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Stop, rock, and roll

Building unity through God’s gift of music

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I was 7 years and 18 days old when the Beatles’ Abbey Road debuted in September 1969. It’s the first album release I remember, mainly because of a lovelorn teenage girl in my Oahu, Hawaii, neighborhood. Clutching her tear-stained album cover, she mooned over Paul McCartney, barefoot in the crosswalk as he sang about the coming sun.

At precisely the same historical moment, my parents were not so much grown-ups as seekers on the verge. Not quite hippies, not quite straight. Liberals, not radicals. Weekdays, both pursued square careers—he a physicist, she a medical technologist. Weekends, though, Mom wore African-print caftans, read Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, and quaffed an alarming number of wine coolers (a habit that would later do her in). Dad, meanwhile, tacked a giant Bob Dylan poster to the cinder-block ­living room wall and sat on the dumpster-dive couch beneath it, carving his Vietnam-era Army boots into sandals with a razor blade.

Amid the mixed messages of my parents’ not-quiteness (Nixon bad/marijuana good … Bible bad/beat poets good), music was my silver lining. While other kids’ ­parents loved Elvis and Brenda Lee, mine collected 1960s and ’70s rock, folk, folk-rock, and soul—the best era in music after Glenn Miller, in my humble opinion:

Santana. Bill Withers. Cat Stevens. Led Zeppelin. James Taylor. Carole King. Creedence. Elton John. Jethro Tull. Aretha. Van Morrison. Pink Floyd. Sly & the Family Stone. Crosby, Stills, & Nash. Then, as I got older, the Eagles, Bob Seger, Tom Petty.

One can argue with their politics but not with their craft. While I’ve since had to reject certain songs with objectionable content (rock ’n’ roll being, well, you know … just rock ’n’ roll), I still marvel at the creativity of that era, at the soundtrack of my youth.

The ability to make beautiful music is a gift, a manifestation of common grace, the touch of God. Music moves mind and spirit, memory and emotion. Scripture exhorts us to sing and make music to the Lord as an expression of praise, worship, joy, and gratitude.

“I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:6).

“But be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:18-19).

“Sing aloud to God our strength” (Psalm 81:1).

Early rock music is surprisingly rich with Christian messages, even apart from on-the-nose songs, like the Doobie Brothers’ “Jesus is Just Alright.”

Take “My God” by Jethro Tull, for example: “Oh people—what have you done? Locked Him in His golden cage. Made Him bend to your religion, Him ­resurrected from the grave. He is the god of nothing if that’s all that you can see. You are the God of everything. He’s inside you and me.” Powerful testimony.

Such music can testify, soothe, and, science has learned, even heal. During one dark period of my life, all I could do was read the Psalms and listen to Anthology: Through the Years, a greatest-hits collection by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Maybe it was because my heart was broken.

This season, though, is full of joy. I find myself cranking up the volume in my car, smiling, and singing (really) loud: “Bennie and the Jets” (Elton John). “Oye Como Va” (Santana. Best open-road, Harley-riding song ever). “Good Times, Bad Times” (Led Zeppelin, with profound guitar-shredding by Jimmy Page).

In fact, I’ve been enjoying this so much I thought it would be cool if, together, we made a 2024 WORLD playlist. What are the Top 5 songs from your youth? What songs take you back? Email me your list (be sure to include artist and year); we’ll create a playlist and post it online. I’m hoping our shared music stretches back to Glenn Miller, Cotton Club stomps, even the classical greats, unifying us across decades with God’s good gift.

And for those about to rock, I salute you.

Lynn Vincent

Lynn is executive editor of WORLD Magazine and producer/host of the true crime podcast Lawless. She is the New York Times best-selling author or co-author of a dozen nonfiction books, including Same Kind of Different As Me and Indianapolis. Lynn lives in the mountains east of San Diego, Calif.


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