Styles & Forms | Contemporary Christian | Popular & Novelty
A product of the spiritual searching of the 1960s, Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) has always been controversial. Combining rock’n’roll with a Bible-based message has seemed profane to some and artistically invalid to others. Despite such criticisms, CCM has attracted millions of loyal fans and given rise to a host of gold- and platinum-selling artists.
There’s ambiguity as to what CCM actually is – some have asserted that the category applies only to artists who record for Christian-oriented labels or appeal to primarily Christian audiences. Then there’s the question of what defines the subgenre musically. Just about every type of pop/rock musical form – including ska, hardcore punk and heavy metal – has been used by CCM artists to convey their message. Really, it is the lyrics that make a contemporary Christian song stand out from its secular counterpart. Whether drawing upon the Bible explicitly or tapping into a spiritual theme indirectly, CCM’s intent is to express a believer’s faith. Some CCM songs are modern-day hymns; others are commentaries on living the Christian life in everyday terms.
Ragged, Rocking And Apocalyptic
Contemporary Christian music isn’t a direct outgrowth of traditional gospel music. The true pioneers of the subgenre were the so-called ‘Jesus Freaks’ of the late-1960s, many of whom had experimented with drugs and exotic religions prior to embracing Christianity. The music they made was often brash and ragged, drawing upon the acoustic folk and psychedelic rock elements of the time. The first well-known exponent of Jesus music (as CCM was called in its infancy) was Larry Norman, a California-based singer-songwriter who combined an evangelistic fervour with an aggressive performing style. After achieving some success with the secular band People, Norman launched his solo career with 1969’s Upon This Rock. Considered to be the first true CCM album, its key track was ‘I Wish We’d All Been Ready’, a dramatic depiction of Earth’s final days. Norman’s apocalyptic viewpoint was shared by many young Christians at the time. Other early Jesus music artists – among them Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill and the band Love Song – had a gently idealistic, almost otherworldly air about them. By the mid-1970s, such Christian record companies as Word, Myrrh, Sparrow and New Song were releasing albums by these and other artists to a growing fan base.
CCM Meets The Mainstream
Gradually, Jesus music began to resemble mainstream pop/rock music and lose some of its rebellious, confrontational quality. The Christian music industry began to reach out beyond its core audience in the late-1970s, aided by the much-publicized conversions of Bob Dylan, Donna Summer and other celebrities. True, there were still artists like Keith Green, who preached an uncompromising message and decried Christian music’s growing commercialism. But it was the emergence of Amy Grant in 1977 that pointed the way CCM would follow in the coming decade. Her distinctive voice and stylish looks marked her as an artist with huge potential. She made good on...
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