Recently I was mulling over in my mind some of the pop music’s timeless records. Records like, Led Zeppelin’s Four, U2’s Joshua Tree, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Nirvana’s Nevermind, Radiohead’s OK Computer, not to mention numerous records from The Beatles, and the list goes on and on.
What makes these records timeless? Why are they still cool and fresh sounding ever after all these years? There are many reasons that one could mention as what factors into a “timeless” record, but I would primarily chalk it up to one thing: pure authenticity. These artists were putting forth a pure expression of who they were at the time. They weren’t looking around and asking, “Gee, what is working right now from a marketing perspective that we can cash in on?” Generally speaking I would be willing to bet they were simply taking a risk in terms of being themselves and committing to a recorded medium those artistic leanings that stirred them in the most honest way possible. For everyone one of these bands that do this and have astronomical success there are hundreds of bands that try to be true to themselves and fail miserably since their authentic statement is not something that anyone really wants to listen to. It’s a harsh reality, but from my perspective I think it’s worth the risk.
This has led me to wonder, why are there no “timeless” records in Christian music? I have been racking my brain and trying to come up with a record or two that one could maybe put in the same category. Amy Grant’s, Lead Me On? Maybe. DC Talk’s, Jesus Freak? Maybe. Whiteheart’s, Freedom? Maybe. A Keith Green record or two? He comes close. Rich Mullins? Maybe closer. From my perspective that is really all I can come up with and I’m still not that convinced that those records should be seen in the same light. Actually, as I am writing this I know I am not convinced. They definitely should not be seen in the same light.
Is it because Christian’s just aren’t as talented or gifted of songwriters and musicians as pagan people working in the same realm? I think Phil Keagy would have something to say about that. That answer clearly does not work.
Maybe it’s because Christian music just hasn’t been given enough time to develop. Pop/rock music has been around basically in full form since the early 60’s and Christian music probably dates back to the early 70’s. So I don’t think those 10 years or so is that great of an excuse. Perhaps time will tell if some of these Christian records can reach the “timeless” status. Though personally speaking, I doubt it.
I would submit that the reason Christian music has yet to churn out a “timeless” record is due to the fact that primarily speaking Christian music intentionally does what I was talking about above and attempts to cash in on what is “hot” in the current mainstream musical market place. Thus the artist’s never have the chance spread their wings creatively and are always forced to have whatever will “work” and is immediately seen as marketable and profit making. This is primarily the reason we don’t have any trend setting Christian acts. We are always forced to respond to those trends, not set them. To be sure, there is a missional purpose behind this. It’s great for youth pastor to be able to tell his kids that the new Pillar record sounds a lot like P.O.D. And for this reason as a parent I’m glad that Christian music exists. But at the end of the day I think I would rather have my kids listen to mainstream music that really communicates an authentic and pure musical message than have them listen to music that consistently borrows from the mainstream culture to try and make Jesus cool. As of now this method has yet to produce anything with any real staying power.
In defense of the record companies, they are not big enough in terms of their capital and the Christian buyers market is so small that it can hardly financially sustain a risk-taking and purely authentic artistic statement. This is sad since I’m sure that many Christian musicians are dying to have this type of outlet.
One possible solution…We need a couple of Christian billionaires who are completely sold out to Christian music and can bankroll all the creative authentic artistic expression that talented Christian musicians can come up with. If this were to happen I think it would be a great step in the right direction.
If you are a Christian and you burn stacks of twenties in fireplace during the cold winter months just because you can, then give me a call. I’ve got a record company I want to start.