Music has Charms to sooth a savage Breast
The above phrase was coined by William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697, and has long been misreported as ‘Music has charms to sooth the savage beast.’ Socially, I think I have risen above ‘savage’, however, as I am nonetheless male, ‘beast’ remains an option.
I have long found that music “speaks” to me. By that I mean, certain songs, styles of music, or even artists can profoundly affect my mood, my thought processes, and <Gasp> my driving. For example, in the mid-1990’s, I had the tape player in the car pounding out the song Swamp Thing which had been recorded by a group called The Grid. The tune itself was essentially tribal in terms of its beat and pace.
At some point, I noticed that a bubble gum machine in my rear view mirror had hit the jackpot( lights of a police cruiser ) and there seemed to be a member of the constabulary who wished to chat with me. From the officer’s statements, I got the impression he was less than pleased with my doing “45 in a 25”. $192 later, I resolved to be a bit more cautious of the music I played while driving.
I was recounting that story to one of my daughters recently when the entire topic of music and morality struck me. For example, in the 1950’s a very popular song which was performed each week on “Your Hit Parade” for many weeks was I Believe recorded by Frankie Lane . The song simply presented the reasons for the author’s belief, a portion of the song is presented below:
“I believe above the storm the smallest prayer
Will still be heard
I believe that someone in the great somewhere
Hears every word
Every time I hear a newborn baby cry
Or touch a leaf
Or see the sky
Then I know why I believe”
Music by the decade
That which represents itself as my mind then started clicking through the decades to explore what shifts in music may have happened. My memory jumped from the start of the 1950’s to the end of the 1950’s when the song He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands which had been recorded by an English artist, well in advance of the British Invasion, named Laurie London. The song had risen quite high in the American pop music charts and was covered by Mahalia Jackson and rose quite high in the various charts yet once again.
The song simply told of the protection that was given to the entire world.
“He’s got you and me brother in His hands
He’s got you and me sister in His hands
He’s got you and me brother in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands”
In the late 1960’s, the Edward Hawkins Singers recorded Oh Happy Day. The song spoke of Christ’s forgiveness.
“When Jesus washed (when Jesus washed)
He washed my sins away (oh happy day)
Oh happy day (oh happy day)”
The high water mark, if such there be, appeared to be in the early 1970’s. Broadway saw the musicals Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. These musicals gave us such as Day by Day, I don’t know how to love Him, and Superstar. Additional songs also were present on the pop charts, including Spirit in the Sky.
You know it’s a must
Gotta have a friend in Jesus
So you know that
When you die
You’re gonna go to
The spirit in the sky.”
Then what happened?
The arc of the pendulum of time may have reached the limit of its arc at the end of the 1960’s. If not at the end of its arc, it may have slowed a bit as it approaches(d) the end of its period. Society had begun the process of change. During the 1960’s it appeared that there was a relatively unified force demonstrating for equal rights, equal pay, the end of the Vietnam conflict, and several other causes.
By the 1970’s, these causes were largely resolved, or at least close to resolution: Civil Rights legislation in 1964, Voting Rights in 1965, end to the Vietnam conflict in 1975, the voting age is reduced from 21 to 18 in 1971, and the murder of children is declared to be a Constitutional right in 1973.
Society has shifted at the same time to a more ‘me-centered’, less socially conscious focus. Popular books of the period reflected the shift in focus, these books included: I’m OK, You’re OK and The Joy of Sex.
Music had also shifted dramatically in its message from Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd in 1980, Cyndi Lauper and Girls Just Want To Have Fun in 1984, George Michael in 1987 I Want your Sex, Groove Thang in 1994 and on and on until recently when we had a young woman extolling the virtues of a plump bottom since “boys they like a little more booty to hold at night”.
There is no way to see how far this trend in music will go, nor to see a point at which the pendulum may once again reach the end of its period. However, it is my belief that at some point in the future, be that 10, 25 or 40 years, society will collectively look back from the pinnacle of their hedonism and long for an earlier, more wholesome time. The sad part is that the society of that time may look back at this time in search for wholesomeness.