Does The Devil Really Have All The Best Tunes?

Satan may have some top stars on his side such as Mick Jagger and Pete Doherty but the legions of 'good' in music aren't quite as uncool as you might think. Step forward Reverend Al Green and Mr Van Morrison...
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Satan may have some top stars on his side such as Mick Jagger and Pete Doherty but the legions of 'good' in music aren't quite as uncool as you might think. Step forward Reverend Al Green and Mr Van Morrison...

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That ol' devil called Doherty

The Devil Should Not Have All The Best Tunes', The Reverend Rowland Hill, Pastor Of Surrey Chapel, London, 1884.

Somewhere in the corner of heaven reserved for retired spokesmen, the ghost of an irate Reverend Hill must be stamping his cloud in fury. Over a hundred and twenty years since his earnest pulpit assertions, the Devil not only still has the best record collection, but he never even paid for it – he got it for free off Limewire. In Rock N Roll, bad equals good. The evidence is so overwhelming it hardly warrants repeating, but, just for the sake of argument, lets throw a couple of contrasting names into the cauldron:  a) Shaun Ryder – The King Leer of Voodoo Rhythms, former smack head, petty thief and hooligan; leader of one of the most original and imitated bands of the last twenty years. Exemplified a sound and attitude that continues to send dark tremors throughout the rock n roll landscape to this day. b) Cliff Richard – 50’s Elvis Impersonator. Satin jacketed roller skater. Drinker of Barley Water. About as rock n roll as a Readers Digest Convention in Skegness. And before the self-righteous Mistletoe and Wine lovers of miffed Middle England reach for their scented pads of Basildon Bond, yes Cliff may have had more Number One’s and Royal Command Performances than anyone else in existence - but don’t tell me that he wouldn’t have traded all those wet Wimbledon Sing-a-longs and establishment pats on the back for one, just one cheeky half hour in a King Size Jacuzzi with three Penthouse Pets and a bottle of heavy metal mouthwash. No, lets face the facts, pop fans - the tablets that contain the Commandments of Pious Pop are based on Thou Shalt Not, and the Stones of His Satanic Majesty are engraved firmly with Do Whatever The Damn Thou Likest. And it’s the former that informs the true (un) Holy Spirit of Rock N Roll.

Think Elvis’s banned Pelvis; Jimmy Page’s Crowley fixated pagan folk spells, Mick Jagger’s Samba Beat Sympathy

Ever since Robert Johnson handed his guitar over for re-tuning at that Mississippi Crossroads in 1936 to Potty Pete Docherty, Evil Pied Piper of the present day pop kids, the best music is always besmirched with the sticky stains of wickedness. Think Elvis’s banned Pelvis; Jimmy Page’s Crowley fixated pagan folk spells, Mick Jagger’s Samba Beat Sympathy, Johnny “I am the Anti-Christ!” Rotten, the crucifix kissing Miss Cicconne. The front pages of pop have always being plastered with lurid headlines of devilish outrage. SEX! DRUGS! ROCK N ROLL! It’s a heady and potent trinity, the beguiling magic of which is unlikely to be de-throned at this late stage of the game by the joys of staying in and having an early night with a good book and a mug of Horlicks.

But hold on just one God fearing minute!! What about the power of good? Alright, ripping up the rulebook can be enormous fun, but what about the positive properties of music? Can a tune not heal as well as destroy? What about the Reverend Al Green’s heart-felt testifying, Aretha Franklin’s white-hot pleas for salvation, Van Morrison’s transcendental Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart, Elvis Presley dropping to his knees and proclaiming How Great Thou Art? Granted, the more teeth gritting extremes of Christian Rock may well be tedious, but then so is Norwegian Death Metal. So, in the name of fair play, lets hear the case for the good guys who are actually really good - and not just goody-goody.

Without the American Gospel Church as a training ground, modern popular music as we know it would simply not exist

Well for a start, there’s Gospel music – the font in which all decent black music was baptised, and therefore most decent music full stop. Without the American Gospel Church as a training ground, modern popular music as we know it would simply not exist. Even the most sternly committed atheist could not deny the sheer emotional power of a gospel choir in full devotional flight. Richard Dawkins only wrote his book about the non-existence of God because he had never owned an album by the Voices Of East Harlem.

U2 are probably the biggest and most successful band in the last thirty years who have managed to maintain at least some measure of artistic credibility without recourse to shock theatrics or devilish outrage. A thirty-year career of both thrilling stadiums and lobbying parliament, the Dublin four piece have never made any secret of their Christian beliefs and deeply held humanitarian impulse. Bono’s preacher man bluster may bring a grimace to the cynical, but it could be argued that more kids become members of Amnesty International because of the U2 front man’s on-stage hollerings than any politician. Yes he may come across as a pious prat in wrap around shades but in setting himself up as singing civil rights activist Bono has arguably changed more hearts and minds than any amount of government backed initiatives. When it would have surely been easier to stay in his mansion and count his hat collection. Plus, apart from a late eighties blip when they forgot their sense of humour and released the pompously bloated Rattle and Hum, U2 have consistently weaved a genuinely inspired and inspirational noise from the sum of their trad-rock parts.

Only the slackest jawed of fools could consider the present day Ozzy Ozbourne as being in league with the Devil

Heavy Metal is largely responsible for both placing the Devil centre stage in rock music and, ultimately, robbing him of his power to shock. Our forefathers in the seventies may well have genuinely believed that Black Sabbath had struck some sinister deal with Beelzebub in exchange for platinum album sales in America. But only the slackest jawed of fools could consider the present day Ozzy Ozbourne as being in league with the Devil. Unless of course you believe that the Devil’s present guise is that of a talent show judge. The Ozzy of 2008 has more in common with Dame Edna Everidge than the Prince Of Darkness. What seemed dark and dangerous thirty five years ago has now been stripped of virtually all it’s sinister mystique by reality TV and the over exposure of constant music channel rotation. Back then, it was easy to believe that a band like Led Zeppelin all lived together in a spooky castle and spent their evenings composing satanic incantations by firelight. Now we know full well that Marilyn Manson is actually a pantomime dame whose real name is Brian. Perhaps the final debunking of the Heavy Metal Devil Myth came in the Judas Priest 1987 trial in America, when the band were accused of disguising satanic messages in their music, encouraging their fans to commit suicide. As lead singer Rob Halford rightly pointed out from the witness stand, if they were going to place a subliminal message in their music it would be “Buy More Judas Priest Albums”.

At the end of the day, you can’t take any of it seriously. Not really. Mylo’s “Destroy Rock N Roll” features a sample of an enraged US Evangelist preacher reeling off a warning list of so-called “satanic” recording artists over an ominous house beat. These are meant to be the names to strike fear and dread into all pure and right thinking hearts. Around forty seconds into the track you’re rolling around on the floor in hysterics. Bonny Tyler? Huey Lewis and The News? Reo Speedwagon? The word “incredulous” springs to mind. There simply aren’t enough exclamation marks in existence. If the Devil has an iPod, he’s probably got Mylo on repeat. And he’s probably howling with satanic laughter.

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