ALL FALL DOWN
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.
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 Thinking 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.
Ba-ba-ba-ba Ba-ba-ba-ba We believe, we believe Cuz we felt it burning in our hearts Ba-ba-ba-ba Ba-ba-ba-ba 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 Complete Forgiving Chastening Embracing Unearned Undeserved 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.”