Religious fundamentalists have long condemned popular culture, especially new developments such as rock ‘n’ roll music. Due to Mick Jagger’s literary background and exposure to Bulgakov’s allegorical Master and Margarita novella, which inspired his song, “Sympathy for the Devil”, religious zealots often criticize its development.
Black Sabbath used a flattened interval (sometimes known as a chord) which liturgical composers had warned against, while rapper LL Cool J has added Satanism into their shows with symbols from their costumes and gestures that symbolize evil.
long before Jelly Roll Morton was expelled from his grandmother’s house for playing “the Devil’s music”, jazz had already caused consternation among fundamentalist Christians who perceived its syncopated rhythms to be in league with Satan. Long before Elvis Presley or rock songs that contain sexual double-entendre were even written, fundamentalist Christians recoiled at any possibility that this music might be aligned with Satan.
Rock music evolved out of blues and black gospel in the 1940s, and artists soon employed words and images that had inherently sinister connotations. Artists would frequently invoke Satan as either an allegory (such as Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman”), poetic device (as in Billie Holiday’s “That Ole Devil Called Love”), or epithet (such as in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic song “Between Heaven and Hell”).
But it was when rock music shifted from folk to hard rock that Satanism first came to be associated with this new genre. This coincided with an increase in interest for occultism among younger members of counterculture as well as technological innovations that allowed musicians to manipulate sound for creating unique aesthetics such as multitrack tape recording.
Hard rock bands such as the Stooges and MC5 were pioneering some of the toughest, loudest and roughest sounds ever heard recorded, featuring references to drugs and violence within their songs, with records bearing symbols such as an inverted cross or pentagram bearing satanic overtones that caused many fans to burn them in bonfires out of fear of what this might portend.
Once rock and punk had become popular, their fans were perceived as demon-worshippers or Satanists. With punk’s violent, sexually explicit music seen as being linked with Satanism. When The Beatles released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album in 1967 featuring Aleister Crowley on its cover art this was seen as evidence.
Flower power and civil rights began with optimism but ended with tragedy with the Tet Offensive, assassinations, rioting and Richard Nixon’s election. Rock music reflected this turbulent atmosphere through songs by artists such as Roy Orbison lamenting lost love; more sophisticated renditions of Elvis Presley’s gospel stylings; raw power from British bands like the Beatles; yet for some religious conservatives its sexual and occult references were deeply disturbing.
Randall J. Stephens’ exhaustively researched book The Devil’s Music offers fascinating historical insights and sober lessons for social progressives who have long disparaged evangelical Christians as part of America’s culture wars. Rock ‘n’ roll has long attracted converts while also frightening off critics; this tension remains an essential feature of its appeal even today.
Long before rock music became mainstream, religious conservatives saw it as an art-form with unsavory intentions – an immoral art-form full of sin and immorality from which innocent teenagers must be shielded. Even early on in recording industry’s existence, politicians’ wives lobbied for albums with lyrics referring to sexual content or drugs to carry a Parental Advisory label.
But rock music’s connection to the occult became even stronger during the 1960s, with bands such as Blue yster Cult and The Rolling Stones adopting Satanic imagery and themes. One defining example was The Stones’ 1969 hit song “Sympathy for The Devil”, inspired by Robert Johnson, an African American blues musician rumored to have sold his soul to Satan at a crossroads.
Heavy metal bands have also taken an interest in devilish themes, with artists like Ronnie James Dio leaving an impressive legacy of albums fusing hard rock with occult themes and epic fantasy. Tenacious D made an entire film series around two aspiring musicians travelling to hell to seek out an allegedly devilish tooth said to unlock musical greatness – although not all references to occult themes are as overt as this example from Immortal Technique’s 2001 song “Dance With The Devil.”
In the 1990s, several rock bands that embraced Satanism through heavy metal’s darkest subgenre emerged. Bands like Firehouse, Warrant, Slaughter and Skid Row found success early in the decade before their popularity gradually began to diminish; while Motley Crue and Black Crowes adopted more classic rock ‘n’ roll sounds that proved more accessible to audiences.
Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen, Def Leppard, and Aerosmith enjoyed continued success during this decade of popular music in general and specialized genres such as grunge, Britpop and industrial rock were also influential musical trends during this era.
Kiss was one of the most controversial acts of the 1990s, openly embracing Satanism to an alarming degree through their music and lyrics. Their songs conjured images of hell and damnation while often featuring sexual double entendres; some evangelical Christians even associated rock ‘n’ roll with sinful activity, leading them to organize record burnings at church services.
Incubus was another 90s band known for using Satanic imagery and themes in their music. Their album cover even featured a pentagram design; when performing live on stage they made hand gestures reminiscent of devil horns!
Rock ‘n’ roll bands of the 90s often explored themes relating to paganism and witchcraft, with bands like PJ Harvey and Shirley Manson using occult references for an edge, rebellious image. Other genres, such as alternative rock and rap have drawn inspiration from Satan himself; with some artists using his name to represent an unconventional lifestyle.
The 1990s witnessed the riot grrrl movement which revolutionised what we understand of girl power. Acts such as Nirvana and other female-led rock bands redefined what it meant to be modern rock bands by confronting gendered expectations in music industries prior to this era.
As rock-and-roll became an instantaneous cultural force in the 1950s, fundamentalist Christians recoiled from its popularity. For them, its “savage rhythms” and vague sexual double entendre was considered to be “Devil’s music.” As a response, many churches encouraged their youth members to participate in record burnings where large quantities of rock records would be burned in bonfires.
But while the church may have been right about some aspects of rock’s darker elements, that doesn’t mean they were wrong about all of it. Blues had long conjured images of Satan; Church officials remained wary of alternative spiritualism such as that practiced through Vodou practices; thus blues’ dark tones could be seen as musical forms of Satan worship.
As time passed, musicians of all genres increasingly turned to Satan as an artistic source of inspiration. Lucifer frequently made appearances in folk songs and was also an ideal subject matter for satirical songs like Tom Waits’ classic ‘Down In The Hole.’ Sometimes accusations were leveled against bands using Satanic imagery in their artwork or names (such as KISS). Other artists may even contain hidden messages which only come into view if played backwards; ELO, Slayer and The Eagles were often blamed.
Still today, some people can associate rock music with Satanism or the occult. Metal and rap styles in particular may evoke this kind of association and attract followers associated with certain lifestyles associated with them – creating some hesitation among family members about sharing their passion for these musical genres for fear that it could be misconstrued as being connected with any form of deviance or the occult.
No matter the stereotypes and prejudices associated with metal music or other styles associated with devil worship, many individuals still enjoy listening to it and have no reason to avoid it due to others’ opinions. Listening preference should remain personal – each individual can choose what kind of music they want to listen to for themselves.