In 1966, The Beach Boys released “God Only Knows.” The song became a hit, and a classic. More than 50 years later, the duo For King and Country used that old title for a new song (with some help from Dolly Parton):
Australian-born brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone, who comprise For King and Country, are two of the biggest stars in the world of contemporary Christian music.
“If you look at ‘God Only Knows,” I think we said ‘God,’ you know, 24 times or something,” said Joel. “Let’s just say that there is a God, and let’s just say that He knows all about us, maybe even better than we know ourselves. The fact that God only knows all that stuff, that’s a fascinating concept.”
Christian rock is as old as rock ‘n’ roll itself. A gospel singer named Sister Rosetta Tharpe helped create rock ‘n’ roll.
“Sister Rosetta Tharpe” performs “Up Above My Head”:
But a new documentary, “The Jesus Music,” highlights how, in the late 1960s, a religious movement grew into a genre of its own … and an industry. First, there was a clash of cultures.
“Sunday Morning” contributor Kelefa Sanneh asked, “Did this all start with a bunch of Christian hippies?”
“It actually did!” said David Stowe, who teaches religious studies at Michigan State University. “You can trace it back to around 1969, 1970 in southern California. From there it slowly gathered, and now we have a huge genre of popular music.”
The Jesus movement, as it was known, took hold in the national imagination with scenes of beach baptisms in the Pacific Ocean.
“Was music always an important part of it?” asked Sanneh.
“Right from the beginning,” Stowe replied. “I think music was sort of the entering wedge for popular culture to come into the churches … the gateway drug, exactly!”
Amy Grant, who is Christian music royalty, told Sanneh, “I felt so energized and alive, because of this group I had found at this hippie church.”
This time of year, Grant tours, performing Christmas music with fellow Christian pop mainstay Michael W. Smith.
Grant started making records in high school, inspired by Carole King, and by her Christian faith. “I always saw myself as somebody that used music to try to create an environment that made people feel welcomed, and seen,” she said. “I never thought that was, like, my career. I really didn’t. My senior year I thought, ‘I gotta get a real job.'”
Sanneh asked, “How many records had you made by then?”