian music has produced true-classics: few at first then more each year as the surge of albums increased. That, at least, is my strong conviction. As this conviction grew so did my list of personal favourites, my nominations for classic status - first a Top 10, then a Top 50.
It took Dave Marsh's book to push me over the edge and contemplate writing, with the help of a few members of the Cross Rhythm team, a 1001 all time Christian music classics. It sounds a massive task...and it is. But I've been blessed with access to a lot of music, (I reckon I've heard about 10,000 different Christian music albums) and somehow have retained and indeed deepened and diversified, my tastes for all forms of music.
Some may view the undertaking of this series a work of monumental editorial eccentricity or worse some misguided attempt to establish myself as some Oracle Of Christian Music. I don't believe it's either.
I believe the value of an ongoing series like The Spirit Of Rock And Soul will be threefold. First it will bring a sense of the rich, rich history of Christian music to readers who still hold the misguided belief that popular music by Christians is always inferior to that of the world's. As I've stated already, I think the Swan Silverstone could out-sing any Motown superstars and I'm equally certain Any Grant possesses one of the most perfect voices popular music has ever produced. Secondly, the series may help record collectors uncover classics in one of the most undocumented and undiscovered areas of popular music (though the obscurity of some of my 1001 favourites may assign you to years of searching!).
Thirdly, a series like this underlines what is at the heart of Cross Rhythms, a belief that artistic excellence, shown by Christians, has an additional dimension - a very real ability to minister the fruits and very life of Jesus Christ.