From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Christian response to rock music (1950s-1960s)
Rock n roll music was not viewed favorably by most fundamentalist Christians when it attained popularity with young people beginning in the 1950s. Although early rock music was often influenced by country and both black and white forms of gospel music, it was primarily derived from African American styles such as blues. White, religious people in many regions of the United States did not want their children exposed to what was viewed as "race music", with unruly, impassioned vocals, loud guitar riffs and jarring, hypnotic rhythms. Often the music was overtly sexual in nature, as in the case of Elvis Presley, who became controversial and massively popular partly for his suggestive stage antics. Individual Christians may have listened to or even performed rock music in many cases, but it was seen as anathema to conservative church establishments, particularly in the American South.
In the 1960s, rock n roll music matured artistically, attained worldwide popularity and became associated with the radical counterculture, firmly alienating many Christians. In 1966, British act The Beatles, regarded as one of the most popular and influential rock bands of their era, ran into trouble with many of their American fans when John Lennon jokingly offered his opinion that Christianity was dying and that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus now". The romantic, melodic rock songs of the band's early career had formerly been viewed as relatively inoffensive, but after the remark, churches nationwide organized Beatles records burnings and Lennon was forced to apologize. Subsequently the Beatles experimented with a more complex, psychedelic style of music and anti-establishment lyrics, while the Rolling Stones sang the song "Sympathy for the Devil" openly (sincerely or not) from the point of view of Satan.
As the decade continued, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Paris student riots and other events served as catalysts for youth activism and political withdrawal or protest, which became associated with rock bands, whether or not they were openly political. Moreover, many saw the music as promoting a lifestyle of promiscuous "sex, drugs and rock and roll", also reflected in the behavior of many rock stars. However, there was growing recognition of the diverse musical and ideological potential of rock. Countless new bands sprang up in the mid-to-late 1960s, as rock displaced older, smoother pop styles to become the dominant form of pop music, a position it would enjoy almost continuously until the end of the 20th century, when hip-hop finally eclipsed it in sales.