When I was a young Christian, I wanted contemporary Christian music covered on Radio 1. When they covered the Greenbelt Festival, I was delighted. I wanted them to play Christian music, but I was embarrassed at the infamous attempt by Christians to get the band Heartbeat into the charts with their song ‘Tears From Heaven’. It was when well-known evangelical-charismatic preachers started saying it was the right thing to do that it was obvious something was wrong. It wasn’t their area of expertise, and one of the campaigners, Colin Urquhart, had one of his offspring in the band. I still wanted Christian music on ‘secular’ radio, but never understood just how much the BBC had to chase the coat tails of the commercial stations. Nor did I understand the irony of getting what was or should have been a counter-cultural message to have a mainline hearing.
Skip to my mid-thirties. I’m in my first appointment as a minister in the town of Hertford. A bunch of us are running youth worship events in the town, in church halls, a disused shop and eventually in the local night club, Zero. We call our event ‘One@Zero’. Some of our number have been going down to Littlehampton in Sussex to witness a youth worship event called ‘Cutting Edge’, led by what was called the Cutting Edge Band. That band morphed into Delirious? The teenagers at our event and we leaders followed them with interest and enthusiasm. When they started releasing singles in order to get into the charts, we all went and bought them. In fact, Hertford’s local independent record/CD shop, Tracks, used to supply a weekly Top 10 sales chart to the local newspaper. So we piled in there to buy them in the week of release. When ‘Deeper’
was released and made number 20 nationally, it was number one in the Hertford chart.
As they released more singles, we bought them. They had a few more to make the lower end of the Top 20, roughly comparable with other cult bands of the time. Nevertheless, the influential Chris Evans infamously refused to book them for his hit TV show TFI Friday, and Radio 1 still shunned them – something Q Magazine covered sympathetically at the time. It got to the point that the band called one of their albums ‘Audio Lessonover‘, an anagram of ‘Radio One Loves Us’. The singles eventually stopped, and they concentrated on their huge influence on the contemporary worship movement with evangelical-charismatic Christianity and beyond. I guess Christians shouldn’t have been surprised the band didn’t become the hoped-for darlings of the Smash Hits crowd. But you live and learn.
Or do you? As Steve Turner says in his poem ‘History Lesson‘:
History repeats itself.
Because it’s happening again. Only in a different way, powered by social media. The principles of Clay Shirky‘s ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ are being applied by Christians. Facebook groups have sprung up, not orchestrated by Delirious? (who recently split up, anyway), but by fans. The first one I saw was called ‘Anyone up for getting a No. 1 for Delirious?‘ The founder, Steve Jeffery, describes his motives this way:
So some dude managed to get Rage Against The Machine to No.1 for Christmas. Is anyone out there up for doing the same thing for Delirious? If you are then join this group. You need to download the track between the 29th Mar & 3rd April, the track will be History Maker, will all need to buy it from iTunes (or other download outlet) in the same week.
Please only join if you are actually going to commit to spend 75p on iTunes to make this happen. Spread the word and join now! I think it would be a great gift from us fans back to the band if we can make this happen!
You can see the social media connections. This is a people movement, like those who couldn’t face another saccharine X-Factor winner having the Christmas number one, and who successfully gave Simon Cowell a bloody nose by supporting a Rage Against The Machine track.
The second group – with, at present, more followers – is called ‘Christian music topping the UK charts!‘ This too is motivated by the people power of social media, as they make clear:
Although this initiative has not derived from the band I have been in touch with their record company (Furious Records) and they are more than happy for this initiative to take place and are excited to see how it unfolds!
Those two campaigns are specific, and apparently time-limited to getting people downloading the track ‘History Maker’
during Holy Week, so that Delirious? get the number one slot on Easter Day (which may not be commercially significant in the music industry, but obviously is for Christians).
To these must now be added a (so far tiny) group with a longer aim, ‘Christian chart music for a year‘, who say
Christian music seems to be lacking from todays chart – yet there is some cracking stuff out there. We intend to try and push for at least one christian artist in the UK Top 40 every week for the next year. We’re not bothered about number one’s.
We want to inspire debate. To have DJ’s questioning why they are playing christian music. For people to talk to each other about their beliefs. To see churches swell with people who are curious. To say that we have a voice and that we are being marginalised. This could be an icebreaker to openly talk about your faith with someone else.
Approximately 5000 people buying the same track in a week will secure us a top 40 hit. Please help to spread the message of Jesus.
What can I do?
1. Press the “Become a Fan” button up top there.
2. Tell all of your Christian friends. (Click “Suggest to friends” to the left)
3. Post your ideas and suggestions in the forum (click the “Discussions” tab)
4. Support the single of the week
These are interesting reasons. Despite my background in remembering past failed campaigns, I don’t want to say anything cynical, especially since some of these campaigns are attracting young Christians and I don’t want to be negative in a way that damages their faith, or alternatively so puts their backs up they become obstinate. Instead, I would invite discussion around a number of themes.
Firstly, how are we going to engage in the proposed debate? It is a laudable approach, though – better the conversational approach in an Internet campaign, I think. Therefore the debate needs to be peaceable, not confrontational.
Secondly, let’s tease out the concern about Christians having a voice and the fear of being marginalised. That is an ongoing worry for many Christians, and is being heightened by the looming General Election in the UK. Will we be listened to? We have a right to be heard as members of a democracy. What we don’t have is any right to special status. Indeed, Jesus warned that only a few would take the ‘narrow way’, and the biblical images of exiles, of strangers in a strange land, are uncomfortable ones that we may have to embrace (without that in any way meaning that we should be silent). If the campaign becomes one about Christian rights, I think we can be sure there is a real sense in which we will not gain a hearing, because we will alienate people – just the opposite of what is desired.
Thirdly, if this is to be an icebreaker, let’s make sure our conversation is ‘seasoned with salt’.
Fourthly, let’s think about what constitutes good Christian witness. It won’t simply be Christian music in the charts – and especially at a time when the charts are less and less important. It will be about the kind of people we are. We still – even more – need to earn the right to be heard. We all need to be ‘history makers’ by our loving involvement in the world, so that people care about what we say and sing about.
Interesting, Dave. I haven’t really thought about Christian ‘crossovers’ to the secular radio stations over here. It has happened quite a bit in the US (Jars of Clay, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith being the more famous). Kutless even had a worship song (All the Words) played during an episode of Scrubs.
I am somewhat ambivalent about the movement, and even more so about a group that has, as you say, broken up. I don’t always think that the Contemporary Christian Music and ‘secular music’ scenes have always been such a good match. I’ll take Michael Card any day!
The US situation is vastly different, isn’t it, Will? A much bigger market for Christian music, and bookstores plugged into the Nielsen SoundScan system for their sales, meaning their sales got included in those counted for the Billboard charts. Hence it has been easier for Jars Of Clay and the like to register on the charts.
Mmm interesting article Dave. I have to be honest and admit that I don’t go for a huge amount of the Christian music scene. Yet where it is good why not? By all means let Delirious get a Easter Number 1 but let it be because cynics like me hear their music and are convinced it is worth it. I’ll listen to their stuff and who knows?
I go for rather less of it than I did when I was a young Christian – and I have less disposable income as a father! But it is surely important as you say simply to support something if it is of sufficient quality – not simply ‘because it is Christian’. I wouldn’t for one moment associate Delirious? with the following story, but the Christian playwright Murray Watts used to tell a story about the sort of people who would come up to him and say, “The Lord has given me a poem.” Those who did so invariably had written the worst doggerel you could imagine. Watts would take their piece of paper, rip it up and say, “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
that’s interesting stuff.
I didn’t know that ‘audio lessonover’ was an anagram of ‘radio one loves us’ !!
i’ve never had the urge to join facebook groups that aim to get Cn music into the charts. If it’s not good enough to get their on its own, or its just not wanted by the peeps in the business… then so be it.
i too remember Heartbeat’s momentary fame in the charts… how my kids (tweenagers) would hate that song now!
Yes, Annie – Paul’s point above about the quality of the music is a critical one. I’ve tried not to sound harsh in this post, because I’m sure there is a genuine sincerity at the bottom of these movements, but I think it needs further thought about how this witness will be perceived.
As for the Heartbeat song, I’m afraid I cringed at the time. Having said that, a few years ago I was involved in a project where Sue Rinaldi, formerly of Heartbeat, came regularly to lead worship. I have to say I developed a huge respect for her as being creative enough to diverge from standard evangelical-charismatic formulae in the way she led worship and the content of her lyrics.
Came upon this blog trail by accident…thanks Dave for your comments on my worship leading..
Heartbeat seems so long ago now…but I guess when you release singles you have to join the media mayhem that is part of the package…there is a huge marketing system involved in music and the industry
In different ways, using different words and certainly in this day, different musical styles…everybody tries to encourage people to buy their single or album…maybe its more accepted now than it was back in 1987!!
Anyhow…the debate will continue I am sure…
Sorry for the delay in approving your comment, but we’ve been moving house from Essex to Surrey. The place where I came across your creative worship leading was in Medway at Medway Celebrate, where I was part of the leadership team. I was grateful for the way you made people take responsibility for their own worshipping, rather than hanging on the coat-tails of a well-known worship leader. That, and you went beyond some of the clichés and limitations of the genre, with your emphasis on themes such as creation, and your sensitivity to pomo culture.
Michael Card I agree and of course Don Francisco two fantastic communicators and great musicians – well said Will!
Francisco isn’t my cup of tea musically (no criticism intended), but I had a church member in one circuit who had been converted at one of his concerts.