7. Alarma – Daniel Amos
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.