39. Medals – Russ Taff

MEDAL

Russ Taff

Russ Taff was responsible for taking a top-selling Southern Gospel quartet called The Imperials and turn them into international Contemporary Christian artist superstars. As the lead vocalist for The Imperials for roughly 10 years he was the leading voice of CCM as The Imperials recorded four of their most impactful and highly regarded releases (Heed the Call, Sail On, One More Song for You and Priority).

After leaving The Imperials to venture into a very successful solo career, his musical direction would shift and sway to include everything from Southern Gospel to Rock and R&B to Pop. His first solo release, Walls of Glass would contain several radio friendly hits and his third, self titled release would make an “artist” out of him, but it was Medals that would put Taff squarely on the top of the rising CCM marketplace.

Blue eyed soul with a touch of rock, soul and pop. But it was the vocals that took an exceptionally strong pop effort and made it a lasting work that appealed to even those that would normally not consider this style of music a staple of their collection.

The album kicks off with a cover of Chris Eaton’s groove driven Vision. This is pure 80’s pop…in a good way. Where Eaton’s original was more sanitized because of Eaton’s smoother and cleaner voice, Taff’s more edgy and guttural vocal approach gives the same significantly more energy. Eaton’s sounded more European and Taff’s is less dance oriented and more influenced.

The first of the two radio friendly mid-tempo tunes follows with “I’m Not Alone.” This may be the closest song to Taff’s first project and The Imperials than just about anything else on the album. There is a Steve Winwood feeling to the song that keeps fresh sounding even as I listen to it right now.

The title track follows with some of Taff’s best vocals ever. This is the story of Christ’s atoning work and the battle He wages for His people. Though a man of no reputation or honors, we become His medals through His saving work.

This is immediately followed by a song about the type of battle Christian’s themselves face from temptation and persecution and the desire to “fit in.” The first verse retells the Biblical story of three Israelites and their refusal to bow to the king of Babylon’s idol. The second verse brings the topic home to the average teen and the temptation to compromise to be a part of the crowd.

All Bobby wanted was just to fit in
To be accepted he must act like them
He said “No!”
“Everybody does it! So, what’s the fuss?
Come on, Bobby, won’t’cha be like us?”
He said “No!”
And when the pressure came
He watched them bow
Bobby stood there all alone
He said

Not gonna bow to your idols

Another tune following in the vein of “Vision” is “I’ve Come to Far.” But rather than staying in a safe “white bread” electronic pop there is a great additional of soul that causes Taff’s vocals to really shine and helps distance this song from much of what passed for “hip” during the plastic 80’s pop scene.

The stand out on the album though is the big hit, Silent. This mid-tempo ballad truly showcases the depth and passion of Taff’s vocals though remaining restrained. This song in the voice of a less mature vocalist could have been a disaster. Taff does more with less on this song and it is why it is such a lasting treat. This song would have been a secular radio hit with the artist read Hall and Oates instead of Russ Taff.

Other standouts include Rock Solid and the closing number, God Only Knows.

Taff went on a few years later to record his self titled masterpiece. It was significantly more rock, blues and jazz influenced and includes two great covers; Charlie Peacock’s “Down In the Lowlands” and The Call’s “I Still Believe.” But Medals still remains the breakout release for Taff. Both titles, though, deserve another listen.

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Shawn McLaughlin on February 13, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    This is a funny one for me. While I realize the importance of this release, to both Taff and the industry at the time, it still reeks of that dated Christian sound that turned me off so many CCM records of this era. The self titled album still speaks multitudes to me (Shake is my favorite Taff vocal ever) and I have a soft spot for the Americana of The Way Home.

    Reply

    • Posted by low5point on February 13, 2010 at 6:08 pm

      I doubt Russ Taff is made if Medals is not successful. And as I mentioned as much as Russ taff was a better achievement artistically the combination of strong songs, great vocals and hit after hit…plus Silent Love is just a great song despite the 80’s Nashville arrangements

      Reply

  2. I sang “How Much It Hurts” at my school’s assembly. I was going to sing a Petra song but someone else had already signed up to sing one and I had to pick another. My mom still has the tape of me singing it. God. At least I stole the video my friend and I made of us making music videos in my room of Barren Cross and Stryper songs. What the hell was I thinking back then?

    Reply

  3. Posted by Shawn McLaughlin on February 20, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Well Dave, I could never arrange my thoughts enough to do a comprehensive list like this. I and others will disagree with choices from time to time, but it really is an impressive effort.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Shawn McLaughlin on February 20, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Oh….and you are right about Medals being a doorway to the self-titled album even being conceived……Commercial success can sometimes breed artistic freedom.

    Reply

  5. …extremely overrated album…painful even.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Jeff Vance on September 3, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    I agree with the others. Great for it’s time. Interchangeable with Amy Grant’s UNGUARDED but WINDS OF CHANGE is a far superior effort with songs that still work today. Also, kudos to UNDER THEIR INFLUENCE. With acts like Ashley Cleveland’s latest and The Seventy Seven’s Holy Ghost Building (which is GREAT) revisiting gospel roots, Russ did it first in 91 with the above mentioned classic.

    Reply

  7. Man, I totally wore this tape out in the mid 80’s. Russ is the man! I saw him in 1985 in OKC. Second Row…sang my heart. I think my hears were bleeding. It rocked! Awesome memory!!! Silent Love is a fav. Not Gonna Bow too. Love the bass solo on medals. Real cool!

    Reply

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