10. Lie Down In the Grass – Charlie Peacock
LIE DOWN IN THE GRASS (1984)
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.