Evangelical Praise Songs and the “Manilow Effect”

Earlier this week we posted about the power of the key change in evangelical praise songs.  Read the post here.

Fred Clark noticed our post at his popular Patheos blog “Slacktivist.”  He has obviously thought more about this.  Here is a taste of his wonderfully-titled post “When will this strong yearning end?“:

I call this the Manilow Effect. The fact that a well-timed key change may be predictable, cheesy, and transparently manipulative won’t prevent it from working. You don’t have to like the song or to admire the song or to enjoy the song. You can even viscerally resent its contrived schmaltz. But none of that will prevent you from experiencing a brief sensation of exultation that you have, at last, made it through the rain and found yourself respected by the others who got rained on too and made it throooough.

That is what it is, but it shouldn’t be confused with an experience of actual worship any more than it should be confused with actual heartbreak for Mandy, who came and who gave without taking before you sent her away.

On a related note, I’d bet that in the hands of a talented worship band “Weekend in New England” could — with very few changes to the lyrics — inspire a very successful altar call. That’s partly because of the genius of Barry Manilow’s key changes, but mainly it’s because we haven’t really understood or examined what it is we’re doing or measuring when we think of “a very successful altar call.” 

Read the entire post here.

A friend on Twitter sent this along:

2 thoughts on “Evangelical Praise Songs and the “Manilow Effect”

  1. Having grown up in a Lutheran church, and then attended evangelical churches throughout my adult life, I can say that there are times at which the evangelical church worship can be every bit as conventional and programmed as the liturgical services they tend to be critical of.

    In my previous evangelical church, there was always a worship/chorus song set before the sermon. Depending on the length of the songs, it was either two or three songs long. The offering was taken during the early portion of this song set and the congregation started off seated. Like clockwork, on the second time (never the first!) through the refrain on the second song (never the first!), the congregation would “spontaneously” rise to their feet. On cue, prompted by the pastor’s family and some leaders doing so (they always sat in the first few rows). That was just one of the more obvious examples of convention/ritual that I’ve seen. After years of this pattern, I got into the (admittedly bad) habit of glancing at my wife and rolling my eyes each time this “spontaneous spirit-filled” moment occurred.

    So I had to chuckle on the hands going up when the key changes occur. Despite our claims of “spontaneity” and “responding to the Holy Spirit,” we tend to be creatures of habit and we respond to certain cues.

    Perhaps my evangelical church experiences are different than others, but I’d offer one additional suggestion of why the key changes prompt the hands to go up. When your worship band/leaders make a habit of repeating the same one or two lines in a chorus over and over and over again, as I have seen happen on a regular basis, as if building up to some sort of spiritual peak, you need a modulation to cue people that you’ve now transitioned on to that next level.


  2. This posting reminded this old SF litfan of the following:

    In his 1943 SF novel Gather, Darkness!, Fritz Leiber had the Heirarchy (corrupt religious world dictatorship) using what he called “Symp” and “Parasymp” organs in its “Sacred Music”; these organs broadcast certain sound frequencies which subliminally manipulated the emotions of the laity in the pews, playing them like Pavlov’s dogs.

    In his famous 1965 SF novel Dune, Frank Herbert’s Bene Gesserit sisterhood developed “The Voice”, a way of modulating the voice to similar subliminal frequencies that forced instant total obedience.

    And in his 1951 Scientology Scripture Science of Survival, pulp-SF writer Elron Hubbard made something like Dune‘s “The Voice” Scientology Dogma as “Tone 40 which commands instant obedience” in Scientology’s “Emotional Tone Scale LRH”. (Though giving the timing, I wonder if Herbert just copped the idea of “The Voice” from Elron.)

    Looks like The Manilow Effect is a RL version of all the above.


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