“Why Should the Devil Have All of the Good Music?”- Variously attributed to Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Salvation Army founder William Booth
First let’s put that myth to bed. There is no evidence Martin Luther, John Wesley, or William Booth said such but according to my parent’s generation we were all going to hell listening to the Devil’s own rock-n-roll.
It would seem each previous generation thought the same thing all the way back to the Middle Ages. I wonder what my grandparents thought about the “torch singers” of the Forties or their parents thought of the Jazz and Blues in the Twenties? I wonder if my mother sat under an “apple tree” with anyone else but my father during WW 2 while listening to Glenn Miller or The Andrews Sisters.
Reading the reactions to Sam Smith and Kim Petra’s performance at the Grammy’s and Rihanna’s performance during the Super Bowl another older generation thinks the younger generation is on the slippery slope to hell and these performers are minions of Lucifer providing a helping hand to their downward haul. It also gives, in Sam’s and Kim’s case, a convenient “Satanic” target for those not happy with the “woke” support of the LGBTQIA+ community and who, in Rihanna’s case, might believe that “Negro” music and the “Devil’s” music are the same.
This is not an opinion piece on how good someone’s music is or is not. I was unimpressed by both performances, but Sam, Kim, and Rihanna were not singing to people in my age group demographics any more than Perry Como or Dean Martin were singing to mine during the Fifties. Many of the singers who sang to my demographic are molding in the grave…except for Keith Richards and Willie Nelson, of course. They will outlive my grandchildren it seems.
To quote Tom Taylor, a writer for Far Out, a site in the UK, “From utterly insane tales of Kiss front man Gene Simmons having a cow’s tongue to the satanic panic of Judas Priest sneaking hidden messages into their songs, the devil is often depicted as the despicable puppet master who makes the marionette of rock ‘n’ roll move. It was yelled at Elvis Presley when his hips were first thrusting pop culture into existence, and it continues to this day in the mutated form of musicians being accused of being in the Illuminati. We may have secularized the slander, but rock ‘n’ roll has always been tarred with the brush of Beelzebub.”
I would have to add Jerry Lee Lewis’ “great balls of fire,” Little Richard “banging your box”, Chuck Berry’s “little ding-a-ling”, and Lew Christie’s “rhapsody of teen-age love gone too far in the rain.” I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tina Turner seeming to make oral love to her microphone while shaking it in the oh so short skirts and high heels.
Several of these performers were banned from mainstream radio play at various times and Elvis’ hips were not visible on the old Ed Sullivan Show as he was purposely filmed from the waist up. Somehow banning sounds familiar in the light of today. How many from my generation slowed down their forty-fives trying to figure out exactly what “Louie, Louie” was up to on that Kingsman record.
I’d say much of my generation’s devil’s music was more metaphor than ‘out there’, but it was there. And when the late Sixties hit with the dope smokin’, go, go girls dancin’ in cages, and the braless halter tops, it was obvious that Satan had us by the hand and was seductively drawing in another generation with his music instead of using a serpent to tempt with an apple.
Unfortunately, much of the devil’s music railed against by my parents’ generation had to do more with who was singing it rather than what was being sung. The “whitewashed” rhythm and blues and Rock-a-Billy of Elvis, Jerry Lee, and Carl Perkins was bad enough, and don-t get them talkin’ bout those longhaired British boys, but white kids crowded around a bandstand featuring African American singers and cheering while dancing “The Dirty Dog” was proof that Satan was moving among us.
That reminded me of a few “PJ” driven Frat and Sorority parties. PJ stood for Purple Jesus, a fruity concoction involving grape juice and grain alcohol or moonshine that would leave you uttering Jesus’ name in vain from the next morning’s hangover. Jesus’ name but it was Lucifer’s brew.
I never danced The Dirty Dog but my crew cut was present to hear James Brown and Fabulous Flames, Eddie Floyd, Billy Stewart, Otis Redding, and Archie Bell at venues where the performers themselves were not welcomed had they not been singing. Big haired white girls in Bobby Socks jumping around cheering for “The Godfather of Soul” as he pranced about singing “Try Me” was more than some of the previous generation could endure.
In my research I found the “Devil’s Music” moniker dates back much farther than just my lifetime. During the Medieval period music that was not church music nor followed the church’s rules was the Devil’s music. Gregorian chants or be damned!
Madrigals were considered the Devil’s music because they sang mostly about having sex. Ending a piece on a minor chord was also forbidden which gave us the Piccardi third (raising the third of the final chord of a piece in a minor so it cold ended on a major). The tritone was also banned. (I have no idea what a Piccardi third or tritone was or a cold end, but failing to use them must have been bad sending the performer straight to the bowels of hell.) Did you know that most of our concepts of Satan and Hell comes from Dante’s The Divine Comedy and not the Bible?
In modern and American terms, the Blues was considered the devil’s music by both the White and African American religious communities at the turn of the 20th century because of song content tied to drinking and dancing. The Baptist, especially, considered any dancing “dirty dancing” and only one step above the horizontal rumba.
The association of the Blues and Jazz with the Devil carried over to rock and roll and Elvis’ hips. Didn’t Blues great Robert Johnson sell his soul to the Devil? Well…that’s the legend at least.
Drinking, dancing, and forbidden sex were the original reasons. Voodoo New Orleans musicians didn’t help the cause nor did the fears I addressed earlier by middle Americans about their white kids listening to “black” music. Then there was Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath…and now Sam Smith, Kim Petra, and Rihanna. My guess is that protests will continue and someone else will take their place in future generations.
John Lennon of The Beatles didn’t endear himself to Christians in 1966 when he made his infamous comment that The Beatles were, “More popular than God.” Christians everywhere added to the air pollution as they burned their vinyl Beatles records. It was a comment taken out of context and judging from The Beatles’ lasting influence and the decline in the Christian church, he might have been correct.
My generation, the latter-day Boomers who are the standard bearers, along with the Gen Xers they produced, for the “our off springs are turning to Satanism” group. I find such comments humorous. I remember the heat we took for growing our hair long, platform shoes, miniskirts, hot pants, and go-go boots…the Devil’s weed, “Make love not war” and “the summer of love.” Yes, Satan was behind our every move, I guess. Now we do what our previous generations did, point and cry out, “You are going to hell and your music is taking you there.”
I do think we had cooler cars with better music blasting from our AM radios or eight tracks. We dressed cooler with our bell bottoms and flowery shirts with long, pointy collars or Nehru jackets. Grandma before she was Grandma looked great without a bra on under her sweater and in her miniskirt and boots, a Salem 100 held between lips or fingers featuring bright red lacquered fingernails and lipstick. Red, the color of the Devil, right Sam? Right Rihanna? The devil dressed us too, I know our parents believed it.
Those horrible dances we did…unscripted like Pagan fertility dances…some of which were successful, and I wonder how many Gen Xers were conceived in the back seats of cars listening to Chicago Transits’ “Memory of the Coming Good” or Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman?”
Remember the angel and devil scene from Animal House? I had a few of those conversations, the angelic voice on one shoulder was usually drowned out by the devil’s on the other. Some of my escapades didn’t hold up well in the light of day but at the time….
I don’t think my music and the performances of the day took me down the primrose path to destruction. They simply made me hard of hearing. I don’t think Satan had much to do with it. Satan is more about punishment and the evil and temptation he punishes comes from within us.
Generations of young people have wanted to explore the secular world and have run afoul of societal norms written by the previous generations. Is that a sin? Maybe but again, I believe Satan has little to do with it. It is too easy to blame our evils on the Devil and not on ourselves
There “would be hell to pay when he got home. But the devil was in the back seat, keeping time to the music, and hell was a long way up the road. — T.C. Boyle
From 1968, a bit of my own Devil’s Music
Don Miller writes at https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Famazon.com%2Fauthor%2Fcigarman501%3Ffbclid%3DIwAR1tgjq5rieg3xT9P8sXpjmjtFvzyIbFO720vp2Mz92TDSp1MxyErONZwOA&h=AT0Nf5rzG7Hx_ZPo_ty1cKqJ6SGltRu7IY-Jnw-wg___W5vdYUSezDC7BJE_g_xUfqUDzy_a-i6RGmKwlZkcZ4rUqe3qZkbC2AZDJnH3niSQNdKFPtitUgkJcTo9PLA_y1fJ8NbdkqLNqLg_YDQPFQ
His latest novel is “Thunder Along the Copperhead”, a depression era historical romance