Home > CCM, Christian Music, Christian Pop, Christian Rock, Greatest Albums, Jesus Music > 64. Notes From the Lost Civilization – Tonio K

64. Notes From the Lost Civilization – Tonio K


Tonio K

Tonio K released two albums for the Christian market in the mid 80’s on What? Records. Both of them reach the Top 100 on this list. Both a must own album and truly brilliant works. Both are completely different musically and differ greatly in topic and theme.

More will be said about Tonio K in a future post, but it should be noted here that for nearly three decades he released some of the most important releases that no one knows about. Before embracing the Christian faith Tonio K released several critically lauded and publicly ignored masterpieces.

The same rang true in Christian music circles.

I believe “Notes” was the last release for What? Records, a brilliant label whose imprint was the kiss of death in the CCM world. I cannot confirm this right now, but I believe every What? Records release appears on this countdown. The label was a joint effort between Word Records and A&M with the intent to bring Christian music to the masses with artists that had the chops and integrity to pull off the crossover.

Where Tonio’s CCM debut (Romeo Unchained) was driven by technology and “new wave” rhythms and production, “Notes” was organic, blues and country influenced Americana rock and roll set in the heart of city life and suburban nightmares. There are two versions of the album with the Word released version not containing a song that will be discussed later. No one should own the Word version and I refused to carry that version in my store at the time.

The album kicks off with “Without Love,” which is about as simple a theme as one will hear from Tonio K, but in normal Tonio K fashion, there is a twist and attitude that makes it something completely out of the ordinary. Borrowing the common theme from 1 Corinthians 13 that all we do is meaningless unless it done in love, Tonio delivers the common theme with uncommon stories of “people on the moon and under the oceans” and how the world works to divide us rather than bring us together.

“Children’s Crusade” bemoans the lies believed by a younger generation that theirs will be the one to create the Utopia we long for. This was no more obvious than the 60’s generation of love and peace that discovered the cruel realities of the workings of the world. The wonderful, simple production of T-Bone Burnett here helps the brutality of the lyrics realize their stark reality.

“Stay” continues one theme from the previous album; love is hard. The mid tempo ballad recognizes the desire to keep love going and around and the cost associated with the vulnerability. The theme of forgiveness and commitment to vows has always been woven throughout Toni K’s music, but here it takes on a more transparent position. this coupled with some of the best vocals on the album make it a real highlight.

On the rockier side, “City Life” reveals that life in Los Angeles for those that would have it no other way. Despite describing it like “living in a civil war zone,” there is a vibrancy and passion that is all-consuming and attractive. This is also some of Burnett’s best production, restraining the song from becoming the punk laden music of early Tonio K, while providing a bounce and punch that reveals what city life is like.

Tonio K was never really known for the acoustic ballad before his foray into Christian Music, but its presence on the two albums, especially here, is stunning and beautiful. “You Were There,” co-written with John Keller, is really a wonderful song with a great vocal performance that drives the song from start to finish. It would be a mistake to automatically assume that God is the subject, but rather the love and guidance that God provides to us through others.

There are not many songs about the Devil that sound as quite as cool as “The Executioner’s Song.” But most songs about the Devil were not written by Tonio K. His ability to add a line or phrase unexpectedly is such a treat. Here he notes the Devil wears hats, and for some reason, it is just funny. Great organ work here by Booker T drives the song.

“I Can’t Stand It” is more funky and groove oriented than most of the songs on the album and fits into a classification of surf/punk/soul music that marked Tonio’s earlier works, especially “Amerika.” It is also closer to the “angrier” K where false religions take the brunt of his caustic tongue.

The song left off of the Word distributed release is the funny and brilliant “What Women Want.” Even at that time the song was nowhere near offensive outside of simply using the word “sex” in the lyrics. By the time the chorus rolls around it is obvious the point of the song. Literally it was one of the worst and most offensive decisions in CCM music history. It was completely knee-jerk and needless.

It is also the best song on the album!

“I Can’t Stop” is a love song. Or at least a Tonio K love song. Funky and cool, with a great rhythm section driving a fun and energetic melody, the song fits right in with “I Can’t Stand It” and “City Life.” The “world is against us” theme continues here.

The album closes with “Where Is That Place,” a Tonio K take on the US. He asks what happened to the America we grew up in, or at least the one we grew up believing existed.

it used to be the teacher’s favorite country
it used to be the showplace of the west
everything worked
and everyone smiled
it used to be another word for the best

where is that place?
where did it go?
whatever happened to that place?
god only knows
that isn’t it over there
and this isn’t it here
now how did a place that big just disappear?

A perfect close to an album where Tonio K’s odd and thoughtful take on the obvious and common radiates throughout. He would record a third album for A&M that never saw the light of day through the company and later was released independently as “Ole.” My only comment about that album is that it is worth tracking down and may possess the best Tonio K ever in “Hey Lady.”


  1. aarjayaitch
    May 31, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    I was so excited about this album, having loved the previous one (and every other release on the What?) label. I worked at a Christian bookstore, so I ended up with the Word version. I was pretty ticked when, years later, I found the full version in a budget bin and realized that I had been cheated out of (you’re right!) the best song on the album.

  2. Don
    May 31, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    I liked his first album, Life in the Food Chain, a lot. Subsequent albums never seemed to reach that level for me.

    Course that is just me, most every critic disagreed with my assessment on the other albums.

    Which album was “I’m Suppose to Have Sex With You” from? I guess that was a B side?

    • low5point
      May 31, 2011 at 7:39 pm

      “I’m Supposed to Have Sex With You” is from the soundtrack to the movie “Summer School” with Mark Harmon. The movie also had a very young and, dare I say, smoking hot Courtney Thorne-Smith. Life in the Foodchain is brilliant and the polar opposite of Romeo Unchained lyrically, especially in regards to women. Even his post-conversion EP, La Bomba, showed a troubling position on the male female relationship with “Mars Needs Women.” That being said “H-A-T-R-E-D” is brilliant, especially the line about Jackson Browne (an artist I’ve never “gotten”).

  3. shawnuel
    May 31, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    I always preferred this over Romeo Unchained. Just personal choice, really, as I like less production and more grit in the sound, in most cases. Songwriting is great on both albums.

    • low5point
      May 31, 2011 at 11:16 pm

      Because you’re not the pop fan that I am

      • Shawn McLaughlin
        June 1, 2011 at 2:55 pm

        I am a HUGE pop fan. I think we just have different definitions of pop. To me, pop is early Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Marshall Crenshaw, Crowded House, Squeeze and much more. You don’t mind the sound of electronics and I am not much of a fan. I can enjoy a nice pop song like Rosanna by Toto because of the strong melody and harmonies, but be a little turned off by the sterility of that bands sound. You tend to be more impressed by the stellar musicianship bands like that display. It’s all good, though.

  4. May 31, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Don “I’m Supposed To Have Sex With You” made it onto the independently released “Rodent Weekend (76-96 Approximately)” which was a collection of Tonio K outtakes from over the years.

    “Ole” is indeed worth tracking down, as it has “Hey Lady” (an excellent song I agree) and my personal all time favorite Tonio K song “We Walk On”

    “Notes” is a solid album as well, and I couldn’t agree more about “The Executioners Song” it so strange and yet so good. I remember really being amazed by it when I first heard it back in high school.

  5. paulkcc
    June 1, 2011 at 12:22 am

    I would agrre that “Ole” is worth finding. I would actually rank it right up there with “Notes”. My personal favorites from Ole are Stuck, That Could Have been Me and I’ll Remember You (For me, the quintessential song of teenage love). Hey Lady is an unbelievaby insightful song, although I would say it’s too real and too long to hold up well to repeated listenings. Having played it for numerous folks over the years, I’ve seen how it reaches out and grabs them by the throat; but when I listen to the album now, it’s the only one I’m tempted to skip over.
    And if you like these albums at all, then I think you might as well track down ” Yugoslavia”. It’s without a doubt the worst album cover you’ll ever find on a Tonio K release, but musically it’s got some great songs on it. The only difference being some of the songs aren’t quite up to the standards of most of Tonio K’s. That’s a pretty high standard, though. Personal favorites off this one are I Know A Place and Again.

  6. Don
    June 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    My favorite song is on the Foodchain album, Funky Western Civilization!

    • low5point
      June 1, 2011 at 7:39 pm

      They put Jesus on a cross/They put a whole in JFK
      The put Hitler in the driver’s/and looked the other way

  7. Don
    June 1, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    now they’ve got poison in the water and the whole world in a trance
    but just because we’re hypnotized, that don’t mean we can’t dance

    we’ve got the funky
    the funky western civilization
    it’s really spunky
    it’s just like summertime vacation
    you just drag your partner through the dirt
    leave him in a world of hurt

    Don’t get me started !

  8. adam
    June 1, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Never heard “Foodchain,” but I rarely played this album. It just didn’t grab me. Maybe I need to dig it out of my CD’s and give it a listen with adult ears ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Brett C
    June 2, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    A Brilliant Album! And as I have said previously every What? Records release is an AYSO.
    I had the Word release first and I loved the album so much I ditched it as soon as I found out there was another version with an extra track (the version that includes “What Women Want”) I didn’t regret buying this album twice in the one year. Sure it was annoying at the time, but I had to have it all.
    There was allot of CCM that was a big yawn (at least for me) at the time and it was albums like this one that was my saving grace.
    I’d personnally have this a bit higher on the list, but I’m sure we will see “Romeo Unchained” much higher on the list. ๐Ÿ™‚
    “Ole” is also a brilliant album if you can find it.

  10. June 14, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Thanks for reminding me of this old tape that I once had. I think I bought it around 1996 ish from a small Christian music shop in Soho, London – ‘Duel Edge’ which sadly closed down not long after. The guy who owned it recommended this and, of course, I loved it.
    Thanks for this countdown. I’ll check out a lot of the stuff, I’m sure.

  11. Greenchili
    January 24, 2012 at 7:26 am

    What Women Want is one of the best songs on the album! Shame on Word.

  12. Pippina
    November 7, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    I want to buy this album in iTunes and I can’t because it’s not available in Mexico’s store. Unfair!

  13. November 7, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    Pippina, I don’t know how much it would cost to ship it to you, but I’d be happy to sell you my CD.

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