For Terry Taylor Fans

To any and all who been blessed by the life and gifts of Terry Talor,

It is with much regret that I come to you with a desperate prayer. Our dear friend and brother, Terry Taylor, is experiencing one of the direst personal struggles of his life. Since the cancellation of Catscratch, his financial situation has been dismal to say the least. His wife and daughter both teach at a pre-school to help make ends meet week to week but it hasn’t been enough and two years ago they lost their home in foreclosure. As many of you know, Terry, who is uninsured, has had ongoing medical problems for the past five years, with last year being particularly troublesome and expensive. The bills have mounted steadily and the late fees continue to add more misery. Last month their little apartment was burglarized and items of great sentiment were stolen. As an unwanted culmination to one of the toughest years in the life of his family, this past weekend his daughter Noelle was rushed to the hospital and had to have emergency surgery to remove her gall bladder. He hasn’t wanted us to share his story and burden his fans and we’ve been trying some creative new ideas to raise Terry’s income but this last blow has broken the camel’s back and nearly broken Terry’s spirit. I know many of you would want to help our brother in this time of personal crisis. If we all gave $10 or $20 it would go a long toward relieving this burden for their family. Some of you may be able to give more; some less. Anything would help right now.


We’ve set up a relief fund that can be donated to through Paypal. Please visit and click the donate link in the upper left corner. Be sure and click on “Update Total” after you enter the amount. If you’d like to donate in some other way, please email


thank you for hearing and for being the support you’ve been to Terry and his family for these many years.


Sincerely and with much love and gratitude,

Tom G., the Townsends, the Lost Dogs, and Terry’s family

Of Powdered Donuts and Chocolate Milk (A Memorium)

Many readers may find this post an odd addition to the present countdown and be concerned it is out of place on this blog. The more regular and attuned readers will see its significance and hopefully understand its placement.

For those who have consistently read this and my other blog on Christian music will most likely recall the several mentions of my brother-in-law, Curt.  Curt Kisner played a vital role both in my life (as well as countless others), especially in the area of which this blog (and the other) specializes in.

My biological brother left the house to join the Air Force when I was pretty young. We shared a room for the first 12 or so years of my life, but the six years that separate us meant we were never living through the same “life experiences” at the same time. By the time I was old enough to begin sharing some similar experiences he was either in the Air Force or married, living over 3,000 miles away. I love my brother like a brother and always will.

But it was at that time my sister brought home a young man named Curt she had met at Church. He had long hair and liked rock and roll. He played guitar and would be a part of a few “bands” during his high school and college years with many other friends from the youth group, including my sister.

My father was a police officer and my brother and I always had very short hair and rock music (even of the Christian variety) was limited in the house. Then along came Curt. He eventually won over my parents with his unending humor, joy of life and his immense love and dedication to my sister. He was the only man in her life…EVER!

I loved Curt immediately. Not just for the rock and roll hair and cool guitar, but for so many other reasons that naming them here would be impossible.

I loved watching sitcoms with Curt in my family’s living room. He laughed at everything! I mean everything! He made the shows funnier as I learned to see the lighter side of life through his twinkling eyes (even the lazy one) and loud laugh. He loved to laugh. He loved to laugh more than anyone I can recall. He loved to make others laugh as well.

I loved the fact that he allowed some snot nosed kid, six years his junior to “hang out” him, his girlfriend and all their other friends and band members. I am friends with many of his peers because he allowed me to be a part of his group, despite the age difference.

One day, when I was about 12 or so, I had clearly gotten on my sister’s nerves and was “seriously hanging around too much” and she made it clear I was not invited to stick around. Being an immature little kid and not getting the hints it was time to take off, I was told, in no uncertain terms, I wasn’t welcomed. Like a little child I took off on my bike, upset and crying. It was Curt, I later found out, that lead the search party for me, making sure I knew it was OK to be a part and convincing my sister to let me stay around. Since that day, I have admired and loved my sister and her husband for their never-ending attitude of inclusion.

Curt never met anyone that wasn’t his best friend. He was always reaching out to me, my friends and people at Church like very few people his age. I watched from a distance and saw his actions. I only wished it would have rubbed off a little more on me.

My sister and Curt started a band called “The Lighter Side Band,” a Christian rock band that I always hoped would “make it.” They never did, but I always thought they were the greatest band ever. I “sort of” ran sound and would hang out at the band rehearsals at some Baptist Church in downtown Anaheim. The band even went to Magic Mountain together for a fun day and Curt brought me along.

The day he was going to propose to my sister he told me about it and sent me on an errand to “Mini Mart.” Mini Mart was a little market/liquor store two houses down from the house I grew up in. Everyone on the east side of Anaheim knew “Mini Mart.” My sister and Curt would regularly sit and watch TV while eating powdered donuts and drinking chocolate milk. He would ALWAYS give me enough money to get some for myself as well. ALWAYS!

That was the way of Curt.

Curt handed me a few bucks and sent me down to Mini Mart to pick up these delights. I did as requested and then sat on the store’s stoop and ate the donuts and drank the chocolate milk myself, giving Curt the time he needed to propose. I came back to a teary-eyed and smiling sister and a proud and joyful set of parents.

Before all that, though, Curt did something that would change my life forever. He took me to Disneyland for one of their regular “Night of Joy” events. The only thing I remember before going was that Barry McGuire was going to be there, and Barry McGuire was one of the few contemporary Christian artists whose music was in our house. What I didn’t know was that Barry McGuire was sharing the stage with this new band called the Resurrection Band!

Nothing would ever be the same.

My love and obsession for Christian music, especially Christian rock flourished. It lead me to work in a Christian bookstore, work in Christian radio and work for a Christian music label or two. The music that has completely consumed my life and filled the multiple pages of this blog was birthed and later built up by my brother-in-law, Curt.

Curt would be for me my first two Christian albums: “MrGuire” by the group McGuire and “This Time Thru” by DeGarmo and Key. The latter would become a staple in my catalog and remain a favorite to this day.

He took me to see DeGarmo & Key at Knott’s Berry Farm a week before their classic “Straight On” was released. He took my to my first Calvary Chapel Saturday Night Concert to see this guy named Darrell Mansfield, that used to be in this Christian country-rock band, Gentle Faith. Mr. Mansfield wasn’t “country” anymore.

But the most memorable night was when he bought an extra ticket for me to the Universal Amphitheater for my very first “real” rock show. The band was KANSAS. It was the Vinyl Confessions tour and I was in awe. I was already familiar with the band and loved everything the band or Kerry Livgren had done, but seeing it all live was beyond what I could have imagined.

The love and passion I have for the music that has populated this blog is directly related to my brother-in-law Curt. Curt and my sister later got into Country music, which I have never understood, but change is sometimes inevitable.

Curt also introduced me to my great love in high school; cross country and track. Curt could run. His build is that of a runner. Long, lanky and muscular legs and really cool long hair that blew behind him as he ran. My sister ran as well. I followed several years later and had a very good career. I ran both cross country and track and Curt was there all the time for my matches and competitions. He would coach at local High Schools and may be the most beloved coach in the sport. Just ask his athletes!

I also learned about humility and grace from watching him and my sister. I learned about patience and devotion from their example as well. Curt loved my sister with a deep, unconditional and unending love. You could see. In fact, it would be impossible to miss. There was a grace and graciousness about him that could never be missed.

My first daughter, Camille, was always afraid of men. Especially men with facial hair. Curt had a beard for as long as I could remember that made him look like Jesus. He was a shoe-in for the Easter Cantata role of Jesus and on more than one occasion was hung on a cross for that purpose. But Camille would have none of that. But once Camille grew to an age to understand and recognize Curt for who he was inside, her love for him knew no bounds. She adores her uncle.

My family and I would move around the country for most of the last 20 years, but would always be mindful of “Uncle Curt” and my sister. They would visit us in San Diego or Colorado, it wouldn’t matter. Curt was always the same. Content to rest leisurely on a reclining chair and watch TV…

…and laugh.

This morning (1/13/11) I received a phone call from my mother at a very early hour. Early hour phone calls never bring glad tidings are explosions of joy. This call rang true to form. Some time during the night, the sweet Lord Jesus came and gently escorted this wonderful man to his eternal home, lovingly helping him escape from a cancer ravaged body that had furiously impacted his final days.

A few days ago, after being released from the hospital and arriving at his home for hospice care, he whispered to those around him, “I’m ready to go home.” Everyone knew what he meant. He was in his house, but was ready to go “home.” Several days ago I had written a poem for my sister to encourage her and give her a glimmer of hope in these trying days.

I Saw a Glimpse of Your Future

I saw a glimpse of your future

And it was better than it seems

I saw a glimpse of your future

Something greater than your dreams

The air was so much sweeter

As it filled your lungs like grace

The mountains so much steeper

A heart beating with the pace

I saw a glimpse of your future

With face glowing in the sun

A race not built to win or lose

But a race to simply run

Breath bursting out in pleasure

Legs finding strength again

In a future created for you

With no sorrow, loss or pain

I saw a glimpse of your future

A home where love and grace collides

Where a Saviors’ love holds warm and tight

The heart where faith resides

With arms reaching toward heaven

With no time to pass or tell

Brand new creature and creation

To whose soul cries “all is well”

Oddly enough last night while working at my Church I was listening to my Zune. I have aver 19,000 songs on my Zune and had it on shuffle. In the several years of owning an mp3 player and placing it on “shuffle,” I had never heard the same song play twice in a row. Until last night. Perhaps I accidentally hit the “back” button while walking along, but I cannot know for sure.

The song was Keith Green’s version of “The Victor.” Though an “Easter” tune and directly relating to the Resurrection of Christ I noticed a particular section that just literally floored me. It immediately reminded me of 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul reassures his readers that the same Resurrection provided to Christ by the Father is guaranteed for those who are His as well.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

In the song Green sings:

The gates of hell
They’re falling
Crumbling from the inside out
He’s bursting through
The walls with laughter (Hah!)
Listen to the Angels shout

Bursting through the walls with laughter? God, that sounds just like Curt!

So I sit here, pausing countless times to wipe the tears that have blurred the screen in front of me, not knowing what to do next. Click save this draft and walk away? Click “publish” for the world (or at least my little world) to see? I do not know. I do know one thing:

Today I will be having Powdered Donuts and Chocolate Milk.

New Blog Counting Down the Best 500 CCM Albums in Histroy

I know…I’m crazy. But the first post should explain things!

Join Me!

Michael Been Remembered

In 1983 I was a Senior in High School. I ran Cross Country and Track. I listened to music when running and was always trying to find music to run to that would keep me pumped up, aggressive and…well…running. But being a Christian and wanting to listen primarily to Christian Music I was limited to Resurrection Band, DeGarmo and Key, U2 and the Alarm. I was always on the look out for something new. I especially was interested in artists that were in the mainstream music world but had spiritual and even “Christian” messages in their music.

I liked the above mentioned U2 and the Alarm, but also added Simple Minds, Ian Cussick and Depeche Mode to the playlist.

While driving in a car with several Cross Country teammates and listening to the world famous KROQ something came on the radio that would change my life. A single on a radio station usually is not so impactful that one would call it life changing. Perhaps the feeling I experienced that day was similar to the generation before me watching The Beatles on television for the first time.

I owned a subscription to CCM at the time. My friend Jason, who happened to be sitting next to me in the car that day, had a subscription to Campus Life. We would bring our copies to school when they arrived and go straight to the Music Review section and see if anything new was worth our investigation. It consumed us to find Christian music that we would feel comfortable sharing with friends and teammates. At that time the only album there was general agreement on was the American release from After the Fire that had the hit song Der Kommissar on it.

As we sat in the back seat of a friends car a quirky little guitar intro came across the speakers. It immediately had a driving drum and hooky guitar rhythm attached to it. The song was immediately memorable with a repeated hook that has stayed ingrained in my psyche for nearly 30 years.

Then the voice…

Oh, the voice…

They blew the horns

And the walls came down

They’d all been warned

And the walls came down

They stood there laughing

They’re not laughing anymore!

Jason and I immediately looked at each other! This guy was using imagery from the Old Testament. By the end of the song the entire car was singing the “ya ya ya ya … ya ya ya” chorus at the top of our lungs.

I had discovered Michael Been!

The band was The Call and the single, “The Walls Came Down” became a moderate hit (deserving of much more) and would soon be added to be portable tape deck along with the rest of the album it came from, Modern Romans. The album would be filled with spiritual insight and Biblical imagery. All the while to was a political rant impassioned by a call for justice and a stern warning of a doomed future if the present course was not corrected.

I would later discover that Modern Romans was actually the second album from the band. The first, a self-titled debut, was a much angrier sounding album, but contained the same impassioned voice that would separate The Call from nearly every other band on alternative and College radio. Michael been could sing the Sesame Street song and make you believe it!

Modern Romans was filled with great music that was both dark and introspective but with the constant glimmer of hope as Been would shine the most feint light in the midst of the turmoil and doubt. One stand out that that at first glance appears to be a love song (if one could call it that), but could also be a Psalm is “All About You.” It continues to be a personal favorite with the plodding and relentless drums and fine descant guitar work. The song also contains some of Been’s finest vocals. His ability to go from a sweet, rich baritone to a perfect on-pitch scream is remarkable and simply unmatched.

The Call would follow with Scene Beyond Dream, a very disappointing album in only one regard. No one bought it!

The Call was without a label. But in 1985 the band signed with Elektra and went into the studio to record their most successful project to date, Reconciled. Filled with deep spiritual imagery, some aggressive rhythms and grooves and an amazing cast of extras that included Peter Gabriel, Kim Kerr (Simple Minds) and the legendary Robbie Robertson, Reconciled packed a punch that the predecessors only hinted at and only “Let the Day Begin” has come close to matching.

It was at the time I began “going backwards” and discovering the Jesus Music of the 1970’s. It was through my “backward phase” that I discovered that amazingly talented bass player, vocalist and songwriter played an integral role in CCM’s beginnings.

Growing up in the 1970’s my parents listened to Christian Music regularly. Unfortunately for me it was primarily the likes of Bill Gaither, Evie and BJ Thomas. My older brother and sister were sneaking in Love Song, Gentle Faith and Resurrection Band, much to the chagrin of my parents. One artists, though, that my parents did approve of was Barry McGuire. I always found his inclusion of the allowable music odd, since his music was actually more “rocky” than Love Song and Gentle Faith. But since he was a member of the popular New Christy Minstrels I guess they thought he was “safe.”

I discovered through Barry McGuire’s “Lighten Up” album that a young Michael Been was involved in Jesus Music. He also played bass for the Second Chapter of acts. In fact, I am guessing that Been was directly involved with about 10 of the Top 50 albums on this blog!

Well, in 1985 I was working at Maranatha Village and I picked up a copy of “Reconciled” the day it came out for myself. I was astonished at what could be considered “blatant” Christian content. Not the imagery on Modern Romans or the Psalmist angst of Scene Beyond Dreams, but very obvious and (dare I say) evangelical lyrical content.

In the meantime I sent a fax to the promotions department for Elektra asking for a bio and media kit. I had explained that as a Christian Bookstore I had certain lyrical content issues to be aware of and that people would be asking about the religious affiliations of the band members, especially of Been. I had expected a normal press kit with bio, maybe lyrics and secretly hoping for a copy on compact disc.

But what I received back blew me away. Not only did I get the press kit with lyrics, bio and an advance copy of the compact disc, but also a letter from Michael Been with a copy of the Apostles Creed attached with a hand written note stating, “this is what I believe,” signed by Been. I took a copy of the note and the CD and went to the local christian radio station. That day they added, “I Still Believe.”

As it so happened the band was being managed by the same person who managed Kim Boyce at the time. We had become friends and when he received my fax to Elektra, he went to Been and asked him to do this for me. A friendship with the manager continued for some time and, in fact, he invited me and a friend to the studio while The Call was recording “Into the Woods.” There is an uncredited backing vocal on “Into the Woods” by an amazing unheralded Christian Bookstore manager!

“I Still Believe” is the song that The Call would forever be known for. It is a dark, gloriously passionate and provocative song. It was later covered by Russ Taff and appeared on several movie soundtracks. It is one the great rock songs of all time with a decidedly Biblical theme. Like much of the project the song starts slow, driven by bass and drum until the chorus with guitars and keyboards kick in full force. Again, like the Psalmist, things are not always pretty, but there is a sense of hope and reliance on Lord for grace and mercy.

I been in a cave
For forty days
Only a spark
To light my way
I wanna give out
I wanna give in
This is our crime
This is our sin

But i still believe
I still believe
Through the pain
And the grief
Through the lies
Through the storms
Through the cries
And through the wars
Oh, i still believe

This sense of faith despite the trials and tribulations that surround is a theme that runs throughout the project. The artist has reconciled himself to the fact that the difficulties of life are only possible to overcome through a true and literal faith. It is all about hope as he sings.

I’ll march this road
I’ll climb this hill
Down on my knees if i have to
I’ll take my place
Up on this stage
I’ll wait ’til the end of time
For you like everybody else
I’m out on my own
Walkin’ the streets
Look at the faces
That i meet
I feel like i like i want to go home
What do i feel
What do i know

But i still believe
I still believe
Through the shame
And through the grief
Through the heartache
Through the years
Through the waiting
Through the years

For people like us
In places like this
We need all the hope
That we can get
Oh, i still believe

Several other great songs of note from reconciled include Everywhere I Go


and Even Now

The band would never match the sales success of Reconciled though they would later receive their only Number One rock hit with “Let The Day Begin.”

Been followed “Reconciled” with “Into the Woods.” I spent a day in the studio with the band recording the album. Let me first say that there is nothing quite as boring as the laying down of basic tracks in a studio. tedious. Time consuming. Boring. I will cherish and never forget that day as long as I live!

By the way, Michael was a very cool and warm guy.

“Into the Woods” did not have the passion of Reconciled, but it deserves to be heard. It is more of a haunting and beautiful album than any before or after it. “I Don’t Wanna” is such a beautiful song that I never tire of. It has a feel that would later be discovered in more depth by U2 on their Joshua Tree album. I could never prove that this album influenced Bono and the boys’ recording on Joshua Tree, but I do know that Bono was a fan of the band.

I have read the Been considered “Into the Woods” his favorite album. It must have been those amazing backing vocals I provided!

The Call would follow “Into the Woods” two years later with “Let the Day Begin.” This is the album that should have made this band a household name. More straight ahead, radio friendly Americana rock and roll than all of the previous releases. The title track would become a number one hit and several US and world tours should have made The Call another U2. It was not to be.

But despite that it remains a tour de force of great rock and roll. There are times when you actually believe Been is happy. It’s more upbeat musically than “Into the Woods” and lyrically matches the more melodic and pop sensible arrangements. This is a true positive! Despite the expected angst, struggles and and prophetic warnings, there is more hope, more love, more realization that someone or something greater is in control.

let day

It should be noted that some controversy arose at this time as Been played the Apostle John in Martin Scorcese’s controversial film, “The Last Temptation of  Christ.” Been also appeared in other movies and began a relationship with film with would find a full realization when he wrote, recorded and performed the soundtrack for Paul Schrader’s movie “Light Sleeper.”  Two songs from that soundtrack would appear on Been’s only solo project.

The Call released “Red Moon” in 1990. It would be the last album from The call featuring all new material for another seven years. Two “best ofs” would be released during that time and Been would record his lone solo project “On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough.” The track that starts that album, Us, is one of Been’s finest and should not be missed.

One hidden gem in the Michael Been catalog is his cover of Mark Heard’s “We Know Too Much” which appears on the Mark Heard tribute double disc, “Orphan’s of God.” It is an outstanding version of the song and I don’t believe it appears anywhere else.

Been has spent the last decade producing, writing and, most recently, supporting his son’s amazing band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It was in Belgium while running sound for the BRMC tour that Been fell victim to a massive herat attack and passed away.

His talent was rare. His warmth was obvious. His passion undeniable. Heaven has been greedy lately with the passing Dana Key and now Michael Been.But it is a new day for Been. That glimmer of hope he presented in passionate and progressive ways is now a blinding light that now consumes, warms and rewards him.

Let The Day Begin.

Michael Been (The Call) Died Today – 8-19-2010

I was very sad to hear today of the passing of one of my all time favorite vocalists, Michael Been of The Call. I plan on writing something in more detail tomorrow about my experiences with him and his impact on Christian Music and the world of music at large as soon as I process the loss.

I will be listening to The Call a lot for the next several days.

I Still Believe!

AYSO: A Matter of Time – Syn



I remember reading a review in the Orange County Register some time in 1993 the week Syn’s “A Matter of Time” was released. I was intrigued both by the name of the artist (a person not a band) as well as the reviewer and interviewer’s discussion of the struggles that artist faced when his faith conflicted with his his art.

Of course I could only do one thing: buy the darn album!

Despite never being able to talk to anyone about the album since no one I knew ever owned it, it has remained a long time favorite and has withstood the test of time musically than many releases from that same time period. To list comparisons always prove to be unfair and futile, but for a point of reference you can think Michael Hutchins (INXS), Joe Cocker, The Wallflowers and Adam Again. Pounding rhythms and groove driven rock and soul with more than touch of Terence Trent D’Arby, Lenny Kravitz and Adam Duritz.

Emotional, raw and provocative. For those who are squeamish regarding flowery language there is an expletive or two but they seem to fit the artist and the message. I have long past dismissed the issue of language in music and will not reintroduce the debate here. Plus, DW Dunphy says swearing in songs is cool!

“Love on My Side” starts the album with a cool, light bluesy riff and soulful vocals reminiscent of Trent D’ Arby with a sore throat, a soulful growl aged in a bottle of gin and spilling out into the speakers. This song oozes with a subtle raw emotion that builds slowly. In an odd way the song is both glossy and raw and works with the message of faith and redemption.

I spent years in the darkness

Alone and a afraid

I needed help, couldn’t bring myself to pray

And from the depths of despair

I looked up and saw the light

I knew right then it was time to give it a fight S

o I joined in the fight

I got love, I got love on my side

And a a deeper understanding

Of who I am And I believe, that love knows my name

And with a deeper understanding

Baby I’m a better man

Great gospel tinged backing vocals complete the revival theme as the song crescendos to finish.

“Bleed” is heavier and with a riff comparable to INXS meets Pearl Jam, Syn’s soul is poured out like the blood he sings of. This song is musically the heaviest on the album and has a blues guitar solo that steals the show. The song, like the whole album, matches brutally honest lyrics with a vulnerable and passionate vocal performance.

So, this is what it feels like to be lost in the blues
Beaten and frustrated, second hand used
Up to me ears in all these rules and regulations
Promises from liars, preachin soul salvation

I’ve had enough, of people tellin’ me what to do
I’m gonna stand up, gonna get it out, get it out
When the going gets tough, I’m tough enough to see it through
I’ll never give up, Said I’ll never give up, never give up

The wah-wah guitar just rips through as a killed Hammond organ keeps things melodic and constant. But here again it’s Syn’s vocals and the pain expressed that makes the song believable. At time Hendryx is brought to mind, not for the guitar but the vocals that influenced the likes of Kravitz, Duritz and obviously Syn.

The first ballad on the album is “Suicide” that immediately reminds me of some of Michael Anderson’s best songs, but sound a little more like Van Morrison here than anywhere else on the album. The slurred vocals takes a higher register and is subtly accompanied by drums, organ and acoustic guitar.

“Hey John” is a tribute to John Lennon and remembers the Beatles death and even contains some Beatles references. Though not the strongest song musically, nor the most memorable, it does contain some of Syn’s better lyrical touches with references to Strawberry Fields, etc interlaced throughout.

The other ballad is the beautiful “Please Be There,” the only direct “love song” on the album. Accompanied only by the acoustic guitar Syn vocals strain with a longing and emotional touch that is absent from the rest of the album and fits the message perfectly.

The title track closes the album and is closer to “Bleed” than anything else on the album, The song starts slow with just acoustic guitar but does not stay there. As the song build and progresses so does Syn’s performance. Chris Cornell inspired vocals drives home this six minute closer. The song is one of lost and regret that summarizes the pain, frustration and longing that weaves throughout the entire project.

Syn’s “A Matter of Time” epitomizes the definition of an album you should own but probably don’t. For those interested in getting a glimpse of the album please check the “comment.”


Now that the Top 50 countdown has been completed and my fingers have regained mobility I have decided what I would like to do with this blog from now on.


Anytime the above acronym is used in the subject line of a post it denotes the content will be a discussion of albums and artists that were ON THE BUBBLE of the Top 50 countdown. Some will be albums that, quite frankly, should have been included in the countdown while others were excluded for one reason or another. It will also be an opportunity to discuss in more detail other great releases from the artists that were included in the countdown.


When the above acronym is employed it will be to denote ALBUMS YOU SHOULD OWN be probably don’t. These are independent, long forgotten, limited released but phenomenal albums. These are from artists that never quite broke through, were self-released or simply poorly marketed. My hope is to introduce or, in some cases, remind the reader about some wonderful hidden gems. Many were also “ahead of their time” and were not widely available at their release and are possibly more popular now than when they were first released.

I hope the reader enjoys this new direction…especially all those Steve Scott fans  🙂


1. Only Visiting This Planet – Larry Norman


Larry Norman

Prophet…scoundrel…poet…thief…comedian…clown…rock star…fallen star…

A living, breathing contradiction in terms, Larry Norman passed away on February 24th, 2008 at the age of 60. I attended the funeral, arriving late and “listening” to it from outside the doors of a Church near Salem, Or.

*          *          *          *          *

Pastor Steve Wilkins spoke of the great Scottish warrior William Wallace several years ago at a conference. In his introductory remarks he noted that we actually know very little historical “facts” about Wallace and that most of what we believe about Wallace comes from an epic poem by an English Minstrel named Blind Harry a century or two after the death of Wallace.

Blind Harry’s poem stretches, twists and turn the truth on many occasions as it was compiled through oral traditions in which “legends” entered and merged, mixed and meshed with historical fact to create the larger than life character portrayed in the movie, Braveheart. And now even centuries later dissecting the truth from the legend and lore has proven to be nearly impossible.

But Wilkins argues that there is no real harm in the fabricated additions to the lore and legacy of Wallace, and in fact they play a very important role in actual history. Wilkins explains that it was the “legend” of Wallace that inspired many Scottish Christians to seek a new land in the Americas and eventually take up arms for the same freedoms they believed and perceived Wallace had fought for many centuries previous. It was not the actual truth that inspired them and carried them through difficult times and decisions, but the “legend” built upon the truth.

Larry Norman was born in Corpus Christi, TX but spent most of his formative years in Northern California near or in the Bay Area of San Fransisco. He was introduced to God and the Church early in his life at a Black Pentecostal Church in the neighborhood he grew up in.

In his late teens he joined a band called People! out of the Bay Area that took their name on as a response to the common use of animals or insects for rock band names like The Animals, The Beatles and The Byrds. A psychedelic, blues band People! only scored one hit with the song, a cover of the Zombies (which was OK I guess because they used to be people) hit song, “I Love You” that did crack the Top 20.

The album also contained the song “What We Need Is a Lot More of Jesus, and A Lot Less Rock and Roll,” which in reality comes off as a parody of mainstream evangelical Church life and thought. There was really nothing very “Christian” about the song despite its title. This is a bit odd as Norman would later claim that the album was supposed to be named after that song and that the supposed original artwork was changed to just a photo of the band and the title changed to simple. “I Love You.” Other band members would dispute this claim.

This would begin a long list of revisionist history claims by others regarding Norman’s version of things.

People! would record one more album for Capitol Records but Norman will have left previous to its release and end up only appearing one song. Along with the above claim of censorship by Capitol Records, Norman claimed that band members were being forced to embrace Scientology or forced to leave. This too is denied by band members.

The band would reunite 5 years later for a benefit concert at UCLA that would later be released under the name, “The Israel Tapes.”

Larry would record his first solo album, Upon This Rock, in 1969 for Capitol Records, the same label he claimed censored his work with People! This album is a very “Christian” album in all respects and would kick off a solo career that would last until his death in 2008. It is as the result of this album that Norman is credited with being the father of Christian Rock.

Christian Rock was born!

Upon This Rock is considered one of Norman’s finest works combining both blatantly Christian and evangelical messages as well as social and political commentary. This would remain a constant for Norman, who was the first Christian artists to make very progressive commentary on many issues that would conflict with mainstream Christianity.

The album would contain many Norman classics that would endure for decades including You Can’t Take Away the Lord, Moses in the Wilderness, Nothing Really Changes and Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation (which would become a youth group and Young Life favorite).Norman was influenced by Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Black Gospel Music and it shows here and on every album that would follow.

Also included on this album would be the first version of the song that would define both him and the Jesus Movement for all time, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” The song would be covered an inordinate number of time, not only by other artists but by Norman himself, appearing on more than just a handful of albums that would follow.

The Jesus Movement had a focal point of its ministry the idea of the soon coming secret Rapture of the Church. Theologians CI Scofield and Louis Sperry Chafer were primary influences as well as the Latter Rain Movement, a Pentecostal movement that emerge after World War ll that taught that the return of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Charismatic “gift” experiences would be a sign of the end times. Evangelist and “hippie prophet” Lonnie Frisbee would also play a major in the burgeoning musical genre.

The above coupled with the growing popularity of the unique “Dispensational” position on eschatology, the “Secret Rapture” was a major component of the Jesus Music and his rapture-ready song became the movements anthem. The song would even play a major role in the popular evangelical movie, “A Thief In the Night.”

Normans’ music and appearance would not play well in mainstream Christian circles that still argued that drums were inherently evil and the use of modern musical styles violated God’s ordinance. there is no doubt there was also a racial component to this issue as well. Norman’s music was heavily influenced not only by modern folk and rock of the time, but by Black Gospel music as well.

It would be the last nationally distributed album for Norman until the release of “Only Visiting This Planet” in 1972. In the years in between he would record and release two independent projects called “Street Level” and “Bootleg.” Both would feature grainy, underground looking black and white artwork. Both would also be “double albums” mixing live concert recording, studio demos of previously unreleased songs and future classics.

These albums would also reveal the smart and piercing humor Norman would always be noted for. Norman concerts were part rock and roll show, part revival meeting and part stand up comedy. This facet of his life and ministry would be introduced on these two albums. One section from “Bootleg” in particular really shines as he addressed the National Youth Workers of America Conference introducing “Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation.”

Several songs from the two “independent” releases would find their way on to what is known as the “The Trilogy.” The Trilogy of albums include Only Visiting This Planet, So Long Ago the Garden and In Another Land. Though recognized as a trilogy of records Norman only stated that they were informally created to deal with the present, past and future (respectively) with each album focusing on one of those topics.

Norman had left Capitol after “Upon This Rock” and singed with MGM to release “Only Visiting This Planet” as well as the following album, 1973’s “So Long Ago the Garden.” On both albums he received production help from George Martin, the famed producer of the The Beatles.  Norman stated that he had previously met Paul McCartney and that Paul had tracked him down to talk about his music. This is interesting as we will discuss when we talk about “Only Visiting This Planet.”

The album was decidedly more “secular” in content than any of Norman’s other releases. But much of the controversy in Christian circles came from the original cover (pictured above) because many argued the picture of the lion in the field superimposed onto Norman’s body was an attempt to cover the fact that Norman is naked in the cover as his navel is clearly visible. The later cover (below) would be cropped at a much higher point.

But it is true that the content was not as blatantly spiritual as other Norman releases. This may have caused him to not perform those songs as often in concert, which in turn may have impacted the general longevity of many of the songs. Mus9ically the album was very “current” for the time and flawlessly produced. Martin brought in the same “mellotron” keyboard used on the Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever” to use on the song, “Lonely By Myself.” There is a story that while recording the album in one studio Paul McCartney was in the adjoining studio recording “Live and Let Die.”

The album combined Norman’s penchant for 60’s blues, 50’s pop vocals and current social commentary to create a true classic worthy of more attention than it ever really received. Highlights include Fly, Fly, Fly, Be Careful What You Sing, Baroquen Spirits, Nightmare #71 and the haunting beautiful, “She’s a Dancer.” One interesting note is the “cover” of “Christmastime.” The song originally appeared on Randy Stonehill’s “Born Twice” album and is credited as being written by Stonehill. On this album the songwriting credit is given to Norman.

In response to many critics that he had “sold out” his Gospel message on the previous album, Norman followed up with “In Another Land.” It would take nearly three years to record and release this album that ranks a VERY close second in the list of great Larry Norman albums. This album would be released on Norman’s Solid Rock label and receive distribution by Word records in 1975.

“In Another Land” would mark the first nationally distributed “Christian” album for Norman and would also mark the on again, off again love/hate relationship Norman would have with the Christian music industry and, in turn, the industry would have with him. Consider that despite his in arguable multiple contributions to the industry he was not inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame until 2001.

The album was not free of controversy despite its very evangelical content. The first and most obvious issue was the unseemly longhair he sported, which in 1975 was simply unacceptable at the time. The cover also received complaints because Norman’s thumbs are supposedly switched with the right thumb on the left hand and vice versa, and that, it is claimed, is some sort of Satanic imagery.


“In Another Land” would contain many of Norman’s classics that would remain favorites for all time. The production is stellar and the use of limited spacing between songs keeps the record moving in non-stop fashion. Highlights would literally include the entire album! But I will note some interesting points.

The cover of Stonehill’s “I Love You” in a little odd since the only line from Stonehill’s original from “Born Twice” is the first line of the song. “The Rock That Doesn’t Roll” continues the theme of “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music” and would inspire countless musical defenses of Christian Rock. But rather than being a song about Christian Rock it is simply a play on words to describe Jesus. It is also the song that contains the lyric the album titles is based on.

UFO, The Sun Began to Rain, Six Sixty Six, One Way and Hymn to the Last generation would continue Norman’s popular “Second Coming” theme complete with Beast, Antichrist and Rapture.The reworked “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” edits out the references to sex and sexually transmitted diseases the original included in 1972. “Righteous Rocker #3” is a very short (chorus only) a capella reworking of the song from “Only Visiting This Planet.” I heard once that a second version was supposedly removed from “So Long Ago the Garden.”

“Shot Down” would prove to be his defense against detractor who believed he had forsaken the Gospel message on the previous album.

I’ve been shot down, talked about
Some people scandalize my name,
But here I am, talkin’ ’bout Jesus just the same.

I’ve been knocked down, kicked around
But like a moth drawn to the flame,
Here I am, talkin’ ’bout Jesus just the same.

I’ve been rebuked for the things I’ve said,
For the songs I’ve written and the life I’ve led.
They say they don’t understand me, well I’m not surprised,
Because you can’t see nothing when you close your eyes.

The album does credit Dudley on piano and John Michael Talbot on Banjo. But I wanted to note here that much of Norman and even Stonehill’s early work was greatly enhanced by guitarist Jon Linn. His work is much unheralded and he deserved much more respect. I know little about Jon but did read that he had passed away in the late 80’s or early 90’s.

One last song point out is “Song For a Small Circle of Friends.” The song is a list of artists the Norman counted as acquaintances and friends. It served as an evangelical call to these musicians.

With Clapton on guitar, and Charlie on the drums.
McCartney on the Hoffner bass with blisters on his thumbs.

Dear Bobby watch your fears all hide
And disappear while love inside starts growing,
You’re older but less colder
Than the jokes and folks you spent your childhood snowing.

And someone died for all your friends
But even better yet, he lives again.
And if this song does not make sense to you,
I hope His spirit slips on through, He loves you.

One stinging verse in hindsight is in regards to then good friend Randy Stonehill.

And love to you sir Stonehill,
Armed with your axe full gallop on your amp.
You’re crazy and you know it,
But I love you as we both crawl toward the lamp

As with the Stonehill review I will not dwell on that part of the story. There have been plenty of others that have written extensively on the subject. But I do want to note the opening line of this review and reinforce that those things which have  made Norman such an important and lasting figure in Christian music are not only the positives but the negatives as well.

His life would be filled with failed marriages and friendships. No artist ever recorded more than two albums with Norman and most left frustrated, jaded and angry. The rift between Stonehill and Norman lasted decades and much has been written on this and a controversial and decidedly one-sided documentary, “Fallen Angel” has been produced. Anyone with the interest and an internet connection can research the gory details I will avoid here. My point is that his life was both wonderful and tragic and both cannot be denied.

This album would prove to be a major influence on many young people and future Christian musicians. The honesty, well produced rock would break down many doors currently boarded shut. Though not a “heavy” record musically it still contained a serious rock vibe and socially significant content.

The following nationally album is what many, the present writer included, spelled the end or Norman’s artistic zenith. “Something New Under the Son” could really be considered a 4th album in the series, but “trilogy” just sounds more artistically satisfying. Also released on Solid Rock and distributed by Word records, the album would serve as the “heaviest” of Norman’s studio releases. This is a blues record through and through. Although recorded in 1977 it would also not see the light of day until 1981. This too would become a common problem of Norman’s both for himself and for the artists he was associated with, most notable Randy Stonehill and Daniel Amos.

It should be noted that there were several releases between “In Another Land” and “Something New” but were either generally unavailable (Starstrom), parody albums (Streams of White Light) or live albums (Israel Tapes and Roll Away the Stone). In fact “Israel Tapes” was recorded several years earlier (1975). Another album was a single that expanded into an album called “The Tune.”

This would also begin a frustrating history of Norman releasing poorly recorded live albums and albums of re-hashed demos, reworked song and compilations under different names. “Something New” would also mark the end of Norman’s national distribution agreements and all but one release would be exclusive to Norman’s Solid Rock or Phydeaux labels, primarily through mail order. I could discuss a majority of those albums but I’m not sure wordpress has enough bandwith.

“Something New” is often overlooked and that is a shame. As mentioned above, the album is a lesson in blues writing. Nearly every song would be considered a blues tune and Norman excels here. “Born to Be Unlucky” just flat-out rocks and Jon Linn gets to show off here. “Watch What You’re Doing” is hysterical and remained a Norman live favorite for years to come. Linn’s guitar and Norman’s harmonica trade-off some amazingly aggressive riffs.

Norman, who apparently had a lot of nightmares, recorded three songs with a numbered “Nightmare” title, but the best one is here. But the song that steals the show is the closing rocking romp, “Let The Tape Keep Rolling.” Though he would write several songs “reinventing” his history, this would be the best one and serve as a great lesson in how to write a great rockin’ blues song!

Norman would spend the 1980’s releasing two albums a year, though most would be poorly recorded live albums, anthologies and rehashed “favorites” with different arrangements and differing results in quality. There are a couple albums of note though.

“Letter of the Law” and “Labor of Love” would both be pretty decent pop rock records and probably deserved some national distribution. These were studio projects that contained several quality Norman tracks. I was able to obtain “test pressings” of those two albums and convince KYMS to play a few of the songs. they became pretty good hits and I contacted Larry to carry them at my store. Eventually a few independent distribution companies picked up the albums. Several of those songs would eventually be released on the album “Quiet Night” under the name Larry Norman and the Young Lions. One stand out is a cover of the late Tom Howard’s “Shine Your Light.”

Two last albums I wanted to point out are “Home at Last” and “Stranded in Babylon.” The first album was originally released by Norman as double album, but the Benson Company worked out a deal to create of single album release of what was felt were the best songs. This would mark the first time in a decade that Norman’s music would receive national distribution from a major Christian Record company. It would also mark the first album of primarily all new material during that same time period. It was also one of the first albums to be released on CD.

The album would be uneven, but it was hoped that it would bring Norman back into the public’s mind. It really never accomplished it as Christian radio was lukewarm and the buyers of Christian music were a whole new generation of people primarily unfamiliar with Norman.

“Stranded” was probably Norman’s best work after “Something New” and is worth picking up. Produced by his brother Charly, it marked a return to both social commentary as well as spiritual themes. Most importantly it showed Norman could still write new music that was powerful and compelling and that he could still rock. “God Part 3” is worth the price of admission! Lacking any real quality distribution it too went mostly unnoticed.

Norman’s music and ministry would influence probably the widest variety of musicians of any other Christian artists. Fans include the previously mentioned Paul McCartney, Cliff Richard, Van Morrison, John Mellancamp, Pete Townsend, U2, the Pixies and Sarah Brendel. There have been over 300 covers of Norman’s songs recorded included even by the likes of Sammy Davis Jr.

In Christian Music the list of artists who are fans would be too long to mention. He influenced everyone from Geoff Moore to DC Talk. There have been two tribute albums to Norman, including a “dance remix” compilation called “Remix This Planet.”

But that influence ultimately started with “Only Visiting This Planet.”  Recorded for MGM’s Verve label, the album would become the most influential Christian album of all time. It served as a lesson in how a Christian can write songs on every possible topic with true humanity all the while expressing the undeniable Biblical truths a Christian possesses. There are songs about lost love, sex, free love, politics, media, culture and theology.

George Martin produced the album that was recorded in London at his AIR studios in 1972. It would be, by far, the best produced Christian album for its time and still remains a quality production. Norman’s voice is at its very best, both his singing and lyrical voice.

The album starts with a song of lost love, “I’ve Got to Learn to Live Without You.” I have always believed that it was Norman’s attempt at a Top 40 pop song. The honesty and longing in Norman’s voice makes the song utterly believable. These are theme and thoughts shared by nearly all who have experienced a love gone wrong.Musically it contains a very beautiful string arrangement and a subtle similarity to what The Beatles finished their career with.

Today I thought I saw you walking down the street
With someone else, I turned my head and faced the wall.
I started crying and my heart fell to my feet
But when I looked again it wasn’t you at all.

Why’d you go, baby? I guess you know,
I’ve got to learn to live without you

“The Outlaw” follows and would become one of the two or three most famous Larry Norman songs even though it would not receive Christian radio airplay until several years later. The story of Jesus as portrayed by an outlaw working on the outside of the established religious community also would speak to Norman’s own situation. With limited acoustic guitar accompaniment and some keyboards, this song is all about Norman’s voice and words.

some say He was an outlaw that He roamed across the land
with a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
no one knew just where He came from or exactly what He’d done
but they said it must be something bad that kept Him on the run

While at a sales conference for The Benson company the sales force was being introduced to music from an upcoming Dana Key (DeGarmo and Key) solo project. One song was going to be a reworking of a DeGarmo and Key song. I commented that having Key re-record a song he had already sung wouldn’t “sound new” to fans and would possibly cause the listener to wonder why Key would need to do a solo album if he was just going to redo previously recorded songs.

Actually I said, “What’s going on a the record company? You guys running out of songs?” But what I really meant was the above. Either way Key went back into the studio and recorded a cover of Norman’s “The Outlaw” and it ended up being the biggest hit from that album.

For some reason, I never got a thank you letter.

“Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” would be a song that would continue to shock listeners for generations to follow. The blunt discussion included would not even be accepted well today with a more “enlightened” audience. Labeled vulgar, this ong is the primary reason many stores would never carry the album, even decades later.Driven by an amazing blues vibe the song remains one of Norman’s finest and on par with the best of Bob Dylan lyrically.

Sipping whiskey from a paper cup,
You drown your sorrows till you can’t get up,
Take a look at what you’ve done to yourself,
Why don’t you put the bottle back on she shelf,
Yellow fingers from your cigarettes,
Your hands are shaking while your body sweats,
Why don’t you look into Jesus, He’s got the answer.
Gonorrhea on Valentines Day,
And you’re still looking for the perfect lay,
You think rock and roll will set you free,
You’ll be deaf before your thirty three,
Shooting junk till your half insane,
Broken needle in your purple vein,

Why don’t you look into Jesus, he’s got the answer.

Martin had assembled an amazing backing cast and on this song it really shows. Great guitar work drives this tune to a huge finish. And the false ending, instrumental finish just works perfectly.

“Righteous Rocker #1” also known as “Without Love” predated Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” by nearly a decade but the similarities are shocking. Country blues riff propel a message of the need for God’s love no matter your personal situation.

You can be a righteous rocker, you can be a holy roller
You could be most anything,
You could be a Leon Russell, or a super muscle,
You could be a corporate king,
You could be a wealthy man from Texas, or a witch with heavy hexes,
But without love, you ain’t nothing without love
Without love you ain’t nothing, without love.

You could be a brilliant surgeon, or a sweet young virgin,
or a harlot out to sell,
You could learn to play the blues, or be Howard Hughes
or the scarlet pimpernel,
Or you could be a French provincial midwife,
or go from door to door with a death-knife,
But without love you ain’t nothing, without love,
Without love you ain’t nothing, without love.

The full length and most recognized version of “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” closes side one on the album. This post-apocalyptic ballad borrows directly from Matthew 24 and has the obviously distinct “Left Behind” theology at its core.

a man and wife asleep in bed
she hears a noise and turns her head
he’s gone
I wish we’d all been ready

two men walking up a hill
one disappears and one’s left standing still
I wish we’d all been ready

there’s no time to change your mind
the son has come and you’ve been left behind

The song would not only catapult Norman to the forefront of the Jesus Movement (a movement he never claimed nor felt any attachment to), it was featured in the movie “A Thief in the Night” and has even made its way into many hymnals. In fact, once a month at the Baptist Church I was raised in the would have a “Hymn Sing” in which congregant could request to sing a favorite hymn. I discovered that the Norman classic was included in the Churches new hymnal and would routinely ask to sing the song.

It wasn’t long before my raised hand was ignored.

Side two kicked off with “I Am the Six O’clock News,” which served a both an anti-war protest song as well as a critique of the modern media, especially television news broadcast that would routinely edit what would be discussed to meet political agendas. This was years Rush Limbaugh would lodge similar complaints, but from a distinctly different point of view.

I’m taking pictures of burning houses
Colored movies of misery.
I see the flash of guns, how red the mud becomes,
I’ve got a close-up view.

I’m the six o’clock news – what can I do?
All those kids without shoes – what can I do?
Military coups – what can I do?
I’m just the six o’clock news.

The song would fade out with a recording of an airline stewardess giving flight instructions over the roaring of a jet engine. As the roaring engine fades the early quiet strains of an acoustic guitar would fade in. This fed right into one of Norman’s finest lyrical accomplishments. “The Great American Novel” is comparable to the best Bob Dylan of Neil Young would write. +

This indictment against American politics would not sit well with mainline Christianity that would label him a liberal and communist and place him firmly amongst the atheist “hippy” left. The song would also feature some of Norman’s most indicting and creative lyrical content.

I was born and raised an orphan
in a land that once was free
in a land that poured its love out on the moon
and I grew up in the shadows
of your silos filled with grain
but you never helped to fill my empty spoon

The Church in the South that was still holding on to prejudice ways receives a very strong blow from Norman’s pen a well. Here though he also deals with the long ramifications and the impact on coming generations.

you kill a black man at midnight
just for talking to your daughter
then you make his wife your mistress
and you leave her without water
and the sheet you wear upon your face
is the sheet your children sleep on
at every meal you say a prayer
you don’t believe but still you keep on

This was obviously unexpected content from a Christian artists and deemed immoral, un-American and clearly unacceptable.

“Pardon Me” follows with the most odd and unique song in Norman’s catalog. After a string arrangement introduces the song Norman is accompanied by a very simple acoustic guitar. Dark, haunting and sad, the song deals with the understanding of “free loves” great cost and the moral decision to walk away despite the internal struggle for physical attachment.

Close your eyes, and pretend that you are me.
See how empty it can be
Making love if love’s not really there.

Watch me go, watch me walk away alone,
As your clothing comes undone,
And you pull the ribbon from your hair

If “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” is not the most covered Larry Norman song, then most definitely it must be “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music.” Norman’s defense of using contemporary music for the Gospel message. Many readers under 30 may have no idea that using contemporary music was not always acceptable. Norman and other have attributed the quote to Martin Luther though it has never been actually established.

This most likely came from possible comment Luther made regarding the use of certain instrumentation in Church music. Luther also said something to the effect that “Music is from God and that Satan hates.” But applying the actual quote to Luther is dubious.That doesn’t change the fact that the song is fun, rollicking rocker with a 50’s twist.

They say to cut my hair, they’re driving me insane,
I grew it out long to make room for my brain.
But sometimes people don’t understand,
What’s a good boy doing in a rock ‘n’ roll band?

There’s nothing wrong with playing blues licks,
But if you got a reason tell me to my face
Why should the devil have all the good music.
There’s nothing wrong with what I play
‘Cause Jesus is the rock and he rolled my blues away

Interestingly there is a line in the song that appears to be a knock on hymns and the tradition of hymns. Norman would later argue that he loved hymns, especially older hymns with deep theological content, but his complaint more against the modern church music of the time being dry and empty.

The album closes with “Readers Digest,” another lyrically heavy song that pre-dated rap by almost a decade and can be closely compared to Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” A fast-moving, groove oriented music serves as a backdrop for Norman to critique everything from the moon landing to The Beatles. Often caustic and humorous there are few sacred cows left standing at the end of the much too short song.

Rolling Stones are millionaires, flower children pallbearers,
Beatles said All you need is love, and then they broke up.
Jimi took an overdose, Janis followed so close,
The whole music scene and all the bands are pretty comatose.
This time last year, people didn’t wanna hear.
They looked at Jesus from afar, this year he’s a superstar.

Dear John, who’s more popular now?
I’ve been listening to some of Paul’s new records.
Sometimes I think he really is dead.

Norman would actually later remove the comments regarding Lennon and McCartney out of respect to the artists and even apologized for including the words originally. The song closes with the lyric in which the album derives its name.

You think it’s such a sad thing when you see a fallen king
Then you find out they’re only princes to begin with
And everybody has to choose whether they will win or lose
Follow God or sing the blues, and who they’re gonna sin with.
What a mess the world is in, I wonder who began it.
Don’t ask me, I’m only visiting this planet

Despite the controversy, rejection and vitriol spilled out over this album it has endured and more than one generation has been impressed and blessed by it. As stated above it was important on so many levels that a book would be required to discuss it all.

The same can be said for Larry Norman himself. Perhaps someday, like William Wallace, the legend will supersede the history and what is important will not be the failed marriages, failed friendship and finances, but rather the “legend” that will inspire future generation to create art as honestly, profoundly and professionally as is found on “Only Visiting This Planet.”








I need a nap…

2. All Fall Down – The Seventy Sevens


The Seventy Sevens (The 77’s)

When I was 16 years old and got my first job at the wonderful little Christian Bookstore with the funny little name (the Pink Lady) I worked in the music department – obviously. Once a month a company would send out demo tapes for our listening center that would contain one minute segments of each song from the albums that were coming out so customers could hear new music and make buying decisions.

One such tape was “Ping Pong Over the Abyss” by the Seventy Sevens (The 77’s). Even though each excerpt lasted less than a minute my friends and I would listen to those one minute clips over and over and over. In fact, due to a delay in the release of the album the “demo” tape actually ended up wearing out before the album hit the stores.

“Ping Pong” was easily the most anticipated release for me in 1983. I was a going to become a huge fan of Exit Records and what they were doing with releases from the 77’s, Vector, Steve Scott (who missed this countdown by one slot) and even Thomas Goodlunas and Panacea. One of my favorite memories was the famed first Exit Festival (at Citrus College I believe) on an absolutely hot and muggy day. But I, and the thousands like me, was there for the 77’s.

They rocked!

I also recall going to a Calvary Chapel Saturday Night Concert with The 77’s and someone else that I don’t remember though I think it was Undercover. What I do remember was seeing Michael Roe in concert for the first time, spitting, flaying, falling and crawling and thinking, “they’re never gonna let him back in here again!”

I was right.

I also remember while working for KYMS that none of the other DJ’s ever wanted to introduce the metal, rock or alternative bands so I always got to, and on one particular night the stage I was given to do the introductions for had the Resurrection Band and The 77’s. How cool was that?

This was around the time of “All Fall Down” and Mike had this huge main of hair that required cans and cans of aerosol hair spray. While back stage I remember Wendi Kaiser (Resurrection Band) – also known for quite a head of hair – and Mike borrowing hair spray from each other.

But the most memorable part of the evening was during the very extended version of “It’s Sad” in which Roe would wrap himself in a black blanket of sorts and writhe on the ground as the song slowly built to a crescendo. Mike would then begin ripping himself out of his self-made cocoon. Finally after rolling and falling around the stage for the final minutes of the song Roe collapsed in heap at the front of the stage replicating the “All fall Down” album cover.

I can’t say as a kid in my late teens at the time that I totally understand the symbolic gesture the spastic performance was imagining, but I can tell you the performance kicked butt!

My favorite show was at the Roxy in LA sometime around “All Fall Down” serving as a showcase for The 77’s, Charlie Peacock and Robert Vaughan and the Shadows (who missed this countdown by 4 slots). At the end of the show, I remember Mark dropping his guitar and pounding it lightly on the ground to increase feedback and bassist Jan Volz and Mike yelling something to him. Mark picked up his guitar and went all Pete Townsend on it just pounding and pounding it until it broke into pieces.

I spoke to Jan after the show and asked him why he and Mike told Mark to break his guitar. Jan laughed that he kept yelling at Mark to not break his guitar. “I kept yelling ‘don’t smash it, don’t smash it’ and Mark thought I was yelling ‘smash it! smash it!'”

The 77’s simply rocked!

Plain and simple, they were not a punk band, alternative band, new wave band or any other kind of band except ROCK band. No other band could rip through a Talking Heads type world music driven rhythm and follow with a Led Zeppelin cover. I am still amazed when I read reviews that call The 77’s an alternative band or that the debut album was a punk record.

Even when they formed in the late 70’s as the Scratch Band with Roe on guitar and vocals, Volz on bass, Mark Proctor on drums and Mark Tootle on keyboard and guitar, they were a band that rocked. The line-up stayed in tact for several years and with a name change in the early 80’s they became The 77’s and recorded their debut on Exit Records, a label based out of the Warehouse Church in Sacramento, a Church the band members attended.

The 77’s debut, “Pink Pong Over the Abyss” was also the debut record for Exit Records and would remain the cornerstone of the label during its short but impressive tenure. A wonderful collection of songs written primarily by Michael Roe with a little help from Steve Scott, there is more depth to simple themes than on most albums, let alone a debut project.

“Different Kind of Light” sounds more like Tom Petty than the punk label the band was saddled with early on and looks at the influences of “worldly” lights in relation to the Biblical one. Roe yearns, “Don’t want the usual merchandise recycled in a new disguise.” Futile worldly love is the topic in “How Can You Love.”

It would be the odd, keyboard and bass driven “It’s Sad” that would become a long time live classic. Borrowing from everywhere from Quickflight to the Talking Heads, the song builds and builds over it’s 5 minute run. The vain philosophies of the world are confronted by the truth of the Gospel but with a real touch of Lamentations. Roe laments here, “You drink good whiskey, you smoke good pot…20 more years what in hell have you got?”

Much of the album deals with the philosophies of man and their failings. Songs like “Renaissance Man” and “Falling Down a Hole.” In the entire career of a band you will seldom find discussions on Buddhism, Islam, Fatalism, Solipsism, Evolution, Spiritualism, Humanism and more, but with the latter song they are all included in under 4 minutes.

The title track, though, is the highlight. Relentless, pounding, aggressive and passionate from the first to the last. It is set apart from much of music for combining the ferocity of punk rock with the precision of progressive rock, with changes and progressions.

The was a live radio special that I received from Mary Neely of Exit Records that had some live cuts of what was then the Scratch Band performing “Ping Pong” but referring to it as “Reverse Your Lever” but that has either been forgotten or denied. The title itself comes from Allen Ginsburg’s poem, “The Howl.” The album was produced by Steve Soles who, along with being connected to T-Bone Burnett and Bob Dylan, also recorded two strong Christian albums, the best being “Walk By Love.”

One last note is that the album contains a great cover of “Denomination Blues (That’s All),” a great classic folk/blues tune that has also been recorded previously by Mark Knopfler, Ry Cooder and a host of others.

The 77’s self-titles debut for Island Records was supposed to make the band rock stars. Over the previous years drummer Mark Proctor left the group and was replaced by the hardest hitting drummer I have ever seen, the former Romeo Void drummer Aaron Smith. Smith also recorded with Charlie Peacock and eventually became a member of Rich Mullin’s Ragamuffin Band.

After  different showcases in LA garnered interest from several mainstream labels the Exit Records brand struck a deal with Island Records and The 77’s album was to kick off the whole long term deal. The buzz going in seemed really strong including some very impressive performances in front of the likes of Neil Young and receiving strong reviews everywhere from CCM Magazine to Rolling Stone. The album deserved to be huge but the label seemed preoccupied with this new “up and coming band” on their label with a new album called “Joshua Tree.”

The album would contain some of the bands longest lasting hits including Do It For Love, I Can’t Get Over It, What Was In That Letter as well as two possibly self-indulgent 8 minute epics “Pearls before Swine” and “I Laugh.” The first is a live blues song that features song of Roes finer guitar work. The latter is an acoustic “stream of consciousness” tune that features some of finer lyrics despite the inclusion of the “rocket in my pocket” line. The irony of “I Laugh” is that the song itself deals with self-indulgence.

But the undeniable highlight of the album is the song that would define the band for many years and still remains their biggest hit and only entree into pop radio, even on the Christian Music side, “The Lust, The Flesh, The Eye and the Pride of Life.” With a melody and guitar styling influenced by The Byrds, the song remains a testament to Roe’s great vocal ability and songwriting acumen.

Keeping with the bands theme of “self” the song points straight to the the Biblical themes that doom the lot of man. But here Roe comes across as more introspective  and realizes his own failings and frailties. He also acknowledges the limited pleasure of the lifestyle being lived.

And if a person, place or thing can deliver
I will quiver with delight
But will it last me for all my life
Or just one more lonely night

The band 311 would actually borrow a line from above in one of their songs. It’s one of the great shames that this album did not become the great launching pad for the band that it should have been. It is a wonderful work that deserves its own special placement amongst these great albums and I am sure there are plenty of readers shocked that it is no the album chose to be spotlighted here at Number 2.

Volz and Tootle would leave soon after and be replaced by members of the band, The Strawmen, guitarist David Leonhardt and bassist Mark Harmon. This also pointed a shift to a significantly heavier, guitar driven sound. Smith remained on drums. One last collection of unreleased and different versions of songs called “Sticks and Stones” would be released with the original band members.

Unlike similar “cast off” type albums, Sticks and Stones, is still quite a quality work despite a few of the songs having somewhat of a “demo” sound to them. “MT” is a great song that made its way onto some popular television programs of the day. It’s also a crime that “Nowhere Else” did not receive heavy Christian radio support as it could and should have been  radio hit. “This Is the Way Love Is” did receive some strong Christian Rock radio support and was a live favorite for quite some time.

The song that remains most fans favorite is “Perfect Blues” which the band performed live a long time before it was released on this album. Same with “Don’t This Way.” The reason being that it was three years between releases with only the Live album, 88, having been recorded and released. “88” would mark the official departure for Volz and Tootle and introduce their replacements. the album would also contain some extended jams of concert favorites with the final three songs lasting over 35 minutes.

It would be another two years before The 77’s would release 1992’s “Pray Naked,” the first full album of new material in five years. The wait was worth it as the album became a favorite of fans and relatively successful given the controversy behind the album. Word Records altered the title of the album with consent from the band and “whited out” the title of the song “Pray Naked” from the album listing. This would make two consecutive albums of new material to be listed as “self-titled.”

This did not stop fans or the band from calling it “pray naked” and several Christian Rock outlets went out of their way to play the song even when it was not released as a single and referred to the album as “Pray Naked.” My copy of the CD, which was signed by the band, had the name “Pray Naked” written across the top by one of the band members when he signed it. I dug that!

If there follow up album, this time on Myrrh (really?), “Drowning With Land In Sight” would be worth the price of admission if the only good song was the cover of Led Zeppelin’s, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The album remains The 77’s heaviest and hardest rocking album. This may also be the band’s darkest album lyrically. Roe was struggling through personal and family problem while guitarist Dave Leonhardt would discover he had cancer and the song, “Dave’s Blues” would deal with that time.

One other album I would like to point out is “A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows.” The main reason I wonted to note the album was that it was the only one I had a privilege of selling while working for Diamante Music. It also marks the first full length release on the bands own label.

But forever etched in my musical psyche is 1984’s “All Fall Down.” Produced by Charlie Peacock and the first to have drummer Aaron Smith this album is filled with 10 no-miss songs. There is never a time where I push “next” on the CD player when this album is one.

It is difficult to talk about this album in order when the album and CD are in different orders. The album was originally released with the song “Ba Ba Ba Ba” kicking off what “side one” when the band originally wanted that side to be “side two.” So, when the CD came out several years later the band returned to the original placement of the songs. I recently asked Roe about that decision and he confirmed the story, but now wonders if Word’s orginal decision was the better one.What is important to note is the the album contains two distinctly different sides, so the order is not as important as keeping the sides of the record in tact.

I have often conjectured that the reason behind Word’s decision was that the “Ba Ba Ba Ba” side was decidedly more “Christian” in subject matter where the “Caught In a Unguarded Moment” side was more secular and controversial, with songs dealing with pre-marital sex in very plain terms and a song about abortion that more than implies the sexual activity as well.

This theme was not knew for Roe as songs on several albums including the debut addressed the issue, but none quite as graphically as the songs on “All Fall Down.” I will stick with the CD version only because it is the bands original concept despite the current misgivings about the change. But when taken as a whole the album does make good sense to start with “Caught In an Ungraded Moments.”

I was shocked when then Program Director of KYMS Greg Fast agreed to add “Caught” to the station but was more than pleasantly surprised at the response of listeners as the song became a huge hit. All drums and acoustic guitar to start the song tells the story of several young people who though they had their whole lives ahead of them but were prematurely cut down. No one knows at what hour their lives will be require of them and song proclaims that warning.

I saw a young girl fly
Over a rocky mountain brink
She had had too much to drink
She did not have time to think
But it was far more than just her car
That flew out of control
She had gone over the edge
Long before she'd lost her soul
And she was

Caught in an unguarded moment
Her fate was inappropos
But she was
Caught in an unguarded moment
She's been a pleasure to know
But she was
Caught in an unguarded moment
She made a brief cameo
But she was
Caught in an unguarded moment
Something she could not foreknow
And she was
Caught in an unguarded moment
All fall down like dominoes
And now she's
Caught in an unguarded moment
Eternal sorrow and woe

Not the normal lyrical setting for a CCM hit, but the song connected and became a hit. So did the reworked version of “Someone New.” The same song appears on the debut but with a decidedly different approach. More dance driven drums on this version one must note the influence of Charlie Peacock here. There would also be an extended version available for all this kids down at the dance club. I actually own the 12 inch version.

The song itself is a rather simple expression of faith with an evangelist call. Couched perfectly behind “Caught” the song calls out to those same people before it’s too late.

Someone new got ahold of me
Someone new took control for me
And what I blew
It won't be held against me
Someone new is looking out for me
Someone who's got real love for me
But what's it to you
Are you gonna be the last to know

The controversy would begin with the song that follows, “Something’s Holding On.” The song tells the story of a self-absorbed boyfriend whose selfish, sexual desires are all that drives his relationship. This shows itself not only in the sexual act but also the physical demands he places on the girl to remain beautiful and visually appealling.

You really whet my appetites
Ohhhhh and stimulate my glands
As long as what you wear looks right
Ummmmm and you keep to the shape I choose

The sexual content is not hidden or alluded to but bluntly stated for the sheer power of shocking reality. But here the song does not wrap up with a nice bow that boy gets saved and starts holding a Bible Study with his girlfriend. Rather the selfish and self-seeking sexual love is proven to be the only point of contact and intimacy and losing it would doom the relationship in a sad or horrible end. Here the confusion between sex and love are made obvious. Set to a 60’s, almost Beach Boys type melody, the song expresses the dangers of this kind of living.

Something's holding on
Something's holding on
Must be love that's holding on
But if you cut off all my fun
I'll be telling you 'so long'

The song segues perfectly into the song regarding abortion, “Your Pretty Baby.” With even more of a 60’s or early 70’s musical influence nne imagines the woman in the song above is now caught in a moment she never dreamed of and is left with an agonizing decision. The many “excuses” and rationalizations are personalized in the song.

And when your time comes 'round
And he's nowhere to be found
You wait for colour red

And when the ring you get
Is not the one you want
Then you begin to plot somebody's death

Oh, your pretty baby won't know
Oh, Your pretty babe

Roe shows his keen songwriting skills here using creative phrases to get to the point even finding a way to express the point of intercourse found in the first verse. But like the rest of the album thus far the selfish lifestyles and decisions are made as the impact on another life is not considered.

You couldn't bear this thing
To save your life
Suppose you start to show

So you call the doctor
But who's gonna nurse away
The little voice inside when it cries
You'll curse this day

The first side ends with the ultimate results of the selfish lifestyles of the characters introduced previously but then adds those who spoke of faith and grace but turn their backs on Christ to pursue their own self-filled lives. Here in “Another Nail”  Roe alludes to the Biblical parable of the sower and the seeds.

Waiting for a message
I know it will never come
Even with the ninety nine
I feel the loss of even one

No need to keep us in suspense
The seed has died through indifference
And now we'll reap what you sowed
I'll take my tears and let you go

Everyday another nail is hammered

The song also contains “picking” style of guitar work that Roe would employ with great success over the years. The style would be a mainstay and separate Roe as an accomplished musician with varying styles mastered quite well.

The other side starts off with “Ba Ba Ba Ba,” a not so subtle poke at popular cults, most notably Mormonism. The popular apologetic of the Mormons at the door with the “burning in the bosom” is addressed here.

We believe, we believe
Cuz we felt it burning in our hearts
And it's true, yes it's true
If it gets us all thru the night
For the rest of our lives

The song is much more keyboard and pop driven than most songs in The 77’s catalog, which again one must assume is as the result of the influence of Charlie Peacock. But here it works both musically and lyrically and Peacock should be commended for adding the more artificial and techno sound to a lyric that is about false religions and ideologies. There are also great beach Boy type harmony vocals as the song closes with a recording of a man speaking in a “backward masking” format. His words when deciphered are “like lambs led to the slaughter” or something to that effect.

The two most aggressive songs on the album follow immediately and return The 77’s to the style they originated on the debut. “Under the Heat” tells the story of the bombing of a building housing military personnel. The story relates to the individual in how one responds under the most difficult situations and how those situations reveal the truth as to who we really are.

Reaching through this
Curtain of fear
My arms are stretched
Beyond the limit
I take the heat from
Streaming tears
To bear the cold and
Walk out in it
Walk out in it

My plans for the future
Are a frozen picture
That has fallen and
Shattered and melted
Under the heat

All our lives changing
Under the heat

“Mercy, Marcy” follows with the same aggressive and frenetic pace as the previous song. The song would remain a live favorite for many years with extended version lasting 10 to 15 minutes in concert. This plaintive call for mercy also serves a warning of those idols that can replace God as our only true God, but all with the understanding that God’s mercy is complete and not contingent on our works.

Love to go far
On my guitar
Love when she sings
Love when she stings
But if I bow
Down to her notes
When death comes 'round
That's all she wrote

Then I say Lord
Have mercy on me
I say Lord
Have mercy
A total work

“You Don’t Scare Me” is a Psalm of sorts that deals with how the man of God does not fear the Devil, his plans or even death. To live is Christ to die is gain. This 6 minute blues song would also show Roe’s subtle vocal performance and the trademark 77’s style of building songs slowly ending in great crescendos. God’s providence and protection are duly noted.

Why should I go the wrong way
Down a one way street
Against the Heat
When in one moment you could
Turn my up-to-date to obsolete
And your indiscreet
And you don't repeat
And you're beat beat beat
You're so beat

Yea though I walk
Through the valley
Of your shadow so near
I will fear no man
I will fear no woman
I will fear no pain
I will fear no thing
Cuz you don't
No you don't scare me

I'm gonna show you a mystery
You'll be swallowed in victory
Where's your stinger
Where's your sting

The slow build as the song continues is just simply intense. Finally the final two lines are literally screamed in a defiant tone worthy of the content. The song then speeds up, faster and faster until a wild and flourishing finish of drums, bass, guitar and harmonica.

The album closes with “Make a Difference Tonight” a song about the struggles of daily routines and trials that keep us from the important things like God.

Bells buzzers sirens and horns
Ringing in my head
Bills budgets savings and loans
Always in the red

Times schedules deadlines and forms
I think I'll go crazy
Wish I could remember what it was
Like to be lazy

I'm always running out of time
I'm always standing in a line
I'm always spending every dime

Again Roe here is actually pointing to the story of the sower and the seeds as he is the seed whose faith was planted amongst the thorns and weeds. All the while he is crying out to someone to make a difference in his life and in turn teach him how to make a difference in the lives of those around us.

Thorns thistles thatches and tares
Tangled up in me
Gonna take much more than a man
To set me free

Why won't somebody tell my how to
Make a difference tonight

By personalizing the song Roe makes a stronger impact then simply pointing out the fault in others. This would be a common strain found throughout all of The 77’s works as each song comes across as more personal and autobiographical. This is probably why many 77’s fans feel a deep connection to the band. When Roe personalizes universal struggled he puts himself into the seat of the listener, making his point more applicable.

Row would go on to also record a few solo projects and perform, write and tour with the supergroup, The Lost Dogs.

Few “rock” bands have run the gamut of diverse style with such aplomb and success as The 77’s. Few bands have also ever been able to merge deep, thoughtful and intense lyrical theme with a musical quality of the depth and stature of The 77’s. This was never more true than on “All Fall Down.”

3. Victims of the Age – Mark Heard


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 never cried at a funeral, nor 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.

I could have just as easily placed every CD in a box and grabbed the top one to list and discuss as much as the next one. In fact I would gather that many will argue that I should have selected one fo the final three “Fingerprint” releases as the choice here. But as I look back on Heard’s catalog that one record simply keeps jumping out at me.

“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.”

But my love and appreciation for Mark heard and his songwriting skills came with the impressive “Victims of the Age.” 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.

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.

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 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.

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.