The Devil has all the best tunes
What's the meaning of the phrase 'The Devil has all the best tunes'?
'The Devil has all the best tunes' is the view that music, especially popular music, is predominantly secular rather than religious.
What's the origin of the phrase 'The Devil has all the best tunes'?
This proverbial saying is best understood by looking at the context it was first used.
In the late 18th century Methodists began setting hymns to popular tunes. This gave rise to criticism from more mainstream religious believers who thought that popular music shouldn't be heard in church.
The notion that dance music was 'the Devil's music' was widely held in the UK in the 1700s. This view was of very long-standing and was expressed as early as the 5th century by Saint John Chrysostom, circa 349 – 407, the Christian theologian and archbishop of Constantinople:
"Where dance is, there is the devil."
The response to the criticism used by English Methodists was 'why should the Devil have all the best tunes?'.
The first recorded use of the term in print is found in The Monthly Review, December 1773 included this:
They [sc. the Moravians and Methodists] have adopted the music of some of our finest songs, &c. such as, He comes! The Hero comes, &c. And they have given good reasons for so doing: for, as Whitefield said, ‘Why should the devil have all the best tunes?’
The Whitefield referred to there was the preacher George Whitefield (1714 – 1770). Despite the opinion of the Monthly Review author, the line is now usually attributed to the evangelical Methodist preacher Rowland Hill (1744–1833).
See also: the List of Proverbs.