47. Horrendous Disc – Daniel Amos
HORRENDOUS DISC (1978/1981)
and all God’s blessings on
“the band that won’t go away”
Camarillo Eddie (The Swirling Eddies)
But nestled directly between the classic country rock album (Shotgun Angel) and the ground breaking, fan losing new wave, punk album (Alarma) albums is one of the most interesting, frustrating and glorious albums in the Daniel Amos catalog. The story behind its creation, release and the aftermath that followed it is the stuff of legend. Broken promises, delays, changes, false starts, lost friendships and ultimately artistic achievement that is appreciated now more than 30 years later than it ever was at its release.
The album is also a bridge between two eras in Christian Music. “Shotgun Angel” is a flagship release in the Jesus Music annals while Alarma brought Christian Music into the 80′s as current as anything available in the mainstream market. But the band had to travel from one place to another and “Horrendous Disc” tells that story.
But it is not only for historical significance that “Horrendous Disc” is included; it also remains a testament to the artistry and songwriting superiority that is the possession of Daniel Amos front-man, Terry Scott Taylor. These are some of the most finely crafted rock songs in Christian Music history. There is depth, humor, caustic wit and deep-rooted faith at its core.
The roots of “Horrendous Disc” began many years previous when Terry Taylor and Steve Baxter were part of an acoustic quartet in Southern California called Jubal’s Last Band. After playing coffee houses, Church basements and local park amphitheaters, the band recorded a demo tape. After some line-up changes which included the addition of future Daniel Amos members Marty Dieckmeyer and Jerry Chamberlain the band auditioned for Maranatha! Music in hopes of landing a record contract with the Calvary Chapel subsidiary.
Another band had a similar name and both bands decided to change their names. One band became Gantlet Faith and the other, featuring Terry Taylor, chose the name Daniel Amos. Both bands were signed to Maranatha! Music and while Gentle Faith only recorded one album before front-man Darrell Mansfield went on to a long and successful ministry and career, it would be Daniel Amos that would make the greater impact on Christian Music.
Before recoding their first full-length release Daniel Amos recorded several “singles” that would appear on different Maranatha Music compilation albums including “Ain’t Gonna Fight It” and the long time favorite “ode to marital fidelity,” “Happily Married Man.” Both would be added to a special CD-reissue of the classic album.
The first Daniel Amos album (released in 1976) was a self-titled, country music classic that sounded more like The Eagles than Willie Nelson, and that sound was difficult for the band to later overcome. Another never-ending problem was that many fans thought Terry Taylor was Daniel Amos and would thank “Mr. Amos” for their great music and ministry. It was also during this time that the band would wear these huge 10-gallon cowboy hats that I often thought was more parody than possessing any real affinity for the musical genre.
There are so many amazing songs from this album that briefly discussing the album does it no justice. Highlights include the Jehovah’s Witness critique, “Jesus is Jehovah To Me” and another “apologetic” tune, “The Bible.” The latter sounding more like The Eagles than just about any other Daniel Amos song.
William, Losers and Winners and Walking on the Water would remain favorites for fans for many, many years. There were also songs that were so “hokey” that the listener can’t help but believe they were part parody. “Ridin’ Along” comes straight from dusty prairie cowboy movie and “Dusty Road” follows with the same feel. Taylor’s wry sense of humor would be visible in songs like “Abidin’” and “Skeptic’s Song.”
I noticed that from the several times I saw Daniel Amos in concert that those more “hokey” songs would be reworks drastically and come across as significantly more edgy and less country.
Hidden amongst the large hates, spurs and 1-3 beats were great lyrics and amazing vocal harmonies that would remain a staple for many years, even through the alternative, new wave albums. No matter the musical genre the band progressed through the heart of the band’s sound was always more Beatles than Eagles or Talking Heads. The Beatles influence would show itself more on the follow-up Jesus Music classic, Shotgun Angel than what was explored on the debut.
Daniel Amos would begin recording “Horrendous Disc” in late 1977 and early 1978. The album was finished and the masters were brought to Maranatha! Music. At that same time Maranatha! Music decided to no longer release albums by rock artists and concentrated primarily on the new Praise and Worship line and children’s music.
Word Record acquired the masters from Maranatha! in early 1978. They eventually leased them to Larry Norman’s Solid Rock label. This put Daniel Amos in friendly territory with artists like Mark Heard, Alwyn Wall and longtime friend Randy Stonehill. It also started the longest and most frustrating three years in the bands tenure.
During that time Terry and band would build a long-lasting friendship with Randy Stonehill which included several long tours where Daniel Amos would serve as Stonehill’s band as well as perform their own set. Terry would produce three albums for Stonehill, the most notable being Stonehill’s classic “Equator.” Those famous tours were known as the Amos and Randy Tour.
During those tours and other concerts they would begin playing songs from “Horrendous Disc.” They would continue to play those songs for three years with no album to support. Test pressings of the album were sent out to radio stations in 1979 and also sent to the band to sell at concerts where I obtained my first copy. The album contained a different mix and different order of songs. Those issues would be the least of their problems as the album would still not be released for another two years.
This issue (along with others too ugly to address) caused a rift with Norman that would never be healed. Even in 2000 when Norman finally released the album on CD it contained bonus cuts by Norman that fans (myself included) hated. And when Taylor approached Norman in 2006 to re-release the CD as a Deluxe version Norman agreed, but then backed out and released another horrible version of the album, this time as a CDR with a horrible artwork copies.
The album did officially get released in 1981. About one week before their follow Alarma! hit the stores.
“Alarma!” was the first of an amazing 4-part album set that includes many of Daniel Amos’ greatest work. Each album contained a continuing story and lyrical content that matched. By the time the four album set was finished the band would have gone through four record companies (one for each release) and a name change of sorts. The first two albums used the entire name, Daniel Amos, while the third used the DA with a small font for the name and the final album, Fearful Symmetry, would sport only the DA moniker.
Those that discovered Alarma before they ever heard “Horrendous Disc” must have been utterly surprised the listener. Without the knowledge of the transitional album Alarma was shocking to say the least.
Musically Alarma and the entire series would find itself squarely in the forefront of the burgeoning Christian punk/new wave scene. Others came right before and after, but few matched the lyrical precision and musical chops of DA. Carrying the banner of both a musical genre and a lyrical assault must have not been easy.
Daniel Amos would go to create some of the greatest and most memorable music in Christian music, though never receiving the recognition they so richly deserved. But it really points back to the album that went through the greatest trials to be heard. There is nothing horrendous about the album itself, though the story behind it most surely is.
By the time “Horrendous Disc” came to be the band had expanded to an official 6 members with permanent addition of keyboardist Mark Cook and percussionist Alex MacDougall. MacDougall had previously toured with major named mainstream artists and his impact was immediate felt.
The album starts with probably the “hardest” rocker in Daniel Amos history. “I Love You #19″ sound like nothing the band had recorded previously, not anything like what would follow. Though much of the album would fall in a Beatles, Beach Boys and even Pink Floyd sound, this song kicks off with rock guitar riffs more akin to KISS and ZZ Top. Taylor’s voice is synthesized taking on the “out of the world” image the cover presented.
Now when I say it real pretty in a pretty rhyme
Does your mind get cloudy that’s a dirty crime
Well, Does it do things any good to tell you
That I’m standing here because- I love you
Well, does it do things any good to tell you
That I’m standing here because- I love you
Does it do things any good to tell you
That I’m standing here because- I love you- yes I do
I said I love you- love you- yes I do
The song would remain a concert opener for quite some time and had a following of fans for the three years the album lived in limbo.
“Hound of Heaven,” with its Pink Floyd like guitars and atmospheric background instrumentation sets the musical tone for the rest of the album. This song concept, taken from the classic poem by English poet Francis Thompson, reveals the undying “hunter” nature of God as He follows after the soul that tries to flee. Taylor presents the “seeker of souls” as one who through the common aspects of ones life finds the pressure from the Almighty to see His grace.
We got lost among the stars
Hollywood flash, cash, mansions and cars
Deep sea diver lear flyer
Will this thing go to the moon?
Give me elbow room, and for heaven’s sake
Take this aching away
You can’t run, you can’t hide, from the hound of heaven
You’re free to choose, can you refuse the seeker of souls
“(Near Sighted Girl With Approaching) Title Wave” tells the odd story of approaching doom that is missed by those too consumed with their own lives to see what was coming. The music, not surprisingly. has a touch of the Beach Boys with a wicked twist. It even includes a Latino inspired bridge complete with Spanish lyrics. Taylor here shows his wry wit and command of the language of songwriting in describing this young girls ignorance and obliviousness to her present situation.
Up in her room she gets out of the sack
Goes down to the beach and lies on her back
In the sunshine all day, what’s the hurry?
She dreams of long youth, no wrinkles or fat
No thoughts of bedpans or deathbeds
And that keeps her smiling all day, what’s the hurry?
The song concludes with the inevitable results that serve as a warning.
Even the guys with muscles cried, “The tide is rising!”
And all the folks with porsches made it up to the cliffs
A group of kids were praying that I’m sure went up to heaven
But no one tried to surf…
It’s a tidal wave, it’s a watery grave
She really tried to swim, she couldn’t in the end
Taking musical inspiration once again from the Beatles and Beach Boys, as well as arrangements inspiration from Queen, “Sky King (Out Across the Sky)” is either referring to personal eschatology at death or end times eschatology with the Resurrection. It’s beauty both musically and lyrically is captivating from its keyboard opening to its harmony driven closing.
Ain’t no packing bags when your voyage is to the son
Ain’t no last good-byes when heaven calls you on
It’s hard to believe this dreary night is gone
But I can feel it’s meant for everyone
This is not a dream, you’ve taken flight, far above the world
You walk on clouds, you ride the light, far above my head
Out across the sky, out across the sky
I’m out across the sky
After a UFO sound effect and spastic percussive introduction by MacDougall, “On the Line” talks about the many different ways God tries to reach mankind whether it’s the stars in Heaven, the song on the radio or the Bible (a letter He signed with love).
He’s got some bulletins on the radio
You turn the beatles up instead
Why do you settle for strawberry fields
His talk of heaven could fill more than your head
And when you draw back the curtain
He’ll paint a pretty picture for you
And if a billion stars don’t convince you baby
He sent some letters signed His name with love too
You know He calls you long distance
No doubt He’s dropped you a line
Right now He’s saying it on your Hi-fi
Quit talking and listen a while
Midway the song changes musical directions and has more a late 70′s rock/funk feel with a great percussive work by MacDougall, before returning to the original vibe and closing out. The album is filled with these great changes and shows that Taylor’s songwriting prowess is not just limited to the lyrical content, but to the musical arrangements as well.
The only song I ever remember playing on KYMS overnights was “I Believe In You.” This is the only song that could have fit on “Shotgun Angel” as it has a real Eagles feel to it, but with a stronger jazz influence. This song of unbridled faith is as beautiful lyrically as it is musically.
Sometimes just got Your letters to read
These promises You’ve asked me always to believe
Then despite the feeling, I’m saying I believe in you
I believe in you
I believe in you, when the night comes
‘Cause the light comes too, I believe in you
I believe in you, and that you’re coming back
To make my dreams come true
The only two songs not written and sung by Taylor are “Man in the Moon” and “Never Leave You.” The coincidentally appear back to back on the album. Both maintain the distinctive sound of the rest of the album and are creative expressions of faith.
“Man in the Moon” revels in its John Lennon glory with wonderful keyboard arrangement and nasally vocals. The harmonies and melancholy feel also show hints of Bowie. Oddly, it always seems like it should have been longer, or was meant to be part of a larger musical experiment.
“Never Leave You” is more Beach Boys than Beatles and would have fit nicely on the classic “Pet Sounds” with its backing vocal harmonies and darker rock edge to the pop. Though it should be noted that Taylor’s work seldom strays too far from his Beatles influence as the finish to the song reflects.
The album closes with the title track. This epic has the feel of Queen with a subtle opening verse followed by tight harmony vocals and musical changes throughout. The story of man whose sins may be private in his own household are lived out before a God that sees and knows all. There is no escape from God who sees that which is done in public and in private. The nightmare of the subject of the song is that no matter where he turns, whether on the radio or on a billboard along the highway, his sins are displayed for all to see.
The show is over, he pours himself a drink
Best to forget about it
Put a record on the stereo and try not to think
And the record plays
“…This is your life, you beat your wife…”
We’ll spare the gory details and simply say
Recording artist God hears it all
Recording artist He has total recall
Your sneaky moves are right here in the grooves
The album closes with the eerie warning and a definite uncomfortable feeling with a wall of sound vocal droning on and causing the listener to reflect on all they have just heard. It is a powerful way to end this amazing record.
It is a shame that this album and the band went through all that it did. I often wonder if it had been released properly, with a strong marketing support and more than a week before Alarma! hit just what kind of impact it could have made. When one considers it was three years late it is amazing that it sounded as current and progressive as it did when it was released. It does show what an amazing and important band Daniel Amos is and was that an album left on the shelves for three years and is now over 30 years old is still as vibrant, fresh and original as ever.