“We’d better stop children. What’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.” So said Stephen Stills in 1967, as he wrote “For What It’s Worth,” which turned out to be one of the biggest hits of Buffalo Springfield, one of America’s all-time super-groups. The advice was for young people to stop and think about the things they do. It is still good advice today. Particularly with regard to our music.
Music is a great force in our lives. The proper choice of music can motivate, uplift, and soothe. The improper choice of music can frustrate, depress, downgrade, or motivate us in the wrong directions. Music is a mood setter. It is an expressor of ideas. It is an art, the mastering of which is an enviable and honorable achievement.
Music is also a personal thing. It is common to hear lovers of one form of music or another claim that theirs is surely the best there is. This is true of young and old alike. But surely, no form of music has a monopoly on expression, motivation, or talent. And a better understanding of any form of music will almost always lead to a greater liking for it. This is true whether one is studying the classics, jazz, or rock ’n’ roll. It is true for any kind of music. Any art is more liked when it is better understood.
I remember being told many times as a teen that if I would study the music classics, I would come to like them more than I did. And it was true. I even now enjoy them, many years after studying them. By the same token I would say to parents and young people that you will surely come to like modern music more if you study it. An appreciation of its authors, their styles, and their messages can add much to your enjoyment of it. But more important, it will also allow you to make intelligent decisions as to what is good and what is not in modern music.
I speak mainly to young people, for many do not yet know enough about the music they like to hear. I have been for a number of years intimately acquainted with rock music, its authors, and its effects. Let us apply the test that Stills gave to us and analyze these things. First of all, let us stop. Let us take the time to hear what we are listening to. Then, let us ask ourselves the question he did.
What’s that sound? In what kind of mood does this music leave me? Is it uplifting? Does it motivate me to do good? Obviously, there is no room here for rationalization. Honesty with ourselves is a big key to discerning between the good and the bad in modern music. We exercise our gift of the Holy Ghost in such a discernment. The first guideline, then, is mood.
Secondly, we cannot ignore what is being said. What is it that you are listening to? What is it that you are perhaps singing along with? Do you know? This is where the greatest evil lurks in modern music. It is not so often the music but what is being said that makes it unacceptable to LDS standards.
Most records now include on their covers or elsewhere, the words to the songs. If we truly hope to discern between that which is good and that which is bad, we cannot ignore these words. This is the reason of our rejection of Jesus Christ, Superstar is it not? Can anyone who has heard it deny that the music is beautiful? It is well written and well performed. But Satan leads us away carefully down to hell and, more often than not, cloaks evil in beauty. It took only one reading of the words to the play for me to reject it outright. The beauty of the music should not, in any song or album, divert us from the false doctrines it may teach. It is important that we realize this same test must be applied to any music, of any kind, we listen to, classical, easy listening, western, jazz, or rock. The principle is the same everywhere, for what is said is the music’s purpose, and the music becomes the vehicle for carrying the message.
The Thirteenth Article of Faith [A of F 1:13] gives us the key to deciding whether what is being said is within the standards we hold. Is it virtuous? Is it lovely? Is it of good report? Is it praiseworthy? If it fails any of these tests, then it should not be acceptable to us.
Everybody look what’s going down. In other words, what’s happening? In what atmosphere is the music being presented? Can anyone deny that at most rock concerts there is drug taking and unvirtuous conduct taking place, both on the stage and in the audience? We all know there is. This is not so true in well-lighted public halls. But it is true on a very large scale in multi-day rock festivals. We need to be discerning in choosing what concerts we ought to see. The place, the group, and the music must all be part of such a decision.
So what? What difference can you make? A great deal! Most announcers and disc jockeys have no choice as to what records they can play. How is this decision made? By you! Radio stations play what you will listen to. Groups record what you have proven will sell. Promoters schedule concerts according to the number of you they are convinced will attend the event. What you will not listen to, conversely, the radio stations will not play. What you will not buy, artists will not record. What you will not buy tickets to see, groups and promoters will not perform.
But to carry the point further, even if you are only one member of the Church in a sea of the world, your decision still casts a yes or no vote on any song, group, or performance. When you spend money to see or hear a group, you are really paying them to do what they do. And surely, unless it meets with the standards the Lord expects of us, who would want to be a party to such things? I tell you from experience that you can make a difference.
What do we do, then? Reject rock music? I think that to conclude so would be to miss the point entirely. For there is much in modern music that can meet the tests we have discussed. There is as much good as evil in almost all forms of music, including rock. The key is to discern between the good and the evil and choose the good in what we listen to, what we buy, and what we pay to see. Let us judge all music for what it’s worth!