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Elvis, The Beatles, and Our World

Elvis Presley became an increasingly popular musician in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s to the delight of fans and at the same time eliciting the denunciation of not a few American pulpits. Many of his detractors took great exception to his antics on stage, which were anything but modest. Despite his almost cultish fan base, Elvis did not threaten the direction of American culture. Something else did.

In 1962 the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision against prayer in government schools. The next year (’63) they ruled that the Bible was also off limits as a reading with which a teacher could begin the students’ day. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. So, it seems, does the philosophical underpinning of a society. With prayer and Bible reading gone, something else would take the place of those traditional cultural moorings.

It was not long in coming. In February, 1964 The Beatles arrived in America, bringing a mop head hairstyle, a strange musical genre, and a worldview that was completely secular and hedonistic. Here was the new foundation for American youth which with almost the speed of light turned morals and values on their head and ushered in a completely new era. Those who were not there to experience it cannot appreciate how widespread and rapid was this new phenomenon. Even little old ladies who were faithful to church each Sunday knew about the coming of The Beatles.

Their popularity was not lost on the group. John Lennon boasted that they were more popular than Jesus, a statement that was a kick in the stomach to those of us who were watching the traditional American heritage dissolve before our eyes.

The change from an Elvis type of popular music to that of the Beatles was monumental. Elvis sang about common stuff in his albums, and even had several gospel releases. While Presley found solace in taking troubles to the chapel, getting on his knees to pray and finding his burden lifted, there were no references to God as any kind of help in Beatles’ world. Their comfort came from that which was completely earthy. Even in their Christmas albums, the closest thing I could find to an appeal to the transcendent was the song “Deck the Halls.” How close to heavenly help can you get from, “Falala, lalala, la, la, la”?

Help in their world was as much in the music as in anything else. When John Lennon’s son was grieving over the divorce of his parents, Paul McCartney wrote “Hey Jude,” a song which became hugely popular. After several verses of words of solace, the song ends like this (slightly reminiscent of the repetition in the holiday song mentioned above):

Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey Jude.
Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey Jude.
Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey Jude.
Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey Jude.
Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey Jude.
Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey Jude.
Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey Jude.
Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey Jude.

This is repeated twice, so there are sixteen total lines. This is not some youth pastor writing lyrics for praise songs. This is the music being the healer. It is not even the words that count so much as the experience of listening. For the little boy whose heart is shredded because his parents are splitting up and destroying his world, this is supposed to be his healing balm. But it doesn’t work. “As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart” (Pr. 25:20). Sing songs to the lonely hearts down at the local bar and you will have men crying in their beer.

The Psalmist knew about songs and their benefit. He also knew what would help a burdened heart. “My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word” (Ps. 119:28). The wise man agreed. “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad” (Pr. 12:25). It is the good word of God that is designed to bring healing to the hurting heart. That word may even be set to music, but it is the word, not the music that heals. The word of God also tells us how to show compassion to the hurting. “Weep with them that weep,” we are taught.

In the Beatles’ world there is no word of God to bring help or hope. There are only the contrivances of humanistic man, trapped under the sun with no help from above. This is our sad world now. This is a world that is endeavoring to remove the influence of the word of God from public life, hence the push from the present President and others to redefine the First Amendment to mean freedom of worship instead of the free exercise of religion. Worship can be confined to a church.

I remember being told by a school official that students were to leave their faith at the door of a government school. Since the Supreme Court decided against prayer and Bible reading inside, they needed to check their beliefs at the entrance. But the world of the humanist is not static. Now they want us to check our faith at the door of the church; the inside of the door.

What has happened to us? We have done what Israel did in their backslidings. “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). Listening to the songs of the culture and following their advice is like drinking from a broken cup which is empty. No matter how long one stays at that dry fountain, there will never be water to quench the thirst of the soul.

Our Lord is the fountain of living waters. Jesus told the woman at the well that if she asked Him, He would give her living water which if she ever drank, she would never thirst again. Another time Jesus said to a temple court full of worshippers, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink…”

Floyd Hawkins experienced the difference between the broken cisterns of the world and the fountain that flowed with living water. He wrote the following.

I tried the world with its alluring pleasure.
It mocked my soul, all burdened down with care.
But grace and help in blessed, boundless measure
I’ve found in Christ, the Fount of Life so fair.

O I have found it – the Crystal Fountain,
Where all my life’s deep needs have been supplied.
So freely flowing from Calvary’s mountain,
And now my soul is fully satisfied.

Comments(4)

  1. Reply
    Donna Tyler says

    Thank you very much for this timely observation. Idolatry is a very subtle process that undermines society, then culture. It is interesting that music can become idolatrous because of its universal influence. If Christians are to be “salt” and “light” in this world, wouldn’t our music preferences need to be purified and enlightened, along with all the other parts of our lives, The gospel of Jesus Christ?

  2. Reply
    Ruth Dotson says

    Thanks so much for this article outlining our downward trend of values and music…we have watched it all happen. God is our only hope and His Word the anchor

  3. Reply
    Sandra Miller says

    It is so sad to see our culture in the sewer and this is where it started. We sure appreciate your blog and that it is always right on. Keep up the good, thought provoking comments!

  4. Reply
    Anne Blake says

    Another blog to the heart of the issue. Thank you again, Dr.G!

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