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.