From Veith and Jenkins…
The 1970s was a time of hippies, free love, psychedelic drugs, and cultural revolution. But it was also a time of major religious revival, with the "Jesus Movement" gaining headway in that very counter-culture. How could that be? Baylor professor Philip Jenkins credits the Byrds, who popularized a recovery of American roots music, much of which is explicitly Christian. He explains:
I love the Byrds! I heard them play. I do remember marveling at all of the Christian references I was hearing in their music and in other albums of that day.
And yet, I'm not sure I'm convinced by this analysis. Why did those old hymns and gospel songs resonate with people like Gram Parsons and record-buyers the way they did?
I think a better explanation is that where sin abounds, grace breaks in. Which means that we may be in for another spiritual awakening soon.
But this gives me the excuse to post some Byrds music. ("Jesus is Just All Right With Me" comes from 1970, though there is nothing particularly rootsy about it. Gram Parsons joined the group in 1968, but the far better "Turn, Turn, Turn"–a setting of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 by Pete Seeger–came out in 1965. This YouTube version is stellar, but it is more recent, from 1990.)
UPDATE: Thanks to SK Peterson for bringing up this STUNNING song by Gram Parsons (with harmony by co-writer Emmylou Harris AND Linda Rondstadt): "In My Hour of Darkness." This is what the original article is talking about, not just with the coolness factor (though the accompanying pictures of these three performers are very, very cool) but with the way Parsons is taking that old-time gospel hymn structure and using it in a highly personal and expressive way. (I think we will all need to purchase the two-album set GP / Grievous Angel.)
I would add that the difference between this and what passes for most contemporary Christian music in the pop vein, in addition to facing up to "darkness," is that Parsons is drawing on the past, on the Christian musical tradition, rather than repudiating it.