Archive for November, 2011

4. Victims of the Age – Mark Heard

November 28, 2011 72 comments


Mark Heard

This could be the last day my eyes see
This could be the last day you see me
This could be the last night in my bed
This could be the last thought in my head

I won’t cast my life to the wind
I’ll treasure as much as I can
While I can, I can

Though I may be gone before too long
As long as I am here I’ll sing this song

This could be the last time

I do not cry very often. I will cry in a movie before I cry about things in my own life. I have only cried once at a funeral, but never have I cried when hearing about the death of someone I did not know extremely well. Except on August 17th 1992 when I had learned of the death the previous day of Christian artist Mark Heard.

And I don’t know why…

Perhaps I was so moved by his music and felt such a connection to it that his death simply moved me. Or I have considered I was familiar enough with the story of his life and trials and struggles he endured for his art that I felt an empathy previously unknown. Sometime I believe it is because I realized the world lost a beautiful soul, a loving man and brilliant artist…and the world didn’t even know it.

That is the great shame of the life and death of Mark Heard. It is a shame that most of the world had no idea who the man was and what an amazing collection of art he had created in his 20 years as a musician, poet, producer and performer.

“Victims of the Age” was the second album of Mark’s that I would own (though I now own them all) and its consistently carried theme of city life and isolation and the ever-present Gospel ring as true today as it did in 1982. Plus I firmly believe that Victims, more than any other Heard release, walked the very fine line between commercially accessible and artistically intriguing as any other.

Heard’s musical career began with a small Gospel folk quintet,  Infinity + 3, on an album called “Setting Yesterday Free.” I picked up the “Fingerprint” re-release a few years ago and admit is possesses limited repeat listening, but it does offer a glimpse into the early songwriting of Heard with five songs written by him. The album was originally recorded and released in 1970 and eventually found limited distribution through Spirit Records a few years later.

A few years later he would produce his first solo release, the self-titled “Mark Heard.” The album would actually br re-released on Larry Norman’s Solid Rock label three years later and, so, in 1978 Mark heard made his Christian Music debut on a national level.

The album suffered from a limited budget and the production quality is obviously lacking, but the songwriting skills are prevalent as they would ever be. Most notable is the wonderful title track at its contemplative feel.

What will I do if you go away
Leaving these songs sitting here
What is the use if you’ve not cared to hear
Time and again I will pray this prayer
Loved saved and crying away
“Lord let the Truth reach hearing ears today.”

My, my–how the thoughts slip by
Who has seen them pass
How nice if everyone would carefully use a looking glass

1979′s “Appalachian Melody” would be the second and final album Heard would do for Larry Norman’s label. Heard, like nearly every other artist that worked with Larry, did no more than one or two releases on Solid Rock. But this album would receive some very positive attention with some regionalized airplay of several of the James Taylor-like acoustic ballads. The name of the album is somewhat ironic in that the musical backdrop was significantly less “Appalachian” sounding than the debut album though the Southern/Bluegrass influence is still present.

The album is not only loaded with amazing songs, but Norman did assemble quite a group of studio musicians and friends to help. Musicians credited include Norman, Stonehill, Jon Linn, Flim Johnson and the late Tom Howard on keyboards. But with all that help it should be noted that Heard’s immense musical talent would allow him to perform the majority of the music.

Highlight’s include On the Radio, Bless My Soul, Sidewalk Soliloquy, The Last Time and Castaway, a song which would appear on later re;eases as well and serve as one of Heard’s stronger radio hits. “Two trusting Jesus” should have become a regular wedding song, which was quite a popular musical form in the 70′s and 80′s, with its deeply loving and spiritual content.

Two trusting Jesus
There begins the story
Two separate pathways
Leading to glory
With God’s Son
One and one
Two eternal lives begun
Two trusting Jesus
Are two within His care

After recording an album that was originally released in Switzerland (Fingerprint), Heard returned to the United States and signed with Chris Christian’s Home Sweet Home label. The next five albums would be released on the label, but would mark Heard’s most difficult season artistically. According to interviews and the biography written about his life, Heard was constantly under pressure from label executives to make his music more palatable to the “CCM” audience.

Heard suffered from an ailment known as the low “J-quotient” in his music. By that I mean he was criticized by some for not using the name “Jesus” or God in his songs quite enough. The market at the time (today?) chooses to embrace and promote artists whose content is easy to decipher and required little critical thinking on the part of the listener. Heard did not, nor would he ever, fit into that mold.

We are better off for it even though it cost Heard quite a bit spiritually and emotionally. Described by many as a quiet, reserved, aloof and thinking man, his friends knew a man who was intensely thoughtful, creative and intensely funny. Regular concert goers were privy to his dry and wry humor and unbelievable musicianship. In fact I have argued and still firmly believe he was the finest acoustic instrument player I ever saw live, rivaling Bruce Cockburn in sheer musicianship.

Heard’s first release on Home Sweet Home was the decidedly more electric and rock oriented “Stop the Dominoes.” Mark would produce, arrange and record the album himself and hand-pick the background musicians that included John Patituci, Tom Howard, Alex MacDougall, Randy Stonehill and a very young a relative unknown female singer/songwriter, Leslie Phillips.

Less James Taylor and more bluesy rock with early influences of Lindsey Buckingham that would be a major influence on the album that is the our subject here. But Heard’s own words would describe the general response from the CCM market, even though a small and growing following was beginning.

Well my brothers criticize me
Say I’m just too strange to believe
And the others just avoid me
They say my faith is so naive
I’m too sacred for the sinners
And the saints wish I would leave

Whether instinctively or through experience Heard seemed to know that his music was planted firmly on the fringe of the CCM world. It is a shame because even this often overlooked album had several amazing radio friendly songs like I’m Crying Again, Call Me the Fool and To See Your Face. The latter was played on KYMS I recall.

After releasing “Victims” a year later Heard followed up with two relative acoustic driven album to attempt to appeal to the more AC CCM crowd. The first was the very impressive “Eye of the Storm,” which would include a new version of “Castaway” that would pick up some radio airplay on Christian radio stations nationwide.

It is also a special album in that Heard pretty much recorded the whole album at home by himself, playing all the instruments and performing all of the backing vocals, including a “gospel choir.” There is even a “horn section” that was Heard humming into his hands. Though there were a few overdubbed instruments added they were very limited and added one at a time.

If I remember right “Eye of the Storm” would be Heard’s most successful release. This would be a blessing and curse.

After the success of the previous album Heard was receiving pressure from the label to continue in a more acoustic vein in attempt to capitalize on the success of “Eye of the Storm.” Though decidedly “mellower” than Dominoes of Victims, “Ashes and Light” would not be the exclusive acoustic release the label was hoping for. Though filled with very radio friendly songs in the style of Tom Petty and John Mellncamp there never seemed to be a concerted effort by the label to break any songs on radio.

The album does stand out as it was the very first album recorded entirely in Heard’s home studio, Fingerprint Studios. I recall hearing stories of Heard playing an instrument or singing while simultaneously recording and engineering his own work. The album would also be the first to feature an appearance by Jesus Music pioneer and incredible songwriter on his own, Pat Terry. Heard would produce three album for terry, the first being “Humanity gangster,” a must own album that I one day hope appears on CD!

The opening track, “Winds of Time” remains one of my favorite songs in Heard’s catalog. The lyric rips at the heart upon every listen in our need to be completely filled with all that God has to offer. Heard calls it the “saturated soul.”

It takes a saturated soul
And a faith that will never let go

It takes more than mindless passion
It takes more than dogma in mime
It takes more than virtuous fashion
To withstand the winds of time

It takes a saturated soul
To withstand the winds of time

The song “Straw Man” is notable as the only song in history that includes the word “anhedonia.” Not for that alone, the song also stabs deep at the heart of those who build up arguments based on fallacies and spread the fallacies as truth, and who use those arguments against those in the body of Christ.

If true communication were ever to bless this congregation
And everyone knew just what it’s like to be somebody else
And no words were hasty and all thoughts were thought through
Might our anger not find a better target than ourselves?

“Mosaics” would be the last album on Home Sweet Home even though the label would release several”Best Of” money grabs, especially after his death. Fans criticized the label profusely for this as stories circulated that due to some contractual issues the surviving family members (wife Susan and daughter) were not receiving royalty payments for those projects. I have heard that some of those issues were eventually resolved but am unfamiliar with the details.

“Mosaics” would be a return to a more rock and blues influenced sound and would include a cover of T-Bone Burnett’s “Power of Love” and the song, “Miracle” co-written with Tonio K. Heard would go on to work extensively with both of those artists.

One other interesting note is that the album cover was of a picture of Heard that was cut up into sections and sent to several friends around the world who were asked to “fill in” the their piece and send it back. The pieces were then reassembled to form the album artwork.

The next album for Heard would be the group concept for What? Records recorded under the name iDEoLa. See  for more information on this great release.

Heard would then disappear for several years producing albums for Randy Stonehill and forming his own label, Fingerprint, that would include artists like Pierce Pettis and the Vigilantes of Love, whom he would also produce.It would also be on Fingerprint that he would write, record and produce three of the greatest albums in his career and in Christian music for the time.

“Dry Bones dance” would be the first of the three “Fingerprint” albums released before his death in August of 1992. Both it and the follow-up album, “Second Hand” would be listed among the Top 100 albums by the editors of CCM Magazine. Interestingly enough, it would be “Satellite Sky” that would remain my favorite of the three.

This third release would be written entirely on the mandolin and would feature several songs that would later be covered on the Tribute album to Heard called “Orphans of God.” There is something about the uniqueness of the mandolin as the primary instruments in a rock and roll setting that makes the album so enjoyable.

It was also the last album before his death and while working for Frontline Distribution at the time we were selling the record into christian Bookstores. Several weeks before his death Heard came to a Frontline sales conference to promote the new album and the entire label that just had signed the deal with the company. As a longtime fan it was a privilege and joy to represent his music to an industry that never quite “got him.”

Despite the impressive list of albums mentioned above, my love and appreciation for Mark Heard and his songwriting skills came with the impressive “Victims of the Age.” It is both eternal and groundbreaking. It is immediately likable while possessing a lasting impact. It is brilliant from the first note to the last. It is the finest collection of heard material in one cohesive package and its theme is utterly universal.

The album starts with the title track that addresses immediately a world that makes no effort to ensure its inhabitants and loved, accepted and carded for. Everything around us screams for our attention and yet offers little for that attention received.

Radio says, “I love you”
Street says, “That’s a lie”
Billboard says, “Give anything a try”
Sidewalks don’t say nothing
Streetlights don’t ask why

Could stars be screaming in the evening sky?

Caught between these voices
The sirens and the sage
One too many choices
For the victims of the age

The “city life” theme would consume the entire project as the listener imagines Heard getting into a taxi cab and driving around the city commenting on what he sees. The loneliness, despair and the glimmers of hope.It must be a universal question to wonder under our breath just who all these people are and what are their lives like. Heard asks the same question with sobering answers.

Half-baked traffic snake creeping in the evening sun
Clogged-up fast lane clears and the day is done
Everyone’s gone: some went to Hell, some went home

City life won’t let up while you’re waiting for the light to change

Most of the album falls in the middle American rock vein of Tom Petty and Neil Young, but with the lyrical precision of Bob Dylan and musicianship of Lindsey Buckingham. This is high praise that is well deserved.

The theme of individual despair and isolation continues as Heard is joined in the can by others who are seeking something…something that may not even realize they are seeking. Their nameless faces populating vehicles leading heard to wonder aloud.

Hypothetical mortal beings
Known only to themselves and God
Come and go and play the cameo
They’re just faces in cabs

All the hearts that are gonna break today
All the lovers who won’t come home tonight
Nobody feels their dynamite
They’re just faces in cabs

One must wonder where is the Church in all of this? What is our responsibility? Are we seen making a difference. We find mission avenues in foreign lands and neglect our neighbors.

All the heathen in Africa
All the heathen in West L.A. today
All of raging humanity
Is just faces in cabs

They’re just faces in the cabs-so I’ve been told
Just faces in the cabs-the masses out there
Just faces in cabs-anonymous souls

On “Nothing is Bothering Me” the results of these images appear to be limited as they ones commissioned to serve and help the down-trodden ignore the truth set before them.

We get the picture from week to week
The rich get richer and inherit the meek
Long since started preying on the weak
Am I the guilty party if I turn the other cheek

I’m alright
Nothing is bothering me
I’m just trying to keep the weight of this world
From dawning on me

Heard continues this study in juxtapositions as he compares people from all walks of life and how similar events may result in significantly different responses in “Some Folks World.” The disparity and desperation of many are chronicled in this sobering and haunting melody.

Some folks eat what flies leave
They get what they can take
Hunger has no heart and it will not wait

Rain can ruin your weekend
Or rain can spare your life
Depending on who you are and what your thirst is like

And when it’s day to me it’s night to someone
And when it’s night you might not want to go on

It is a big world out there and yet the church was called 2,000 years ago to make an impact in this world. Heard concludes the song with similar thoughts.

Some folks taste of Heaven
Some folks taste of Hell
Some folks lose their taste and they cannot tell

And when it’s day to me it’s night to someone
And when it’s night you might not want to go on

Heard does not let up on the second half of the album as he makes probably the most blatant indictment on the church and her response (or lack of) to the world around her in the song “Growing Up Blind.”

So we forsake this festering waste
And all of the wounds that we’ve seen bleed
In the name of the One who says that what we’ve done
Is turn our backs on Him in leaving the least of these

Growing up blind, growing up blind
Hearts in the darkness killing time
Growing up blind, growing up blind
How does it feel to be growing up blind

“Dancing at the Policeman’s Ball” should have been a mainstream radio hit for Heard. The quirky, dare I say “dancy,” song is the most reminiscent of Lindsey Buckingham. For some reason I every time I hear Steve Taylor’s, “This Disco (Used to be a Cute Cathedral)” I am reminded of this song and its look at those things that keep us from doing what we are commanded to do. It also would have fit nicely on the Ideola project with a bit of electronic tweaking.

You hit the floor at the sound of the band
With a partner in your hand
Restless and breathless you dance the night away
Did I hear you say it is your aim
For every night to be just the same
And you hope the city outside’s gonna be okay

Dancing at the Policeman’s ball

Heard’s most scathing commentary may have been reserved for “Everybody Love a Holy War.” This brilliant work features some of Heard’s finest lyrics as he addresses the “us versus them” mentality both within the walls of the church and the with the church and those on the outside. The content reminds me of Francis Schaeffer, who, I would discover later, had a great impact on heard’s theology and worldview. Here Heard addresses how those within the Church treat one another on doctrinal lines and how those in spiritual power rules use their authority to weaken those below them.

Many’s the man with the iron hand
Supposing his own thoughts to be Divine
He will break any bond-
’cause the other man’s always wrong
It’s a handy excuse for his crimes

Everybody loves a holy war
Draw the line and claim divine protection
Kill the ones who show the most objection
Everybody loves a holy war

But the battles are not just waged within the walls of the church, but the attacks are lobbed at the world in need of the gospel as well.

Dissident cries are met with cold eyes
And treatment the devil would get
Righteousness and truth
can be weapons in the hands of fools
While innocents go to their deaths

Everybody loves a holy war
Draw the line and claim divine assistance
Slay the ones who show the most resistance
Everybody loves a holy war

Heard, though, shine the bright light of grace and hope in the albums closing number. “Heart of Hearts” would feature backing vocals by Leslie Phillips who would later cover the song and make a hit out of it. If the often mentioned Top Songs blog ever comes together this may be Heard’s highest charting song and clearly one of the best 20 songs the genre ever produced.

Tears in the city
But nobody’s really surprised, you know
My heart’s taking a beating
Existence is bleeding me dry, you know

But way down in my heart of hearts
Way down in my soul of souls
Way down I know that I am a fortunate man
To have known divine love

The trip around the city ends with more than just a glimmer, but rather and sunburst of hope as Heard realizes how fortunate is the man who has come in contact with divine love. the songs serves as the perfect and memorable ending to such an amazing record.

On July 4th, 1992 Heard suffered a heart attack while on stage at the Cornerstone Festival outside of Chicago. He continued and finished his set before asking to be taken to the hospital. After a few weeks he was released and a few weeks folloing he suffered a major cardiac arrest and passed away on August 16th. He was only 41 years old.

But Heard’s legacy would live well beyond “Victims” and well beyond his years as the incredible tribute album,”Orphans of God” shows. I am firmly convinced that this is the very best “tribute” album ever recorded. Many tribute albums are filled with artists who were fans or who were on the same label as the artist receiving the tribute. Here the album was filled with a diverse congregation of artists who were deeply and personally impacted by the music, ministry and art of Mark Heard.

Add to that the fact that the songs were written by one of the most impressive and talented songwriters of his or any other generation. It said that Bruce Cockburn named Heard his favorite songwriter. There is not much higher praise I could include that would say more than that.


5. For Him Who Has Ears to Hear – Keith Green

November 26, 2011 13 comments


Keith Green

The three men I admire most
The Father, Son and Holy Ghost
They took the last train for the coast
The day the music died…

Don McLean American Pie

There is an on going debate as to when the “Jesus Movement” and the “Jesus Music” that is attached to it actually ended. Some have argued that ended with the increase in large Christian record companies. Others believe it was when Churches or ministries stopped being the focal point of distribution centers of the albums and artists. Other argue that it was when artists stopped asking for “free love” offerings and started demanding minimum pay outs and contracts with demands. Quite often I hear it is when artists stopped performing “altar calls” at the end of their concerts. Some simply state the turn of the decade between the 70′s and the 80′s spelled its doom.

I will avoid the fray and only make one statement regarding this issue. The “Jesus Movement” with its emphasis on evangelism, giving, street witnessing, free will offerings, altar calls and ministry focus prioritization may have died anytime between 1978 and 1984 as Christian labels began to be absorbed by larger companies who were in turn absorbed by secular, international conglomerates, but the “heart” of the Jesus Movement and Jesus Music itself died on July 28th, 1982 when an overfilled Cassna 414 crashed just after takeoff  outside of Lindale, Texas.

On that ill-fated flight were 12 people including the pilot. There was a missionary family; father, mother and six children. Two other children were on board as well. The youngest was two years old. Her name was Bethany Green. Her father, also on the flight,  was named Keith.

When Keith Green was 10 years old he was hailed as “the next big thing” in rock and roll. He was one of the youngest solo artists ever signed to a record deal and was the youngest to ever be signed to ASCAP as he was not only the next big heart-throb and cover boy of teen magazines, but he could write and perform his own music even before he became a teenager.

He signed to Decca Records in 1965 and released a couple singles as well as making appearances on The Jack Benny and Steve Allen shows. He was a teen idol in the making. But then along came Donny Osmond and the cute curly-haired boy seemed to fade from the spotlight. God had a different plan for young Mr. Green and the world and the Christian community would be better off for it.

After years of drugs, free love and a self-serving lifestyle, Green found God in a very real and radical way. He developed friendships with other musicians rather quickly and began writing songs for others and started a radical ministry in which he bought several houses in a Los Angeles suburb and made them available to recently converted drug users, ex-convicts and prostitutes. The little neighborhood community was named Last Days Ministries.

Some of those friends he developed included Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy and the Ward siblings known then as the 2nd Chapter of Acts. One of the first collaborative efforts became the Jesus Music classic “Your Love Broke Through,” originally recorded by Phil Keaggy and later by Green and a host of other artists.

In 1976 he signed a record deal with the ministry focused Sparrow label and lent his talents to the classic, contemporary musical “Firewind.” One year later the Christian community would be introduced to the man who would be labeled part poet, part preacher, part prophet. His musical style was a piano based pop rock with similarities to Elton John and Billy Joel. His lyrical style was a confrontational, prophetic and exhorting style with similarities to Jeremiah, Joel and John the Baptist!

He would record and release four albums before his death in 1982 including his debut, which is the subject of our writing here, No Compromise, So You Want to Go Back to Egypt and Songs for the Shepherd.

Sparrow would release a “Best Of” collection before his death as well as his relationship with them lasted for only the first two albums. He decided to make a radical shift in the marketing and sales of his product by offering the album only in concert and through mail order. Though that part of the marketing was not original, what was different is that he made the albums available for whatever the person could afford, even if that meant free. Over 25% of the sales of the following albums were sent out at no charge.

Eventually distribution deals were worked out so that Christian Bookstores could sell his product but they were originally only available as two packs where the buyer would receive two copies for the price of one and were expected to use the free copy as a ministry tool to evangelize.

There were several posthumously released albums, primarily best of collections, live recording and tribute albums. There were two complete original recording released of songs that had been recorded, at least in demo form, by Keith before his death. They were “The Prodigal Son” and “Jesus Commands Us to Go.”

The latter was a primary theme of Green’s ministry. Concert were not only evangelistic rallies but were also rallying events calling a complacent Church to missions and evangelism. His lyrical content and between song talks would reflect this position and passion.

According to biographies and interviews Green was fascinated and impressed by the evangelist and preacher, Leaonard Ravenhill. Ravenhill’s no-nonsense evangelistic approach and fiery sermonizing would leave a lasting impression on Green that would inform his worldview and theological leaning. This would be all so present on the debut album, “For Him Who Has ears to Hear,” the object of our discussion.

The primary theological pool that Green drew from was of the Finnyist and Arminian variety and he took seriously the call to proclaim the need for works and to warn of apostasy. This would show most often in his songs directed toward himself. Green’s focus though is directly related to the Church and what he saw as a complacency. Taking a cue from Tony Campolo Green proclaimed that we are to “go unless we are called to stay.”

The exclusively law oriented content would start to even itself out with a more gracious understanding in the following releases. Though there was plenty of content aimed at the inadequacies of the Church, there was a much better understanding of God’s grace and His working within his Church.

One interesting note to consider is Green’s belief in the deceptive nature and actions of the Devil. The first three projects all contain a song that deals with Satan. It stands out because of the very limited number of Christian artists that deal with the subject and here Green had recorded three songs on three albums.

One other important progression on later albums like “Egypt” is the beginning of a more worshipful tone. The album contain the worship classic “O Lord, You’re Beautiful,” a focus that would consume his final album, “Songs for the Shepherd.” More than worship Green’s songs come across more like hymns.

“Songs for the Shepherd” would be Green’s final release before his death. It almost seems fitting that the final album would be an album dedicated to worship and contain hymns that would continue for decades, possibly centuries to come. Songs that continue to be used in Churches worldwide even today include How Majestic Is Thy Name, You Are the One and There Is a Redeemer.

But our focus here is on the record that started it all in the Summer of 1977.

The sweet-natured half-smile, kind eyes and one-way finger nearly obscured by the head and face of hair on the cover does not serve as indication as to what laid within the grooves of this album. This is not sweet, syrupy, pabulum CCM with songs of encouragement for your “tough days.” Though the Jeremiah in rags pointing at God’s people with the Word as a sword would be the experience of the following album, “No Compromise,” there still is the ever-present call for repentance and holy living. But also noticeable are songs obviously written at a time just after conversion focusing on those beginning moments of love and joy.

This debut album would not only showcase Green’s songwriting and vocal acumen, but would also be the most piano focused release. There are times that the listener feels like Green is sitting in his living room playing their piano and performing just for them. The central focus of the piano in the instrumentation and mic puts one of Green’s finest skills front and center.

The reason for this is that the album was recorded almost completely live in the studio with very limited overdubbing, just limited to strings and backing vocals. This “live” feel was probably as much for budget as for the listener’s experience, but for this record it works. The focus throughout remains the voice, the piano, the songs.

The album starts with “You Put This Love In My Heart,” a Elton John type piano driven pop song reflecting on God’s undying love and intrusive offer of love and grace.

Cause your love has released me
From all that’s in my past
And I know I can believe you
When you say I’ll never be forsaken
Your love is gonna last

There’s so much more I should say
If I could just find a way
You put this love in my heart

A continuing theme of God’s faithfulness amidst our sin is the focus of the ballad “I Can’t Believe It!” which introduces an endearing and lasting (though short lived due to his death) ballad form. The Elton John quality here is often where Green is at his finest.

“Because of You” handles the same topic but in a decidedly more upbeat fashion. Where the former is more introspective the latter deals with how the change in one’s life impacts those around them.

Now people just can’t believe, that my life used to be
Something that no one had any use for
I’d stay at home each night, never shine the light
And i thank you, it will never be like before

It’s because of you
People point at me and say i like what that boys got
And because of you
I confess i don’t have a lot
But what i have is because of you

Now people smile at me and ask me what it is
That makes them want to be just like i am
So i just point to you and tell them, yes it’s true
I’m no special one, i’m just one man

It’s because of you

The more upbeat songs tend to showcase Green’s amazing piano work in a rock format and this song may be his finest work on the album using this style. His rollicking piano form owes much to the Jerry Lee Lewis revivalistic R&B.

One song from the album that remained a radio standard for many years to follow is “When I Hear the Praises the Start.” This song of God’s undying love for His bride is sung from the point of view of Jesus calling out to His Church.

My child, My child, why are you weeping
You will not have to wait forever
That day and that hour is in My keeping
The day I’ll bring you into Heaven

For when I hear the praises start
My child, I want to rain upon you
Blessing that will fill your heart
I see no stain upon you
Because you are My child and you know me
To me you’re only holy
Nothing that you’ve done remains
Only what you do in Me

Honky-tonk piano highlights “He’ll Take Care of the Rest,” a song that continues the theme of God’s persevering work for His people. using Moses and Noah as Biblical examples of God’s faithfulness. This song shows Green’s more playful and humorous side that would be nearly completely absent on “No Compromise” and return on “Egypt.”

The classic “Your Love Broke Through” follows. There is an interesting story regarding the song. Green had written the song a few years earlier with Randy Stonehill but graciously allowed Phil Keaggy to record the song and release it before himself. That is simply unheard of not only today, but ever. And with all due respect to Stonehill, Keaggy and others, this is the definitive version.

The first of Green’s “trilogy” of songs about the Devil follows with “No One Believes In Me Anymore.” Again here Green displays his lighter and more humorous side. Honky-tonk piano again drives this song about the limited belief on the Devil, both in and out of the Church. The point is the deceptive nature of God’s enemy, his greatest deception being that of getting people to no longer believe in him. The song works as a musical version of CS Lewis’ classic book, “The Screwtape Letters.”

Oh, my job keeps getting easier
As day slips into day
The magazines, the newspapers
Print every word I say
This world is just my spinning top
It’s all like child’s play
You know, I dream that it would never stop
But I know it’s not that way
Still my work goes on and on
Always stronger than before
I’m gonna make it dark before the dawn
Since no one believes in me anymore!

Well, I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors

Green’s most passionate performance is reserved for “Song to My Parents,” a plea to his family to find the love that God has for them. As one whose entire family are believers I can only imagine how heart breaking this experience must be for people.

“Trials Turned to Gold” deals with the common struggle all Christians face when coming against difficult times and trying to understand God’s plan amidst the trials.

The view from here is nothing near
To what it is for You
I tried to see Your plan for me
But I only acted like I knew

Oh Lord forgive the times
I tried to read your mind
Cause you said if I’d be still
Then I would hear your voice

The album closes with Green’s version of the 2nd Chapter of Acts classic “Easter Song.” This song in unique on the album as it is the only song not written or co-written by Green and one of the few times he covered a song on any album in his career. It should be noted that Green does add a verse not in the original.

Green’s voice, though, is brighter and stronger on this song than just about any other in his career. This remains one of the two or three greatest songs of the Jesus Music era and Green’s version is a worthy one and the perfect way to finish this amazing and timeless classic record.

Green’s impact on Christian music and ministry cannot be understated. There have been three tribute albums made by various artist including one by rock and alternative label, Tooth and Nail nearly 20 years after his death. His impact was so great that a collection of artist there were in diapers when he dies were moved and motivate enough to lend themselves to covering his amazing music.

I only saw Keith Green in concert once – if it can be called a concert – at the Anaheim Convention Center. I don’t recall too many songs from that evening. I don’t even remember much of what Green had to say. What I do remember was that he demanded after the last song that everyone not applaud, get up and leave quietly and not to talk until they got to their vehicle.

I did not leave convicted as I am sure was the purpose, but rather left condemned. The grace of God was a foreign subject that evening. There was plenty of “law” present but no grace. I would later come to discover Green’s approach was very similar to that of traveling evangelist of the 1800′s, Charles Finney.

I have had several people tell me that as Keith’s ministry matured his level of grace presented increased and the case made for evangelism was more compelling than condemning. Unfortunately for me that evening informed my opinion of Green and his music more than the music itself and I did not listen to Green’s music until after his death in 1982, some three years after the concert I attended.

Oddly enough when I share this story I find that I was not alone in my response. Right or wrong there were several others like myself that possessed the same testimony and feelings regarding Keith and his music. But in hindsight I discovered the true treasure that was Keith Green and especially the debut record that bore the message of Jeremiah, the zeal of John the Baptist and the heart of the Jesus Movement.

6. Welcome to Paradise – Randy Stonehill

November 22, 2011 33 comments


Randy Stonehill

I was eleven or twelve years old and at a “Family Camp” with my Church in Big Bear, CA. My parents always gave me spending money for candy, maybe a T-shirt or for any activities that might cost money like horseback riding. I learned over the years to eat enough sausages for breakfast not to need too much candy, bring enough clothes not to need another T-shirt and I have an inexplicable fear of horses.

So, with all that extra money I would usually buy a tape or two from the camp’s bookstore. I bought my first albums from Servant, Darrell Mansfield and Parable at that store. But the very first tape I ever bought there was Randy Stonehill’s “Welcome to Paradise.” I bought it because the guy on the cover had long hair and a really cool Jesus T-Shirt.

I was completely unaware of Randy Stonehill at the time. I later discovered a decidedly lo-fi, half-live album called “Born twice” had been previously released.

Recorded primarily before a live audience and a few songs produced in the studio all on a budget that shoestrings ridicule. Once asked when the album would be released on CD, Stonehill responded something to the effect it would happen when someone in charge makes a grave error in judgment. As seriously troubled as the production is what the album does provide is a glimpse into the early faith of a legend in Christian Music.

The album also shows glimpses of the humor and on stage persona that would cause hundreds of thousands to become fans. Part comedian, part musician, part street preacher, the Randy Stonehill introduced on “Born Twice” was and remains utterly unique in the music business whether Christian or not.

That was 1971 and it would be another five years before he would release another album. Those years were filled with growth, both spiritually and artistically. He would co-star with Laverne and Shirley star Cindy Williams in the sequel to the legendary B-movie, “The Blob,” the not-so-memorable, “Beware! The Blob” which is known better as “Son of Blob.”

During that time he also was writing a lot of music with new found friends Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy and Keith Green. In fact, one of the real “classics” of the Jesus Music era, “Your Love Broke Through,” would be recorded by Keaggy, Green, Russ Taff and finally himself over a decade later.

There would also be the recording of the mysterious “Get Me Out of Hollywood” that would not be released for several decades though cassette versions of the album and some limited vinyl pressings were said to be in existence. That album would contain two songs that would later become Stonehill favorites (Puppet Strings, Jamie’s Got the Blues), but with distinctly different arrangements. There are probably several good reasons why the album never saw the light of day, including the production quality and the quality of a few of the songs.

But it was 1976′s “Welcome to Paradise” that launch a career that would last over 30 years, untold concerts, several record labels, an equal number of producers and a catalog of brilliant and enduring albums. Despite a legacy that is rivaled by few if any, it is the first truly nationally released album that demands our attention here. “Welcome to Paradise” would remain the definitive work for Stonehill through is more than 30 year career. It combined the genuine innocence of a new convert and the songwriting of a skilled craftsman.

Walking bravely between James Taylor like ballads and Eagles oriented AOR, this “debut” bring several years of honing his  songwriting skills to a fountainhead of poetic expression amidst heartfelt acoustic rock. The album serves as a gateway between the days of the Jesus Music innocence of the early 70′s to the more industry driven CCM. The album also marks the finest production of Larry Norman’s career. Larry may have made better albums but has never produced such a fine work that sounds good now some 30 plus years later.

If some one only listened to the opening track of “Welcome to Paradise” one might get the impression this a nice little acoustic folk album along the lines of James Taylor and Jim Croce. But I can’t imagine another song on the album being a better way to open the album up. “King of Heart” is the albums evangelical call to accept God’s love set the lyrical tone of grace that permeates the record.

Aside from that it is also a beautiful song that Randy still plays. It begins with this common ailment of mankind to realize that we all have a place in our heart that can only be filled by Jesus.

All alone drifting wild
Like a ship that’s lost out on the ocean
Everyone’s a homeless child
And it’s not hard to understand
Why we need a Father’s hand
There’s a rainbow somewhere
You were born to be there
You’re just running in circles
Till you reach out your hand to the King of hearts.

The other important point to note about the song is the very simple, yet effective acoustic guitar work of Stonehill. This would be a trademark style for Stonehill over the decades; simple yet dynamic guitar work. It could be said that he is actually quite an underrated guitar player.

Next up is what I firmly believe is Stonehill’s finest song, “Keep Me Runnin’.” This song rocks harder than most acoustic driven songs ever do. In a very Eagles type Americana/Blues driven groove Stonehill tells of the heart that refuses the Gospel message. I believe those familiar with the song will also agree it may contain one of the very best acoustic guitar solos recorded.


The Eagles sounding acoustic rock continues with “The Winner (High Card),” a song that, like the above” tells the story of someone who finds any all excuses to avoid the truth and the reality of the Gospel. The closing of the song really shows Stonehill’s strong and diverse vocal abilities. But the heart of the song is the conviction with which Stonehill delivers the lyrics.

It’s not easy to see me I’m an influential
man / And I never needed anyone To
build my promised land
So don’t tell me about Jesus ’cause He’s just too hard to sell
And I never trust in strangers
that’s the first rule I Learned well

I’m the winner and I made it to the top
And I took it all just like I planned
I’m the man who holds the high card in his hand

“Lung Cancer” marks the initial foray into Stonehill’s more humorous songwriting technique. The musical expression works better here than in most similar Stonehill experiments because of lack of “novelty” kitsch that other songs of that variety posses. The anti-smoking song also works precisely because it never takes itself all too seriously while still trying to pass along a message.

Stonehill’s strongest ballad on the project (and one of his best ever?) is up next. “Puppet Strings” possesses a stunning string arrangement with a haunting melody which matches the message perfectly. Here we find the plight of rebellious man who is a willing victim to the fall. Here paradise is lost through rebellion and the desire to be the kings of our own kingdom.

Long ago He chose us to inherit all His kingdom
And we were blessed with light
But wandering away we disobeyed Him in the garden
And stumbled into night

And I can feel it in my soul
Now the end is getting near
I can hear the angels weeping
And it’s ringing in my ears

We are all like foolish puppets
who desiring to be kings
Now lie pitifully crippled
after cutting our own strings

Where “Puppet Strings” leaves man in rebellion and lost “First Prayer” provides the answer to that hurting and lost world. This song is the prayer of a young man looking for answers to basic questions of doubt and wonder.

I will follow if You’ll lead me
Help me make a stand
If You’ll breathe new breath inside me
I’ll believe you can
I’ll believe You can

Well I never really learned to pray
But You know what I’m tryin’ to say
I don’t want my life to end
Not ever knowing why it began
So if You’ll trust me I’ll do my best
and I’ll be trusting You for the rest

As side two of the album continues the struggles of sin, questions and doubt and refusal to accept the Gospel message is replaced by songs centered on the power of the Gospel and its impact on the individual. So, after the “First Prayer” the Gospel message is directly presented in “I’ve Got News For You.”

Ever feel as if your heart was whispering
Like a special Voice you never heard before
And something deep inside your soul was tickin’
As if someone was pounding on the door

I’ve got news for you this is not a game
I’ve got news for you are you listenin’
I’ve got news for you we are all the same
I’ve got news for you this is not a game
I’ve got news for you we are all the blame
And when that is understood we can start to live again

Once again here the authenticity of the message is carried by the transparency and passion of the vocal performance. Larry Norman’s influence is quite apparent on the arrangement and  backing vocals.

“Song for Sarah” became somewhat controversial for all the wrong reasons. The song is about someone who loves another so much that he aches to his bones because she doesn’t know Jesus. He longingly calls for her to find the Lord and assures her that someone loves her more than he ever could.He so wants her to find value in her love through the one who loves her best.

Sarah Someone loves you
in a way I never could
He laid His life before you on a
cross made out of wood
Oh and in His hour of anguish
our dreams were given birth
I hope you finally realize
how much your love is worth

It is actually quite a beautiful song and one must wonder what the controversy. Stonehill’s first wife was named for Sarah and many believed that the song was written for her which Stonehill denies. So after the divorce people familiar with the situation were offended and bothered by him continuing to sing the song not realizing the name choice was not related to her. It is truly a controversy around a song that should have never been.

“Christmas Song for All Year ‘Round” is a Christmas song that talks as much about Easter as it does Christmas. It wisely reminds Christians that as important as Christmas is, it’s importance is only as a result of the sacrifice on the cross.

And I know that if Saint Nicholas was here he would agree
The Jesus gave the greatest gift of all to you and me
They led Him to the slaughter on a hill called Calvary
And mankind was forgiven
Mankind was forgiven
We were all forgiven when they nailed Him to the tree

So Merry Christmas

The album closes with the funky and driving rocker, “Good News.” As the album concludes and the Gospel is firmly established the album finishes with the popular Jesus Music theme of the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus Music was birthed at the same time as the rise in popularity of discussion of the rapture and Second Coming. Like the rest of the album it should be noted Jon Linn’s amazing guitar work. I have mentioned Linn elsewhere and I must admit his guitar work was utterly original and played a very significant role in the creation of some of the finest and most authentic rock at the time.

Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth” and other similar books were quite popular and it was reflected in the content of the music form that was also growing in popularity. This mixed with the heavy emphasis of this particular view of the doctrine of eschatology at Calvary Chapel – another epicenter for the Jesus Music – made this a primary topic in the lyrics of Jesus Music artists.

This would remain a primary lyrical emphasis through most of the 1980′s as well. Recently this emphasis has diminished much to chagrin of some and the happiness of others. I point it out here because of the heavy emphasis in the music of Jesus Music artists that we will be discussing going forward on a few final albums to be discussed.

I still have that cassette I bought at a family camp over 30 years ago. I have had an LP and CD of this record as well over the years and haven’t needed to play the cassette. I am not ever sure it still works. I have my doubts. But I never plan on getting rid of it.

7. Alarma – Daniel Amos

November 22, 2011 8 comments

ALARMA (1981)

Daniel Amos

give up
good riddance
and all God’s blessings on
“the band that won’t go away”

Camarillo Eddie (The Swirling Eddies)

The roots of Daniel Amos and the long and treacherous road the band traveled to reach the cult-like status and well deserved and long lasting relationship with its fan base in a unique story.

When they band first was born another Calvary Chapel band had a similar name and both bands decided to change their names. One band became Gentle 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.

It should be fair to note here that those that believe the jump from country music darlings to rock rebels was a radical and unexpected shift simply did not listen closely enough to each album. There were hints of the future sound the band would present on “Shotgun Angel” on the debut and side two of Angel gives plenty of musical hints as to what was to follow with Horrendous Disc.

But what made “Shotgun Angel” such an important album in history?

Side one of the 1977 released album most resembles the debut with strong Eagles tinged Americana country, but with much more of an electric feel and vocals influenced more by the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” than previously displayed. The electric guitar is also featured more often.

The album also features limited spacing between songs as many flow from one to another. This is even more prevalent on side two, which is more of a “rock opera” than anything else as the breaks are nearly indistinguishable. The more obviously country leanings are reserved for a more humorous approach like what is found in “Black Gold Fever” and “Meal.”

Songs like “Praise Song” and “The Whistler” would show glimmers as to what would show up on “Horrendous Disc.” In fact when one listens to side two of Shotgun Angel it’s hard to not note the sounds that would become “Horrendous Disc.” The guitar of “Better” would become a trademark sound that would follow Daniel Amos as long as Jerry Chamberlain was involved.

The much ballyhooed side two of the album is actually a mini rock opera dealing with a specific eschatological viewpoint that was and remains quite popular. The Jesus Movement had a few very foundational viewpoints. One of them was the soon expected “Pre-Tribulational” Rapture of the Church and the coming rise of the Antichrist and Tribulation his arrival would usher in.

The story starts with a beautiful instrumental overture that would serve as a musical backdrop for the albums final songs.

“Lady Goodbye” picture the Church disappearing – at Christ’s “first” Second Coming – in a pre-tribulation rapture scenario with the main character being left behind to endure the coming tribulation complete with four horsemen (The Whistler) and “mark of the Beast” (He’s Gonna Do a Number on You). “Better” describes the supposed “cashless society” that is to accompany that time and man’s belief and admiration of the Antichrist.

Awakening from the horrible dream to find that it is all real the main character embraces the call of the Gospel no matter what the cost. “Posse in the Sky” reveals the “second” Second Coming, this time with the angels and previously raptured Church in tow bringing final judgment against the earth. All those done in a country/cowboy theme evident with words like “Possee” and “Shotgun”.

In 1986 Terry and band would re-release side two of Shotgun Angel as a project called “Revelation” through Frontline Records at the 10th Anniversary of the original. The reworking included brand new mixes and a new song called “Soon.” This version also included Pastor Chuck Smith reading relevant passages from the book of Revelation.

Those familiar with this particular eschatological views will find the message of the songs familiar. Even those like myself that do not hold to this particular can find the project powerful, exhorting and encouraging. Agreement on such issues are not as vital as noting that Paul challenged the Church in Thessalonica to encourage one another with the affirmation of Christ’s coming.

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. This classic album would be released just weeks before Alarma and the confusion it created in the industry and amongst fans was career threatening.

The musical leap from Shotgun Angel to Alarma is staggering, but it is not quite as drastic when Horrendous Disc is placed in between. Many fans bought Alarma before they even knew Horrendous Disc existed. If HD would have been released when it should have, the progression would have appeared more natural, though probably never quite expected.

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. 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.

1983′s “Doppelganger” was a darker and much more haunting release. It was also much more personal and dealt with the sins of the individual as well as the sins of the Church. Though the more outward attacks against commercialism (New car, Mall All Over the World) and televangelist (I Didn’t Build It For Me) were easy targets it is the more introspective and personal songs that pack a real punch.

1984′s “Vox Humana” would be the most commercially accessible of the four projects. Sounding m a little more like David Bowie and Talking Heads, the songs are more pop and commercial sounding. there were even some singles that penetrated Christian radio.  Southern California’s famous KYMS even played a few songs included the very popular “Sanctuary.” The album is more upbeat and brighter lyrically and lends itself to the poppier musical edge.

The final album in the series, Fearful Symmetry, would be hailed by many as their greatest artistic achievement. Of course many would also reserve that for every DA album upon its release. Fearful Symmetry would contain upbeat rhythms and melodies, but a more haunting vocal production to give the album an “other-worldly” feel to it. The album would also contain one of DA’s most successful rock radio single, The Pool.

Each album that makes up the 4-part series would appear on a different label, making a cohesive marketing opportunity utterly impossible. Distribution was limited for some, OK for others. Musical direction would change, occasional shifts in band personnel and much too expensive tours would cause financial strain. Yet, all the while, the band created fresh, dynamic and lasting art with each release.

But it really all started with Alarma.

Those that discovered Alarma before they ever heard “Horrendous Disc” must have been utterly surprised the listener. Without thew knowledge of the transitional album Alarma was shocking to say the least. There was also controversy surrounding the album cover with the band members having their eyes blurred over. More than a few televangelist would make claims of Satanic origin of the cover. Of course they never bothered to note how the eyes appeared elsewhere on the project.

The symbolism of the cover would be all too apparent in the lyrical content on the album. Reviewers described the album as having some of the most scathing commentary of the Church and society ever recorded. No one safe from Taylor’s attacks. Remaining blind to the injustices and the downtrodden would be a theme that would be repeated over and over. Songs like Face to the Windows, Alarma, Big Time/Big Deal, Props, My Room and others would all deal directly with an apathetic Church that hides behind its own facade.

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.

“Central Theme” starts the record and the series off with a realization that the central theme in life is that of knowing Christ. In an odd way, it is a worship song of sorts.Lyrically one of Taylor’s finest doctrinal standards and brilliant musical landscape of other worldly, almost “science fiction” sounding music. This auditory theme would remain throughout this project as even as the content of the song reads like a hymn.

Who is on the throne you find, the King of Kings
He’s the one I have in mind, the central theme
Lord of Lords, Lord of lords, Lord of Lords…

The title track and series namesake follows with a “Twilight Zone” type synthesizer sound introducing Jerry Chamberlains crunchy and quirky guitar riff. Taylor’s melodic and utterly unique voice dives home a brilliant song that in the real world should have been a mainstay on stations like LA’s KROQ. The song sets the tone, musically and lyrically, for the entire project and introduces the theme of a Church blinded to the harsh realities of the needy while basking comfortably in its own safe zone. Yet it is the false teachings and false living within the walls of the church that causes many to reject the Christ of the “Central Theme.”

The “scarier” music moments for the uninitiated begin with “Big Time/Big Deal.” The frenetic new wave with a dual lyric vocal with an spoken work, electronic voice sits under Taylor’s near screeching and straining voice on top. The lure of thinking one could take the Gospel to the world and become a “rock star for Jesus” was an all too real enticement for many. The selfish motives of many in the music industry (Christian) are examined here. Chamberlain would really begin to fine tune his craft of off-kilter, winding and quivering guitar sound here.

The facade of the perfect Christian life is ripped to shreds in “Props,” couched in a melody that i can only describe as the Beach Boys doing old school “cowboy” music. Like something from a 1940’s musical movie the song somber message is not lost amongst the happy music. The facade that surround our lives are not unlike the movie props that are removed and disposed of when the scene is over.

The funky groove that permeates “My Room” reminds one of the great grooves created by the Talking Heads and should serve as a decent comparison at times. The consistent theme of exclusionary actions of the Church and the loneliness attached to a Church life without true community is repeated here.

“Faces to the Windows” is one of the scathing songs on the album and remains uncomfortable some 30 years later. Using the image of the starving children in Africa is juxtaposed against the sunshine, whistling world of many in the Church. Taylor tries, like most, to block out the faces pressed against the window of the television set while proceeding with a uniquely blessed life situation. The aggressive new wave musical expression takes on its finest form here.

“Cloak and Dagger” is just too short. Two minutes of brilliant musical and lyrical expressions. Using a James Bond type spy thriller melody that matches the lyrical content perfectly. After just one minute of pure 80’s punk goodness, the song shift musical direction completely with a one minute slow instrumental featuring a great guitar solo.

For those that hadn’t jumped ship by this time on the album, “The Real Thing” most certainly pushed them off the edge. Funky, punk and new wave with African rhythms sets the musical stage for an equally aggressive message. The Church has a long standing struggle with majoring on the minor issues and causing intense and lasting divisions over style, appearance and tradition. Whether it is the “drums” in the service or the “hats” worn in one Church over another, the struggle for authenticity and truth wages on.

After a keyboard instrumental of the melody from “Cloak and Dagger” in “C&D Reprise,” the album reaches a real musical zenith with “Through the Speakers.” With all the power music possesses the song realizes that ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit will be necessary to reach the intended audience.

A real musical shift takes place with the melodic and very poppy “Hit Them.” This very Brian Wilson like tune looks at the need for the Church to reach out with love and not just doctrine filled words. There is a warning here to not only believe the truth but to live accordingly. Like many songs on the album it remains much too short.

Taylor sets the Apostle Paul’s warning regarding remaining a “babe in Christ” to a brilliant early 80’s new wave groove that reminds me most of some of David Bowie’s more adventurous new wave attempts. The song revolves around many in the church who are content remaining well fed within its walls and never grow or mature spiritually. It’s not unlike Amy Grant’s “Fat baby” except this song doesn’t suck  :).

But the album’s winner of the “Way Too Stinking Short” award goes to the 80-second “Shedding the Mortal Coil.” Brilliant and way too short!

There is no way to escape the comparison to Horrendous Disc’s “Tidal Wave” with “Endless summer.” This rocking surfer tune seems to not only share a musical pedigree but also a similar theme of needing to find the truth in places where it cannot and will not be found. I do recall the song being a great fun ride live.

When one has a songwriting catalog as extensive as Terry Scott Taylor’s it is both foolish and nearly impossible to choose the “best song.” I will not make that foolish leap, but i find very few songs quite as lasting and wonderful as “Wall of Doubt.” Covered later by many artists including Jacob’s Trouble, the song is nearly perfect. A great and timeless melody mixed with a powerful message of the strength of the truth of the Gospel. The song sounds fresh right now even as I listen to it 30 years after is was first played. On an album filled with angst, anger and righteous indignation, the closing message of hope and grace is a just reward for those willing to take the journey.

The album closes with “Ghost of the Heart,” and would also serve as the opening track (in a way) for the follow up release, Doppelganger.

This was not the album many fans and the industry were expecting. It was the album anyone ever thought would be released by a Christian band. This adventurous display of brilliant songwriting, musicianship and sheer artistic brilliance has lasted way beyond the vast majority of disposable music created at the same time. It may not rank as the greatest album ever made, but it is clearly one of the most important and necessary. The world may not have changed in 1981…but mine did!

And we fans are forever grateful that Terry and company never went away.

8. Colours – Resurrection Band

November 21, 2011 11 comments

COLOURS (1981)

Resurrection Band

Tower records magazine has featured a fan section called “Desert Island Disc” for quite some time. The spotlight feature allows readers to send in a list of their top 5 albums that they would take with them to a deserted island. Though we have reached number 8, this current release would be the last of my titles. That means that numbers 7 down to 1 will be albums I consider “greater” than my personal top 5 favorite. No matter, this one would be number one on that list!

From the mid 1970′s through the early 1980′s my Christian music knowledge and appreciation was informed by a few people that helped me discover the music I love so much today. Reading reviews written by Chris Willman (CCM and LA Times), Thom Granger (CCM), Bruce Brown (several publications) and most notably Brian Quincy Newcomb (Harvest Rock Syndicate) helped introduce me to a wide array of music I would never be able to hear on Christian radio nor find easily in a Christian Bookstore. Their reviews had to be clear as well as expressive in order to convey what a record “felt” like in order for me to become excited about it.

Newcomb, more than the others, appeared to be the “radical” one who always found and reviewed the more aggressive and progressive acts that I knew would appeal to me. My thoughts were at the time that if Quincy reviewed it and it was positive, then I would try to track it down.

It is obvious that the music that one cuts their teeth on seem to have the most lasting impact and the reviews written by those above helped pave the way for much of what I have loved for 40 years.

But the greatest impact came from my then future brother-in-law, who for some reason never found it “a drag” to have to drag his girlfriends little brother around to concerts at Calvary Chapel, the local high school or even Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm.

One such “dragging” took place in 1979 at a “Night of Joy” at Disneyland. The night was primarily filled with The Boones, Reba Rambo, Randy Stonehill and a very young Amy Grant. But in the smallest of venues in the entire park he took me to see Barry McGuire and the Resurrection Band. I was familiar enough with McGuire’s music as my parents had introduced me to Seeds, Lighten Up and the brand new (at the time) Cosmic Cowboy albums.

McGuire was his normal affable and wonderful self playing the hits and making jokes in between each song. I do recall him joking that those in the front row may want to get ear plugs for what was to come next. At the time he was saying that I didn’t quite understand what everyone was laughing about. It was like being left out of an inside joke.

Twenty minutes later I got the joke!

That night I bought (or I’m guessing my future brother-in-law bought for me) the classic “Music to Raise the Dead” T-shirt that is still in a box somewhere. Medium? Really, I ever wore a medium?

That night I was introduced to the band that would mean more to me spiritually and emotionally than any other band on this list. They would make a career of challenging my walk, informing my social conscience and building a Biblical worldview. All that in three-minute spurts.

Resurrection Band is, by far and without question, the most socially conscious and relevant band in Christian music history. Their songs described inner-city life and strife long before any other Christian artist would dare tangle with the issue, outside of possibly Larry Norman. But coming from the point of a Ground Zero lifestyle through their Jesus People USA ministry, the descriptions were authentic and personal.

Resurrection Band was the first band in the world to deal with the horrible situation in South Africa involving Apartheid. Their song, “Afrikaans,” would be written and released a year before Peter Gabriel’s “Biko.” Content involving intimacy in marriage, prostitution, drug abuse, sexual deviancy, hypocrisy, suicide, pride and hopelessness were simply unheard of in Christian Music at that time, yet they were staples of Resurrection Bands content.

Forming in the early 70′s under the name “Charity” as part of a Christian community in Milwaukee, the band featured husband and wife lead singer, Glenn and Wendi Kaiser. After a move to Chicago and a change of name to “Resurrection Band” the group released a now rare cassette of demos called “Music to Raise the Dead.” That tape would actually contain a long time live favorite “Quite Enough” that would not be officially recorded and released until their live album, “Bootleg” more than a decade later.

In 1978 the band was signed to the Star Song label that also had Petra as an artist and it seemed like it would be a great fit as it was hoped that those at Star Song would understand the aggressive ministry, music and message of the band. But that relationship would only last for two album.

“Awaiting Your Reply” would be that debut album on Star Song. The album starts with the sound of a man in a subway station turning on the radio to hear the disc jockey say, “So hang in there as we play some music by…Resurrection Band? How’d this get in the stacks? Oh well, here’s hopin’”

That creative opening segment kicks straight into some of the hardest rock at the time in Christian music, most definitely the heaviest on a non-independent label. Wendi’s “Grace Slick” like vocals trade back and forth with Glenn’s growling, bluesy voice. For years my throat hurts and turns raw anytime I try to sing along with him.

“Awaiting Your Reply” is very blues driven rock, something akin to what Black Sabbath was doing at the time. The faster songs have more of an Aerosmith sound and Wendi’s vocals cannot help but cause the listener to think of Jefferson Starship. The album actually sold quite well despite the limited exposure as many Christian bookstores simply refused to carry the album, or if they did, it was hidden behind the counter. I always hated the practice of bookstores doing that and forcing some teenage boy to sheepishly ask if they carried the record as if he was buying a package of condoms. Despite the banning and difficulty in distribution the album still managed to reach the Top 10 in sales.

I should note here that the album was paid for, including the artwork by a friend of the band that gave them $8,000 for production and artwork and Star Song saw this as a no-lose situation. It was bought and paid for and would never impact their bottom line. It was still a controversial move as other label had rejected it for fear of tipping over the apple cart of safe Gospel music. But with the sales results it can be honestly said that Resurrection band broke down the barriers for rock and metal in Christian music like no other before or after them.

There are several songs of note on this album for worthy consideration: “Waves” is a great rocker in which Glenn and Wendi trade-off vocals. “Broken Promises” is an amazing showcase for Glenn’s blues obsession and remains a favorite of fans even now some 30 years later. “Lightshine” is the one chord wonder that Glenn joked with me about writing when he didn’t know how to sing and play guitar at the same time. The harpsichord makes an appearance on a couple tracks and somehow works as a hard rock instrument. “The Return” closes out the album with an incredible jazz/rock that is closer to Chicago than Black Sabbath complete with killer sax solo.

Resurrection Band’s sophomore attempt was “Rainbow’s End.” It would serve as the last for Star Song as I was once told that record company was not as happy with the album and the direction of the band at the time. I never understood if it was the apparently “progressive” political approach or the music. If it was the first than shame on them! If it was the second I can only question the understanding of modern music of the time by those running the label.

It should be noted at this point that the artwork for the first four Resurrection band albums were simply beyond amazing, and way beyond what anyone else was doing at the time. Not just for the artwork itself, but the packaging was impressive. Three of the first four possessed what is called a “gate fold” which means the packaging opened up to a double wide presentation. There were full lyrics and photos, etc. It was very impressive, especially since that type of artwork is usually reserved for “double albums.”

“Rainbow’s End” had artwork that was even more ambitious. They used a die cut technique for the windows on the front cover and the album jacket insert was a firm cardboard like the out cover. You could then turn the inner jacket different directions and display a different “vision” in the cut out windows.

(Album artwork was really cool back then and a sadly lost art).

Content-wise the album was more Black Sabbath blues influence hard rock. But it is on “Rainbow’s End” that the lyrical content began to show a more socially conscious awareness. This is most notable on the previously discussed “Afrikaans.” The pure passion of Glenn’s vocals still sends a chill down my spine even as I listen as I type. Until I die I will never forget the line “God makes the color, but the color doesn’t make you God.” I had an assignment in my creative writing class in High School to bring in the lyrics to a song that we believed work well as spoken poetry. I chose “Afrikaans.” I got an “A!”

But other songs worthy of note are Skyline, The Wolfsong and Skyline, which proved a harmonica can rock! But the highlight of the album is Glenn’s unforgettable ballad, “Paint a Picture.” The ache of longing for hope is just laid out on the canvas of this song. It shows that a rock song can be emotionally moving. There is pain in the voice and whining guitar that simply cannot be matched in other genres.

Somewhere between 1979 and 1980 something more than a decade changed. The band found a new home at Light Records where they would stay for the first half of the decade. Light Records was home primarily to Andrae Crouch and big band conductor, Ralph Carmichael. The label did sport the Sweet Comfort Band, but they were clearly a pop and funk driven band squarely in the heart of Christian music, both musically and lyrically. What that means is that they were seen as “rockers” who were “safe.”

What came with the change in the decade was a Resurrection Band that rocker faster, harder and with more socially relevant and Biblically striking content. Less Black Sabbath and Jefferson Airplane and more AC/DC and Rush, Colours was a rock tour de force as current as anything for its time and simply a relentless record from the opening instrumental to the closing crescendo cymbals. The production was clean, crisp and loud. The vocals went from bluesy to metal and the guitars…oh, the guitars!

The album addresses much of what the band was seeing out their front door in the inner-city of Chicago. Their ministry doors not only reach out the lost, broken and needy in the city, but is placed firmly in the center of it. The band and the ministry members do not truck in from the suburbs in Town and Country minivans, but live, eat, breathe and love right in the epicenter. So, it makes sense that the content would flow from that perspective.

Colours is Resurrection Band’s defining work. This was AOR radio friendly rock but with decidedly metal edge. It also contains some of Glenn’s finest and most aggressive vocals. Not a song is a miss and the album, as a complete whole, is the best thematically outside of their swan song, Lament. “Mommy Don’t Love daddy” would compare favorably, but did not have the cohesive sound and maintain the level of intensity that “Colours” set forth.

The album starts with a two-minute instrumental introduction to the Wendi Kaiser lead, “Autograph.” Starting the album with this instrumental introduction set the stage for what was to come as it introduced the new and heavier musical direction and also worked well as a concert introit. Stu Heiss’ finest guitar work can be heard on Colours and the intro to “Autrograph” hints at what would come.

By the time Wendi takes on the vocals the song shifted from a groove driven hard rock to a more staccato, borderline punk rhythm. The song addresses how the Lord signs and seals those who are His with his own “blood signature” that was provided in the cross.

I said, “Sign here please,” and You inscribed
Your Name in my heart
Didn’t know what I was getting into
Or what was getting into me for that matter
A little slow to understand,
Love was the word I was after
So Your name kept coming to my lips,
Again and again
Now I understand,
He wanted the heart of this world
You’re His Signature, the very Stamp of His Soul
Spirit in the wind, agony of the cross all told
Signed in blood

The song does warn against those who simply refuse to acknowledge God and how those things that are “gods” of the lost are like forgeries…

Forgery, it happens all the time
Your truth ain’t even on their minds

One of the strengths of the record is found above; taking a common theme and presenting in powerful and unforgettable imagery. This shows the beginning stages of the growth of Kaiser and the band in regards to their songwriting. Glen wrote or co-wrote the entire album and his mark is indelible.

The title track follows and contains one of the best groove riffs in Resurrection Band history. The song is actually a worship song of sorts as it addresses the creative, loving and diverse nature of God’s revelation and that fact that his love is demonstrated to races and colors. And without timing it, it may also contain the longest instrumental break in the band’s history outside of any live album.

Silence stands with open hands hushed before the King
Joy believes and happily praises as she sings
Wonder sits in open fields beholding all You made
Desire seeks Your colours, each and every shade

Whatever one could ask of faith, obedience will give
Together all express the love in hearts where Jesus lives

A distinctive change in content, both musically and lyrically follows with the driving and grinding “N.Y.C.” Glen takes the vocals on a much more AC/DC driven hard rock/heavy metal song than any song previously recorded by the band. Glen’s uncanny ability to “scream” on key is displayed in the bridge and final verse. But the song starts by introducing the listener to the streets.

Out on the curbside, sat a little boy
Is crying cause a story to unfold
I’ve no father, I’ve no family
It’s getting dark and getting cold
I’ve been left here by myself and all alone

Another character is introduced in the second verse, a prostitute whose life is a living hell. “When the fix is late, the pimp won’t wait and you know you’re getting sick.” But the imagery of those wanting something more from life here is powerfully demonstrated and expanded to all sinners no matter their lot in life.

No twinkle, twinkle little star
No one to wonder who you are
We’re all just urchins, beggar boys, disowned
Like Jack and Jill we’ve fallen down
With bruised and battered, tarnished crowns
No water in the well to carry home

But Resurrection Band never shies away from the honest reality, not the answer to these problem as the song concludes.

It’s time we live in honesty, it’s time we learn to cry
To soften our hearts once again
It’s time we lay our bullets down
Embracing Jesus’ love
Salvation comes in no other name

“Hidden Man” follows with a Rush type rock groove that is not as heavy as “N.Y.C.” but stays with the same rock vein. Here the content is about those who attempt to hide from the truth of Gospel even when it is presented before them.

“Amazing” is similar to Autograph in both that it is fronted by Wendi and because of the more punk rhythm that she would actually be noted for in later records as well. This is the type of song that fits Wendi’s voice the best. Here she and Glenn trade-off during the chorus in an expression of God’s amazing and unending love.

What could possibly be Resurrections Band’s finest moments follows with “American Dream.” What was hinted at previously in the bands critique of modern culture, political corruption, class warfare and much more progressive view of social issues than many in the Church had previously displayed. It is also quite possibly the fastest and heaviest song in their repertoire. Glenn’s vocals reach a near breaking point with a double time speed guitar riff and lyrical structure.

After introducing his past frailty of naiveté, Glen than rattles off a list of current problems that has infected and brought about the moral decay that is so prevalent. He finishes with a warning of potential annihilation if the path we are heading down does not shift. This is all in the setting of reading the morning paper.

The holy morning paper
Slaps the steps of dawn
America’s doors open
Let’s see what’s going on
Confusion with our coffee
Fear and frosted flakes
A Shuttle offstage – a change of scene
The expose of the american dream
Watergate burglars comedy relief
Laugh at ideals surviving our griefs
It’s fool’s gold for gilded fools
Playing gaily with twisted rules
Hail to the families in their tv rooms
Suicide, genocide, abortion, cartoons
Terrorism, violence, starving refugees
Conscience, crucified, reality recedes
Nuclear tyrants, computerized plan,
Holding hostage everyman

But here again the band does not feel justified in simply expressing the plight of the situation, but offers the only hope man has for his future survival.

Form dust to dust
Our lives fades away
We are the winds empty sighing
Vanity, all vanity
All but the cross, all but his dying

This song moves immediately into “Benny and Sue,” a story of a lost couple with no sense of hope. Abortion, sexual promiscuity and an eventual premature death of Benny weave throughout the verses. The story of this lost and forgotten couple rings true and authentic. But rather than an “easy answer” salvation message, Jesus pleads with Sue to turn toward him but to no avail. This songs served as a great warning track to sinful and selfish living.

“City Street” is similar in theme to “N.Y.C.” but here the subject’s story is told in first person by Glenn. The music is the most AC/DC like on the album as it is a song built around a “riff” and what a riff it is. Here Glenn is a seeker lost in the city streets with no hope at all. Of all the songs on the album it comes across as the most autobiographical.

Like a joke without a punchline
Like a rat in a maze
Like last years paper
Yellow with age
I was a deck without a dealer
I was a day without a dawn
I was a train without a station
Until You came along

The theme of the lost and lonely on the streets continue with “Beggar in the Alleyway.” Here the song closes with the realization that “joy comes in the morning” and hope is there for those who seek and find.

The album closes with “The Struggle.” The band has made a habit of closing albums with thought-provoking and mid-tempo rockers that leave the listener a little haunted and introspective.

My pride wants me to hide inside myself
But I love you Lord I don’t want our love put on the shelf
I’m tired of feigning to be who I am
Jesus make me what You want me to be
Because of You I desire reality…

…But I can only face myself when I face You..

The passion and authenticity with which these words are presented are the trademark that make them such powerful statements. There is not a moment the listener doubts the conviction of the band. This is not a band whose pointing of the finger was for shock value or pretentious in any way. They not only talked the talk the walked the walk and continue to do so to this day.

In 1980 a band out of commune in the inner-city of Chicago rocked the Christian world with a work that has transcended time and whose content is just as relevant now some 30 years later. Much music today is no longer relevant 30 minutes later.

The band would go on to release many more successful albums throughout the 80′s, shocking fans with a short-lived change in musical direction on “Hostage” incorporating more keyboards and new wave stylings. They would return to the more rock driven roots on following albums and even receive MTV airplay with two songs.

They eventually unofficially called it quits at the turn of the millennium, but will still play occasional one-off shows, especially at Jesus People USA’s annual Cornerstone Festival.

The band did leave on a high note with the Ty Tabor (Kings X) produced, “Lament,” a wonderful theme album that may be their highest artistic achievement. Whether known as Rez, Rez Band or Resurrection Band when it came sheer audacity, intense and memorable rock and for creating a record that changed how the Church and music industry would consider Christian music, Colours is among the greatest Christian albums of all time.

9. Meltdown – Steve Taylor

November 18, 2011 23 comments


Steve Taylor

In 1983 I was a Senior in High School and always on the lookout for some new Christian album to play for unsuspecting friends. I was also working at a local Christian Bookstore and maintained my position as “thorn in the flesh” to Greg fast, the program director at KYMS, the famous Christian radio station in Orange County, CA.

One of my favorite things to do at the radio station was introduce the more “rock” oriented artist at the regular Christian Music nights at the local amusement parks like Disneyland, Magic Mountain and Knott’s Berry Farm. The more “popular” disc jockeys would lay claim to introducing artists like DeGarmo and Key, Amy Grant and Leon Patillo leaving me to introduce The 77′s, Rez Band and Undercover.

My first foray into this job was early in 1983 at Knott’s Berry Farm. The artist was the then unknown Steve Taylor and Some Band. Steve and Co. had just released their debut EP, “I Want to Be a Clone” on Sparrow and no one knew who he was. But I did! I asked Steve recently if he remembered that night and he said that he did remember, and for the same reasons I remember it.

Steve AND band were placed on the smallest stage in the known universe. It was a stage normally used by a DJ and had about enough room for two turntables and a chair. It was squeezed between a train depot and the long since removed “Tijuana Taxi” ride. For those unfamiliar with Taylor’s live performance he possessed a frenetic energy that had to be released or the space-time continuum was in jeopardy!

He also remembers, like I do as well, the fact I was a very nervous 17-year-old kid who went through the entire introduction of myself, the radio station, upcoming concerts, Steve’s record and label information and welcoming him to the stage in less than 11 seconds. As embarrassing as it was, I was introducing STEVE TAYLOR!!!

Over the years I would meet up with Steve at different events like Gospel Music Association week in Nashville complete with Dove Awards, the annual Estes Park Christian music event, concerts and once at a movie theater in Nashville. In every instance he has been the most genuine and kind person.

Steve got his start when Cam Floria of the Continental Singers asked Steve to join them for a tour of Poland. This was before any walls ever fell and the Gospel was not a prevalent ideology in the Eastern Block. The things he saw there, though, would be used as inspiration for at least one song on Meltdown.

Upon return Steve traveled to Estes Park, CO for the Christian Music Artist Seminar where he performed a handful of songs from a demo tape he had produced. He was signed to a contract immediately by Sparrow Records owner, Bill Hearn. This was seen as quite of stretch for the normally conservative label known more for Steve Green and Steve Chapman than for the music of Steve Taylor.

Clone was quickly recorded and released in early 1983 to rave reviews and more than a few raised eyebrows. Known for its frenetic pace and songs lasting upwards of two minutes, “Clone” had a distinctly “Oingo Boing” or Devo feel to the music and even had a rap (term used loosely) song. But the eyebrow raising was reserved for the intensely sarcastic and caustic lyrical content. No sacred cow was safe and in later album he would even “name names.”

Many in the evangelical world never have been able to understand the use of satire and sarcasm within Biblical standards. The Bible is not foreign to this type of literature and language, and is a very effective weapon in the oratory and written arsenal God has provided. He has made foolish the wisdom of this world and does using sarcasm and satire to do so. I would recommend Douglas Wilson’s great book “The Serrated Edge” for a study on the subject.

Since I was working at a Christian Bookstore when Clone was released I was able to buy it the day it came out. Those six songs were played over and over so many times at home that the first copy I had was eventually rubbed smooth. From critical looks at those who cannot find a Church (Steeplechase) and churches that demanded perfect compliance (I Want to Be a Clone) to relativism (Bap Rap) and humanism (Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Numbers Up), Clone took no prisoners.

I remember at the time a Youth Pastor of a church I was attending was just blasting Taylor for his content. He was upset that Taylor’s voice sounded so sarcastic that people might mistake him for someone who thinks we “shouldn’t all be exactly alike!” I guess “Clone” was written for him.

But it is “Whatever Happened to Sin” that steals the show. After generations of the Church no longer teaching about man’s culpability in relation to sin, Taylor was forced to ask the question. Whether it was political figures using the name of Christ to get elected, a “Christian” advising a young woman to seek an abortion or mainstream, liberal Church’s softening stand on moral imperatives, no one was beyond striking distance.

As caustic as “Clone” may have appeared to be, nothing would compare to the album that would follow.

“Meltdown” hit the market in 1984 and I really don’t think the industry was ready for it. Oddly enough the album did contain Taylor’s first radio hit in “Hero.” It was not originally released as a single, but KYMS and a few other stations started playing it and it caught on. The rock single “Meltdown” did make some waves on MTV and featured Lisa Welchel who was best known as “Blair” from the popular television show, “The Facts of Life.”

The album maintained the Oingo Boingo pace but also included a more mature, David Bowie type influence. ten finely crafted song that would remain staples for Taylor for many years to come, “Meltdown” remains the favorite among most fans even though later albums may have shown more artistic growth and merit. There was this absurd combination of anger, sarcasm and innocence that flowed from the songs.

Taylor’s victims were thinly veiled, and quite frankly clearly defined, as they made for easy targets. Whether it’s Bob Jones University’s former policy on inter-racial relationships or Jimmy Swaggart’s attacks on Christian Rock, it did not take a genius to know who the attacks were leveled against. Taylor’s later albums would also address similar themes with Bill Gothard and Robert Tilton also receiving the pointy end of the pen. But, as we will see, “Meltdown” also dealt with general issues of the sins of the world and the sins of the church.

The title track leads the album off with a satirical look at the “rich and famous” and how their money, popularity and importance will not keep them safe on judgment day. The video did make the rounds on both Christian and mainstream video outlets and was quite good considering the year and the media’s relative youth. Using the famed Madame Tussaud’s  Wax Museum as a backdrop for the song in which a rogue janitor turned up the heat on the famous statues.

Elvis and the Beatles have seen a better day
Better off to burn out than to melt away
Dylan may be fillin’ the puddle they designed
Is it gonna take a miracle to make up his mind?

Athletes on the floor
They’re running out the door

Bad boy McEnroe couldn’t keep his cool
Now he’s with the rest of ‘em, wading in the pool
“Howard Hughes–Billionaire” says the written guide
Pity that his assets have all been liquefied

The exclamation point is given at the song’s conclusion as he notes the importance of centering one life around that which will last.

“Celebrity status only got in the way
Had my hands in my pockets on the Judgment Day
You can’t take it with you–there’s fire in the hole
Had the world by the tail but I lost my soul”

There is a great throw away line at the end of the song as the chorus is repeating where the “inspector” from Scotland yard complains “A lot of bees gave there all for this…”

The not so subtle attack on the Bob Jones’ University stand on inter-racial relationships, “We Don’t Need No Colour Code” is done in a “tribal” sing and response format. This was easily the most controversial song on the record as the use of names (initials in this case) and the power the university possessed within Christian circles. The university finally abolished the practice in 2000.

Down Carolina way
Lived a man name o’ Big B.J.
B.J. went and got a school
Founded on Caucasian rule
Bumper sticker on his Ford
Says “Honkies If You Love The Lord”

One of the most controversial lines on the whole album is near the end of the song where he states “white supremest eat their young.” I attended three different concert in which I witnessed Steve having to explain that line. In fact, at an in-store album signing party at Maranatha Village I hosted someone challenged him on that song and particularly on that line.

What sounds like a great idea on paper does not always work in the studio. I am sure that many feel that way about the straying keyboard that accompanies the song, “Am I In Sync?” I actually like it and appreciate the supportive message it lends to the song.

When famed movie director Woody Allen was asked if he desired to achieve immortality  through his movie making he responded by stating he would rather achieve immortality by not dying. This line was the impetus for the song and its message of those who try to achieve greatness and immortality through their actions while avoiding the only who can provide that immortality. Here Taylor tells the story of two distinctly different people who attempt to find immortality whether through becoming famous (movie star) or by leaving a legacy (science).

Long before Rush Limbaugh and Shawn Hannity found the mainstream media an easy target for attack, Taylor was already all over it. Actually he was way ahead of the curb for noting the liberal bias inherent within modern journalism. He even noted that it may not be within the editorial content, but also as a result of what the press decides to cover or not cover.

In concert he would tell the story of an event where to leading evangelicals came out in support of a woman’s right to choose. the press was all over it with every single paper present at the press conference and proclaimed it as a victory for human and woman’s rights. But at the same time in the same city hundreds upon hundreds of Christians met to voice their support of life and not one single journalist was present. Taylor discusses the eventual slippery slope results of a lack of oversight in “Meat the Press”.

When the godless chair the judgment seat
We can thank the godless media elite
They can silence those who fall from their grace
With a note that says “we haven’t the space”

Well lookee there–the dog’s asleep
Whenever we march or say a peep
A Christian can’t get equal time
Unless he’s a loony committing a crime

Listen up if you’ve got ears
I’m tired of condescending sneers
I’ve got a dog who smells a fight
And he still believes in wrong and right

“Over My Dead Body” is one of the most challenging and disturbing songs in Taylor’s catalog. After Taylor’s travels with the Continental Singers to Poland he was encouraged to take a second trip there. This song sprang from the injustice and persecution the Church was facing those countries. The song tells the true story of a young man following Jesus’ command to feed those in prison by taking food to Solidarity members who were being underfed while imprisoned. The young man was found out and beaten to death in the middle of a Warsaw street by two soldiers with the butt of their guns. This nearly has the feel of something U2 would have written during this same time period.

I was a victim of December 1981
I took a final beating from the blunt end of a Russian gun

You made a memory–the memory will multiply
You may kill the body but the spirit–it will never die

Over my dead body
Redemption draweth nigh
Over my dead body
I hear a battle cry

Try and blow out the fire
You’re fanning the flames
We’re gonna rise up from the ashes
‘Til we’re ashes again

Taking the sins of the world and making them much more introspective Taylor deals with the devastation sin leaves in its wake in “Sin for Season.” A David Bowie inspired vocal performance is haunting and leaves the listener questioning their own failings. In this song Taylor addresses marital infidelity, drunk driving leading to a death and how Christian will sin while feigning repentance.

Gonna get the good Lord to forgive a little sin
Get the slate cleaned so he can dirty it again
And no one else will ever know

But he reaps his harvest as his heart grows hard
No man’s gonna make a mockery of God

“I’m only human, got no other reason”
Sin for a season

“Guilty be Association” returns to the sarcastic form with a very “white man reggae”  or world music rhythm. This response to Jimmy Swaggart’s attacks on rock music remains a personal favorite, especially midway through when he imitates Swaggart.

“Well I have found a new utensil
In the devil’s toolbox
And the heads are gonna roll
If Jesus rocks”

“It’s a worldly design!
God’s music should be divine!
Try buying records like mine
Avoid temptation”

Now today it may be much easier for artist to take direct stabs at the foibles of religious and political leaders, but in 1984 it was simply not the case. It was a bold and refreshing move. Taylor was criticized for naming names. At the same in-store appearance I mentioned earlier he was questioned about using names or being painfully obvious about who the intended target was. He responded by noting Paul’s “outing” of Peter and his hypocrisy and Paul naming those who had deserted him and left the faith.

“Hero” remains my all time favorite Steve Taylor song. As I have mentioned several times previously, I was a young kid in 1984 trying to get Greg Fast at KYMS to open up the rotation to more edgy music. My thinking was if I could get a ballad on the air and it was a hit it would be easier to add more upbeat songs from the same artist. the reasoning being that if the station listeners were out buying the record they hearing the rest of the songs anyway,, so why not play them. “Hero” was my first real victory. I finally convinced management to play the song and it became a HUGE hit! They soon after added “Sin for a Season” and others from the album.

“Hero” comes across as the most autobiographical song on the album. It tells the story of a young boy who loved reading his comic books and fiction stories about heroes. But “real life” got in the way. His heroes disappointed him and were not real heroes after all. Eventually the subject finds the world’s true hero in Jesus Christ.

When the house fell asleep
From a book I was led
To a light that I never knew
I wanna be your hero

And he spoke to my heart
From the moment I prayed
Here’s a pattern I made for you
I wanna be your hero

“Jenny” at first glance appears to be a story about a young, small town girl who leaves her roots of faith and morals and leaves for the sin and temptation of the big city. The truth of the matter is the song is an allegory for America, who had long since abandoned her “Bible Belt” faith beginnings and had reached for the brass ring. This rejection of truth and morals leads to the death of the protagonist and to the nation.

“Baby Doe” is simply the saddest and most disturbing song Taylor has ever written. Taylor tells the true story of an Indiana couple in 1982 that went to court to fight for the right to let their Down Syndrome newborn die of starvation. The court allowed it despite the thousands upon thousands of people willing to adopt “Baby Doe.”

Unfolding today
A miracle play
This Indiana morn

The father–he sighs
She opens her eyes
Their baby boy is born

“We don’t understand
He’s not like we planned”
The doctor shakes his head

“Abnormal” they cry
And so they decide
This child is better dead

Taylor refuses to accept the argument of choice as he reiterates, “this baby has a voice.” But not content to simply criticize the parents, press and legal system that allowed the atrocity to unfold, Taylor points the finger back at himself and the Church for its lack of action and outcry.

It’s over and done
The presses have run
Some call the parents brave

Behind your disguise
Your rhetoric lies
You watched a baby starve

I bear the blame
The cradle’s below
And where is baby

Taylor would later start Squint Entertainment, a label that included artist like Chevelle and Sixpence None the Richer. He was also the lead vocalist for the amazing band, Chagall Guevara, a band signed to MCA that should have changed the world!

There is talk of a movie based on the popular “Blue Like Jazz” book and film making appears to be the passion. His fans always hold out hope that a new album may one day squeak out but nothing appears to be in the works though rumors of a 2012 release have been heating up recently. In the meantime we can enjoy his works, especially his first full length album, Meltdown.

10. Lie Down In the Grass – Charlie Peacock

November 18, 2011 4 comments


Charlie Peacock

While managing Maranatha Village I would receive a phone call the beginning of each month from Charlie Peacock asking me if I needed anymore of the cassette of West Coast Diaries Vol 1. That helped strike up a friendship. But there was often several years in between conversations. In fact, the most recent conversation I recall was after a Sunday Morning service in Colorado Springs where Charlie had performed the offertory for the Church I was attending.

I obviously love a lot of different music and because of connections over the years with many, if not most, of the artist that fill up this countdown, I am not very starstruck. But when it comes to Charlie Peacock…I am a dumb fan! I just love what he does and will find buying albums that he produces even I don’t care for the artist.

When Exit was just starting out I was invited by label head Mary Neely to a concert in Hollywood with Steve Taylor and this new band Exit was releasing called Vector. What I remembered the most about that evening was this bouncy keyboardist that seemed to play with one hand while dancing with the other in that classic 80′s swinging of the arms sort of way. Mary gave me a copy of their album advance that night and I immediately noticed the unique vocals on the songs sung be that keyboardist. They would become my favorites.

Not that much later Mary invited me out the LA one more time for a convert of Exit artists as they were looking to sign a mainstream distribution deal. The line-up included Robert Vaughan and the Shadows (a band whose Exit release came in at number 52 on my list), the 77′s, a new, revamped Vector and that keyboardist, Charlie Peacock. I left that evening with a blank tape advanced copy of a record called “Lie Down in the Grass.”


Peacock’s road to where he resides today has been long and interesting. He is clearly recognized with CCM circles as a brilliant producer, songwriter, artist and thinker. He received a Master’s Degree from Covenant Theological Seminary and performs progressive jazz, worship and pop without missing a beat. He has a loyal audience and fan base for good reason.

But it all started quite simply with a very programmed heavy debut that was filled with pop gems, world and African rhythms, poignant and obscure lyrics and a quirky, breathy high pitched voice that some do not find quite as pleasing as I do. Many initially pegged peacock as an “alternative” artist because of the heavy programming, but in actuality, that came about solely as the result of a low production budget. Anyone who saw him live early on with former Vector bandmates, Vince Ebo and Aaron Smith know just what an authentic musician he was at the time.

Though the album in question features a programmed drum, there are plenty of acoustic percussion work, electric and acoustic guitars, real brass instruments and amazing acoustic and electronic keyboards in use.

There are two versions of the album released. The Exit/Word version contains two songs that were removed and replaced by two more “commercial” sounding songs fopr the A&M release. I have decided to add the two songs to the review here. I remember seeing Peacock on tour with other A&M artists in the early 80’s and was struck by just how good he was live and how he ended up competing quite well for the audience response of bands like Let’s Active.

The album starts with the title track. The bopping programmed drums are quickly joined by a great thumping and popping bass. Peacock’s breathy voice drives home a poetic message of God’s desire for us to wonder at his majestic creation. Borrowing very loosely from the 23rd Psalm Peacock encourages the listener to lie down in the grass (beside still waters?) to humble ourselves and revel in the glory of God. The trumpet takes center stage here and elsewhere, a sign of total originality and genius playing. The final chorus with the addition of the tribal backing vocals make the song even more out of step with modern CCM at the time in just the right way.

I remember when Greg fast added the song to the playlist on KYMS with a very doubtful eye. But it ended up being a big hit and stayed on the playlist for quite some time.

“Watching Eternity” follows with what should have been a huge CCM radio hit if CCM radio had any foresight at the time. the beautiful melody, psalm like wonderment lyrics and huge hooky chorus made it a great single. the world music groove is completely palatable to even the least adventurous radio listener.

In stark contrast to the previous is the more adventurous, and much cooler, “It’s Gone, It’s Over.” It is at the point the album really takes off with originality and creative swings. the sax solo is pure perfection and even the programmed drums sound right, especially given the great Michael Roe guitar work the accentuates every line in the verse structure. The dreamy backing vocals are haunting, in a very cool way.

A personal favorite, both musically and lyrically, follows with “Human Condition.” perhaps only Mark Heard understood and articulated the human condition in a better way than Peacock. His strength is in the simple and provocative way he describes the human struggle and the universality of it all. The country twang guitar sound and rhythm is odd, yet strangely perfect. This is also Peacocks most emotive vocal.

If Peacock was the earn his alternative label, it would be because of the next two songs. One slower and one more upbeat. the first “Lost in translation” in more jazz than alternative and is the one song that would have fit perfectly with his previous band, Vector. This slow, grooving jazz number also reminds me of his “Hot Night Downtown” with it’s cool and flowing groove. It always reminds me of Joe Jackson without the piano.

“One, Two, Three (That’s OK)” returns the album to the driving rhythm of the title track, but without the world music/African influence. More “new wave” than just about anything on the album it did make its mark on Christian rock radio shows and the college radio market. Michael Butera’s sax work just so good. Peacock shows a more aggressive vocal approach here than anywhere else on the project.

I remember friends commenting how they loved the album but didn’t like “Whole Lot different/Whole Lot the Same.” Those friends are crazy! The incredible, building momentum and groove is brilliant. It is also nearly worshipful and the strongest faith statement on the entire project. It is also the one time on the album that Peacock’s utter mastery of the piano is hinted at. If anyone has seen Peacock live by himself, you walk away realize you had just witnessed one of the finest musicians out there, especially on the piano. I would have loved even more piano.

“Til You Caught My Eye” may actually contain the albums groove. The bass line is infectious and Peacock’s swirling and building vocal structure is spot on. I also really appreciated how the clearly 60’s influenced piano melody combined with straight 80’s new wave just works. The half-talking bridge is the album’s vocal highlight.

“Turned On an Attitude” works the groove from start to finish. The sax and trumpet brings the song together nicely, but it is Roe’s unheralded guitar work that steals the show. Again, Peacock’s jazz influence makes the song work and let’s it breathe in an industry that was rather confining at the time.

The original Exit version closes with “Who Is Not Afraid?” Is this Peacock’s finest composition? I can’t really say, but i do not know of too many that surpass it. It is haunting and beautiful. The lyrics swirl and consume the listener. It is worshipful and exhorting. As mentioned previously, Peacock often writes like a psalmist, and does so again here, but in a very modern vernacular. I could click repeat over and over on this song! The sax solo deserved two more minutes.

The first of the two “A&M release” cuts is “Young at Heart.” I should say from the outset that I am more of a fan of the Word version and believe the two additional songs were meant to garner radio play. They are both better produced pop songs, but fit on Peacock’s self-titled album that would live in obscurity several years later. “Every time I hear “Young at heart” I hear Rod Stewart singing the chorus. It’s a fine pop, radio song, but does not measure up to the interesting and creative music displayed on the Word version.

“Love Doesn’t Get Better” is a little more in tune with the rest of the project, but really would have been perfect on Vector’s “Please Stand By.” Again, it is just so much more commercially driven than the rest of the project. And the chorus is way “Wham” for me!

But given that I can own the original, much preferred, Word version the additional songs do not detract from the well deserved placement in the Top 10. I understand it will be one of the choices that many would not include in their Top 20 while others would list in their Top 5.