Music is so powerful that it affects even our physical beings. Who hasn’t had the experience of tapping his toe to a certain song—without even realizing he was tapping until after the fact? Many ancient peoples recognized the power of music on the body, and some used music as a healing agent. In many mythologies, the god of music is also the god of medicine. In recent years, studies have substantiated these ancient ideas, demonstrating music’s effect on a myriad of bodily functions: pulse rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, galvanic skin responses, brain-wave impulses, muscle responses, finger coordination, and reading speed and comprehension. 1 One study suggests that certain rhythms actually have a weakening effect on the muscles of the body. 2 A force so powerful that it can influence our hearts, our glands, and our muscles is a force to be reckoned with. The influence is significant enough that we should take care what kind of music we allow into our homes. Music also has great power on our emotions. Music has been called the universal language because it speaks directly to our emotions. And our emotions and feelings influence our actions. The power music has to communicate feelings was made dramatically clear to me while I was writing the musical score for the film Where the Red Fern Grows. While working on that project, I encountered a serious problem: the entire story was built around a boy’s love for his dogs, but that love wasn’t being communicated through the film itself. I composed a tender love theme to fill that void, and suddenly flat images on strips of celluloid had emotional life. The audience wept. Music also has great effect on words. I like to use this example of a popular poem from the early 1960s: She Loves You You think you lost your love. Well, I saw her yesterday— It’s you she’s thinking of, And she told me what to say. She says she loves you, And you know that can’t be bad; Yes, she loves you, And you know you should be glad. Whoooo. She loves you, Yeah, yeah, yeah. She loves you, Yeah, yeah, yeah. 3 This text is almost humorous when read alone; it is far from award-winning poetry. Yet, when these words were set to a free-swinging, infectious tune, they created an irresistible force. Fans rushed out to buy more than three million singles of this record. How many copies of this text would have sold had it not been set to music? Usually, music gives a song its emotional power, while lyrics tie that power to a concrete idea. Generally, lyrics appeal to the head, while music captures the heart. The lyrics of “She Loves You” are rather innocuous, but the situation becomes serious when questionable or immoral words are wedded to an appealing melody. This was never clearer to me than when I was hired to make an instrumental version of another popular song. I didn’t care much for the tune and cared even less for the words. In order to take the melody and harmony off the record, though, I had to play it at least a dozen times. Even though I was making an instrumental version and wasn’t interested in the words at all, I couldn’t get the melody or the words out of my mind for days afterward. Hard-to-remember words stick in the mind easily when combined with catchy, easy-to-remember melodies. That song kept returning to haunt me. Ironically, I didn’t even like the song. What if I had liked it? Music is the sugar coating that makes “bitter” lyrics palatable. We may become so infatuated with the rhythm, melody, or singer of a song that we transfer this emotion to the words, not caring what they really say. Even if the words are drug-oriented, erotic, violent, satanic, or just plain silly—when tied to a “hit” tune, they sneak past the screening mechanism of the brain to be stored in the subconscious, and to affect the listener accordingly. And that’s one of the real problems with popular music today, one that adds to the confusion in discussing it. It comes down to a lack of control: We can’t control the lyrics attached to memorable music. We can’t control what the music and lyrics do to us. And much of the time we can’t even control what we listen to. For example, most radio stations—rock, pop, country, whatever—generally broadcast music indiscriminately. A moral song will be followed by a song about sex or violence, and unless we are constantly at the radio dial, we listen to both. Record albums often have a similar mix; we could skip the objectionable songs, but that’s often too much trouble.