7. Welcome to Paradise – Randy Stonehill

WELCOME TO PARADISE

Randy Stonehill

I was eleven or twelve years old and at a “Family Camp” with my Church in Big Bear, CA. My parents always gave me spending money for candy, maybe a T-shirt or for any activities that might cost money like horseback riding. I learned over the years to eat enough sausages for breakfast not to need too much candy, bring enough clothes not to need another T-shirt and I have an inexplicable fear of horses.

So, with all that extra money I would usually buy a tape or two from the camp’s bookstore. I bought my first albums from Servant, Darrell Mansfield and Parable at that store. But the very first tape I ever bought there was Randy Stonehill’s “Welcome to Paradise.” I bought it because the guy on the cover had long hair and a really cool Jesus T-Shirt.

I was completely unaware of Randy Stonehill at the time. I later discovered a decidedly lo-fi, half-live album called “Born twice” had been previously released.

Recorded primarily before a live audience and a few songs produced in the studio all on a budget that shoestrings ridicule. Once asked when the album would be released on CD, Stonehill responded something to the effect it would happen when someone in charge makes a grave error in judgment. As seriously troubled as the production is what the album does provide is a glimpse into the early faith of a legend in Christian Music.

The album also shows glimpses of the humor and on stage persona that would cause hundreds of thousands to become fans. Part comedian, part musician, part street preacher, the Randy Stonehill introduced on “Born Twice” was and remains utterly unique in the music business whether Christian or not.

That was 1971 and it would be another five years before he would release another album. Those years were filled with growth, both spiritually and artistically. He would co-star with Laverne and Shirley star Cindy Williams in the sequel to the legendary B-movie, “The Blob,” the not-so-memorable, “Beware! The Blob” which is known better as “Son of Blob.”

During that time he also was writing a lot of music with new found friends Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy and Keith Green. In fact, one of the real “classics” of the Jesus Music era, “Your Love Broke Through,” would be recorded by Keaggy, Green, Russ Taff and finally himself over a decade later.

There would also be the recording of the mysterious “Get Me Out of Hollywood” that would not be released for several decades though cassette versions of the album and some limited vinyl pressings were said to be in existence. That album would contain two songs that would later become Stonehill favorites (Puppet Strings, Jamie’s Got the Blues), but with distinctly different arrangements. There are probably several good reasons why the album never saw the light of day, including the production quality and the quality of a few of the songs.

But it was 1976’s “Welcome to Paradise” that launch a career that would last over 30 years, untold concerts, several record labels, an equal number of producers and a catalog of brilliant and enduring albums.

After two albums with Larry Norman’s “Solid Rock” label and the decades long falling out between the two that I simply will not address here, Stonehill signed with Myrrh Records where he would stay for the duration of the decade and into the early 1990’s. During that time Stonehill would be one of the most popular and decorated artists in Christian music.

He would join Jesus Music turned alternative band Daniel Amos on a series of successful tours called the “Amos and Randy Tour.” He would also produce most of his memorable and longest lasting hits. The first two album of the decade were “Between the Glory and the Flame” and “Equator.”

Both albums would be produced by good friend, former Solid Rock labelmate and Daniel Amos front man, Terry Scott Taylor. The combination would prove to be rock oriented with members of Daniel Amos serving as back up musicians. The songs were very personal as topics ranged from the loss of his grandfather and concern for his unsaved family members. Where the two Norman produced albums were primarily acoustic driven albums, Stonehill here picks up the electric guitar and makes for a more “contemporary” sound.

Highlights include the impressive “Find Your Way to Me,” the beautifully sweet, “Grandfather’s Song” and the hit, “Farther On.” One noticeable difference is limited “humor” on the album as most Stonehill albums of the era would contain 2 or 3 “novelty” type humor-driven songs. The only thing even close is the odd “Christine,” a nearly a capella ballad expressing a very questionable obsession with Los Angeles ABC television news anchor, Christine Lund (referred to as Long in the song). Where most of Stonehill’s humorous song were couched within novelty rock and roll ditties, “Christine” is a longingly sung ballad.

Equator would prove to be his best work in the 1980’s and could have just as easily been listed here. Also produced by Taylor this album would contain the single largest collection of enduring Stonehill classics. The album would also prove to be Stonehill’s best-selling project. Taylor mellowed the production and focused more on Stonehill’s voice and personality. This proved a brilliant idea.

Radio loved several songs including; Light of the World, Even the Best of Friends and the classic Turning Thirty, which has changed names over the year to keep up with times. The real stand outs on the album though are the rocking “Hide Them In Your Love” and “China.” The latter is regarding as possibly Stonehill’s finest song.

The album contains the return of the humorous novelty song with three that fit the mold: Cosmetic Fixation, Big Ideas In a Shrinking World and American Fast Food. None would last as favorites though they would be fun concert favorites. The biggest hit and most enduring song on Equator walks a fine line between being a novelty song and not. “Shut De Do” either makes listeners cringe and celebrate. The Caribbean based melody has remained a must perform concert favorite for some 30 years.

“Celebrate This Heartbeat” and “Love Beyond Reason” would serve as more of a direct entree into the heart of the CCM world with radically differing results. The former was filled with haunting, stirring, emotional and memorable songs including the title track, Still Small Voice and Save the Children, a duet with Jesus Music and CCM legend Phil Keaggy.

“Love Beyond Reason” may be the most forgettable record in Stonehill’s career. Filled with forgettable, common place, Nashvillian CCM pop, the album’s only notable song is the title track because it was a duet with Amy Grant. The song itself, like the rest of the album, made very little lasting impact. The album also contains an unfortunate “rock” version of “Your Love Broke Through.” The arrangement removed everything that made the song a classic to begin with.

Stonehill would redeem himself a year later with the Dave Perkins produced “Wild Frontier.” A decidedly more rock effort with more in common with Bruce Springsteen than James Taylor. There were moments when the more screamed vocals felt forced but was a vast improvement of the previous album. The album not only world receive critical acclaim but fans embraced it as well.

Stonehill’s career would continue through the 1990’s despite bouncing around to different labels, some with limited distribution muscle. radio was not always as receptive as time went on but his musical and lyrical integrity was never questioned. In fact, two more recent releases rank as a couple of his best.

Both “Lazarus Heart” and “Thirst” would provide brilliant, serious works. Though they suffered from poor distribution and limited radio support, they are both, nonetheless, wonderful albums worthy of consideration. These two later albums reveal a more mature and introspective Stonehill than anything the “bigger” albums of the 1980’s presented.

But despite a legacy that is rivaled by few if any, it is the first truly nationally released album that demands our attention here. “Welcome to Paradise” would remain the definitive work for Stonehill through is more than 30 year career. It combined the genuine innocence of a new convert and the songwriting of a skilled craftsman.

Walking bravely between James Taylor like ballads and Eagles oriented AOR, this “debut” bring several years of honing his  songwriting skills to a fountainhead of poetic expression amidst heartfelt acoustic rock. The album serves as a gateway between the days of the Jesus Music innocence of the early 70’s to the more industry driven CCM. The album also marks the finest production of Larry Norman’s career. Larry may have made better albums but has never produced such a fine work that sounds good now some 30 plus years later.

If some one only listened to the opening track of “Welcome to Paradise” one might get the impression this a nice little acoustic folk album along the lines of James Taylor and Jim Croce. But I can’t imagine another song on the album being a better way to open the album up. “King of Heart” is the albums evangelical call to accept God’s love set the lyrical tone of grace that permeates the record.

Aside from that it is also a beautiful song that Randy still plays. It begins with this common ailment of mankind to realize that we all have a place in our heart that can only be filled by Jesus.

All alone drifting wild
Like a ship that’s lost out on the ocean
Everyone’s a homeless child
And it’s not hard to understand
Why we need a Father’s hand
There’s a rainbow somewhere
You were born to be there
You’re just running in circles
Till you reach out your hand to the King of hearts.

The other important point to note about the song is the very simple, yet effective acoustic guitar work of Stonehill. This would be a trademark style for Stonehill over the decades; simple yet dynamic guitar work. It could be said that he is actually quite an underrated guitar player.

Next up is what I firmly believe is Stonehill’s finest song, “Keep Me Runnin’.” This song rocks harder than most acoustic driven songs ever do. In a very Eagles type Americana/Blues driven groove Stonehill tells of the heart that refuses the Gospel message. I believe those familiar with the song will also agree it may contain one of the very best acoustic guitar solos recorded.

KEEP ME RUNNIN’ FROM THE SHADOW OF MY LIES
LIKE A GYPSY WHO IS NEVER SATISFIED
ONCE YOU COMPROMISE YOUR SOUL
YOU SPEND A LIFETIME DODGING THE DEVIL’S TOLL
BUT YOU KEEP ME RUNNIN’
KEEP ME COVERIN’ UP MY TRACKS
KEEP ME RUNNIN’ SO I’M ALWAYS LOOKING BACK
ALWAYS RESTLESS IN MY DREAMS
AND TROUBLE’S NEVER TOO FAR BEHIND IT SEEMS
Chorus
KEEP ME RUNNIN’
KEEP ME MOVIN’
KEEP ME ALWAYS ON THE GO
KEEP ME MAKIN’ SURE MY FOOTPRINTS NEVER SHOW

The Eagles sounding acoustic rock continues with “The Winner (High Card),” a song that, like the above” tells the story of someone who finds any all excuses to avoid the truth and the reality of the Gospel. The closing of the song really shows Stonehill’s strong and diverse vocal abilities. But the heart of the song is the conviction with which Stonehill delivers the lyrics.

It’s not easy to see me I’m an influential
man / And I never needed anyone To
build my promised land
So don’t tell me about Jesus ’cause He’s just too hard to sell
And I never trust in strangers
that’s the first rule I Learned well

I’m the winner and I made it to the top
And I took it all just like I planned
I’m the man who holds the high card in his hand

“Lung Cancer” marks the initial foray into Stonehill’s more humorous songwriting technique. The musical expression works better here than in most similar Stonehill experiments because of lack of “novelty” kitsch that other songs of that variety posses. The anti-smoking song also works precisely because it never takes itself all too seriously while still trying to pass along a message.

Stonehill’s strongest ballad on the project (and one of his best ever?) is up next. “Puppet Strings” possesses a stunning string arrangement with a haunting melody which matches the message perfectly. Here we find the plight of rebellious man who is a willing victim to the fall. Here paradise is lost through rebellion and the desire to be the kings of our own kingdom.

Long ago He chose us to inherit all His kingdom
And we were blessed with light
But wandering away we disobeyed Him in the garden
And stumbled into night

And I can feel it in my soul
Now the end is getting near
I can hear the angels weeping
And it’s ringing in my ears

We are all like foolish puppets
who desiring to be kings
Now lie pitifully crippled
after cutting our own strings

Where “Puppet Strings” leaves man in rebellion and lost “First Prayer” provides the answer to that hurting and lost world. This song is the prayer of a young man looking for answers to basic questions of doubt and wonder.

I will follow if You’ll lead me
Help me make a stand
If You’ll breathe new breath inside me
I’ll believe you can
I’ll believe You can

Well I never really learned to pray
But You know what I’m tryin’ to say
I don’t want my life to end
Not ever knowing why it began
So if You’ll trust me I’ll do my best
and I’ll be trusting You for the rest

As side two of the album continues the struggles of sin, questions and doubt and refusal to accept the Gospel message is replaced by songs centered on the power of the Gospel and its impact on the individual. So, after the “First Prayer” the Gospel message is directly presented in “I’ve Got News For You.”

Ever feel as if your heart was whispering
Like a special Voice you never heard before
And something deep inside your soul was tickin’
As if someone was pounding on the door

I’ve got news for you this is not a game
I’ve got news for you are you listenin’
I’ve got news for you we are all the same
I’ve got news for you this is not a game
I’ve got news for you we are all the blame
And when that is understood we can start to live again

Once again here the authenticity of the message is carried by the transparency and passion of the vocal performance. Larry Norman’s influence is quite apparent on the arrangement and  backing vocals.

“Song for Sarah” became somewhat controversial for all the wrong reasons. The song is about someone who loves another so much that he aches to his bones because she doesn’t know Jesus. He longingly calls for her to find the Lord and assures her that someone loves her more than he ever could.He so wants her to find value in her love through the one who loves her best.

Sarah Someone loves you
in a way I never could
He laid His life before you on a
cross made out of wood
Oh and in His hour of anguish
our dreams were given birth
I hope you finally realize
how much your love is worth

It is actually quite a beautiful song and one must wonder what the controversy. Stonehill’s first wife was named for Sarah and many believed that the song was written for her which Stonehill denies. So after the divorce people familiar with the situation were offended and bothered by him continuing to sing the song bot realizing the name choice was not related to her. It is truly a controversy around a song that should have never been.

“Christmas Song for All Year ‘Round” is a Christmas song that talks as much about Easter as it does Christmas. It wisely reminds Christians that as important as Christmas is, it’s importance is only as a result of the sacrifice on the cross.

And I know that if Saint Nicholas was here he would agree
The Jesus gave the greatest gift of all to you and me
They led Him to the slaughter on a hill called Calvary
And mankind was forgiven
Mankind was forgiven
We were all forgiven when they nailed Him to the tree

So Merry Christmas

The album closes with the funky and driving rocker, “Good News.” As the album concludes and the Gospel is firmly established the album finishes with the popular Jesus Music theme of the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus Music was birthed at the same time as the rise in popularity of discussion of the rapture and Second Coming.

Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth” and other similar books were quite popular and it was reflected in the content of the music form that was also growing in popularity. This mixed with the heavy emphasis of this particular view of the doctrine of eschatology at Calvary Chapel – another epicenter for the Jesus Music – made this a primary topic in the lyrics of Jesus Music artists.

This would remain a primary lyrical emphasis through most of the 1980’s as well. Recently this emphasis has diminished much to chagrin of some and the happiness of others. I point it out here because of the heavy emphasis in the music of Jesus Music artists that we will be discussing going forward.

I still have that cassette I bought at a family camp over 30 years ago. I have had an LP and CD of this record as well over the years and haven’t needed to play the cassette. I am not ever sure it still works. I have my doubts. But I never plan on getting rid of it.

Advertisements

10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Steve on February 27, 2010 at 6:09 am

    The first concert I ever went to was Randy Stonehill playing at a local church on stage alone with his guitar. I think I was about 11 or 12 at the time (making it 1978 or 79), but I’ve been a huge fan of his ever since. Anyone remember his song “Ramada Inn”?

    This is one of the best top-to-bottom albums in Christian music history, and a bridge between the Jesus Music era and the first really popular CCM artists. A downright great guy, too!

    Reply

  2. Posted by John Gilchrist Lodge on February 27, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Easily my favorite Uncle Rand song has to be “Counterfeit King.” This song’s lyrics I quote at the start of a novel, as they perfectly tie in with the subject matter (the devil’s a beautiful liar).

    Reply

  3. Would someone please tell me why Stonehill’s music is not readily available anymore? I understand this is how CCM works, that unless your album has achieved an insane level of notoriety, it will fall out of print and it’s unlikely others will pick up that option. But the only thing I could possibly say this blog does that might remotely be negative is that it highlights this largely unobtainable music, but the entities in control of the tapes either are unwilling to rerelease them, can’t afford to release them, or are companies that don’t exist or don’t feel the albums are commercially viable.

    Randy has had the worst of it, I’m afraid. Thank you for not dredging up the murky controversies surrounding Larry Norman and Solid Rock. I’m sure the readers have an idea about them already so rehash is unnecessary. However, Between The Glory And The Flame, Equator and Celebrate This Heartbeat (all under Word’s aegis) have never been on CD – ever. I have vinyl rips from my old LPs and have been fortunate to have grabbed the CDs that did appear (by the way, where’s Wonderama?) These releases now surface in the Ebay aftermarket but often at the most obscene prices. I know it’s a seller’s market, but it all becomes so unseemly when paired with what this music represents.

    There are people who want this stuff, and I’m one of them. If the labels are afraid of overstock and lack of audience interest, limited runs alleviate the former and the latter has been firmly disproven. As far as I’m concerned, it comes down to a lack of will more than anything else, and that seems like the worst excuse of all.

    Reply

    • Posted by aarjayaitch on February 27, 2010 at 9:29 pm

      Actually, “Equator” was re-released on CD (briefly) in the early nineties. I have always kicked myself for not grabbing a copy before it went out of print… again! Amen to your comments here.

      Reply

  4. Posted by Shawn McLaughlin on February 27, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Love the pick…..and agree with you whole-heartedly about “Keep Me Runnin'” as Uncle Randy’s best song, yet I’ve always had a fondness for “I’ve Got News for You” purely on a musical level. Love the circular guitar riff (very late period Beatles or “Badge: by Cream) and the “He loves ya baby, baby ooh la la” backing vocals near the end…..real ear candy for me. Plus his vocal on this really blows me away.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Shawn McLaughlin on February 28, 2010 at 1:01 am

    “By the way, where’s Wonderama?”

    …..and Return to Paradise?

    Reply

  6. Posted by Shawn McLaughlin on February 28, 2010 at 3:08 am

    Yeah, fair point.

    Reply

    • Posted by john howie on August 5, 2010 at 10:28 pm

      really enjoyed the novel, but you can’t skip the chapter on “Uncle Stonehill’s hat!” it just shows what a big kid Randy still is.

      Reply

  7. Posted by tedpatterson on February 28, 2010 at 7:42 am

    Where was I when Equator came out on CD????? Never saw it, and i guess never will!!!!!
    anyway, larrynorman.com has Welcome to Paradise and Sky is Falling available on CD. Also has Born Twice and other stuff. I was always Celebrate this Heartbeat was never out on disc, even though they got the airplay.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: