Thursday, July 16, 2020

A Brief CCM History

We have been doing Flashback Fridays for several weeks now, so I thought I would take some time and talk about the rise of what we refer to as CCM (Contemporary Christian Music). If you have been following this blog, you are well aware that I am a huge fan of this music. Is all CCM actually theologically sound and good? No, but it is not necessarily all bad, and as a source of entertainment it generally remains more wholesome than many other entertainment sources.

The birth of CCM goes back to the Jesus Movement of the late 1960's that originated with God-fearing hippies like Larry Norman (often referred to as the father of Jesus Rock) and Randy Stonehill. 

Contemporary Christian music was a topic of controversy since the 60's and remains heavily debated today. Rock music was generally considered to be associated with a variety of "non-Christian" themes and activities. Secular labels would not produce these songs because they believed the gospel message would offend their customers and Christian labels (which primarily produced albums of hymns or Gospel music at that time) believed that the popular sound (and maybe hair style) would offend THEIR customers. So "Jesus musicians" often self-produced their albums and toured Christian coffeehouses, festivals, and any other venues that would welcome them. Many of these early albums did not sound great because of the lack of funding for production, but the artists started to gain success because of the many live performances.

So CCM didn't really take off in popularity until the mid to late 1970's. This popularity was spurred by early artists like Andrae Crouch, Keith Green, 2nd Chapter of Acts, the Imperials, Phil Keaggy, Stryper, and Amy Grant. Grant (referred to as the Queen of Christian Pop) was a tremendous influence, as a fresh-faced teen singing songs whose lyrics were just vague enough to question whether she was singing about God or boys. It was a great strategy that led to many Billboard topping singles and the first ever Christian platinum album (Age to Age) as well as some crossover success with mainstream radio. Her fame would boost the fortunes of her keyboardist, Michael W. Smith, and many of her songwriters like Rich Mullins, Gary Chapman, and Michael Card, whose CCM careers would become very influential as well.

CCM became more than just something that record stores stocked to sell to area youth pastors. It laid the foundation for the next wave of CCM artists such as the Newsboys, Steven Curtis Chapman, and DC Talk (whose rap-influenced 1989 debut broke all kinds of records). By the early 1990's, CCM became the fastest-growing segment of the Christian music market. In 1995, Bob Carlisle's record Butterfly Kisses, displaced the Spice Girls at the top of the secular charts and became a smash hit on both country and pop stations. This was the proof that CCM had reached popularity in many genres of popular music.

Into the 2000's, CCM music began to rely more and more on a theological focus as "praise" or "worship" music - songs that people could sing in worship. Initially fueled by musicians like Third Day, Chris Tomlin, Jeremy Camp, Matt Redman and Sonic Flood and we now see worship-focused bands like Hillsong United playing large stadiums around the world. Most current CCM "hits" that are heard on the radio today have this focus.

Obviously I am a fan of all types of Contemporary Christian music today (I do feature a lot of new releases and artists on this blog), but I still enjoy a lot of the older CCM "ground-breaking" music. Therefore, the purpose of these Friday posts is to take a moment and remember some of the favorites that I enjoyed in the 80's and 90's. I hope you enjoy them too so come back for tomorrow's Flashback Friday.

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