MY POOR GENERATION (1973)
The All Saved Freak Band
Described as a collection of dysfunctional misfits with musical taste ranging from psychedelic hillbilly soul and zydeco influenced reefer garage rock. Harpsichord, dulcimer, piano, woodwinds and the amazing Glenn Schwartz on guitar. Schwartz was late of Pacific Gas & Electric and could play with the best of them. But despite his name headlining the marquee, the band was really the brainchild of controversial hippy-Pastor Larry Hill and Joe Markko.
This is about as essential “Jesus Music” as has ever been released. It not only is great artistic achievement, it so defines a generation musically and ministerially that any true fan or historian of Jesus Music can not be without this classic album. Classic rocki and classical music fuse with violin, cello and other orchestral instruments taking center stage in a band that comprised anywhere from 10 to 14 members at any given time. As much a community as rock band.
The opening track, Elder White is reminiscent of the bluesier side of CCR. The song never kicks in to a full fledged rocker and that is what is so compelling. The listening keeps waiting for the big chorus that never comes, just a plodding, mesmerizing blues tune tribute to the civil rights movement.
“Great Victory” is a boogie blues tune that shows off Schwartz’s guitar work. His ability to stay within the vibe of a song while simultaneously taking over is unparalleled. There was no fear of “jamming” too much here and Schwartz is more than up to the task. I would have loved to seen this live to experience what I’m sure was a Grateful Dead time jam experience. The same can be said for the rollicking “Daughter of Zion.”
The band and the community remained recluse and controversial during their decade of music and ministry. Schwartz’s family kidnapped him in an attempt to “deprogram” him and pull him out of what they considered a cult. The intervention failed and Schwartz returned to the band in time to record the album, “Brainwashed.” Many consider “Brainwashed” one of the finest works in Jesus Music history and quite rare.
A quick google of the band will find one immersed in the rich and relatively unknown history of Jesus Music. One can also read of the tragedy and controversy surrounding this amazing band, a collection of misfits that somehow formed one of the great Jesus Music bands of the 1970’s.
BENNY FROM HERE (1985)
If Benny Hester released “Benny From here” with only one song on it, it would still be included on this list as long as that song was “When God Ran.” When the single was released it made an immediate impact on Christian radio and went on to be the longest running number one song in CCM history.
Fortunately for Hester and the listening public, the rest of the album is filled with some of Hester’s finest songwriting and was a major departure from his previously more AC/MOR sound. Much edgier and vocally more forced and rock driven, this album marked a marked departure from Hester’s previous work.
Though never really considered a Jesus Music artists, Benny began his Christian music career in the early 70’s with a very rare self-titled album in 1972. The warehouse where the album was being stored burned to the ground the label it was released on mysteriously disappeared and the album received little, if any, distribution. Six years later he would release another self-titled album, this time for the CCM market and it would contain several classics on for the time.
After several years as a radio darling and consistent seller Hester released BFH and shocked the industry. Much less Christopher Cross and more Phil Collins, BFH became Hester’s best selling album. The album is filled with great songs, killer production and a lyrical content that strayed from the normally safe CCM standard. The lead track deals with emotional and physical infidelities that start in the mind and echoes Christ’s word regarding our hidden thought lives which could include pornography, lust or any other physical or emotional attachment. Other songs deal with the Gospels reach into darker places (Streets of Las Vegas), relational evangelism (Susie said, Yeah), loneliness, spiritual seeking and a host of other topics. All rolled into strong musical canvases of rock and ballads. A special note of consideration for the great guitar work on several songs.
But ultimately the album is remembered for the classic, When God Ran. The retelling of the Prodigal Son told in the first person at first listen almost sounds shocking as the chorus refers to God as “running.” This is after a verse in which Hester declares the eternal, powerful and majestic qualities of God. When the revelation of the chorus reveals God, playing the part of the father in the Biblical tale, is running to meet His prodigal the song becomes intensely moving and unforgettable. If this blog ever counts down the greatest “songs” in CCM history this will undoubtedly be in the Top 5.
Hester would follow with a much too similar, but no where near as good release and two releases for Frontline records. But for some time Hester was the biggest name in CCM.
FUTURE EYES (1982)
Released in 1981 in the UK and later in 1982 in the US by Sparrow records, Sheila Walsh’s debut release, Future Eyes, was shocking on many fronts. From Walsh’s short, punk rock type haircut to the piercing high pitched vocals and driving new wave keyboard attack, the album was simply a revelation for the time. And though the album would not wear as well as other albums from the same time it was undeniably significant release and was actually quite a strong record within its genre.
Long before Walsh became the darling of the Women of Faith movement, she was an edgy, spandex clad rocker that was ridiculously compared to Pat Benatar by an industry that had no idea what they were talking about! Outside of the cropped doo there was nothing similar to Benatar anywhere on this album.
What you will find is a real Euro-techno new wave album interspersed with strong ballads meant to soothe the questioning CCM bookstore crowd. You also find an impressive and dynamic vocal range and very memorable tunes. The album was also significant for giving Graham Kendrick a songwriting platform on this side of the Atlantic. Kendrick was responsible for seven of the albums 9 tracks including the US only version of “Burn On,” which went to be a monster radio hit.
The album actually has two different versions with two songs being pulled from the UK version and Burn On replacing them. Larry Norman helped on a couple songs but was actually given producers credit on the US version (I’m assuming to give it some street cred for the rock consumer) and Norman would also include a couple tracks on his “Barking at the Ants” compilation. On “Love in My Life” you can hear Norman add backing vocals as the song fades out.
Some listeners had a negative response to Walsh’s tendency to squeak at the end of phrases and stay in her higher register a majority of the time. I found it unique and an original quality and still appreciate it. It still appreciate the album both on a listening and an historical basis. Walsh would record a few more pop/new wave albums before becoming much more CCM safe and a nationally renowned speaker, author and television personality (co-hosting the 700 Club).
THE ANGELS COME (1978)
Four Brits joined forces with one of the greatest guitarists in history to produce an amazing album that almost immediately disappeared. I fortunately had an older brother and this was left behind and would later be seen as a classic of British Jesus Music. Christian music historians often point to Ark as the band that forced others in the industry to take their quality and authenticity up a notch.
Producer and guitarist Al Perkins lead the band that also featured Dave Kelly (also on this list) through a collection a 10 songs influenced by The Byrds, Beatles, Crosby Stills & Nash and The Rolling Stones. Every song is very memorable and destined for radio, but with no support the album ended up destined for cut out bins. I have yet to meet anyone that owns the album that doesn’t consistently rave about it.
Much like how the Knack really was more 60’s than new wave when listening to the core of the songs, the same is the case here. Though distinctly modern sounding with world music influences and pop/ska instrumentation as times, onw really can’t miss the 60’s and early 70’s influences. Perhaps the Sunday’s Child album from Phil Keaggy works as a musical comparison. Despite being distinctly modern it also works as an homage to the past.
Al Perkins would continue working in CCM and mainstream music and Dave Kelly would record a wonderful solo project previously discussed here.
SON OF DUST (1973)
Randy Matthews may be the single most important artist in Christian music that the vast majority of CCM fans have never heard of. Even casual fans of the genre are familiar with randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, Larry Norman and Love Song, but few can name Randy Matthews. Yet, without Matthews and his early success and ground breaking, the industry that formed may have never stood a chance.
After dabbling in Southern Gospel with his father Monty (a founding member of the Jordanaires), Matthews took to a more folk rock approach and began performing in coffee shops and small concert halls building a name for himself as a songwriter and performer. His infusion of dry and biting humor in concert was legendary.
As a result, Matthews became the first “rock” act to be signed to a mainline Christian label. Word Record, a label known for spoken work and Southern Gospel acts, signed Matthews and he released his debut. For his next album Word would launch the Myrrh label to provide a platform for the new “Jesus Rock” that was beginning to break through. Matthews would be seen as the “rockiest” with his more blues influenced music and Joe Cocker like rough vocals. The rest of the movement was a little softer, employing a more folk and country driven sound.
This would haunt Matthews and ultimately cause a disillusionment with Christian Music. In fact, while touring in support of Son of Dust, Matthews appeared at a large outdoor Christian music festival. The audience was more accustomed to the Love Song acoustic folk style and Randy’s raucous rock cause such an uproar that their instruments were unplugged and were chased off the stage by the crowd. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Matthews would later release an album called “Plugged In” where that story would be recounted.
Fans of The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, Van Morrison and Larry Norman will find much to appreciate on this album that is now considered a true classic of Jesus Music. On Son of Dust Matthews addresses more political, spiritual and emotional issues than what his contemporaries were willing to look at. Relationships, sin, society and the whole of life are addressed with an honesty that would not be seen very often in the industry until the 1980’s.
The album is also noteworthy for the studio version of Matthews most memorable and time tested classic. Didn’t He. The story of the crucifixion is, in this reviewers opinion, the very best contemporary song written on the subject. Matthews emotive and scratchy voice delivers an unforgettable emotional experience. Matthews pounds his acoustic guitar for every time the hammer hits the nail and that sound hits the heart. One cannot listen to this song without some sort of emotional connection. If there is ever a list to be done of the greatest songs in CCM history this must be among the Top 5!
Amongst the great albums of Jesus Music history, this is a must have and an unquestionable AYSO!
Considered to be U2’s most “Christian” sounding album, October is a stunningly sad sounding album, with visions of the Fall and a seemingly “orange and grey” sound to the album. It is also beautiful, haunting and unforgettable. The only hit single from the album, Gloria, and the praise driven “Rejoice” remain the most upbeat on an album that, in an odd way, is almost worshipful at times.
Three of the band members were intensely involved with a religious organization that caused them to consider what to do with the band and the content of the albums. Where the predecessor, Boy, dealt with the life of youth and the follow-up, War, shows them as adults living and shouting in the “real world,” it is October that serves as this transitional album. The religious overtones are more upfront here than on nearly any other entire recording in their long career.
the struggles of faith and fame, sin and sanctification take center stage as the band worked through these life lessons through the cathartic songwriting process. Ironically, it is also this album in which many of the lyrics were taken from the bands hotel room and Bono found himself “improvising” on many songs including Gloria. Bono once joked about the difficulties of making a sophomore release for any band, but how they added to the difficulty by making it about God.
October is listed as the poorest selling album in the band’s history and many have ignored what a great album it really is. There is so much growth as musicians and songwriters on this album as The Edge incorporated piano into many songs and the band delivers a diversity of musical expressions.Most notable on the back to back “Tomorrow” and “October.” Atmospheric guitars and stark solo piano make these songs stand out for their simplicity and haunting qualities.
It was with this album, though, that many young Christians discovered the band and, as a result, hold a very special place in many CCM rock fans hearts.
STICKS AND STONES (1990)
How great of a band is The 77’s?
Well, how many bands could release a collection of rejects, B-sides, cast-offs, demos and throw-aways and still have it be one of the best album released for that year and one of the best albums of all time? Pretty much only The 77’s.
After the dissolving of Exit Records and the greatest shame in the history of CCM rock music (the Island 77’s not becoming the biggest album at the time), Mike Roe and mates moved to Broken Records, headed by Ojo Taylor of Undercover, released a bunch of demos and rejects and made one of the most enjoyable and listenable albums in their storied career.
It is actually one of the most commercially pleasing and accessible albums Roe has been involved with. Great alternative pop with killer hooks and a ton of memorable songs. In fact, the lead track (MT) made its way onto popular teen television show, Beverly Hills, 90210. But that was not the only hit song from the album.
Christian rock radio jumped all over Nowhere Else and the reworked “This Is the Way Love Is.” But it is the more self-indulgent songs that became long standing concert favorites and true 77’s classics. Perfect Blues had been a long standing live favorite that finally saw the light of day on this album and shows Roe’s mastery of guitar in all styles.
“Don’t, This Way” is one of the most haunting and beautiful songs of Roe’s career and is also one of the best live songs the band performs. Here, it’s Roe’s subtlety as a musician that shines. Just stunning and mesmerizing. God Sends Quails is anything but subtle and shows Roe’s appreciation for the 60’s and 70’s psychedelic blues, jam bands and would even appeal to fans of Glass Harp and Blind Faith.