83. Benny Hester – Benny Hester
BENNY HESTER (1978)
Initially released on Spirit records (Sparrow), this eponymous CCM debut (sort of) was later released by Myrrh under the moniker of “Be a Receiver” a year after his classic “Nobody Knows me Like You.” Hester did record and release an album titled “Benny” in 1972, but this very rare album literally never saw the light of day. It did see the light of a blazing fire that destroyed the majority of the copies of the album in a mysterious warehouse fire. Only a handful of copies survived and is a true collectors item.
Hester would prove to be one of the most important and influential artists in CCM history with several chart topping radio friendly singles and best-selling albums. A pop songwriter master, Hester has a penchant for hook-filled pop and rock with great melodic sensibilities and, more often than not, thought-provoking and spiritually challenging content.
Several songs from Hester’s career could be considered classics with two clearly among the Top 25 songs ever. Neither of those two appear on this debut, but the album has plenty of unforgettable moments and a few worthy of consideration in the classic category. Very few artists can stake that claim.
Hester also has possessed an uncanny ability to cross radio formats and blur the lines between pop, rock and inspirational music. His previously discussed “When God Ran” stayed atop the CCM charts for 13 weeks and reached number one on several different formats. Adult Contemporary stations would push the envelope of their format to play Hester’s music while rock fans also embraced the artist. This may have more to say about the response to high quality, well written music more than on the artists diversity.
The Benny Hester album was produced by friend Brent Maher, who also produced the original “Benny” album in 1972. Rather than loading the album with several studio musicians, Maher built a “band” that would record the whole record and, as a result, created a very cohesive and consistent album. Most notable among those musicians is keyboardist Jeff Lams.
The lead track (later the title track) helped break serious ground in Christian radio as normally traditional adult contemporary and inspirational radio stations began pushing the envelope with this song and it’s “guitar solo.” Tame by modern and even contemporary standards for the day, this was truly a revelation in 1979. A great groove with a huge pop hook it reminded many of the mellower side of the Bee Gees. Great groove driven pop guitar sounds and a memorable chorus.
The acoustic guitar driven “Squeeze” follows with a similar sound to “Be a Receiver,” with just a little soulful vibe. Hester’s penchant for writing uplifting and positive music resonates here with a song about God’s love for His people.
On the other side Hester also took on deeper spiritual realities as is the case with “Sure of Your Call.” The song of christian responsibility is more Poco and the Eagles than Bee Gees and though not heavy rock by any stretch, it keeps a darker and more rootsy tone.
“Jesus Came into My Life” is a blues rocker and just plain fun. Musically leaning toward the roots rock sound of Bob Seger with a chorus that became a youth group sing-a-long for many years to follow. I remember KYMS playing the song and wondering “who was this rocker” they were playing.
Possibly the best song on the album and one of the better artistic moments in Hester’s career, “The Door” would sound good today with a little musical updating. An epic by the days standards at nearly seven minutes it still found a way onto some christian radio stations. Far from “progressive,” there is actually quite a bit happening musically here. One feature lacking in many of Hester’s contemporaries but found here is a lengthy guitar solo. What starts as an acoustic pop rock song morphs into more a straight ahead rock song before changing directions at the end to become more of a worship song. Really quite brilliant and unique for the era.
Hester’s live opening song for years was “Gonna happen here.” This great acoustic rocker has a taste of America and worked extremely well live over the years as the song morphed musically over the several concerts I attended.
Though never a radio hit or even a concert regular, I have always liked “Only You” and its Simon & Garfunkel sound. It has always reminded me of the rockier side of Malcolm & Alwyn and remains one of the better arranged and musically viable songs on the album.
Also apparently borrowing from the British sound, “All You Can Do” is probably the least memorable song out of an album simply filled with memorable tunes.
The closer, “We All Know He’s Coming Again” is just the opposite as it is totally unforgettable. Possibly the “rockiest” song on the album, it is also the albums addition to the popular Rapture theme of the Jesus Movement. (Ed. I am actually considering an essay on Christian Music’s impact on modern eschatology).
It would be very short-sighted to dismiss just what an impact this album had on the burgeoning CCM scene. I have been of the opinion that this album ranks amongst the very first “CCM” albums as the musical landscape shifted with the end of the jesus Music era and the birth of the industry known as CCM.
Artists like 2nd Chapter of Acts, Randy Stonehill, Larry Norman, Barry McGuire, etc were all squarely a focal point of the Jesus Music phenomenon while Hester was never a central figure, and so, should really be ranked amongst the originals of CCM.