22. Love Song – Love Song
LOVE SONG (1972)
There are many reasons why an artist and their album would be represented on this list. Quite often it has to do with their impact on artistic merit and quality songwriting exposition. For others it could be the impact of creating a ground breaking release that defied the norms of the day. Some are here because of their historical impact both on the industry and the music that would be created as a result of their efforts.
As for Love Song’s 1972 debut it is all of the above and two other things. Their inclusion also has to do with their impact on the Church and on the individuals who were ministered to by them. More than any other artist on this list Love Song has garnered the highest number of “that record changed my life” comments. In fact, I will not be surprised to find over the following days several comments from reader as to just what this record means to them. The “emotional” and spiritual impact of Love Song’s debut simply cannot be measured by sales charts, hit songs and cutting edge musical breakthroughs.
The other, and most important factor, is that this collection of hippies in the early 19070’s created an amazing album, full of artistic integrity, original compositions, fearless lyrical content and brilliant musicianship. It is not just because this album changed the world of Christian music, but this album is just fantastic from start to finish.
One great irony is that their following album would contain the bands finest moment, “Little Pilgrim,” but did not maintain a great presence throughout the project. In fact, if “Little pilgrim” was here, it may have landed this album in the Top 10. Many “Jesus Music” fans will probably protest that the album deserves the Top 10 ranking, and they may be right. But quite often I have found that the above mentioned “non-artistic” reasons would play a major role in the dispute.
Most “supergroups” are made up of individuals from other bands or solo artists joining forces to create a superior unit. Love Song is unique in that they became a “supergroup” post script. By that I mean that it is what happened after the group disbanded and where each individual member went after leaving the group. There is not enough tie here to list every member and their accomplishments, especially when one considers that at one time or another the membership of Love Song included the likes of Denny Correll and Phil Keaggy, though neither appeared on a record as a offical band member.
Founding members included Chuck Girard who went on to have a very lengthy and successful career in Christian music with several incredible albums, both pop and worship. His song, “Sometime Alleluia,” has been a popular worship song for some 30 years. His daughter even went to create a popular Christian group herself known as ZoeGirl.
Tommy Coomes made one very good solo album with the hit, “Love is the Key,” and also went on to run Maranatha Music and was instrumental in the birth and proliferation of modern worship music with the introduction of the Maranatha praise series the pre-dated nearly every other worship line by over a decade.
John Mehler, one of the finest drummers in Christian music history, went on to record several solo projects including the stellar “Bow and Arrow” which is a must own for any serious fan of the history of Christian music.
Phil Keaggy went on to…well…went on to be Phi Keaggy!
But it is was what these men, along with founding members Jay Truax and Fred Field, accomplished as a unit that is the focus here.
In 1970 Love Song was birthed when Fred Field, Chuck Girard, Jay Truax and Tommy Coomes came together to create a new band. They were already friends and musicians so the forming of a band seemed natural. They began writing songs together. The something happened that would change them, the Church and Church music.The four friends became Christians and were introduced to a young, vibrant preacher in Costa Mesa, CA named Church Smith.
Chuck was Pastoring a small church on the edge of town in a wide open fielded area. The Church was growing and the little Church building on Sunflower Ave could not contain the numbers that were coming, primarily teens, hippies and counter-culture intellectuals who had rejected mainstream Christianity at the time. But they were seeking something “real” that the drugs, drinking and “free love” simply did not satisfy.
On a side note of great importance to the Christian Music industry, that original small Church building was sold to Jim and Betty Willems and they used that building to open what would become Maranatha Village Bible Bookstore. As mentioned in previous reviews Maranatha Village birthed CCM Magazine and the famous KYMS radio station. Some 15 or so years later I would be hired to manage the store.
But in 1970 these young musicians wanted to share their gifts and music with the church. As Chuck Girard tells it that had written several songs, some written before they were saved and others after their conversions. They met with “Pastor Chuck” and he helped them weed out some doctrinal issues with some of the lyrics and then he offered them the opportunity to perform at Calvary Chapel.
After two years of writing, praying, teaching and being taught it was time to enter the studio and record their debut project. I don’t really know if anyone believed this little record made on a budget a shoestring would scoff at was really going to change the world, but it changed the world for thousands of people who came in contact with it.
The sophomore album, Final Touch, rocked more and had significantly better production. It also contained two of the biggest songs in Love songs short history, the rocking “Cossack Song” and the previously discussed classic “Little Pilgrim.” As a young overnight disc jockey at KYMS the extra long “Little Pilgrim” was a lifesaver on those night when I worked alone! The record was also a huge success but it is the ground breaker and life-changer that is our focus here.
It’s important to remember a few things before continuing: The first is that before Love Song came along there was pretty much Larry Norman and…Larry Norman. There was no bustling Christian Music scene filled with radio stations and marketing professionals. there was also no one else doing what Love Song was about to do.
The second thing to note is that Love Song is called a “rock band” and the uninitiated will listen and complain that there really is nothing “rock” about what they did. Truth be told Love Song was really a folk/pop band with some rock influences. So when people say that they were performing “contemporary”music they truly were. Music for that day was as much about Jim Croce, Santana, the Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel as it was The Who, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. So it is not that they were a rock band on par Led Zeppelin, but rather the comparison is with what was being played on Top 40 radio for the day.
With that knowledge it is important to realize that even the light pop and folk music of Love Song was very contemporary by the Church standards of the day. There was no immediate embrace of what Love Song was doing by mainstream Christianity, but to the kids that gravitated toward something real and authentic, Love Song was a Godsend.
The album starts off with the band’s namesake, “Love Song.” A worshipful, acoustic number, the song introduces both the album and the band. I’m not really what came first, the song or the band, but it is the perfect start for the album. Simple, melodic and sweet, the song also introduces the trademark vocal harmonies the band would employ. This would be a good time to note that when you listen to each member sing separately one would never assume they would harmonize well with such distinctive vocals. But they did.
The first real stand out is “Changes,” a song about how the Gospel changes a person from the inside out. This is one of the more “contemporary” songs on the album with a touch of the Beach Boys and Beatles influence. Though he would never perform with the band during their post-conversion days, this song was co-written by Denny Correll and the more rock and soul influence in unmistakable.
Quite often many listeners will miss the incredible musicianship in mellower, more worshipful music. that would be shame as the subtlety and proficiency of musical prowess can actually be accentuated in softer musical forms. This is very true with “Two Hands.” Many will only notice the great vocal harmonies and totally miss the brilliant acoustic guitar work on the song.
“Little Country Church” is a tribute to that little building that Calvary Chapel was birthed in that later became Maranatha Village and became a trademark song for both the band and the church. The lyrics speak of a “real” Church setting that must have sounded very counter-culture at the time and to the ears of the local Baptist or Methodist minister. Great guitar, both acoustic and electric, found here.
“Freedom” sounds like something straight off rock radio at the time. Sleepy, sweeping melody and lilting vocal moving into a nearly psychedelic rock vibe in the chorus. Though Keaggy is not credited and I have no proof he actually played on the album, the song sure sounds like he had a hand in influencing the sound.
“Welcome Back” is a harmony driven song that features Chuck Girard’s unique and stirring voice. Girard tells the story that he had written the melody in his pre-conversion days while “smoking a doobie on a hillside” but that he could never come up with a lyric for the song until after he got saved.
“Front Seat, Back Seat” was a country driven tune about letting God by the driver of the car of your life. The song delves into a more distinctly country sound that would play a prominent role in the early Jesus Music world. Country music could “rock” without being overly offensive to some of the more “sensitive” Churches.
“Let U Be One” is a great Santana type groove song about unity. Starting with an acoustic rock groove, the song turns quickly soulful. Great acoustic piano work here. Coomes’ vocals are a perfect fit and the style would later inform his own solo project.
The piano takes a much more prominent role in “And the Wind Was Low.” The beginning of the song always reminds me of Larry Norman’s “Hymn for the Last Generation” with the piano and falsetto vocals nearly distorted and choir-like. A really haunting and beautiful tune.
“Brand New Song” is a worship song before there were worship songs.
The other “classic” from the record is “Feel the Love.” The song became such a trademark song for the band that they would later name their live album by the same title. At over 5 minutes in length, it is easily one of the longest songs the band ever recorded and easily the longest song on the album. A slow building power ballad of sorts, the song is the most progressive and well arranged of the bands career. There is real Daniel Amos “Horrendous Disc” feel to the song and it remains a real classic for the band.
The album opened and closed with two different renditions of the song, “Love Song” with the longer version still only lasting just under 2 minutes. No matter once you hear it you can never get it out of your mind.
Very few albums would ever come as close to being a real “game changer” as this album was. in fact, without its game changing presence there may have not been much of a game for many, many years in Christian music.