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I hate CCM.

I’ve written before about my sporadic search for good Christian music to sing along to. Or, what I would consider good Christian music. I have my own ideas about what that label requires, and they have lately been crystallizing into solid form when before they were only hazy hunches.

I want non-cliché music. That’s all.

(Warning: a very long post follows.)

I talked with one of my good friends last night about it. We had just been to my college’s annual Christian music festival, where I was privileged to hear Group 1 Crew and Fireflight live. We were later driving to Wal-Mart and listening to the local CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) station—the kind that markets to “Karen,” the 34-year-old soccer mom, and the source of many worship songs sung in chapel and churches across the land. I commented I actually didn’t like the music on that station.

That was the station at which I had DJed for a while a couple years ago, and am back at just once a week to keep my radio skills going.

So, we switched to another Christian station (this one a favorite of hers, and catering more to the college crowd). And we got to talking about my beef with CCM as represented on that first radio station.

My friend’s dislike of much CCM stems from her perception that it’s all fluffy, happy-go-lucky, and unrealistic—that the message of most songs is “life is hunky-dory because I love God” or some such rose-colored view. She prefers songs that are realistic—that admit that Christians have bad experiences, are not perfect, and have doubts sometimes (or much of the time), rather than being these glowing squeaky-clean beings that sing “I love God” day in and day out.

So, her two favorite Christian bands are Fireflight and Relient K.

I told her that part of what made me sick of CCM was the lyrics: “You know, they all say ‘I love God; God loves me; yay!” My friend laughed. I added that I hated the cliché words of that sort, plus the cliché musicality.

I now want to illustrate what I mean by cliché lyrics. Consider:

Over the mountains and the sea, Your river runs with love for me, and I will open up my heart and let the Healer set me free. I'm happy to be in the truth, and I will daily lift my hands: for I will always sing of when Your love came down. [Yeah!] I could sing of Your love forever, I could sing of Your love forever, I could sing of Your love forever, I could sing of Your love forever.

Cliché concepts abound here. Mountains and seas (second only to a river, which appears here for good measure). Lifting my hands. Singing (there’s a metalyric if I ever heard one). Love came down. Forever.

(For the record, there are times when these are not cliché—talking about God being faithful forever, for example, when you are being literal. But saying that I could do something “forever” is cliché hyperbole.)

Let’s look at another pervasively popular song:

My Jesus, my Savior, Lord, there is none like You. All of my days, I want to praise The wonders of Your mighty love. My comfort, my shelter, Tower of refuge and strength, Let every breath, all that I am, Never cease to worship You. Shout to the Lord, all the earth, let us sing Power and majesty, praise to the King. Mountains bow down and the seas will roar At the sound of Your name. I sing for joy at the work of Your hands. Forever I'll love You, forever I'll stand. Nothing compares to the promise I have in You.

Well, let’s list them off, shall we? “All of my days.” Every breath. Singing again. Mountains and seas (you knew that was coming). And the ubiquitous “forever.”

Shall we read another?

We stand and lift up our hands, For the joy of the Lord is our strength. We bow down and worship Him now, How great, how awesome is He. And together we sing Holy is the Lord God Almighty! The earth is filled with His glory… It's rising up all around. It's the anthem of the Lord's renown.

Lifting hands again. Singing. And that’s in just four lines (lines which contain a lot of repetition, at that). At least this one’s not as clearly cliché.

As a side note: Sadly, even singing about God’s love is getting cliché. Can we sing about justice or righteousness or grace or maybe creativity once in a while?

Anyway. Now that I’ve shown what I mean about cliché lyrics, how about cliché musicality? I looked up the CCLI top 25 songs—that’s basically what churches and college chapels are singing every week—and even the ones with decent lyrics have mundane chords/melodies. These songs use the same old chords in the same old order and sing the same old variations of the same old tune.

The top few CCLI songs are listed below, with notation to show the basic chords that are used. (If you understand music theory, you’ll get that part.)

  • Mighty to Save (1, 4, 5, 6m)
  • How Great is Our God (1, 4, 5, 6m)
  • Blessed Be Your Name (1, 4, 5, 6m)
  • Here I Am to Worship (1, 4, 5)
  • Everlasting God (1, 4, 5, 6m)
  • Forever (1, 4, 5, 6m)
  • Jesus Messiah (great lyrics, again, but mediocre melody) (1, 4, 5, 6m)

And so on. If you own a capo and can play G, C, D, and E minor on your guitar, you’re ready to play 95% of CCM.

So, my friend asked what an example of a non-cliché Christian song was. I told her “Cinderella” by Steven Curtis Chapman last night; today I thought of “Revelation Song” (Gateway Worship, but also covered by Kari Jobe and Phillips, Craig & Dean). These have more creative melodies, and do not rely on the crutch clichés so common to CCM. There are others, of course, without even going to the hymnal and picking out the numerous songs that are impossible to play on guitar.

So, yeah. That’s what was running through my head. Sorry for spilling it all out at once.


Victoria said…
I agree.
I feel like we have to go back in time 10-20 years to find the best christian music. It's sad.
Guitarlady said…
I thoroughly agree, but you already know that! :-) The Getty/Townend songs at least are an improvement over most of the CCM today. Of course they're more like hymns anyway.
Anonymous said…
try my favorites: switchfoot, brooke fraser and jars of clay
MutantJanitor said…
Not to say that I don't agree with you on some points, but the lyrics you cite are all around 10 years old or older, and only Christian worship songs. CCM is a much broader category, and should not be defined only by worship. Now, if you are referring to the CCM marketed by Christian radio, then I'd see your point.

Overall, the Christian music industry is very diverse, counting indie artists like Sufjan Stevens, hard rock artists like Project 86 or Skillet, metal bands like Demon Hunger, alternative rock artists like Anberlin, and many more. And that's not counting hip-hop, pop and other artists that I don't usually listen to or know of.

Great point about worship music simplicity. Playing worship live at church is almost funny to me because its so sight-readable.
RS said…
Vic: Can I say "go Rich Mullins"? :D

Mom: I know. Yeah I do like most of the Getty-Townend songs. Getty songs without Townend, though, sound all alike (for the most part).

Anonymous: maybe. Some of that plays on the station I DJ at so that might not be much of an improvement. But I'm not extremely familiar with them (just the big hits).

Sam: yeah, I'm talking about the music on the likes of WNZR (I'm pretty sure I wrote that in the post).

And I know there are other kinds Christian radio stations... some anyway. I haven't listened to enough of RadioU-type stations, for example, to decide on them. Anyways, there I get into a whole different ball game, one of taste (I just don't care for the style, or something) rather than actual problems like I wrote about here.

Christian "worship songs" are basically the mainstay of CCM on WNZR, which I think is why I came up with those. I'm pretty sure they're the most well-known ones anyway. And they all sound the same. "I'll worship and love God while I sing and lift my hands and bow down on a mountain with a river flowing down!" ;)
MutantJanitor said…
If you are looking for uniqueness in Christian radio, you are going to have to wait awhile. You have some internet stations that have some decent mixes, but most of the money makers are consistently targeted towards the station you are connected with. And, if I might add, secular radio doesn't do much better in terms of variety, though at least they have an edge to their music and sound.
RS said…
Yeah. I know secular radio does the same thing as far as playlists go--the same few songs over and over and OVER, it seems like. I like some of the sound better though. (I try to ignore most of the lyrics; easy to do when I listen to it only in a warehouse full of pneumatic machinery. :P )
da_baum said…
If you don't mind hip-hop, try some Lecrae, The Cross Movement, Sho Baraka, Tedashii, Flame, 116 Clique (a combination of some of the aforementioned artists), etc. They all have solid lyrics that put most radio stations to shame (except KTIS, because they're amazing...right, Sam?). Actually, even if you do mind hip-hop, give it a try...I know many people who can't stand rap, but love Lecrae. Especially try 116 Clique's 13 Letters. It's an overview of the thirteen letters in the NT in hip-hop form, plus a few other tracks related to godly living. They have all helped build up, convict, encourage, and strengthen me over the last year+ I've been listening to them. I know you know this, but it should be noted that they (or any other music) should never be a replacement for the Word. And I think it should also be noted that music/lyrics that you and I find incredibly boring/monotonous/unartistic can still be beneficial to others. Who have close to zero taste in music and lyrics...I think that's like 75% of this country...
Guitarlady said…
da baum: I think it's higher than 75% unfortunately....... (mom)
Guitarlady said…
You're right about Getty/Townend being better. I had forgotten about that. They need to collaborate more!
da_baum said…
Perhaps I underestimated because I'm a musician, and so have mostly friends with at least a little musical training...the majority of my friends tend to at least have some taste in music, thankfully...
Guitarlady said…
da baum: I'm a musician but most people I know are not musically literate. Many also tend to like what I would call fairly simplistic music. Lyrics these days are especially lacking. Of course when Bible verses are used it's better! :-)

These days I don't think it's worthwhile listening to CCM on radio. Besides the music, several singers aren't very good!
RS said…
John: You've told me about Lecrae before, and I do like his stuff. (Once a song of his was played in one of the church services here, with exhortation to the ol'timers to give it a chance.) I'll have to look up 116 Clique on YouTube, because it sounds really good. And of course you're right about music not being a replacement for reading the Bible!

And I know that lots of songs have meaning for other people; that doesn't bother me if it's just the musicality. It's when the lyrics are so shallow that it's rather sad; it kind of implies something about that person's spiritual state, doesn't it?

Mom: if you ever get a hankering to listen to decent rap with good lyrics, you should try Lecrae. :D
MutantJanitor said…
I've been processing the idea of how the art that is created in Christian culture is not all that unique. (I know some of the reasons why it doesn't sound as unique is music production style that can make a song sound similar to another artist who's big). But perhaps the key is that we not rely on what others are doing, and find the expression that we can do, and as we seek God, let that musical gift grow. There are plenty of talented artists out there, but in the long run its our expression of life that is much more interesting than a specific artist(s).
RS said…
But what about there being "nothing new under the sun"? Some (much) good art comes about because a creative person imitated the good bits of other artists.

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