“Oh, I’d love to be an Oscar-Mayer weiner. That is what I’d truly like to be. ‘Cause if I were an Oscar-Mayer weiner, everyone would be in love with me.” My guess is as you were reading the words, you were singing the melody to this old jingle.
Music is a powerful thing. It’s been used for everything from sounding a battle cry in ancient times to selling pork sausage on television. Once radio came along and Wheaties paid a quartet to sing the first jingle in 1926, advertising was never the same. People related. After a while, they heard the song begin and instantly knew what product was being proffered. I find that especially amusing since I am to this day such a quartet fan. Even our own Statesmen could be heard on television’s Nabisco Hour selling saltines and honey grahams in four part harmony.
Music, of course, catches our attention when words alone can’t tell the whole tale. Imagine watching “Jaws” without the signature musical phrase, “bah-dump bah-dump bah-dump”, that screams without words a shark is coming. Music, in that case, brings you to the edge of your seat.
On the other hand, a lyric alone can bring you to laughter or tears without a musical assist. I can read Ray Stevens’ lyrics and howl with no necessity of hearing the music they’re paired with. Likewise, to read the lyric of “The Love of God”, especially the third verse, sets my hair on end and floods my eyes. No more beautiful words have ever been penned:
“Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.
“Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure-
The saints and angels’ song.”
If you have never heard that song, you owe it to yourself to look it up….listen to the Gaither Vocal Band bring it to life. Oh, the glory that comes down when lyrics and music are blissfully married and perfectly joined. As a gospel songwriter, that is the struggle….to do just that… while simultaneously telling the old, old story a different way with music that takes you there and a lyric that keeps you there until the story is told.
We are, after all, purveyors of hope and joy. I don’t mean to cheapen the craft of songwriting to imply that it’s like selling so many boxes of PopTarts, but we are, in a way, trying to coax others to “buy in” to the idea that they need a Savior. Our music needs to catch their attention so that maybe, just maybe, they will listen to our message and try a relationship with Jesus Christ for themselves. We know they won’t be sorry. Our songs are basically advertisements, if you will ….testimonials….”This is what Jesus has done for me and He can do the same for you.”
Why else would old time songwriter Cleavant Derricks say this?
“I once was lost in sin, but Jesus took me in
And then a little light from Heaven filled my soul;
It bathed my heart in love
And wrote my name above
And just a little talk with Jesus makes me whole.”
Or the writer say:
“Satan led my soul astray
From the straight and narrow way
But to Jesus I did pray
He heard my prayer, rescued me that very day”
Praise God I’m free
I’ve been set free by the grace of God
No more the paths of sin I trod
The blood has cleansed every sinful stain
I’m free (Praise the living God)
I’m free again.”
Does this all sound too ridiculous? Am I crossing the line by comparing Christian songwriting to advertising? What else is advertising but getting the word out? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Isn’t that what we were commanded to do?
The word “advertise” comes from the Latin root “advertere” which means “to turn toward”. Wow. That’s a revelation. I wonder if Helen Howarth Lemmel knew that when she wrote in 1922:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” She is, in effect, trying to convince the listener to try Jesus.
Yes, I think we can still write praise songs that rightfully give glory to God the Father for who He is and I think those who are called to that ministry have a responsibility to do so. But I think it’s still important to remember that not everyone in the congregation is a believer…not yet…and while they probably understand on some level that our praise music is extolling the virtues of our God, they may not get why it matters to us…personally. Maybe they need to hear YOU tell in a song what Jesus has done for YOU. It just might be that he or she is walking the same road you did and is looking for the same hope you’ve found.
Thank you Albert E. Brumley for the message:
“Once like a bird in prison I dwelt
No freedom from my sorrow I felt
Then Jesus came and listened to me
And glory to God he set me free”
So, Christian songwriter, you have a story…..and nobody can tell it like you. Somebody is waiting to hear it and that may be just what it takes to get them to take a chance on Jesus, for although Coca Cola claims it, Jesus is truly “the real thing”.