While the trend has been growing for years now, I’ve been noticing that more and more songs (particularly fast songs) have entire sections where the singer just sings “oh, oh, oh” (and to a lesser extent “la, la, la”). I’ve been thinking as a leader whether this is beneficial for our congregation to sing and whether it is good for the global church as a whole. I’ve had leaders and friends in my life who have argued for them and against them. Let me lay out the argument the way I see it.
Why this is an issue
Before we look at the pros and cons of it, some may wonder why we even need to talk about it. There should be no part of a worship song that isn’t looked at. None. When we look at worship songs, we are looking at the tools that enable a congregation to corporately worship God in unity. Worship is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) purpose of the church and we should take the songs we sing very seriously. Every song teaches us something, even if it’s subconsciously. We need to look and ask “what are songs with lots of “oh, oh, ohs” teaching us and our congregation?” and “Is it helpful or harmful?”
Not every song with an “oh” in it am I dealing with. I think singing it here or there is fine. I am particularly dealing with songs that make entire second choruses of them. Here are some of the songs I’m talking about:
- Promises by Jared Anderson (New Life Worship)
- I Believe In You by Seth McConkey (Vertical Church)
- Children of Light by Kristian Stanfall (Passion)
All of these songs feature (if not start out with) long “oh, oh, oh” choruses. Let’s look at the pros and cons of such songs. We’ll start off looking at the cons so that I can better argue both sides.
- Laziness in songwriting.
I find (for the most part) that entire choruses built on “oh oh ohs” to be extremely lazy songwriting. As a popular satire video said, “all you have to do is sing ‘oh, oh, oh’ and you have a hit song.” Since songwriters put words in the mouths of worshippers, they should be carefully pondering every word of their song. Many times, what results from lazy songwriting is the congregation engaging in spiritual gibberish.
The younger generation loves songs with “oh, oh, ohs”. Turn on any radio station (Christian or not) and you’ll be hard-pressed not to hear a song that doesn’t contain any of them. Many songs written by younger artists includes ohs. At the same time, many older artists do not. It was a rare thing to have a song that had a long extended “oh, oh, oh” section in it fifty-or-more years ago (Hey Jude from The Beatles were one of those songs). Many older worshippers don’t understand singing “oh, oh, ohs” to God. This is important. Since corporate worship is about everyone joining together and worshiping God, anything that would hinder an entire section of people from worshiping must be looked into. It is better not to do any “oh, oh, oh” songs than to hinder people from worshiping God.
I’m not saying that “oh, oh, ohs” are bad theology, but rather that they carry no theology. They are neither true or false. They are sugar. They are just a condiment in a meal. Depending on the “meal” (worship song/set), they may add to it, or they may take away from it. Relish is great on a hot dog, but not so great in chicken pot pie.
I’m not sure is this is a terrible thing, but if “oh, oh, ohs” aren’t done well musically and melodically, they can be quite redundant. This only adds to the polarizing effect.
The greatest strength I see with “oh, oh, ohs” in songs is, if the entire congregation is engaged together, the incredible unity that happens due to the utter simplicity of the words. Sometimes, either due to a song being newer or too wordy, many in the congregation can’t sing along well enough to “sing in one voice” with the rest of the people. If sung with a deeply worshipful heart, I feel the ohs can add to the unity of a song.
- Heartfelt and heart-engaging
Someone once argued to me that “oh, oh, ohs” in worship songs were pointless. I was quick to point out to them that if the heart is truly the thing worshipping, then it can worship by singing random syllables. In fact, I see it (possibly) in the same way as “singing in the Spirit” (also called “singing in tongues”). I’ve mentioned elsewhere:
“I have yet to be able to sing in tongues and not engage my heart. Since speaking (and therefore singing) in tongues is a muscle of the will, usually my hardest fight is to start singing in tongues, but once I do, my heart immediately becomes engaged. It’s just another reason why I believe the gift of tongues are still active today.”
While singing “oh, oh, ohs” is not the same thing as singing in tongues, due to the simplicity bypassing the stumbling part of our brain, I believe singing ohs can produce close to the same effects.
I was going to say that singing “oh, oh, ohs” can be fun (and they are when done right), but that didn’t seem like a good justification to use them. However, since we are commanded to rejoice, I see them helping us engage with that command. Laughter and joy are a part of worship, yet they have no distinct words, just sounds. If you are singing a celebration song, it may be good to allow the congregation to “take it up a notch” with some ohs.
So, now that we have looked at the pros and cons of songs with extended refrains of “oh, oh, ohs”, we can now ask: should churches sing songs with lots of ohs in them?
My personal opinion? It depends on your church and the song.
If the majority of a church is mostly older believers (let’s say >50 years old), I would advise against it. However, if the church has a good blend of ages (like mine does) then singing some songs like mentioned above are fine when used sparingly.
If the greatest part of the song is the “oh, oh, ohs” (meaning its the main purpose the band is wanting to do the song), I would advise against doing it, even if the church’s demographics are fine with ohs. We want to make sure that we don’t cause people to yearn and seek the sugary things or “condiments” instead of the main meal. Train them to yearn for songs with theology, songs that are built on the gospel.
If you sing deep, “full-meal” type of songs, a little sugar or “condiments” are fine to use here and there.