Pop Culture 101 for Pastors–The History of Rock & Roll Part 4

Posted: February 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

The Beatles did not remain an early version of a “boy band” for long.  Bob Dylan challenged the Fab Four to abandon the cute lyrics aimed at teenagers.  The results were the groundbreaking pop albums Rubber Soul and Revolver.  Soon after these release, The Beatles decided to stop touring and focus on digging deeper musically as well as lyrically. 

The decision to retreat from the road and into the studio coincided with The Beach Boys’ brilliant album Pet Sounds.  The confluence of all of these events inspired Beatle Paul McCartney to create a band that would serve as an alter ego and record a concept album that would answer the challenge laid down by The Beach Boys.  The result of McCartney’s brainstorm was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, considered by many music critics to the be the greatest rock & roll album of all time.

Sgt. Peppers dropped in the summer of 1967 and it was the first release to feature a gate sleeve, lyrics and a masterful PR campaign complete with a brilliant cover and backward masking that implied Paul McCartney had died and that this was the reason for the Beatles retreat from touring.  It was truly groundbreaking.

Yet, many Beatlemaniacs debate if Sgt. Peppers was truly a concept album.  Some argue that the entire work obviously is set within the context of a live rock & roll vaudeville show and that the themes of loneliness and the search for meaning dominate the songs.  Yet, John Lennon insisted that the concept was dropped after the first few songs and that any of the other songs could have appeared on any other Beatle’s album.  It should be noted, however, that Lennon was rebelling against his partnership with McCartney and would eventually serve as the main catalyst for breaking up the band.

With the possible exception of Lennon’s For the Benefit of Mr. Kite, all the tunes lyrically fall nicely within the parameters of relationships whether seeking meaningful ones or retreating from them whether by physical flight (She’s Leaving Home) or by narcotics (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Fixing a Hole). 

The overall impact of the album is powerful thanks to the band’s brilliant musicianship and lyrics, that while not exactly clever, are emotionally compelling.  The album’s preoccupation with the vain quest for relationships or drugs or self-help or mysticism to grant a restless generation peace and meaning resonated widely. 

Pastors should heed not only the history, although it is well worth noting, but also the power behind a well-written and produced collection of works that address the human condition with an emotional theme that resonates with an entire generation.  Too many preachers are easily led into constructing sermon series that address banal topics like finances, work, raising teens, etc. and assume that their listeners know and understand the Gospel.  I believe this is a huge mistake.

The Gospel (2 Cor. 5:21) needs to be the theme that pervades every sermon a preacher delivers.  The pastor needs to know and understand the human condition by studying culture but the answer to the complexities of life is always the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Understanding a generation, as The Beatles obviously did, will win you a hearing but only a clear and coherent answer will fill them.  Sgt. Peppers is brilliant because it is well done and maintains a compelling feel throughout.  Ministers can learn a lot from The Beatles–work hard and fill every conclusion of every sermon with the cross of Christ.

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