“Why limit your observations to one genre”?

Reader TE asks:

I don’t understand why you limit your observations to one genre of music. It would seem that the more general, vague lyrics found in today’s AC Christian music allow for an even more personalized constuct of meaning and it happens to a larger audience numerically.

A good point. Two reasons why I limit my observations to sg. One, it’s what I know. I can’t comment with anything more than cursory knowledge of AC Christian music and its audiences and cultures.

But beyond that, I think there is a case to be made - indeed, I’m interested in making it - that the ways people identify with gospel music is different from the ways people may identify with CCM because sg is musically, stylistically distinct from CCM. Both have vague lyrics (though the vagaries are in some key places different in important ways), but CCM and AC Christian largely apes, adopts, and replicates pop, rock, and other secular mainstream styles. Indeed, that’s one of the main points of CCM. Thus “contemporary.” If there is a similar “transcutural” identification with CCM as what I’ve described with sg, the difference may be that in CCM fans are drawn to the ambiguities created primarily not by the lyrics but by the use of contemporary musical styles. Remember, the reason anyone would mistake a “Jesus is my boyfriend” song for a generic pop or rock love song has at least as much to do with the secular-mainstream sound of the score and instrumentation and arrangement as it does with the lyric. No one would ever think a masculine pronoun without a clear antecedent in a McKameys song might actually refer to Ruben Bean.

Which is to say, in addition to interpretively flexible lyrics, gospel music adapts any outside stylistic traditions it draws from to conform to certain elastic but nevertheless conventional expectations about harmony, blend, and presentation. And it’s that unique combination of certain lyrical styles merged with certain types of conventional harmony and presentation that, I’m suggesting, accounts for the identifications sg gives rise to among vastly diverse listeners.

I’d be happy for a student of CCM to round out or complicate the thinking here, but it won’t - because it can’t - be me.

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  1. www.southerngospelblog.com » Blog Archive » On CCM and Reuben Bean on 13 Apr 2007 at 8:28 pm

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Comments

  1. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    Maybe we can learn something from CCM by throwing out the charts.

  2. TE wrote:

    “Remember, the reason anyone would mistake a “Jesus is my boyfriend” song for a generic pop or rock love song has at least as much to do with the secular-mainstream sound of the score and instrumentation and arrangement as it does with the lyric. No one would ever think a masculine pronoun without a clear antecedent in a McKameys song might actually refer to Ruben Bean.”…that’s funny! (I just keep hearing “He’s my friend, He’s my Savior, He’s Jesus my Lord….”thanks for the image!)

    Do I understand you correctly when you say, “it’s that unique combination of certain lyrical styles merged with certain types of conventional harmony and presentation that, I’m suggesting, accounts for the identifications sg gives rise to among vastly diverse listeners.”, that other genres do not have diverse listeners?

    Sg lyrics are at once “in your face and up front” with the Gospel message and at the same time ambiguous due to the use of religious jargon. Terms like “saved”, “fly away”, “glory”, “going home”, “crossing Jordan”, and I’m fading here - morning drive time takes it toll about now- have no meaning except that which we, as a collective body of listeners, agree upon, while filtering the meaning through personal experience.

    The ambiguities of “Praise You In This Storm”, or “Mountain of God” are more lyrical than musical just not couched in the jargon of the post revivalist church.

    How do people agree upon the meaning or value of abstract art? There is usally a consensus, across broad cultural backgrounds, as to what is good and what is better. The more bizarre the item, the less but yet more intensely devoted the following.

    Perhaps a point to venture into is this; what are the basic assumptions about the music, the lyrics, etc that people bring to the table when they listen to sg music? What are the expectations and do these expectations, personal expectations, actually change the listening experience? Do our expectations affect the reality of the song? You tend to find that which you seek.

  3. Faith wrote:

    “No one would ever think a masculine pronoun without a clear antecedent in a McKameys song might actually refer to Ruben Bean.”

    Yet another reason why I love reading your writing…it’s absolutely HILARIOUS!!!

  4. RF wrote:

    You finally said what I’ve wanted to say about CCM for so long. I’ve long characterized some of that as “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs.

    I can remember when Amy Grant finally went secular with “Baby,Baby” and preachers everywhere were trying to analyze it as a CCM song. Made me laugh. Then they came to realize…well, you know.

  5. Daniel Britt wrote:

    RF said: “I can remember when Amy Grant finally went secular with “Baby, Baby” and preachers everywhere were trying to analyze it as a CCM song. Made me laugh. Then they came to realize…well, you know. ”

    What is interesting is that there are CCM stations that play “Baby, Baby” — even though they fully realize it’s not “Christian” …

    which brings us around again to the discussion of secular vs. sacred:

    Should “family songs,” or “love songs” be included or excluded from the “Christian” label? If you answer yes, these songs should be used… then when do these family or love songs cease to be Christian? Obviously if they promote rape, cheating, fornication, etc… then the answer is clear.

    But what about Celine Deon? Rascall Flatts? What about Norah Jones? or Tony Bennett?

    They may not sing about God, Jesus, the Cross or the Resurrection … but Biblical truths and human-created-in-the-image-of-God stuff really comes out in some of these “secular” tunes that you really cannot avoid.

  6. RF wrote:

    Daniel:

    Some can. Last year country artist George Strait recorded a song called “You’ll Be There”, which would be a candidate. But save me from those “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs.

  7. TE wrote:

    One of the largest Christian Radio networks, KLOVE, addresses this issue. They are “postive and encouraging”.

    I’ve often wondered who should claim this “middle ground” where the message is not overtly Christian. Should we concede this to the secular world? Is this part of the domain of darkness or do we claim it as the edge of Christian music?

    The choice seems to be “all Christian” or “not anti-Christian”. One answer allows for a wider variety of music.

  8. Tim wrote:

    I was transcribing an interview that I did with Brian Free and he made a statement that I think is appropriate to this thread.

    We were talking about the song, “If It Takes A Valley”. He said, “usually in an up tempo song, there is not a deep seated message. It’s just a good ‘feel good’ song.”

    I think that he is describing something that is unique, or at least, much more common in sg music. I can’t think of any real “feel good” songs in CCM. (of course it’s monday and I’m still imagining Peg pining love songs to Rueben…)

    Also the lyrical content between these up tempo quartet feel good songs and sg music that “ministers” is quite different.

    I program both SG and CCM music and I would have to say that I have never had problems understanding Who sg groups were singing about. However, I have refused to add some AC songs that you desribe as “Jesus is my boyfriend”. Some by big name groups.

  9. thom wrote:

    moderator - you are correct when you say that by and large CCM or AC music “apes” whatever happens to be popular in secular music at the moment. it would seem that the A&R people must seek out “christian artists” who sound like _______(insert pop music artist here). when the seattle grunge sound first made inroads on the top 40 chart, it was no time before a slew of christian bands popped up who mimicked the sound and even the look. Same can be said of rap, house, punk, metal, - you name it. Pick any form of pop music on the top 40 chart today and i bet you a sweet tea that you will find a “christian” record label pushing their own version. is that why it’s called “contemporary christian music?” because it has the sound of whatever music happens to be popular in the contemporary culture of the moment? mmm…

    SG is assumed to be presented with 3 to 4 part harmony, - the variations of flavors within SG have more to do with the instrumentation; piano, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, steel guitars, drums, orchestrations, banjo (cringe), etc., and the look / dress of the artist.

    But, most importantly - It is the lyric that unashamedly tells of the cross and all it paid for, the blood of Jesus and all it provides, the empty tomb, and the soon returning King of Kings and Lord of Lords is what MAKES it Southern “Gospel” music.

    Tee Rawls

  10. Bob wrote:

    I once wrote to a promoter involved with two of the most visible CCM festivals here on the West Coast and asked if they would consider setting up a stage for Southern Gospel. The response was that they couldn’t cover all the different genres of Christian music and do justice to them and gave the example of Christian Rap. The comparison of Southern Gospel to Christian Rap as just another ’sub-genre’ of Christian music made me cringe, but it shows how far off the radar this style of music is on the West Coast…

  11. Kyle wrote:

    Apparently, as of late, southern gospel IS contemporary!! Avalon, Jars of Clay, Selah, FFH, and other groups are releasing “roots” albums full of sg standards (like “I’ll Fly Away,” “How Great Thou Art,” etc.), and they are some of the biggest sellers.

    On that same note, Alan Jackson’s gospel CD (which received NO radio airplay) went at least Gold, if not Platinum by now, and all it is is a piano, guitar, and some vocals from a hymnbook. Randy Travis completely re-invented himself with his hymns projects. And now it seems, Alabama is on that bandwangon with two “Songs of Inspiration” discs.

    Food for thought….

  12. Daniel Britt wrote:

    I just heard an interview with Randy Travis by Drew Marshall. Drew asked Randy what the difference between “Gospel” and “Christian” music is. Drew expounded on the question by asking Randy “is it pretty much an age/time?”

    Randy conceded he was probably right.

    So they’re answer was: Gospel is defined by “old music.” And Contemporary is defined by new, what’s-hip music.

    I don’t agree - but the perception of the average listener might.

  13. DRIP wrote:

    DANIEL, TALKING ABOUT AMY GRANT, I REMEMBER THE COUNTRY DUO, FATHER AND DAUGHTER I THINK THAT PUT OUT HEAVEN IS JUST A SIN AWAY—-HEARD THEM INTERVIEWED ONE DAY AND THEY WERE LAUGHING SAYING IT HAD BEEN PLAYED ON MANY GOSPEL STATIONS

  14. Aaron Swain wrote:

    Rascal Flatts recorded a song on their Me And My Gang album about God. It was called “He Ain’t The Leavin’ Kind”. Pretty good…

  15. jb wrote:

    This will open up a can of worms, but, here goes….I have a problem with some country western singers wanting to sing or make a “gospel” cd, when 99% of the songs they sing are about “sleeping with other people, losing your wife, losing your dog, losing your house”… I just don’t get it and I am not impressed when they record a “songs of inspiration” or “hymns” CD. Totally my opinion and I know others will not agree.

  16. Joe wrote:

    Well, jb- here’s one person who totally and completely agrees with you. And furthermore, writer TE (post 7 above), nails the issue with these words:

    “I’ve often wondered who should claim this “middle ground” where the message is not overtly Christian. Should we concede this to the secular world? Is this part of the domain of darkness or do we claim it as the edge of Christian music?”

    This is really a brilliantly posed question, and worthy of all of our consideration.

    I am reminded what John teaches in 1 John 4:1-6… there are only 2 forces at work in the world today. The spirit of truth (Christ), and the spirit of error (antichrist). This would make us seriously consider ALL music, in the light of only these 2 spirits..we need take it no further. If the spirit of Christ was not behind it, then the other is. It may actually be far, far more of an absolute “black-and-white” issue than we’ve ever allowed ourselves to think. These gray areas may be mostly of our own making.

  17. Daniel Britt wrote:

    Joe: Maybe the “middle ground” he is talking about is defined as either GOOD or EVIL– it’s just that we don’t know which?

    I guess drinking alcohol to some would be considered GOOD. To some, EVIL. To others, it’s “middle ground.”

    Obviously it is one or the other in God’s book, right? I mean, he’s not wishy-washy.

    So, I see your point … and I agree the middle ground is probably of our making.

  18. Youngbass wrote:

    I do see a problem with country artists recording an album full of hymns or stating a spiritual representation of a song, when the majority of their songs are composed around topics of adultery, alcohol, bars, and sin, period. For example, one particular example is “Drunker than Me” - debut single - next single, “One Wing in the Fire”(inspirational). If you haven’t heard these country songs, you should hear them - it is quite amusing.

  19. TE wrote:

    Middle ground songs would include the “Jesus is my boyfriend” type songs. Nothing wrong lyrically, just not pointing overtly to Christ.

    The black and white issue can get complicated. How would yu classify songs such as “America the Beautiful” , “Cats in the Cradle”,”Hey Jude” or Dylan’s “Masters of War”?

    [Bob Dylan - here is an example of lyrics that require an individual to invest of themselves and as a result these fans are quite loyal and diverse.]

    Youngbass: Do you feel the same way about 1/2 the people sitting in the pews on Sunday?

    It’s sad to think that these country singers and their actions are probably representative of 1/2 the people sitting in the pews on Sunday. Their lives are “singing” 6 different tunes of sin throughout the week, but one day a week, they raise their hands and sing praises to the Lord.

    Your indictment against these singers is really an indictment against the sad state of the American church body at large.

  20. Joe wrote:

    Daniel-

    You are correct, sir. Far too often, it would seem we assess things by our own parameters and standards, and not, as you so succinctly say, by “God’s book”. In most cases, maybe close to all…He is clear. If it is not spelled out, the Scriptural principle is readily available. He most definitely is NOT “wishy-washy”, as you state. How much better off would be, if we were not so much so??!! Thanks.

  21. Rod wrote:

    Let me interject my two cents here…I am mainly a CCM artist. Although not mainstream I feel like most SG fans are very narrow minded when it comes to the music. If it’s not three chords and a cloud of dust or a song about mama, the bible and the blood it’s just not right. If it has too much of a pop/rock sound it can’t be Christian. This is exactly why SG music will never be what it once was. No creative or outside the box productions will continue to keep SG music exactly where it is…At the bottom. Remember the Imperials or the Goss brothers…They had great lyrics but modern music and still weren’t accepted in the “industry”. That’s why the Imperials became such a success. There were many other artists (Bill Gaither trio, vocal band, etc) that were ostracized because of the same reasons…This same mentality that SG music is of God and all the long haired hippies and non-traditional outfits is the reason Gaither has once again separated himself from Mainstream SG music once again. WAKE UP and smell the coffee people…I agree that some songs are watered down and that the CCM industry tries to replicate some of the secular modern music but in the words of Gaither himself…”WHY NOT”. CCM will reach people SG will NEVER reach. Also I have been on both tour buses of CCM and SG artists and I can tell you this first hand and without any reservations. CCM artists as a whole exemplify A Christ-like attitude, no jealousy and higher standards by far than most SG artists I have been involved with. So complain about the Rocky sound, lyrics and mod haircuts all you want but they are reaching millions more people than SG ever will for Christ not the Anti-Christ. (Ridiclous)

  22. Rod wrote:

    Misspelled ridiculous…I think this is right :)

  23. Tim wrote:

    I don’t know, Rod. The “sound” of CCM has certainly narrowed over the past few years and is dominated by “Third Day- Jeremy Camp” wannabees. There seems to be a lack of creativity in the genre with record labels controlling what reaches the public than in SG.

    CCM is growing and reaching more people than ever but musically I think that it is definately progressing at a snails pace.

    Who are the trend buckers in CCM? DecembeRadio? , Toby Mac, Tekoa?

    You are right about CCM artists, irregardless of the look, the tattoos, the piercings, the artists are awesome people - so are most SS artists.

  24. Rod wrote:

    Tim-I agree but the postings are people who take a few songs they hear on KLOVE for 10 minutes and judge the entire CCM industry by those standards. It is the same with SG radio. I agree there are great artists both musically and morally but most SG fans judge CCM by only a few songs they hear on mainstream radio and it’s all “of the devil” and if they do have wild hair or tatoos then they “can’t be Christians”. It burns me up to no end. We are NOT living in the first century anymore and although the MESSAGE never changes the METHOD has. That’s just the way it is.

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