Sometime around 1987 I was working at a very large and popular christian Bookstore in Southern California when a copy of Billboard Magazine came across my desk. Along the bottom of the front page was an ad for an artist on A&M Records. The slogan on the ad was something like, “There’s Nothing Funny About the End of the World.” I was intrigued.
I immediately called my local one-stop mainstream distributor and asked about the project. He hadn’t heard about but did make a couple calls for me. It would be released a few weeks later, but he did call the next day and said he got an advanced copy of the album for my to review before ordering. I drove over right away and put the CD in my car. The content seemed “Christian” to me but i had no real proof the artist was a Christian. Songs were about faith and the title track mentioned Babylon and Armageddon.
I ordered some for the store despite the “hell” word being present and not receiving any confirmation about the faith of the artist. It sold well. In fact, it sold extremely well. My staff loved it and pushed and I don’t think a customer came in that didn’t hear something about it one way or the other. It charted in CCM Magazine just because of our sales alone.
About a month later i received a phone call. On the other end of the line was a man with a very low voice and calm demeanor. He introduced himself as Michael Anderson and asked why in the world was i selling his record at a Christian Bookstore. I was a bit stunned and taken aback. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “I just wanted to know how you knew I was a Christian?”
As I found out later his manager told him the album charted in CCM Magazine and that was because of the sales from one store. He tracked down the store and called. That started a friendship that would last for several years. My wife and I would travel to Hollywood regularly to hang out with Michael and his wife. In fact, we were invited by Michael his wife’s birthday party at an amazing gourmet Japanese restaurant in Bel Air and were seated at a table with Michael and Stormie Omartian and the legendary Hal Fishman!
Dude, I hung out with HAL FISHMAN!!!
For those who don’t know who I am talking about, he was a legendary newscaster in Los Angeles who was the longest running newscaster in American history. For those who know who Mr. Fishman was, I know you’re jealous!
But I digress.
Michael’s debut project on A&M Records is a powerful, straight ahead Americana rock and roll in the same vein as the best from John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen but with a more blues and country influenced sound. Anderson’s voice will huff, puff, spit, scream and squeal with an edge that pierces as it communicates with passion few have reviled. On higher notes he is known to have his voice crack in trademark fashion. But on the mellower tunes he can bring it down to soft, almost Barry White-like smooth growl.
Anderson would record two releases for the mainstream market on A&M and then two projects for the Christian market on Forefront. His most famous song was actually sung by country music artist Pam Tillis and turned into a monster hit. That tune, “Maybe It Was Memphis,” has been a country music staple for a very long time.
“Sound Alarm” kicks off with the title track, a raucous warning of impending doom as the world descends toward Armageddon. This apocalyptic tune receives its theme from the “end times” perspective popular among many modern evangelicals. Anderson rough edged vocals sing:
Get ready, here they come
I hear the sound of a marching drum
There’s an army rising in the East
The mighty hand of a killing beast
there’s no where to run, there’s no where hide
We’ve made it through somehow
Stand up for and beg for mercy
You’re gonna feel the fire now
Sound alarm…Armageddon RSVP
Sound alarm…Babylon’s burning sea to sea
Borrowing theme and terms from the book of Revelation we hear about the acts of the beast, false prophet and a soon coming battle of Armageddon. But when Anderson gets to the final chorus the instruments stop except for the drums and he belts out the chorus with a passion the listeners throat starts to hurts! The song did moderately well on many rock stations across the country and A&M did make a pretty decent video for the single.
Anderson would also include a reworked version of the song on his first Christian release, “Saints and Sinners.”
“I Know That You Can Stand” follows with a more soulful groove but similar passionate vocals. The song acts aa an encouragement to those struggling with doubt.
I heard the cries, I know the fears
On the midnight hour of tears
And the comfort you find in the dark
As you hide away your broken heart
I know what like it appears to be
We walk by faith not what we see
And every burden that you bear too long
Can take you down or it can make you strong
But I know that you can stand
If you can believe
I know that you can stand
If you can just believe
The song ends of being the most obviously evangelical with references to love, hope and a faith “that stand the test of time.” I wanted to push the local station to play this tune becuase of it’s wonderful message and killer groove, but the final verse made that impossible. With his most passionate performance Anderson delivers.
When you’re broke and bleeding, face down on the ground
And your best friend has let you down
And there’s nothing left that you can trust
And all your dreams lie in the dust
Just remember there’s a law of grace, a law of sin
That got you in this mess you’re in
And this whole damned world can go to hell
And you can rise alive and well
I know that you can stand
“I Need You” follows with a much more mellow and subdued Anderson. This a beautiful song with a great melody and groove similar to something from Russ Taff. It is worthy to note that Michael wrote several songs for Russ Taff’s , “The Way Home.”
“Until You Loved Me” returns with a much more aggressive rock sound and with that the return of the cracking vocals. This is a great groove driven rock song with some of the best guitar work of the project.
Clocking in at nearly 6 minutes “Sanctuary” is a slow and haunting ballad with a comforting reminder that God is your sanctuary in these dark and terrifying times. Written like a Psalm the listener is comforted with…
I’ll hold you all through the darkest night
I’ll hold you close to the light
And give you…
In your valley of tears
In your shadow of fear
Other highlights include the appropriately titles Memphis blues tune, “Memphis Radio” and the closing track “Time to Go Home.” The latter could have been a country hit with its driving groove and killer slide guitar. It’s actually reminiscent of some of the recent Bon Jovi tunes.
Michael’s follow up release would be much more pop driven with almost U2ish or Big Country type guitars on the first single, “True Love” which should have been a hit. The two Christian albums lacked the passion of the debut but still contained some wonderful songs including the CCM radio hit “Something to Believe In.” This song means a lot to me because I was the first person to hear the song as he played it for live in his living room 3 years before he ever recorded it.
EDIT: Funny story here. By total coincidence Rick Elias and Michael Anderson are back to back on this countdown and they have worked together several times int he past. But the first time they ever met was at a house warming party my wife and I had. We invited a lot of friends and it seemed like everyone had conflicts that night. So we kept inviting people. But everyone’s plans fell throgh and we ended up with about 50 people in this little townhouse. Two of those pwoplw were Michael and Rick. I Introduced them and they started a friendship that led to working together over the years.