Pop Culture 101 for Pastors–The History of Rock & Roll Part 3

Posted: February 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

When the Beatles broke in America thanks to a series of appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, they were not really trend setters so much as great synthesizers.  The early music of The Beatles borrowed heavily from The Every Brothers and other American pop bands–as pop goes, it was very good, albeit not very deep. 

The Beatles were much more style than substance…at least early on in their careers.  Their look was as impactful as their sound.  Teens, especially teen girls, loved the suits (taken from the Mod (short for “modern”) trend in London, which saw young Brits dress like their jazz idols) and the haircuts (trendy in Germany when The Beatles played the Hamburg clubs) and, most of all, their looks! 

Don’t get me wrong,  The Beatles were innovators in a number of ways.  For example, they elevated the album as more important than the single, pioneered the wedding of video & music and truly mastered studio technology.  However, their popularity was based much more in their appeal to women as anything else! 

It is impossible to count the number of artists who took up music after The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.  Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, KISS, Townes Van Zandt and many more point to those shows as the beginning of their careers.  Yet, none of them point to the music as a catalyst but to the reaction of the teenage girls to the musicians!

Beatlemania sparked a widespread fascination with all things British.  It is a common western phenomenon that a powerful trend will have many offspring.   It is ironic, of course, that Americans began to copy British bands who were copying early American rock & roll bands but such is pop culture.

The Beatles impact was not all positive, however, as some cultural critics have noted.  Right before The Beatles broke, Billboard magazine had merged their pop and R&B charts because it was too difficult to categorize a lot of music into one of the other.  The Beatles, however, were largely a white phenomenon.  Shortly after they began to dominate airplay, Billboard’s segregated charts returned.

Beatlemania has left quite a few lessons for the church.  It is not uncommon within Evangelical Christianity for leaders to emerge who are as much style as substance and create a great deal of buzz.  

The seeker-sensitive movement, the Emergent church movement, etc. etc. all have created “crazes” among ministers who are more impressed with how the style of church is embraced by so many rather than how whether it is truly substantive.  Moreover, like the unfortunate impact of Beatlemania, many of these trends tend to appeal to a certain segment of society rather than to a wide swath of various races and economic levels.  Like The Beatles, many trend leaders within Evangelical Christianity are drive and talented but that doesn’t mean they should be copied.   

Fortunately, not every British band followed the mop tops down the trail of cute pop songs sold by even cuter musicians.  In fact, The Beatles were, in some ways, an anomaly.  Most British bands were much more interested in the blues than in the harmonies of The Everly Brothers and to that we shall turn next time.

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