“Let me write the songs of a nation and I don’t care who writes it’s laws”– Andrew Fletcher, 18th century Scottish political activist.
That’s a bold claim; but to some extent, it’s true. People will often live out the lyrics of their culture more faithfully than they will obey its laws.
If so, then the evolution of song lyrics over the past 50 years must surely signal an important change.
We’ve come a long way from singing “How much is that doggy in the window?”– about the gift of a puppy– to “Who let the dogs out?”– about men on the prowl (“dawgs”) looking for women to pick up.
To be sure, there’s a mix of good and bad across the decades– enough to paint a picture biased in most any direction.
One thing is clear though, lyrical content has become more and more preoccupied with romantic relationships between male and female– especially if the historical horizon is extended.
In earlier times, songs commonly dealt with religious ideas. Now, they most often focus on the opposite sex– sometimes full of hope– sometimes full of disappointment.
But religious-like content may still be evident. It’s just that the words of worship have shifted away from God and toward humans. Consider some lyrics.
“Without You” by Mariah Carey
I can’t live if living is without you
“Love and Affection” by Nelson
I can’t live without your love and affection
I can’t face another night on my own
I’d give up my pride to save me from being alone
cause I can’t live without your love
“Everything I Do (I Do it For You)” by Bryan Adams
there’s no love like your love
and no other love could give more love
there’s no way unless you’re there all the time all the way
“Lady” by Kenny Rogers
lady…your love’s the only love I need
and beside me is where I want you to be
cause my love…there’s nothing I won’t do for you
“Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston
learning to love yourself
it is the greatest love of all . . .
and if by chance that special place
that you’ve been dreaming of
leads you to a lonely place
find your strength in love
The preceding words truly ARE the words of worship– the kinds of statements that ought be reserved only for God.
The problem, of course, is that they are directed toward creatures– another human or even to oneself– not toward the Creator.
But putting any horizontal relationship ahead of one’s vertical relationship with God puts that horizontal relationship at the risk.
Thus, we see the real source of expectancy and disappointment reflected in contemporary songs– and contemporary relationships.
It is the enthusiasm and disillusionment of idolatry– of putting all hope in mere creatures and then trashing those creatures when they fail to satisfy.
Fletcher was right. For many people, life is shaped more by song than by law.
But to live one’s life in accordance with the lyrics of the typical rap, rock, C&W– you name it– song would be a terrible life to live.
Some of it could be avoided by reserving the language of worship for the Creator.