Pop Culture 101 for Pastors–The History of Rock & Roll Part 7

Posted: February 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

Despite the economic hardships of the 1970’s, the record business boomed throughout the Nixon-Ford and Carter years.  Albums like Frampton Comes Alive, Rumors and KISS Alive! ushered in the era of multi-platinum album sales.  

The advent of record sales in the millions attracted large corporations who began to buy up smaller labels.  The “corporatization” of the music business also witnessed the introduction of mass marketing to rock & roll.  Groups of teens were paid to listen to potential cuts or give exhaustive opinions on what they would buy and why.  Later, MTV and others would actually send employees to large high schools to identify the cool kids and give them free music and clothes in order to try to influence the culture.

The result? Highly polished AOR bands like Boston and then disco. 

Disco was the apex of the early corporate move to cash in on the rise of album sales.  Many disco performers were chosen for their looks not their talent.  Professional writers pumped out short songs set to a beat determined by marketing personnel and corporate execs paired the songs with good-looking men and women who lip synched to a drum machine.  The new corporate record companies then sent PR reps out to the hottest clubs and most popular radio stations to bribe DJs to play their new singles. 

While the marketing execs temporarily succeeded there was a backlash.  In a seedy club in a crime infested area of NYC, a group of 4 “punks” with cheap haircuts, matching leather jackets and questionable talent began to write powerful 3-chord, 3 minute songs like “I Wanna Be Sedated.”  The Ramones launched the punk movement in the dank club known as CBGBs.

Punk rebelled against the bloated corporatization of rock & roll.   Thousands of garage bands began recording and releasing their own songs on small labels.  It was a very DIY (do-it-yourself) underground movement that only lasted a few years but managed to destroy disco. 

What can pastors learn from the punk revolt against the polish of the 1970’s?  The Emergent Church movement of the late 1990’s was a similar reaction against the overpolished megachurches and megachurch wanna-be’s who blindly followed Willow Creek and Saddleback.  Too many pastors long to be popular rather than faithful.  They end up watering down the stringent demands of discipleship in favor of high attendance.   That will work for a while.  Disco was big business but there will be an inevitable backlash. 

Authors and church leaders Hugh Halty and Matt Smay have asked if the days of huge church buildings and large crowds will eventually go the way of the dinosaur because these churches are largely the result of the boomers. What will come next? The Emergent Church movement like the punk movement didn’t last long and gained more press than attendance (just like punk movement) but it did manage to raise tough questions about the seeker-sensitive megachurch model.  Emergent didn’t kill megachurches like punk killed disco but it did add legitimacy to an entire generation’s already sour attitude toward “McChurch” and for good reasons.

Slick and polish will sale but eventually a very real subculture will emerge that will expose it for what it is…style over substance.  

Pastors can learn a lot from punk rock.


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