Who has not at some point heard the plaintive wail of some adult, "The music kids listen to these days…" This is normally accompanied by an exhale and shaking of the head. It is as if the world will end at any moment.
In every generation.
What is the best music ever made? That which blared away during our formative years. Sometimes it is the music our parents loved. For others parental music drove them in an different direction.
I grew up listening to Country and Western music (authentic, not today's Country) blaring from the single AM radio speaker in the back window shelf of a Ford Galaxy 500. Charlie Pride, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, Ronnie Milsap and too many more to name. I could sing most of the songs.
Unlike many of my contemporaries at school I did not fully embrace Rock but loved Waylon and Willie, Don Wilson, Glen Campbell, the Bellamy Brothers and others popular in the 70s and 80s. Unlike any of my contemporaries at school I moved away from Country and Western and what little Rock I knew to Southern Gospel: The Inspirations, The Hinsons, The Kingsmen, The Nelons, Squire Parsons. Eventually "the beat" got me and I fell for Dallas Holm, Keith Green, Petra, WhiteHeart, DeGarmo & Key, Twila Paris, and others. Many, many others.
It was years later before I started exploring the popular music of my youth. I specifically sought out music I had overheard others enjoying that I mostly ignored. Phil Collins, A-ha, The Police, Boston, Bruce Springsteen, CCR, Dire Straits, Gordon Lightfoot, and the like.
Mostly as a young adult I listened to what was called "Contemporary Christian Music" or CCM. The stretching started when our first daughter did not particularly care for our music preferences, or, at least, not only our music preferences. MXPX, The W's, Stavesacre, POD, Cool Hand Luke, The Supertones. I went to concerts. Endured Listened to music with words so unintelligible not even the liner notes helped. I attended concerts at sketchy, alternative venues.
Then, our kids all moved to more Folk and Indie vibes, and I have been hearing, overhearing and seeking out new music ever since: Lorde, The Shins, Mumford and Sons, the Avett Brothers, Ray Lamontagne, Matt Pond PA, Bastille, Nick Drake, Alexi Murdoch, Matthew Perryman Jones, The Civil Wars, Arcade Fire, Imagine Dragons, Sean Michel, Von Grey and so many more. I even edged slightly into Hip Hop with Propaganda.
I became a Blues fan (Blues guitar, specifically) because I was looking for new music: Stevie Ray Vaughn, Tedeski and Trucks, Robert Johnson, Joe Bonamassa.
My oldest daughter is to be thanked for introducing me to Coldplay via their "Scientist" video. My son is to be thanked for introducing me to U2. My youngest daughter is to be thanked for introducing me to The Civil Wars.
This is what I have discovered: there is no single best era for music. There is great music–not just good music–in every era. Being locked into a single era or genre limits me from great music from unknown or unlikely places.
Here are four reasons I encourage you to listen to the music your kids like. (If you do not have kids, pay attention to what's playing when teenagers and young adults are bobbing their heads.)
- Because it helps you interpret culture. Artist interpret trends for the masses and in doing so create culture. This can be for good or ill, but as believers it helps us know what and who people are hearing. If it is coming through the lyrics of a popular song you will soon see it reflected, for good or ill, in the lives of teenagers. Protest songs let you know which people are angry and why. Love songs let you know what people mean by the word.
- Because it draws your kids in rather than pushing them away. Music is a community builder. Anyone who has ever been to a good concert knows this. Masses of people who do not know each other singing together, swaying together, cheering together, sometimes weeping together. Music is a powerful force.When you criticize your kids' music you risk creating a rift that unnecessary. Listen to it. Discuss the lyrics with them. Sing the good songs. Impress their friends by knowing who artists are and which songs are popular. (And when you impress your kids' friends, you will find they talk well of you even when you are not around. That is a pretty big deal.)
- Because there is good music being made. There. I said it.Though I am a child of the 70s and early 80s to stop listening after Boston's seminal project is unwise. The advent of MP3s and direct marketing is a bonus. Good bands are not limited to local markets simply because they cannot get onto a major label.
- Because it helps you stay young. The older we get the more we need to experience new things. As much as I love Classic Rock, early Petra and Dallas Holm, please do not trap me there. I hope to always experience fresh tunes coming from new musical talents. I many not remember the words always, but I can enjoy the melodies, harmonies and rhythms.
You can find all kinds of new music on websites like Noisetrade, Soundcloud, and on streaming sites/services like Pandora, Spotify and Last.fm.
[Although I mentioned bands and singers, I remain more of a song person. If the singer is a total loser but has one really good song, I'll buy that song (or listen online). I rarely buy entire albums (sorry, purists) since previewing every single song for objectionable content takes more time than I have.]
Who are some of your favorite new or little known artists?
This column was orginally published on Kingdom In The Midst.