90. The Misfit – Erick Nelson & Michele Pillar
THE MISFIT (1979)
Erick Nelson & Michele Pillar
As the world of “Jesus Music” was progressing into what is now known as CCM, there were several very good albums and some brilliant artists making music that was clearly in both genres and served as bridges and building blocks to this new industry. But there were not many “game changers” that forced the music world to consider the genre valid and worthy of consideration. Most great albums lacked quality production, originality or authenticity.
The Misfit was a game changer.
Completely original and just as good as anything in the pop music world at the time. Most “concept” albums suffer from content over quality and are often filled with songs that are forced to push the story forward and do not stand on their own as original compositions. The Misfit was a concept album that just happened to be filled 13 brilliant individual songs that have stood the test of time.
This is not a concept album in the same way as something from The Who where it is a rock opera with a singular storyline weaving throughout each song. Rather, The Misfit is a concept album where a common thread of concept of being an “outside” or outcast weaves its way throughout each and every song. The different topics range from faith, love, loss, doubt and more, but all with a singular focus as coming from the outside looking in.
Erick Nelson at this point had a very good and lengthy Jesus Music career going as both a solo artists and as members of popular bands like Good News. Michele Pillar was an up and coming and much talked about new female vocalist on the precipice of a wonderful career in the 1980’s. Her sweet and smooth Karen Carpenter (ballads) or Kiki Dee (pop) like voice matched Nelson’s more soulful and, at times, rocky voice perfectly and the blend just worked. It shocked many at the time that this would be their only album together.
Nelson has said of himself that one his greatest strengths is his ability to surround himself with amazing musicians and performers. Though no slouch on the piano himself, he most certainly surrounded himself with the very best on this project. Guest musicians include Hadley Hockensmith, Dean parks, John Wickham, Jonathan David Brown, Alex MacDougall, Keith Edwards, Kelly Willard, Stan Endicott, Denny Correll and a host of others!
There is a touch of Elton John (Rock of the Westies era) throughout the entire project and is noticeable from the very opening moments of the title track. This may have to do with nelson’s wonderful piano, but also goes to the strong vocal arrangements and memorable hooks displayed throughout.
The song sets the tone for the entire project as we are introduced to the misfit here. Here the main character admits his distrust of those in his life, especially those who claim the name of Christ. Friends have deserted him and he looking for hope somewhere, somehow. The pop piano hook is juxtaposed against a dark and longing lyric.
“Carry Me Along” is a Pillar focused tune. Here the misfit admits to following false teachers and having been carried to a fro with every whim. But we also find the misfit confronted with the true Christ. the song features Endicott’s fantastic string arrangement and Pillar hear sounds more like Carpenter than anywhere else on the project. This was one of several songs that found a home on KYMS for a very, very long period of time.
The Elton like piano returns with “Stand,” a song that could have just as easily been done by Keith Green or 2nd Chapter of Acts. Hockensmith’s guitar work is just perfect, coupled with a very likable string accompaniment. The misfit is challenged here to stand his ground against the trials and tribulations that clearly follow.
“Sail On” is a song written by former band-mates of nelson when he was the group “Friends.” A more progressive song there is a bit of Styx type build to the song as it progresses. The song works back to back with “Can’t Find My Way Home.” There is actually no break between the songs and the concept continues the thought of the misfit “sailing on” and discovering that he can no longer find his way home.
This is followed by Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon Is a Harsh Witness.” Nelson relates the story of how Larry Norman recommended the song to him after a Bible study and played him the Joe Cocker version. The melody and feel of the song leads into it being part of a medley with “He’s Asleep.”
The segue is so well done that it is almost indecipherable. This song came from a musical Nelson’s mother’s cousin had written. He went to see it and also discovered that night a wonderful young woman singing this exact song. Nelson claims it was all he remembered about the evening. That young woman with Michele. It just works perfectly and Pillar is angelic on the song.
The misfit has gone through many adventures at this point as left alone, sleeping and unbeknownst to him is being surrounded by an angel to protect him. On the album version, this ended Side One – or Act One.
The second half opens with a cover of Kelly Willard’s wonderful “Hurting People.” the misfit is alone in the rain and his angel is witness to his pain and loss. There is a wonderful little lyrical play on words here as the singer asks that the rain never returns, even on another day. I don’t know what the angels really sound like, but I may be disappointed if it’s not like Michele Pillar.
The rock and roll returns with “Take Me to the Light.” This would have fit on any early Sweet Comfort album and i will admit as a youngster hearing it for the first time I thought it was Darrell Mansfield. Dean parks just kills it on the guitar solo. Scott Roley fans will find quite a bit to like here. The misfit is starting to see a light but still is unsure what direction to go.
The misfit now is reaching out to God. At least he’s hoping it’s God. Even his “First Prayer” shows tinges of doubt asking God why the world is in the shape it is. This questioning is done musically through a cover of randy Stonehill’s classic “First Prayer.” This version is more band and rock focused, but it’s always difficult to cover a classic.
Next is a cover of Nazareth’s “Love Hurts.” What seems initially out-of-place is actually an album highlight with a wonderful and completely different arrangement of the song, sung here by Pillar with limited musical accompaniment. Primarily piano and string leading into a fuller second verse. This version is closer to the Jennifer Warnes. Haunting and unforgettable.
The pain of the world’s love is juxtaposed against God’s love that is discovered by the misfit in the following song, “He Gave Me Love.” Again there is a musical segue with no breaks at accentuate the polar opposite approach to the content. Nelson asked himself if he only had five-minute to sing one song, what would that song say? The answer is found here.
The misfit has his answer.
The album closes with Nelson’s finest song, “Martyr’s Song.” Written about those that have gone before us to secure and build the Church, it reminds me of the great cloud of witnesses that await us all on the other side. The freedom the misfit was longing for and searching out is found in Christ and helps one overcome all obstacles and challenges.
Listen, I know reviews (especially mine) can be filled with superlatives and hyperbole, but this simply an album one should not be without. It should have been made into a musical. It should still receive airplay in recurrent slots on CCM radio stations. It should also be mandatory listening for all artists who want to express a cohesive thought and concept while maintaining a brilliant artistic vision.
Fans of the album include Bob Bennett, Phil Keaggy, John Wickham, jazz artist David Diggs and a host of other luminaries. I am also hoping those who know of and love this album will comment and back up my assertions here.