According to one study,1 the average Australian spends three to four hours a day listening to music. If that’s true, music could be one of the primary things that shape the minds of young Australians today. Actually, the same study found that one-third of those surveyed claimed that “music was their life – it’s their number one passion.” That is worrying, considering the typical content of the music. Common themes surrounding pop music include violence, rebellion, free sex, nihilism, and the occult. It is especially worrying that this kind of music has also infiltrated the lives of FRCA youth.
It all started with rock music in the 1950s – a basically anti-authority and anti-Christian genre which set the stage for the emergence of other genres such as rap, hip hop, pop, heavy metal, and electronic dance music. The same themes were naturally adopted to a greater or lesser extent by these other genres. However, I will focus on rock, considering that it remains popular in the 21st century.
Everyone can agree that music has emotional power. It can evoke different feelings, such as sadness, nostalgia, or excitement. It follows then that certain types of music are more suitable for particular contexts. Allan Bloom wrote: “Music, as everyone experiences, provides an unquestionable justification and a fulfilling pleasure for the activities it accompanies: the soldier who hears the marching band is enthralled and reassured; the religious man is exalted in his prayer by the sound of the organ in church; and the lover is carried away and his conscience stilled by the romantic guitar.”2 If every music style is best suited to and enhances a particular message, it is worth considering what messages and emotions are being promoted by rock music (the style).
It is hard to give an exact definition of rock music. The main instruments are electric guitars and drums, and the music is characterised by a driving beat, constant repetition, and high volume (the average rock concert is between 110 and 120 dB).3 Obviously, these characteristics are present, to a lesser degree, in almost every musical style. However, it is not to be denied that they have a much more prominent place in rock music to the point where melody, harmony, and variation – even the words, sometimes – become almost irrelevant. The combination of repetition, beat, and volume has a hypnotic effect on its listeners (have you ever wondered why the music often gets turned up so loud?). This particular musical style is inherently more suitable for messages of anger, frustration, rebellion, sex, and violence (which is precisely why many of the fans find it appealing) and cannot possibly communicate a message of peace, gentleness, or self-control.
While all this may sound rather theoretical, it comes out in practice too. And that is what the rest of this article will be about: rock’s association with violence, rebellion, sex, drugs, and the occult.
Rock music was born out of and continues to encourage rebellion. That’s a fact acknowledged by all, from the rock stars to the fans to the musicologists and critics.
Allan Bloom, for example, notes that “the Left […] has in general given rock music a free ride […] they regard it as a people’s art, coming from beneath the bourgeoisie’s layers of cultural repression. Its antinomianism and its longing for a world without constraint might seem to be the clarion of the proletarian revolution, and Marxists certainly do see that rock music dissolves the beliefs and morals necessary for liberal society and would approve of that alone.”4
Or take personal testimony of David Cloud, who himself had been heavily involved in the rock/drug culture: “Rock music never encouraged me to be an obedient, submissive-to-authority, God-honouring person. It taught me that I was “born to be wild,” born to follow my natural impulses, born to live without rules.”5
Rock Drummer King Coffey said, “the whole idea of rock ‘n’ roll is to offend your parents.”6
The rock musicians feed this message of rebellion to the fans through the music.
Consider the words of the song “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd: “We don’t need no education / We don’t need no thought control / No dark sarcasm in the room / Teacher, leave the kids alone / Hey! Teacher, leave us kids alone.”
Even this secular website, one sympathetic towards rock music, says, “In the 1950s, young people embraced rock music because it allowed them to rebel from society’s norms. During this time, society emphasised more on conformity hence rock music allowed young people to have an alternative life. Over the years, rock music has continued to serve the same purpose. It has offered young people an opportunity to express themselves to society.”7
Rebellion is the most fundamental element of rock music. Even the revolutionary musical style communicated rebellion. The music was so loud because it was meant to offend everyone. It rejected the moderation and restraints of classical music. H. Rookmaker put it this way: “A new music emerged […] each line and each beat full of the angry insult to all western values […] their protest is in the music itself as well as the words.”8
Even when rock associates with free sex, drugs, violence, and the occult, it is often an intended expression of alienation towards Christianity and society.
‘Rock and roll’ was originally a blues term for sex, and free sex (including homosexuality and other sexual perversions) has stayed with rock ever since.
Listen to what some of the rock stars themselves have to say.
Debbie Harry, from Blondie, claimed, “I’ve always thought that the main ingredients in rock are sex, really good stage shows and really sassy music. Sex and sass, I really think that’s where it’s at.”9
Chris Stein, also from Blondie, says, “Everybody takes it for granted that rock and roll is synonymous with sex.”10
Andrew Oldham, Rolling Stones manager, says, “Rock music is sex and you have to hit them [the audience] in the face with it.”11
British-American heavy metal guitarist, Lita Ford, says, “Playing guitar is a sexual thing.”12 In heavy metal rock, a guitar functions as a phallic symbol (see John Makujina, Measuring the Music, p. 55-57). To understand Ford’s comment, you need to know something of the sexual innuendos performed with a guitar. But basically, a rock guitarist must not only be good at plucking strings, but he must also have the skill of seduction.
Again, the musical style itself is an essential part of the message. The syncopation typical in rock music (emphasis on the offbeat) encourages the audience to dance to the music, making the style perfect for eliciting a sexual response in the audience.
Elvis Presley, for example, said, “It’s a beat that gets to you. If you like it and you feel it, you can’t help it but move to it. That’s what happened to me. I can’t help it.”13 Elvis is referring to his own sexually suggestive stage antics, in particular, his gyrating pelvis. He believes it was the beat that made him do it.
To quote Allan Bloom again, “Rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal to sexual desire – not love, not eros, but sexual desire undeveloped and untutored […] Young people know that rock has the beat of sexual intercourse.”14
Time magazine said, “By its very beat and sound it has always implicitly rejected restraints and celebrated freedom and sexuality.”15
Everyone isn’t necessarily going to be sexually aroused every time they listen to rock music, but sexual misconduct is definitely connected to rock (as has been documented by many writers), especially at concerts where the music is coupled with immodest dress (or even nudity), sexually suggestive stage shows, alcohol and drugs, and an ungodly atmosphere.
Apart from pre-marital and extra-marital sex that rock often promotes, other sexual perversions are also common. For example, “We are the Champions”, by Queen, is widely recognised as the anthem of gay liberation. Elton John also sang about lesbianism in his song, “All the Young Girls Love Alice.” Alice Cooper even glorifies necrophilia in his song, “I Love the Dead.”
Rock culture has long been close to synonymous with the drug culture. Closely connected with drug and alcohol abuse is the nihilistic worldview held by many rock musicians. Drugs are then viewed as the way out, a form of escapism.
In their book, Why Knock Rock?, Dan and Steve Peters tell a story of a 16-year-old, John Tanner, who survived an attempted suicide. By John’s own testimony, rock music, such as Black Sabbath, got him depressed, got him into drugs, and eventually got him to attempt suicide. In an interview with the Peters brothers, he tells them, “As far as I’m concerned, there’s a definite connection [between rock and drugs] because the musicians that put out rock music are on drugs – probably heavier than most people are – and they know what sounds good when you’re under the influence of a narcotic, and that’s what they play.”16 The Peters brothers then add, “Many groups play music that is best understood, and in some cases only makes sense, when the listener is on a mind-altering drug. And, of course, while in the suggestible frame of mind that drugs induce, the lyrics are free to wreak havoc on the listener’s subconscious. That is why drugs and rock music are often accomplices in the suicide conspiracy.”
And John Tanner isn’t the only one who has had this experience. David Cloud tells us, “Rock music began breaking down moral and psychological inhibitions as soon as I began listening to it in the early ’60s in junior high school. And when I finally did enter the drug world, I was amazed at how rock literally came alive! Why? Because rock is created by drug abusers.”17
While much of rock lyrics glorify drugs (not to mention the examples set by the rock stars), the music itself, by its hypnotic effect, serves as a form of escapism. And if I could add a personal opinion, this is why people are so addicted to rock.
Listen to what some rock stars have to say about the highs created by their music.
Ted Nugent, from Dukes, once said, “We were mad […] we don’t know why, and we don’t care. We just know that pluggin’ in an electric guitar and crankin’ it up as loud as it would go made the world seem a whole lot better.”18
Neil Young said, “Rock ’n’ roll is like a drug. I don’t take very much rock ’n’ roll, but when I do rock ’n’ roll, I [expletive] do it. But I don’t want to do it all the time ’cause it’ll kill me.”19
Finally, Janis Joplin recalls, “I couldn’t believe it, all that rhythm and power. I got stoned just feeling it, like it was the best dope in the world. It was so sensual.”20
Like horror movies, rock music (especially heavy metal and punk) thrives on violence. It ranges from violence on stage (like mock hangings and throwing animal intestines over the audience) to violence among the audience at concerts (like moshing, stabbings, and trampling) to the violence it encourages in the personal lives of the fans through the lyrics.
This violence is obviously much worse at concerts or on a screen, which is why Richard Peck writes, “There is no possible way a young person, controlled by the Holy Spirit and seeking to live for God, can watch video rock. That statement sounds inflexible – and it is.”21 And I might add, that also applies to rock concerts.
Again, the message of violence in rock music is also communicated and reinforced through the musical style – the beat and volume.
The most serious accusation against rock music is that it is heavily associated with the occult – Satan worship and witchcraft.
The manager of one rock band makes this remark: “Now we discovered the best motivation there is to buy a product. The best motivation in the world is religious commitment. No human being ever makes a deeper commitment than a religious commitment, so we decided that in the nineteen-eighties we are going to have religious services in our concerts. We are going to pronounce ourselves as Messiahs. We are going to make intimate acquaintances and covenants with Satan […] and we will be worshipped.”22
To understand the connection between the musical style and Satanism, you need to examine the origins of rock, but I am not going to do that now. I’ll just state the facts.
But first, I need to give a brief explanation of subliminal (subconscious) messages. Many rock songs have hidden lines. Sometimes this is done by playing them softly or at very low frequencies, but most often, these subliminal messages are recorded backwards in a technique called backward masking. There are many attempted explanations for why bands (like the Beatles) use backward masking. Some claim that it is a way of influencing the listeners’ minds subconsciously (i.e., it does not get filtered through the conscious part of our brain, but our subconscious understands it and accepts it as a fact without evaluation).
However, the most satisfactory explanation, I find, is that it is an occultic practice. Aleister Crowley, a famous British witch, wrote the book Magick. Jacob Aranza writes, “one of [Crowley’s] occultic teachings [in Magick] is that you should learn to talk backwards, write backwards, and play phonograph records backwards.”23 The use of backward masking was directly inspired by Crowley, which also explains why these subliminal messages are often Satanic. The Beatles, the first known users of backward masking, even included a picture of Crowley on their album cover Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
There are many bands that are/were heavily occultic (like Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, the Beatles, Presley, KISS, Ozzy Osbourne, David Bowie, Sabaton, and Iron Maiden). But I will limit the following examples to bands/artists that I personally know FRCA youth listen to.
- Elton John fills his house with Satanic art and says, “the occult fascinates me.”24
- Pink Floyd has the following subliminal in one of their songs: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to hang on hooks and high places. He converteth me to lamb cutlets. Have you heard the news? The dogs [pseudonym for God] are dead.”25
- Michael Jackson’s song “Beat it” has the backward-masked words, “I do believe I have Satan with me.” The video endorsing his song “Torture” is also occultic.26
- Fleetwood Mac had a hit called “Rhiannon”, named after a witch in Whales. Stevie Nick, a member of the band, is known to dedicate songs to all the witches in the world. Stevie also believed in the possibility of reincarnation; she thinks the group’s members were together in a previous life.27
- Guns N Roses sang their own version of Sympathy for the Devil.
- Led Zeppelin writes Satanic music (e.g., “Stairway to Heaven”). Guitarist Jimmy Page owned the late Aleister Crowley’s house and ran an occult bookshop because he was tired of having to search for the books on magic he wanted.28
- AC/DC’s occultic music includes “Highway to Hell”, which declares hell to be the “promised land”, and “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be.” Of the latter, Angus Young said, “we’re saying if you’ve got your choice between heaven and hell, you might take hell. In heaven you have heart music, and in hell there’s a good rockin’ band and rockin’ songs. That’s what we’d choose, so hell ain’t a bad place to be.”29
Undoubtedly, this list could be made much longer, but that is not the point. May a Christian really enjoy bands who are dabbling in the occult? I think not. Whether or not the bands are serious (or whether they just fake it to sell their music) is irrelevant. Many of them are genuine Satan worshippers, and the rest flirt with the Devil – a dangerous hobby. Either way, their music is just as destructive. Rock and heavy metal come straight from hell and Satan. Judge for yourself if a Christian may appreciate this kind of music.
While some examples may sound extreme and don’t necessarily apply to every song, they are far too serious to be dismissed lightly.
Even in the case of ‘clean’ songs, the musical style itself still has a message. Rock music is also the epitome of the godless rock lifestyle and culture. None of this gets sanctified by neutral lyrics.
How does rock music rate when compared to “the works of the flesh […] which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21)?
Does rock (even the songs that have no explicit or blasphemous lyrics) encourage the fruits of the Spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)?
Neutrality (even if such a thing were possible) is not enough. All music must be to the glory of God.
- Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1987
- The Closing of the American Mind
- https://www.famemagazine.co.uk/top-5-most-popular-music-genres-among-modern-teens/ Actually, the same site also makes some revealing comments on other pop music genres. It attributes rebelliousness to hip hop as well. And of rap, it says, “experts at perfectessay [note] that a majority of rappers have been criticised for lyrics that glorify drugs, violence, and of [sic] women. Teenagers are attracted to such controversial lyrics.”
- R. Rookmaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1970
- Hit Parader, September 1979; quoted in John Makujina. Measuring the Music: Another Look at the Contemporary Christian Music Debate. Old Paths Publications, 2002.
- Parade, October 1964, quoted in Jacob Aranza. Backward Masking Unmasked: Backward Satanic Messages of Rock and Roll Exposed. Shreveport: Huntington House, 1983.
- Time magazine, April 1967, quoted in Dan Peters / Steve Peters with Cher Merrill. Why Knock Rock? Minneapolis: Bethany Publishers, 1984.
- Quoted in Mickey Hart and Fredric Lieberman, Spirit into Sound: The Magic of Music. Novato: Grateful Dead Books, 1999.
- Quoted in Measuring the Music
- The Closing of the American Mind
- Why Knock Rock? (see reference 11 for bibliography details)
- Hit Parader, 1983, Quoted in Why Knock Rock
- Quoted in Spirit into Sound: The Magic of Music
- New York Times, 1970, quoted in Backward Masking Unmasked: Backward Satanic Messages of Rock and Roll Exposed
- Richard Peck, Rock: Making Musical Choices, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1985.
- New Wine Magazine, 1985, quoted in John Blanchard with Peter Anderson and Derek Cleave, Pop Goes the Gospel: Rock in the church, Darlington: Evangelical Press, 1989.
- Backward Masking Unmasked: Backward Satanic Messages of Rock and Roll Exposed
- People Magazine, 1980, quoted by John Blanchard in Pop Goes the Gospel: Rock in the church.
- Backward Masking Unmasked: Backward Satanic Messages of Rock and Roll Exposed
- Bob Larson, Larson’s Book of Rock: For those who listen to the words and don’t like what they hear, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1988.
- The Sunday Peninsula Herald, 1985, quoted in Larson’s Book of Rock.
This article was published in the October 2021 edition of Contender – the FRCA youth magazine and is published here with the writer’s permission.