Though known primarily to only Christian music aficionados, Norman Barratt passed away earlier today. Barratt played with a great British rock band called Gravy Train before becoming a Christian and joining forces with Alwyn Wall to create the Alwyn Wall Band. They recorded one great record together, The Prize (which made this list), and then went on to release several solo projects.
One of his solo projects, 1981’s “Playin’ In the City,” will be discussed in a future “should have made the list” post. I highly recommend that album as Barratt shows why many consider him one of the best guitar players in CCM history. Phil Keaggy was a fan and had Barratt appear on some of his albums. Barratt also played with Andy Pratt, Cliff Richard, Debbie Boone and Larry Norman.
Known for being a “tonemeister” Barratt created very unique and original guitar sounds and many compared his work to the likes of Mark Knopfler. For those who own Sheila Walsh’s classic “Future Eyes” album, the interesting guitar tones and styling is Barratt’s.
Barratt struggled with eyesight issues for the majority of the last several years but continued to work. Norman Barratt was 62 years old.
THE FRONT (1984)
When the trivia question is asked as to which Christian artist released the first CD into the Christian market the answer is usually Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith or possibly Carman (it was the 80′s you know). But oddly enough the answer is a band that only recorded one album on a relatively independent label called Refuge; the Front.
There are very few artist that make this list with only one release to their name. iDEoLa was the brain child of the iconic Mark Heard and Moral Support was fronted by Andy McCarroll who had previously released to solo projects along with other group and duo albums. Same is true for The Front as they would also release a follow-up album under the name “What If” on RCA to the mainstream market and the band is actually a “supergroup” or sorts.
The mind behind The Front was drummer Bob Wilson who had made a name for himself leading the very popular jazz pop group, Seawind, and also released a pop Christian album with his wife as Bob and Pauline Wilson. The Front would be a departure musically for Wilson as he joined forces with keyboardist/saxophonist Larry Williams (Seawind), former Whiteheart and prolific session guitarist, Dann Huff, amazing young guitar hero, Michael Landau and session and Airplay vocalist, Tommy Funderburk.
It would be Funderburk who would shine on this project as he took center stage and blew audiences away with one of the most powerful voices in pop, rock and soul. There is both a sweetness and sincerity to his voice that combines with a raspy, aggressive passion that sets Funderburk apart. For those unfamiliar with Funderburk more than likely have heard singing background vocals for everyone from REO Speedwagon and Yes to Melissa Manchester and Amy Grant, including a very memorable performance on the latter’s “Wise Up” single.
The Front was an album for the times as the electronic drum styling was short-lived and dated, but that does not discount the wonderful songwriting, incredible musical performances and poignant and stirring lyrics. Other artists were producing similar musical ventures, including DeGarmo and Key, but none with the pure raw energy packed into 8 songs. And after the first song the electronic drum sound is simply not as noticeable as the initial response.
I was able to see The Front perform twice in Southern California, including one show with Leslie Phillips and Benny Hester. The musicianship live was extraordinary even though the band make up was markedly different as a touring band, but included the always impressive John Andrew Schreiner and Seawind members filling out the band. But like the record this was about Tommy Funderburk and his voice.
The songs on the album were also unique because they did not have a familiar pop/radio format to them. This was more AOR with pop sensibilities than normally commercial music. Imagine corporate rock like Foreigner but without the repetitive musical indulgences. Funderburk’s hard-edged upper register would normally be a turn off to Christian radio at the time, but for some reason they continued to be embraced by radio and garnered several moderate Christian radio hits.
All this while maintaining intensely difficult content to swallow for the modern evangelical radio listening audience. This album was not filled with popular worship ditty’s and affirming song of tribute to the great things the Christian church has done. rather the opposite it may have been one of the “heavier” records lyrically for its time.
The album kicks off with “It’s Hard to Take,” an impassioned plea to share the Gospel. Funderburk pleads with the audience to share the Gospel to friends and family noting the agony of knowing that many would spend an eternity lost without Christ.
Some will put Him down
Some just don’t understand
And we, the keepers of truth
Just where do we stand?
That there could be a Christ
And some will be without
It’s really hard to say it’s so
To draw the line between reality and doubt
And watch them go…
It’s hard to take
Til the end of time
It’s hard to take, it’s hard to think
That some will lose their lives…
As much as the lyrics themselves are a passionate plea nothing matches the intensity and raw emotion that Funderburk exudes as he pleads the case of Christ knowing many, quite possibly close to him, will lose their lives.
“Holy Light” follows and contains the most commercially viable track on the project. This is a straight ahead corporate rock single in the vein of Foreigner or REC Speedwagon. A borderline rock worship anthem, “Holy Light” is probably the most uplifting and hook driven song on The Front. This is a song of redemption and fits perfectly against the previous song’s darker and more intense content. In fact, there is a wonderful doctrinal position in the song as it points to finding Christ in the Old testament and revealed in the New Testament.
Holy Light, You’re a cloud by day and a fire at night
Holy Light, You’re the measure of time between wrong and right
And now I know
“Holy Light” would be a hint to Funderburk’s future work in the modern Praise and Worship field.
“All Under Him” slows things down a bit and sounds musically like it could have been composed by Bob Farrell with its heavy keyboard driven chorus. The song features some amazing backing vocals by Bob Carlisle (Allies), Tata Vega and Andrae Crouch. This anthem is once again a call to evangelism, reminding the audience that the Gospel is for all men.
“King of Glory” is an Easter pop song with the most jazz influenced sound on the project. This could have easily fit on a Chicago album of the same era. Again the focus here are the vocals of Tat Vaga set against the higher range of Funderburk.
The gates of Hell, cannot withstand
All the mighty power of God’s righteousness
Jesus died, but He rose to rule again
The Church needs to be reminded exactly what the resurrection provides and note the promise that the gates of Hell will not withstand the Church’s attack. This was a far cry from the standard “the world is going to hell in a hand basket and we’re just waiting for the rapture” content that dominated the Christian music scene at the time.
“The Promise,” one the heaviest songs on the album, is also the centerpiece for the project. The album contained a printed dedication on the cover to the thousands of unborn aborted everyday in the United States alone. The song also contains Funderburk’s most impassioned vocals. But this time the content is king. The song starts off by relating the death of the innocents in history, including from the very beginning of time.
As long ago as Cain and Abel
Voices crying out to me, never to be found
This proof that’s laid upon the table
Is this what I require of you, their blood upon the ground?
Love the children
I know their names
If you harm them
Then I’ll know…
The song then shift to the present as the complaint is made against the current generation and their refusal to do anything about the current slaughter of the innocents.
And so the lie remains among you
All for being innocent, what a price to pay
I promise you I won’t ignore it
If you know what’s going down, look the other way
Love the children
I know their names
If you harm them
I’ll hold you to blame!
At the bridge it’s Funderburks time to represent a righteous God that will not and does not stand idly by as a nation’s sins go unheeded. This may also be Funderburk’s best vocals on the album.
Feel the fury as I rage against your land
For what you’ve done to them
Everyone of them was precious in my sight
I will repay…
How much longer can you let this madness go
Oh, how I loved them so
Everyone of them is precious in my sight
It hurts me so…
Love the children
The song fades out with Funderburk vamping on top of the repeated chorus…“can you hear them crying/ Tell me why…they’re crying, they’re dying…”
Moving in a different direction musically, “Silent Night” follows with a great mid-tempo pop styling, once again similar to Chicago, but with once again poignant lyrics, this time dealing with those on the “outside.” This is a song about “the least of these,” and the Church’s reaction to them. Here the chorus makes the point of who it is the Church is called to reach.
As another one falls to the ground
Another is left to die
Another one calls out “is God alive?”
A baby is left all alone
In the midst of a silent night…
The beautiful and comforting “Tonight” follows with Funderburk’s softer side. This is a classic 80′s ballad that if it was about a girl would have been a wedding song classic or long-standing radio Top 40 smash. But keeping in the tone of the project the song deals with those whose everyday struggles have left many on the brink and reaching out. But the hope is brilliantly illuminated.
Tonight, as the tears of heartache fall
Tonight, when there seems no hope at all
Tonight, let the God most high prevail
And the love of Jesus will carry you tonight
The album finishes with the upbeat and stirring, “How Long.” This song is a simple call from Christ to those who have started to slip away from His love. This, like most of the project, ultimately points to those that claim the name of Christ to do the work of the Great Commission. It also contain Dann Huff’s best guitar work on the project.
From start to finish, this much too short 8 song album, delivers in every possible way. The very limited release of the Cd has made it an “ebay” gold mine. Like many great releases of its time it was not really appreciated until much later.
ELECTRIC EYE (1984)
In 1982 I was a Junior in High School and had a subscription to Campus Life Magazine. One day I saw an ad for a brand new band called Prodigal that sported a very cool cover, which was a take off on Escher’s famous painting.
But what was even better was that there was a pull out single for the band attached to the center of the magazine. These were all the rage during the 1970’s and often found included inside cereal boxes or even attached to the cardboard of those same cereal boxes. You had to take the very flimsy plastic disc, place it on top of a solid LP and then you could play the single.
That was the first of three Prodigal releases, and all three made this list. That band was that damned good. probably better than we even realize. Prodigal is easily the most overlooked and unsung band in CCM history…PERIOD!
The type of innovation already noted was what fans could expect from the band Prodigal during their short-lived three record existence. Their innovations also included being the first recipient of the Dove Award for “Video of the Year.” They were one of the few bands that continued to invest in the fledgling video marketing promotional support creating several videos per release.
And even for the album in question there was what is called a “stop groove” at the end of the side 2 and a “hidden bonus track” of sorts which contained a computer code for the old Commodore 64 computer. Using a cassette drive a person could get bonus information about the album along with photos and lyrics. This may have become common with the invent of compact discs, but this was totally revolutionary in 1984.
All three of their album covers were spectacular. But it was the content, both musically and lyrically, that set Prodigal above their peers for the time. Where other artist bemoaned the struggles, pain and realities of life on this spinning globe, Prodigal placed themselves within that reality and expressed those struggles from one who is intimately aware and experienced with those struggles.
Where the first album stayed along the musical lines of Steely Dan and the Eagles, it was with “Electric Eye” the band became very current, and dare I say, cutting edge. Guitar driven rock and new wave synth pop merged to create a sound that was uniquely Prodigal while immediately familiar and memorable. Driving keyboard and bass that for some reason reminds me of the music from the “St. Elmo’s Fire” soundtrack. Also another unique feature is the use of three different lead singers with duties distributed according to musical style.
The content on “Electric Eye” is beautifully portrayed on the album cover shown above. We have surrounded ourselves with so much to entertain us and consume our time that the difference between reality and artificial are not just blurred but rather the artificial begins to be more “real.” Note how the actual lightning through the window is faded and bland while the same lightning shown on the television set is vibrant and exiting. This is expressed in different ways on the album along with a host of other topics that are both poignant and eternal.
Even the recording process was experimental. The album was recorded in an abandoned Catholic Girls school in Cincinnati using a mobile recording system built into a motor home. Band members would move from room to room to create a different acoustic sound to discover the best fit for a particular song.
Lead vocalist and band leader Loyd Boldman told me that at the time the band (especially himself) was listening a lot to Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and “The River” as well as Daniel Amos and Michael Omartian. These influences shade and nuance much of what makes this record so amazing. With the knowledge guitar parts, vocal styles and overall production results make sense.
The goal was to create a larger, less polished and precise studio album that the debut was. In that area the band succeeded with flying colors.
“Scene of the Crime” is the first song on the album and starts with a police siren leading into an aggressive guitar and keyboard driven rock sound akin to Foreigner or even 38 Special. Lead singer Loyd Boldman’s bombastic baritone is both edgy and clean as needed with nods to Meatloaf for pure power. Man’s guilt is laid to bear within relationships and how we often leave others with wounds that never heal.
I know it’s hard to find a love that’s real
In a world of steel
Some wounds never heal
After all the things you’ve said and done
You haven’t fooled anyone
But you’re caught with a smoking gun
But it’s over, you’re caught at the scene of the crime
Now it’s over, you can’t run away this time
You’re caught at the scene of the crime.
But the murderous actions are not missed by the judge who sees all as this is pointed out. We can try to run from the pain and suffering we leave in our wake, but cannot escape a righteous judge.
God only know, what you’ve been running from
And God only knows what you’ve become
Do you think He’s deaf, do you think He’s blind
Can you get away with murder one more time
Boldman’s vocals at the end of the song place him amongst one the best unheralded rock voices in Christian music. You believe his words because you believe his passion and authenticity.
“Fast Forward” follows with a more new wave driven guitar sound similar to early Police. The song explores the rat race we constantly subject ourselves to and the innate desire to be free from those constraints. Upbeat and poppy music juxtaposed against a sense of futility and hopelessness makes the point that much more powerful.
The dreams all stop/at 6am
Alarm clock rings/ once again
Pump my body full of caffeine
Aim my briefcase for the door
One more suburban blast-off
Here the countdown 1, 2, 3, 4
I don’t wanna be a number on the turnstile
Another figure in a government file
I don’t want to be a byte in the foreground
Another digit on a telephone line
The artist then bemoans how quickly life goes by and that there will never be a time when he can truly enjoy his life as the gift it was intended to be. Time keeps slipping away and the conveyor belt keeps turning. He eventually asks “Am I killing time or is it killing me?”
Prodigal separated itself from others in their genre by refusing to give clichéd answers to life’s deeper questions and quite often the listener is left with the same sense of despair that the subject of the song expresses. The same is true here as after a wonderful acoustic piano and electric guitar solo (finest on the album I believe) the subject sits lonely pondering “where has my life gone?”
The nearly Queen-like piano driven rock number “Masks” asks the question of what mask should I put on today in order to avoid reality and most importantly, so that the world will not be able to get through and make contact with him. But this subject realizes his deficiency and pleads for an answer to whether there is someone who can take those masks away in order that he can truly see.
These are real questions and Prodigal does not tread on them lightly nor do they give the easy, pat answers most often associated with Christian music. Rather here Boldman is just beginning the earnest search for the one who can make him see. All this set to a melody comparable to Daniel Amos’ “Horrendous Disc.”
Again referring to the struggles of an artificial, teflon world the band addresses our consumerism based on the self-gratification it provides, “Just What I Need” describes the man consumed with the images around him and the selfish desires they create. Lead vocals are shared with Boldman taking the chorus in a song not far removed something by Supertramp with heavier guitars.
Irresistible, indispensable, unbelievable
And it’s just what I need
It’s so practical, so affordable, unavoidable
Well, it’s just what I need
“Emerald City” is one the true highlights on the album starting with a clip from the “Wizard of Oz.” For those looking for heaven “you don’t have to look so far.” This may be the most evangelical (for lack of a better term) track on the record. It possesses a very memorable big, keyboard driven hook that would work with Supertramp or Chicago but placed squarely in the 1980’s.
The title track returns to the Boldman voiced big rock sound featured on “Scene of the Crime.” The vocals were actually recorded in a stairwell of the aforementioned girls school with no additional reverb! This ode to the obsession of modern man with the advancements in technology, Boldman describes how the artificial has replaced the real and the disconnect it creates.
I get my good times from a laugh track
I got my news from professional smiles
I got religion on the cable
I got my name on the micro-file
I don’t even have to leave my lounge chair
I change my channels by remote control
Radio, stereo, video it’s all just electric eyes
The song ends with a groove driven keyboard with samples of television programming placed on top taking center stage, ending with the fuzzy sound of channels changing and merging into the sound of a video game being played. This blends directly into the next song, “Bobby,” without a break. Bobby appears to be a young victim of this artificial society, one unable to make decisions for himself as peers encourage drug use and avoidance of the real world.
Bobby, puppet on a string
You feel like a bird with broken wings
Bobby, you’re growing up scared
Wired to your own electric chair
…ten thousand voices ringing out your ears
“Shout It Out” is breathe of joyful air amidst the heavier music and topics. A very upbeat musical number, the message is an encourage to the listener to express their faith in bold proclamation. Rather than releasing Jungian repressed depression (like Tears for Fears) the listener is encouraged to understand the joy in the Gospel and the pleasure of expressing the gift of life that accompanies it. This is really a fun song and Boldman sound brighter and more energetic with this content than on any other Prodigal number.
“Neon” is a very unique keyboard driven, borderline ethereal number with verses in spoken word poetry similar to Steve Scott’s work. The chorus, though, is sung and is hauntingly unforgettable. The call of the singer is to be seen as light in the midst of a dark and lonely city.
I wanna shine like neon
I wanna shine like neon
In the city tonight.
The poetry that consumes the verses must be listened to over and over as they describe beautifully haunting images set against the swirling keyboards that are nearly trance-like. The song finishes with those same keyboard atop a constant, pounding, hypnotic drumming.
The first single from the project was the acoustic ballad “Boxes,” and here it closes out the album. Again here the lyrical content was much too far out of the norm of Christian radio and the expression of the lost, lonely and homeless did not (does not still) set well with the primary audience of Christian radio. This is by far the best song not sung by Boldman. It has nearly a Steve Bishop, James Taylor quality to it. Simple, reflective, plaintive and eventually stirring.
(One of the best CCM songs ever).
As the song fades a keyboard driven string arrangement increases and fades as an electronic enhanced voice hauntingly sings the chorus of “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” This, the first time and every time, is unexpected and emotionally moving. It so perfectly fits the conclusion of both the song “Boxes” and the entire project that I can imagine no finer finish. In a world that demands your eyes and attention be fixed upon technology, yourself and the facades it creates, the true and lasting response is to turn your eyes upon Jesus.
There are great albums and then there are “important” albums that changed the landscape are live long past their usefulness for a record company. It is even rarer to find an album that is both. This is clearly one of those albums.
Former member of America and CCM artist Dan Peek passed away yesterday (July 24th, 2011). I have not seen many details yet, but thought readers of this blog would like to know.
Dan wrote several hits for America (Lonely People, etc) and also had several major hits in the world of CCM, especially the classic “All Things Are Possible.” He had written a book about his time in America and his conversion and ministry.
40 ACRES (1999)
Lyrically, this is my favorite album of all time…Christian or secular. The themes expressed, the doctrines explored and the settings in which this is accomplished is borderline staggering. Adding to that there is some finely crafted folk/rock melodies, exceptional musicianship and solid vocals. But here it is the lyrics that shine!
The band’s two primary songwriters, Derek Webb and Aaron Tate, were at their very best on 40 Acres as several deep themes like that of predestination, redemption, depravity and sovereignty are on display but are applied to daily life situations like dating, eating pancakes and trying to find a place to sit without the fear of intrusion by ants! But the theme that runs throughout the project is frailty of man in relation to the sovereign power of God.
The sovereignty theme is evident from the very first line of the very first song, “There You Go.”
Is this the strange feeling
Of you working all to good
From there the concept of God working out for good all things is explored with gratitude and surprise…
When I asked for and deserved a stone
You broke and gave your body as bread
And even the stone that dropped down and rolled away
Spoke of the one who bled
There you go working good from my bad
There you go making robes from my rags
There you go melting crowns from my calves
There you go working good of all I have
Till all I have’s not that bad
Ultimately the “good” works of God toward His people is examined in the life and death of His own Son, Jesus Christ. In the final verse we hear of God’s unending love. And leave it to Caedmon’s Call to squeeze in the word “ineffable” into a pop song! In case you’re wondering something that is “ineffable” is considered so sacred as not to be understood, explained or expressed in words.
For you so loved the unlovable
That you gave the ineffable
That who so believes the unbelievable
Will gain the unattainable
The Derek Webb penned “Thankful” follows with a more Americana rock bent than previous Caedmon’s tunes and would fit well on a John Mellencamp project. In this song Webb expresses the Reformed understanding of the depravity of man and man’s inability to do anything good enough on his own to merit salvation.
I am thankful that I’m incapable
Of doing any good on my own
This, most obviously, is not a new theme. But it is in the way in which the process of contemplating this dilemma is introduced that sets it apart, rather than a treatise on Calvinism with proof text Webb makes the process personal. He opens with the story of looking through old letters and noting that the sins and struggles he faced years are earlier are still a struggle today.
I ran across an old box of letters
While I was bagging up some clothes for Goodwill
You know I had to laugh that the same old struggles
That plagued me then are plaguing me still
I know the road is long from the ground to glory
But a boy can hope he’s getting some place
But you see, I’m running from the very clothes I’m wearing
And dressed like this I’m fit for the chase
Webb then addresses the Biblical truth of the condition of man…
‘Cause we’re all stillborn and dead in our transgressions
We’re shackled up to the sin we hold so dear
So what part can I play in the work of redemption
I can’t refuse, I cannot add a thing
But it is through his realization of his own incapable nature that he discovers the truth as to who actually does the work in salvation..
‘Cause I am just like Lazarus and I can hear your voice
I stand and rub my eyes and walk to You
Because I have no choice
This theme of man’s corrupt nature and fleeting faith is examined in the Tate penned “Shifting Sand.” And here again we find the need for grace…
Waters rose as my doubts reigned
My sand-castle faith, it slipped away
Found myself standing on your grace
It’d been there all the time
My faith is like shifting sand
Changed by every wave
My faith is like shifting sand
So I stand on grace
“Shifting Sand” features lead vocals by Danielle Young. Along with husband and band leader Cliff Young, most of the vocals duties are shared between them and songwriter Derek Webb.
“Faith My Eyes” follows as a Webb sung and penned look at God’s mysterious relationship with His creation. Here we are introduced to Webb contemplating ants and longing to be home with those he loves while on the road doing what he perceives to be God’s work. This artistic struggle is a common theme among artists and Webb addresses the issue with honesty and transparency.
Despite longing to be responsible to the call of God he admits, “I still judge success by how I’m dressing.” It is this honesty that propels the album and makes it such an important and lasting release. It should also be noted that the music is noted “dated” with its folk and country leanings, this too plays a part in its lasting qualities.
“Where I Began” cloaks the concept of Irresistible Grace with the story of Jonah before personalizing the truth of the will of God set against man’s inability and failings. Man’s will is powerless against the hound of heaven.
So you have yourself your ninety nine (ninety nine),
Isn’t that enough for you?
Still you followed me to the shadowed valley
Carried me on your shoulders too.
I’ve done the work of Sisyphus
Thinking that I could get over this hill
But the one thing I can’t get over now…(is the)
Is the force of your will.
One special thing to note is Caedmon’s Call’s use of obscure historical, literary and Biblical figures and concepts like Sisyphus, Uri Geller and Gnosticism. Case in point in the lyric above there is a reference to Sisyphus. Sisyphus is a Greek legend who was forced to push a large boulder up the side of a hill only to have to roll back down for all eternity. These type of references, along with the deeper theological convictions, gave the band a reputation for being the “thinking man’s” band.
The above is true as over the years I have had quite a bit of contact with the band. The first was right after the release of 40 Acres at a Christian Booksellers Convention in Atlanta I believe. I was to interview them for the radio station I was working for and record some liners for the station. The minute I mentioned I was familiar with theologians Michael Horton, RC Sproul and Greg Bahnsen, the conversation never returned to music. I spent the rest of the convention talking theology over Newcastle Brown Ale and Spinach Artichoke dip.
The highlight of the record is Webb written “Table for Toe.” Here again we find the normal, mundane experiences of life used to present a deeper truth. The story of two guys getting together “talkin’ ’bout” soccer turns into a discussion of loneliness and God’s sovereignty. How does the Christian juxtapose the desire for intimacy and love from another while realizing God is sovereign.
And how we just hate being alone
Could I have missed my only chance
And now I’m just wasting my time
By looking around
But you know I know better
I’m not gonna worry ’bout nothing
Cause if the birds and the flowers survive
Then I’ll make it okay
I’m given a chance and a rock
see which one breaks a window
See which one keeps me up all night and into the day
Because I’m so scared of being alone
That I forget what house I live in
But it’s not my job to wait by the phone
For her to call
This internal struggle for finding “true love” set against the need to do what God has called us to do is a universal struggle. Finally Webb resigns himself to the fact that he is not the one controlling these things and even the most mundane things are in the mind of God.
Well this day’s been crazy
But everything’s happened on schedule
from the rain and the cold
To the drink that I spilled on my shirt
‘Cause You knew how You’d save me
before I fell dead in the garden
And You knew this day
long before You made me out of dirt
And You know the plans that You have for me
And You can’t plan the end and not plan the means
And so I suppose I just need some peace
Just to get me to sleep.
The Danielle Young sung cover of Shaun Colvin’s wonderful “”Climb On (A Back That’s Strong)” remains one of the finest vocal performances by Young on any Caedmon’s release.
The Tate penned “Petrified Heart” deals with the callous and cold heart of even the one who claims to love God. Disappointment and loss can eat away at even the most hopefully noble. The heart that slowly hardens over the years is examined as the singer looks back and wonders how it all happened.
Webb’s “Somewhere North” continues the previous theme of longing to be home while still wanting to be where God wants us to be. The jazzy groove sets the song apart from the rest of the album.
“Daring Daylight Escape” continues to be a personal favorite. The piano driver rollicking tune contains some of the best hooks in Webb’s history. The love and loss story is very common to all. The theme, though, is seldom addressed in christian circles and it only seems fitting that someone like Webb would be willing to do so.
The album finishes with the title track and it is a perfect conclusion to this project. As the band imagines the unending space of the Texas plains it is in conjunction the realization that it all belongs to the Lord.
There’s 40 acres and redemption to be found
Just along down the way
There is a place where no plow blade has turned the ground
And you will turn it over, ’cause out here hope remains
‘Cause out here hope remains..
The final verse concludes the thought that in this wide expanse of the human condition that if man does not fulfill his obligation to respond to the call of the Gospel and proclaim the glory of the Lord the rocks themselves will stand up and do so. But this symbol is ultimately about the ultimate human condition of needing the Lord to do His work on our souls, heart and lives.
Out here the Texas rain is the hardest I’ve ever seen
It’ll wash your house away, but it’ll also make you clean
Now these rocks they are crying too
And this whole land is calling out for you
There is so much more to be said about this incredible project and the great band that created it but space is limited for our objectives here. Suffice it to say that if you do not own this album you need to do yourself a favor and get it! Then grab an encyclopedia, dictionary and your Bible and have at it!
ZIONIC BONDS (1981)
Andy McCarroll & Moral Support
There are very few releases I love to listen more than this great punk rock release from Andy McCarroll & Moral Support. After losing the LP of this great record in a move it was nearly 15 years in between listens. Then a few years ago I heard that it made its way on to CD and I grabbed on immediately. I would assume not a month goes by that don’t listen all the way through.
Andy McCarroll did record two folk/rock albums in the UK in the mid-1970′s. The sound is quite a bit more subdued than on this Clash influenced release. But both of those early releases are worthy to be tracked down. McCarroll’s distinctive vocals though are present.
It should be mentioned here that McCarroll’s vocals can be an acquired taste for some, but resonated with its nasally passion at first listen for me.
I remember walking through a small Christian Bookstore in Orange County, CA as a Junior in High School. This little store had a really cool guy working there that would “sneak” in some underground or controversial albums. One day I had dropped by and he ran to meet me outside when he saw me coming. In his hand was the brightest record LP cover ever. I saw it from a distance! He just said “trust me!”
I drove home as quickly as possible and for the next several hours I listened to Zionic Bonds over and over again. then I turned the record over to listen to Side B! I could not escape just how “new” and current it sounded. At the time there was Resurrection Band, Daniel Amos had released Horrendous Disc and that was about it. This was before undercover, The Lifesavers and The Altar Boys broke through.
The album kicks off with a whining guitar fading in before the drums, bass and guitar assault is launched. The bass and drums drive the song “Sin” with a ferocity that was unheard of at the time. McCarroll’s vocals – an acquired taste admittedly – were unique, heavily accented and raw. The lyrics matched perfectly.
The results of rebellion causin’ societal ills / It pounds and beats to death like a pneumatic drill / You take it very lightly and excuse it at will / Don’t realize it’s cancer, don’t realize…Sin Kills
After McCarroll points the finger at societies acceptance of sin he turns the accusing finger back on himself.
It affects my body and corrupts my brain
It effects like poison running through my veins
It penetrates all, all it touches it stains
It’s like living your, living you life…in a sewage drain
I wanna hate it (hate it) with all of me!
This is a pure Clash like rhythm attack that is utterly relentless. It would also easily rank among the finest rock songs in CCM history.
On “How the Kids are Feelin’” a high speed rocker with a double speed lyrical rhyme scheme, McCarroll bemoans the struggle of the inner city kid that falls into the wrong crowd.
Backstreet bad boys, talk rough, make noise, to be heard to be seen
Be noticed, do anything, get drunk, get in a fight, cigarette, wanna light
Security in the gang, safety first, everytime
How the kids are feeling…
McCarroll levels complaints against the schools that push kids through with no moral component and ask..
Please miss, is this a joke, am I really just another brick in the…
But McCarroll does not leave the with the same hopeless his secular counterparts did at the time.
This is how it is
How the kids are feelin’
How they need Jesus
” To Know You” addresses the need how the need to know Jesus outweighs every other pursuit in life. This theme is set to a world beat/ska driven rhythm and groove. More authentic than The Police, this Euro/Ska sound was two years ahead of the time.
I go and enlist at the old age four
I go there to study, that’s what I’m there for
There’s so much to learn that my head could not store
But I’d squeeze some in in order to know you more
Once again the godless school system is the victim of McCarroll’s complaints…
But the one thing most important, they forget to do
Is to tell me that I can know about You…to know You
The teacher says, untidy work, you should be ashamed
Why so much stress on lesser gains, if I don’t know You
Everything is in vein….
McCarroll finishes the song by declaring what is actually the most important.
While in those days of schooling
One thing’s my aim
To fill my mind with those things
That will last and remain…to know You
The poppiest single on the project follows with “Slippin’ and Slidin’” Here again the call is to the adults to be guides to the young ones. He bemoans that lack of passing down clear and Biblical morals to the next generation. Even those who profess a morality without the Biblical foundation receive the brunt of the song. McCarroll attacks the humanistic philosophy that cannot account for the morality they wish to thrust upon others.
They don’t know on what foundation their building…I wish they’d understand…
The next cut is clearly the most memorable. It is stark, borderline eerie vocally. But on “I Am Human” the topic of abortion is front and center and the musical composition matches the poignant and unflinching lyrics. Where Phil Keaggy sweetly asked “Who will speak up for the little one…” McCarroll directs his venom against the hypocrisy of the physicians as he charges with a near monotone, almost computer or robot sounding vocals…
Why do you murder babies
Abort them and get paid
Just like an executioner
With mask upon your face
Everyday human life gets cheaper
You act and you destroy
You play with my world
As if it was a toy
I am special, I am human
Then he sends a charge against society in general and the humanistic, postmodern philosophy that sees to true value to human life.
If nothing is forbidden
Anything is possible
It opens doors for Hitlers
Makes man expendable
I am special…I am human
We are special…we are human
I remember trying to convine the Program Director at KYMS to just give the song a spin in the evenings and on the weekends. The Saturday night rock show added it several times and the phones would light up every time the song played. It struck such a chord with people. It’s actually both revolting and riveting at the same time.
Side two opens up with a great instrumental that at first may seem a little out of place on such an aggressive record. But here the band gets to really show their chops. “Cyan City” is a wonderful melody that is reminiscent of the kind of instrumental work from After the Fire.
“King Man” bring the record back to The Clash’s British punk styling. Lyrically the song looks at the ultimate fool as the one who believes there is no God and the vain philosophies and ideologies that derive from such a presupposition.
King man and his family
Evolved to himself from a chimpanzee
A royal line, shows stately
No noble blood, just an animal king
Hard times…when you don’t realize you’re not the most powerful alive
“Livin’ a Lie” is another in the more pop vein on the project. This time the lyrics are directed toward those in the Church that are not truly born again; those that are living a lie and called to repent. This is especially true for those who have a mental ascent toward the Gospel with no impact on the heart. These are the ones Paul warns Timothy about in 2nd Timothy 2.
“In Control” follows with another ska/reggae tune, but this time much slower and more akin to the early music of the Police. The concept of the sovereignty is the focus here. McCarroll examines not just the thought that God is control of the kings and nations but in your next door neighbor as well. Set against the early 80′s fear of nuclear war between the US and USSR, McCarroll still has his faith resting on the One who is in control.
Do you believe God is in control?
Yeah, do you believe God is in control?
Of the USA and USSR
And Bobby and Jean who live next door?
God is in control…God is in control
The song finishes with the constant refrain of God is in control while news reports of impending doom and destruction throughout the world are placed over the vocals. It should be noted here that this song (and the vast majority of the album) is intensely hook filled melodically.
“20th Century” finishes off the album with a 50′s ballad melody set against a staccato guitar work and McCarroll’s nasally vocals.
He’s more than a shoulder to cry
He’s more than a crutch to keep yourself up
he’s more than a prop when the going’s rough
When all around starts to erupt
He’s more than a help to get your head straight
Not psychological phenomena
He’s more than an aspirin for the weak in mind
Or a three times daily kind of pick me up
There is God – Though I cannot see
There is a God – A hope for you and me
There is a God – The final reality
Of the 20th century
Lyrically straight forward, musically aggressive, topically current. I recall an interview with Bono of U2 in which he referenced the music of Andy McCarroll. He also mentioned that Moral Support was unique in that the band contained both Protestants and Catholics, which was pretty much unheard of at the time. The band did score a hit in Ireland but. unfortunately they were short-lived and this was the only release.
But what a release it was!
TO HELL WITH THE DEVIL (1986)
In October of 1986 I was managing Maranatha Village in Costa Mesa, CA. The Village was a very large and influential Christian bookstore with many employees going on to make major contributions to the Christian Music scene. The original editor and publisher of CCM Magazine worked at Maranatha Village where his monthly newsletter (Acts) eventually evolved into the famed and important magazine. Brian Tong, who managed the store right before I took over went on to form Frontline Records with Jimmy Kempner. Even Bob Siemon Jewelery got their start in the store.
The Village had built such a long standing reputation, especially in the area of music i was able to negotiate a “Pre-Release” party on a Friday Night with Stryper to reveal their new album, To Hell With the Devil. The album was to be officially released the following week, but it’s amazing what an order for 5,000 copies will do to bend the rules.
Being a Christian Bookstore I had to order the product through the Christian distribution company, which was The Benson Company. When the several skids of LP’s, cassettes and CD’s arrived I opened them up immediately to a great horror. The wonderful, edgy and graphic album artworks shown above was replaced by a bland black packaging with a Stryper logo and the title in red.
I was appalled, especially since all of the promotional materials I received from the management company that I had become good friends with had the cooler cover and because I knew the Tower Records around the corner would have the better cover and I would lose sales, be embarrassed and have to answer to the thousands who would show up that night.
I immediately called a friends at Enigma Records, the bands record label, and she worked some deals behind the curtain so i could get the better cover at the event. Again, it’s amazing what 5,000 copies can accomplish. The better cover arrived the day of the event. We decided to keep both order and place them side by side at the front register so that anyone troubled by the graphic cover would have the alternative option. I remember selling about 100 copies of the boring cover that night while selling all 5,000 of the graphic.
I should note that the guys all showed up on time and stayed until every autograph was signed, which made for a very long night as the line went through the store, out the front door and nearly down to the end of the street.
“To Hell with the Devil” is the most important metal album in Christian music history for many reasons. First off, it is also one of the best selling records in Christian music history with over two million units sold. Second, the album was leaps and bounds above anything the industry had seen production wise. the sonic quality of THWTD is staggering. The songwriting is top notch for the genre, the promotion was unparalleled with several videos consistently being among the most requested videos on MTV and the record just flat out rocked!
After the ominous sounding instrumental opener, “Abyss” the album kicks into full frontal assault with the title track. What Stryper may have lacked in lyrical depth and theological precision they made up for with pure passion and zeal for the Gospel. In a musical form noted more for pentagrams, the “Devil Horns” sign and comic book occultic imagery, Stryper replaced with Bible verses, on stage prayers and this very anti-Satan anthem.
Speak of the devil
He’s no friend of mine
To turn from him is what we have in mind
Just a liar and a thief
The word tells us so
We like to let him know
Where he can go
To hell with the devil
To hell with the devil
The trademark dual lead and harmonizing guitars and overly sweet (no pun intended) backing vocals are a central focus on “Calling To You,” is a simple song of appreciation to God for the daily gifts and the eternal promises. The wonderful harmonies that finish the album are more akin to Styx than more traditional heavy metal.
“Free” drives things a little harder with a strong Gospel call appealing to the will of the listeners to receive the gift of salvation is Jesus Christ. It’s Oz Fox’s guitar work though that makes the song a stand out.
They sugary sweet power ballad, Honestly” follows. This is a Stryper trademark ballad and became the biggest hit in Stryper’s career. What sounds initially like a love song used in many a rockers wedding, is actually a song of commitment sung from Gods point of view. The formula many other glam metal bands would eventually follow are all right here in those song. Romantically pleasant piano intro for the first verse, light drums added into the second verse and big crunchy guitars and pounding drums kick of the chorus. Chorus ends with angelic choir backing vocals. Rinse and repeat.
But man, it works!
The key to being authentic rockers is that the ballad must either be the last song on the album or followed immediately followed by something fast and hard! “The Way” fits the bill just nicely and contains some of Michael Sweet’s edgier vocals.
The “Sing Along Song” possesses a more breezy grove while maintaining a strong rock edge. this is anthem rock defined. Limited verse structure and a chorus of exclusively oohs and aahs make for a vocal driven song with huge harmonies and a long time concert favorite.
“Holding On” is almost like a Beach Boys put through a meat grinder and fuzz box. Immediately melodic and fun. But it also contains some of Sweet’s better lyrics.
Everyone has been hurt before – love will come and go
When you put your faith in something so unsure
Never happy and wanting more – love will never grow
Till you put your faith in something that’s secure
I’m holding on to the One from above
The One that’s secure the one that has cured
My broken heart with perfect love
Despite the big hair, spandex pants, make up and theatrical trappings of the glam, big hair metal vibe, Stryper appears to be more influenced by the likes of Styx and Journey than Ratt and Poison. This makes for overall better songs, melodies and lasting results, especially for the more mid tempo songs like “Holding On.”
The more metal influence, though, does return on “Rockin’ the World,” which is at least fitting given the content. This song is all bout an “apology” for Stryper.
Never want to push you can’t you see
We just want to spread the news
In a different way
Rock the world but rock it with the truth
“All of Me” is the second power ballad project and this one really is more of a love song. In fact, despite “Honestly’s” popularity as a wedding song, it is “All of Me” that was written as a wedding song. This one lacks the bombastic bridge of most power ballads and works well as simply a love song. For that reason, it is also the most forgettable song on the record.
THWTD closes with a great rocker in “More Than a Man.” Strong vocals, great guitar work and a very direct Gospel message.
God, I will follow you because you died for me
Gave to me your life to set me free
Anyone who asks shall receive
Jesus in your heart
It’s time for you to start
Giving God all the glory
“To Hell with the Devil” paved the way and made the very popular metal scene in Christian music possible. Bands like Bloodgood, Shout, Vengeance, Deliverance and a host of others were able to expand the genre, but it was THWTD that knocked the door down. When CCM Magazine did their Top 100 countdown THWTD was the only metal album to make the countdown. This is partly based on the magazine and book editors true lack of understanding the genre, but it also pointed to the importance and durability of this great album.