Before The Christian Music Industry There Was… Well, What?

Back in the 70’s (yes I was really alive then albeit very young!) I remember how my mother always had the radio playing in the morning as we got up took showers and ate breakfast, Though she was an avid fan of Opera and a skilled classically trained singer she was quite partial to New York radio’s WNEW AM, which at the time played what presumably was the top 40 of her younger years – Sinatra, The Andrew Sisters, Benny Goodman, Nat King Cole et al, but she also at times let us kids listen to WABC AM, the top 40 radio station of OUR youth. At the time music from The Jackson five, The Beatles, The Who, James Brown, Elvis Presley, and The Carpenters, to name a few were all in heavy rotation on the (same) station. I only wish my dad were around more at that time to interject more of his musical taste being that he listened to Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Dave Brubeck. He was always off to work early so it wouldn’t be until I was much older when I would get to listen to his record collection.

Recently I ran across a song someone posted on youTube from the 70’s that I haven’t heard since the 70’s.It not only brought back memories of the period, but it got me thinking about the diversity of music back then. Even though music and media was starting to get a bit unruly it seemed no one had any objections with playing music about God on the radio or television. Oh that we could in this sense go back to that era. The song’s theme, which I gave little thought to at the time was recorded by a NUN. It was a rock and roll version of The Lord’s Prayer! Let me emphasize that it wasn’t on the “Christian” radio station – if there even was one I don’t know, but this song was constantly played on top 40 radio in New York! After playing the video I started to recall a few other songs that predated (as far as I know) the contemporary Gospel / Christian music industry we know today. In my mind Christian music was only done by church choirs or big-haired old ladies playing the organ on sunday morning! Evidently, praise the Lord there were some exceptions.

I remember a specific event that made me aware that there were Christians who made pretty cool music. I attended a local Presbyterian church when I was in high school. My cousins and sister attended on purpose, I… well… I was just there. Somehow the church music director found out that I was a drummer and asked me to play for a special service. I don’t recall the songs but I remember being given a few mysterious albums containing the music I had to learn – one by a band called “2nd Chapter Of Acts”. I thought the music was pretty good and the concert went extremely well. I remember the thunderous applause the congregation gave us when it was over. I also remember looking up from my drum set just in time to see the guy who was the music director plant a kiss square on the lips of the guy who was the bass player. That was another “event” that made me aware of something else I didn’t know about Christians, but that’s for another blog post. lol! So that was my first introduction to Christian music not played by big haired old ladies on the church organ. ..

Those who know me know that I’m actually not a big fan of modern Christian music largely because of the musical style. Hats off to those bands and artists who made music good enough, likeable enough and relatable enough to reach people outside of church youth groups – and it did. Besides modern Christian music being a little hard on the ears, today’s society is without a doubt more hostile towards things Biblical, but still I always wonder how many are resistant to Christian music simply because it is bad, unrelatable music. To be honest and fair there are indeed a few exceptional Christian artists out there whose music I personally prefer over secular artists simply because it is good. Also its important to understand that not all Christian music is for entertainment – or even evangelism because it serves to facilitate worship and encourage Christians. I get it. But if only we had more music that would be suitable bait for the fishers of men!

So finally let me get to my point. Below is the music video by Sister Janet Mead and some other Christian hit songs from the period that I remember. As a disclaimer let me say that perhaps in the future I’ll discuss the correctness of the theology in some of these songs, but if you know of others that were played on popular music stations during the 60’s and 70’s please let me know in the comments!

Sister Janet Mead – The Lord’s Prayer

Stevie! Heaven Help Us All

The Byrds – Turn Turn Turn

Ocean – Put Your Hand In The Hand

Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky

Stevie Wonder – Heaven is Ten Zillion Light Years Away

The Doobie Brothers – Jesus is Just Alright

FINALLY: This is NOT a song that I heard on the radio in the 70’s, It preceded the songs I posted by about 10 years, still I wanted to include it here because it was done by a singer who was very popular in her time for the secular music she performed… the song was huge! Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Didn’t It Rain. It’s also special to me because my mother used to sing a less funky arrangement of it in concert!

Again, if you can think of any Christian songs that were played on secular radio or were otherwise popular outside of Christian circles please post in the comments.