“Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?” – this question has been attributed to a number of people, including General William Booth (1829-1912), the founder of the Salvation Army; preacher Roland Hill (1744-1833); John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of the Methodist movement; his brother Charles Wesley (1707-1788), a leader in the Methodist movement; as well as to preacher George Whitefield (1714-1770). It does seem most widely connected to Booth, however, in terms of popularising the phrase.
The question is – does the Devil have all the good tunes?
When I was growing up, my family were members of the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army is a Christian church, founded by the aforementioned William Booth in 1865 in the East End of London as the Christian Revival Society. This was renamed the Christian Mission, before finally becoming the Salvation Army in 1878. The Army is not only a church, it is also well known for the social and charitable work that it does – something that has been central to its aims from the start.
Something else that the Army is widely known for is its music. Particularly its brass bands. These are regularly seen both on the streets, and on TV programmes during the Christmas season each year, amongst other times. I became a member of one such band, playing drums and percussion for a number of years, and it was exposure to the music of the Salvation Army, both the bands and the choirs, that gave me an appreciation for brass instruments and vocal harmonies that I still enjoy in music today. Whether it be the brass section found in the music of groups such as Earth, Wind & Fire, or the rockier stuff like the “horn mix” of Extreme’s “Cupid’s Dead” (from the 1992 album “III Sides To Every Story”); the vocal harmonies of Irish group The Corrs or hard rock giants Def Leppard.
I have what can only be described as a large and eclectic music collection. This takes in many differing genres. Although I do not identify myself with the Christian church now – and haven’t for some years – I do still have fond affection for some of the music that I discovered during my Salvation Army years. Brass band numbers “Variations On Laudate Dominum” (composed by Edward Gregson) and “Resurgam” (composed by Eric Ball), to name but two, remain superbly complex and interesting pieces to me.
Cliff Richard’s “Little Town” – complete with brass section- (from his 1982 gospel album “Now You See Me… Now You Don’t”) never fails to stir me, and American singer Amy Grant made some wonderful Christian pop music, such as “Angels” (from her 1984 album “Straight Ahead”) that can still lodge itself in my head, seemingly for days on end, even thirty years after I first got the album! There were many other songs / albums that could be classified as “Christian” music too that I can still enjoy today – including U.S. metal band Stryper, Petra, Resurrection Band, Larry Norman, Steve Taylor, Whitecross and King’s X.
Even back in my Salvation Army days I was developing an interest in the secular things in life. Whether it be the fairer sex (Charlie’s Angels, Bond girls, Page 3 girls, girls in the sixth form at school) or music – initially the likes of Status Quo, Rainbow, Adam & The Ants.
It wasn’t long before I found that I had a fascination with the “dark side” despite, or perhaps as a reaction to, being brought up in a Christian environment.
During my secondary school years I loved reading books by the likes of James Herbert and Stephen King. Graham Masterton’s “The Devils Of D-Day”, discovered in a dusty second hand bookshop, was an early favourite of mine.
I also loved horror movies such as Hammer’s “The Devil Rides Out” (1968), the brilliant cult classic “The Wicker Man” (1973) and the original version of “The Omen” (1976), not to mention dozens of other classic Hammer horror movies – plus their television series “Hammer House Of Horror” – and all those old classic Hitchcock movies like “Vertigo” (1958), “Psycho” (1960) and “The Birds” (1963)
So, it’s hardly surprising that when I got into music properly it didn’t take too long before I was discovering bands that seemed to be associated with the dark side in some way. From the late 60s / early 70s came heavy rock bands such as the doomy Black Sabbath and the more psychedelic leaning Black Widow and Coven (whose 1969 album “Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls” features a thirteen minute “Satanic Mass”).
The 80s brought the introduction of the Black Metal genre with Mercyful Fate, Venom (who recorded the 1982 album “Black Metal”) and Witchfinder General. The latter were as infamous for the album covers as for the music contained within!
These, and more recent acts – the likes of Cradle Of Filth, Behemoth, Dimmu Borgir, Meads Of Asphodel, Blood Ceremony, Electric Wizard, Wintefylleth, Akercocke, The Devil’s Blood, Jex Thoth and Watain – are often associated with Black / Occult / Pagan Metal. But, whereas you would expect Christian artists to hold Christian religious views, this is often not the case with music that is explicitly connected to Satanism and the Occult.
King Diamond, singer from Mercyful Fate, was one of the few artists who aligned themselves with Satanism, along with Watain and a number of Norwegian artists like Euronymous from the band Mayhem. Others, such as Quorthon from the band Bathory, Gaahl from Gorgoroth and Varg Vikernes from Burzum have used Satan and Satanism as an introduction to more indigenous heathen beliefs and as a symbol of their own beliefs in Odin and other anti-Christian / pre-Christian figures.
For many bands, however, it is a case of using lyrics, visual imagery and musical aesthetics as a form of art rather than an expression of belief. And with these factors being so striking it is little wonder that it is so effective.
Away from the visuals, the music of the majority of the above mentioned bands is compellingly effective at painting images and conveying emotion and feeling, just as the great classical music from the past – Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, etc. did so well.
The music may sometimes be abrasive, bleak, brutal and intense – see Watain’s “Malfeitor” (from 2010’s “Lawless Darkness”), or Cradle Of Filth’s “Funeral In Carpathia” (from 1996’s “Dusk… And Her Embrace”) for example. It can also be evocative, peaceful, meditative and beautiful – such as Winterfylleth’s amazing “Children Of The Stones” (from 2010’s “The Mercian Sphere”) and Blood Ceremony’s “Lord Summerisle” (from 2013’s “The Eldrich Dark”)
There are, of course, many artists whose music is less extreme than the Black / Occult / Pagan metal ones, where there have, over the years, been suggestions that the music or the artists themselves, are in some way “in league with the devil”.
These include Robert Johnson – legendary bluesman who was said to have sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads; KISS – rockers whose name was alleged to stand for Knights In Satan’s Service; The Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil indeed; Marilyn Manson – the Antichrist Superstar; Led Zeppelin – Jimmy Page had a deep interest in the occultist Aleister Crowley; The Eagles – “Hotel California” has long been rumoured to be about the Church Of Satan.
At the poppier end of the spectrum Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Kesha, Taylor Momsen from The Pretty Reckless, Jay-Z and more -have all been accused of using Satanic imagery and lyrics in their performances.
Heavy Metal is often portrayed as the Devil’s music. The Blues has sometimes been said to come from Robert Johnson’s Crossroads moment. Folk music probably comes originally, just like folklore, from ancient times. All of these genres have pre-Christian and anti-Christian elements.
One thing seems clear to me – although the Christian God has inspired plenty of wonderful music to be written and performed, there is far more excellent and diverse music that isn’t. Some would say that that in itself makes it the Devil’s music – whether it appears to be or not!
So, does the Devil have all the good tunes? I reckon so!