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:

The Key Change in Evangelical Praise Songs

I am sure someone has written on the phenomenon of the key change in evangelical praise songs. If not, it would make a great scholarly study at the intersection of anthropology and music.  Whenever a praise band makes a key change I notice that the number of raised hands in worship rises significantly.   Any thoughts?

Before the key change:

before key c hange

After the key change:

after worship


Is Mervis Gobbles a Real Person?

Earlier today I posted this album cover:


John Haas wonders if this album is legit:

Haas is right.  This is suspicious.  I have searched for Mervis Gobbles on Google, Google Books, and several other databases for which I have access.  I can’t find anything about him anywhere.

Is this a fake?  Or has anyone ever heard of Gobbles or his group?

*The Devil’s Music* Playlist

StephensOn Episode 38 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, we talk to University of Oslo historian Randall Stephens about his new book The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Randall talks about his new book and I reflect on my own experiences at the intersection of evangelicalism and rock music.  The episode will drop next weekend.

In the meantime, head over the the website of Harvard University Press and listen to a Spotify playlist of songs and artists that Stephens considers in The Devil’s Music.  It includes music by Sam Cooke, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley & the Comets, The Beatles, Cliff Richard, Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy, Andre Crouch, Sha Na Na, Bill Gaither Trio, Bob Dylan, Amy Grant, Keith Green, DeGarmo & Key, Michael W. Smith, Stryper, DC Talk, and Sufjan Stevens.

And if you are a Randall Stephens fan, don’t forget to check out “The Randall Stephens Collection.”

The Importance of George Beverly Shea

Shea and Graham

Billy Graham once told the New York Times that without singer George Beverly Shea “he would have had no ministry.”  Shea died April 16, 2013 at the age of 104 and Douglas Harrison remembers him in a piece at Religion Dispatches.  He reminds us that in the early days of the Graham ministry, Shea was the “bigger name of the two.”  He was a gospel music star who, according to Harrison, was the forerunner of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM).  Here is a taste:

Shea’s brand was built on both the pious solemnity of congregational worship, and the warmhearted magnetism of an iconic performer. In this, he embodied a form of Christian celebrity that successfully merged and managed the longstanding tension in gospel between the ministerial and recreational functions of Christian music.

Pulling off this merger of ministry and entertainment was trickier than Shea’s avuncular gracefulness suggested. The meteoric rise and scandalous collapse of Aimee Semple McPherson stand now—and stood in Shea’s time—as a potent parable of the promise and peril of twentieth-century Christian megastardom.

Graham’s wholesome Brother Billy persona was of course one powerful alternative for middle-class evangelicals who wanted to look up and away from Sister Aimee’s down-market unseemliness. Shea’s success distinguished itself for being both more explicitly commercialized than Graham’s, while also retaining all the bourgeois respectability so often found missing in the tawdriness of the Elmer Gantrified competition—the faith healers and the New Thought movement and the flamboyant prophets of prosperity gospel.

Consequently, Shea’s rise represented a much greater movement in the post-modernization of evangelical culture: Shea received the highest honors bestowed by both the commercial world (Grammys and Dove Awards) and evangelicalism’s denominational hierarchy (he was a member of the inaugural class of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists’ Hall of Faith). In short, Shea helped the worshiping faithful understand the purchasing power of Christian consumers as an extension of their piety, as form of devotional practice that encompassed the ordinary pleasures of music entertainment.

So the next time you encounter Mercy Me or Michael W. Smith or Gaither Vocal Band, listen closely: there’ll be some of Bev Shea’s grace notes in the mix somewhere.