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

Oklahoma

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.

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21 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Scott on August 20, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Well said, brother. I was a senior in ’83, as well. Nothing compares to the music from the 80’s…Christian or secular. “It was the best of times…”

    Reply

  2. Posted by Steve H on August 21, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I just found out that Michael Been died and, of course am very sad, but I really enjoyed your article. I was turned on to the Call back in the mid-80’s (as a college student and young married man) and would try to catch them in concert whenever I could…normally they would be the “warm-up” band for acts like the Psychedelic Furs”, and we would leave after the Call performed! Their Christian message and their passion helped me because I could relate to his message and the reality of his faith. My faith had struggles and doubts, it was not rosy and smiley as most of the Christian music was during that time. I would give their music to my friends who were not believers or who were possibly on the fence and they would be turned on to the Call. Once my wife and I saw them in a smokey bar in Bloomington, IN and I remember thinking how cool it was that he was playing here and not on some Christian college campus or in some church. Anyway, thanks again, your article brought back so many great memories of artists that I followed and listened to, but nobody (I guess except U2) matched the Call. I loved listening to this band and I still have their music on my ipod. Thanks.

    Reply

  3. when bono of u2 plublished a list in rolling stone mag., of the music he listened to, the call was on it . i went and bought it. i own every album on vinal and cd. i saw the band play 6 times. the last time at cornerstone. i love his boys band, b.r.m.c. and had the chance to see them play in a club in st. louis. among the other bands bono offered in 82 was the simple minds, waterboys, the alarm and rem. the call and u2 keep the 80’s from being completely boring. the list of solo projects in the artical was incomplete. micheal recorded a solo album in 1997 titled to heaven and back. it is amazing!

    Reply

    • Posted by low5point on August 23, 2010 at 1:56 am

      Heaven and Back was also released as a “The Call” album. I have the version that listed the release as being by The Call. I did not include it based on space and that it never grabbed me like the other albums. I woul;d be interested in seeing if the song titles and selection are identical on both releases. I assume they would be.

      Reply

  4. Posted by AlpacaLips on August 23, 2010 at 5:35 am

    A couple of corrections:

    1. It’s Dana Key, not Dane Key.

    2. Been’s solo album is “On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakthrough” (not Breakdown).

    Thanks for a great write up. I don’t have all Call/Been albums, but I’m inspired to redouble my efforts to find them.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Marc - The Netherlands on August 23, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    Great piece of writing. In my search fore pure christianity and realness during my teenager-years the music of The Call was a guiding light and a light upon my path. Tears in my eyes…Rich Mullins, Mark heard, Larry Norman and now Michael. He will be missed.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Shawn McLaughlin on August 24, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Neat acoustic version of “I Still believe” from Derri Daugherty on The Choir’s website.

    I think you need to copy and paste the link into your browser.
    [audio src="http://www.thechoir.net/istillbelieve.mp3" /]

    Reply

  7. Followed Michael and the call from a distance, plan to get closer and play more of his stuff…God bless his family….Mark Heard just got a 1st class bass player to sit in with him, Dana Ke,y Keith Green and all the rest

    Reply

  8. Posted by Ken Lockridge on August 25, 2010 at 8:25 am

    I love you, Michael, and I’ll be joining you shortly — as soon as I get my 7 kids raised and my mortgage paid and my wife set up. Anyway, I discovered the Call as a transformational “searcher” during the 1980s in high school (Class of ’84). I sought out “positive” messages (and even though they were “negative” about this world, I considered that to be a “positive” message — and still do!). Along with U2, Alarm and a small cadre of more mainstream but gritty-edged Christian artists, they had a big impact on me. I got saved in ’86 through a campus housechurch — my early listening to the Call could be seen as preparatory to my acceptance of Christ. Later, I became a D. J. at a secular radio station with a Christian program (“Faithrock”) and had occassion to play Michael Been’s music often. I, too, discovered him on that early 2nd Chapter album (they never had a better one, Mansion Builder notwithstanding). I hitch-hiked from Blacksburg, VA to Miami, Fl to see the Call in 1986? 1987? — Sanctuary? tour double-header with Simple Minds (New Gold Dream?) — it was Spring Break and the only time I could justify going since I didn’t have stellar grades. One of my favorite concerts I ever made it to, along with Alarm’s Strength tour. [I always wanted to see the Alarm and the Call together — poetic, don’t you think?] After the concert, I waited around to chat with Jim Kerr and Michael Been and others, and found that the drummer for the Call (was it Scott Musick?) was a particularly nice guy, with real enthusiasm for the gospel message of their music — “That’s what it’s all about!” he said. I was not ready for Mark Heard’s departure in 1993. I was not as personally involved with Keith Green or Larry Norman (met him once though) or several others who have died now, but Michael Been I feel keenly. You have put it well in giving God credit for putting us each where we ought to be when we ought to be, including our departure for our “real” life. But I will miss him while I’m still here. I would add that he is survived by several really good singer-songwriters in the rock and acoustic genres such as Bruce Cockburn (surprised his name didn’t come up in your piece), Brooks Williams and Pierce Pettis who share the poetic truth and gritty flavor of Michael’s lyrics.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Warren P. on August 29, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    It is with a great deal of pain and personal angst that I remember how strange it felt to deal with the feeling of not belonging either in, or out, of the christian subculture I grew up in. It seems to me that Been could have felt the same way. His lyrics reference christian themes, but he obviously didn’t belong 100% inside the sappy CCM market of the 80s, or the sappy CCM market of our current day.

    Mark Heard said in one lyric that he was “too sacred for the sinners, and the saints wish I would leave”. I think it might have felt the same to be the “real” Michael Been. His songs have pain and doubt, as well as hope, and love. It is not all dark, even as life is not all dark. And it is not all light. But there are blinding lights and dark shadows in his music. Isn’t that a better soundtrack for your life than a bunch of trite CCM happy-believer jesus-makes-me-happy-4-ever BS? Because it sure is for me.

    I still believe.

    Warren

    Reply

  10. VERY GOOD EULOGY! The best i’ve seen on the net so far!
    Michael Been will be missed, but remembered everytime
    we play his music. He was a great writer and awesome bass player!
    I remember seeing them play in Chicago and his sting breaking
    in the middle of a bass solo, and he kept going! His fret hand going under
    and over the arm!

    God have mercy on the soul of Michael Been!
    Mark Jaquette

    Reply

  11. Posted by theo trost on September 1, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Your story notes Michael Been’s willingness to sign his name to the Apostles’ Creed declaring that this is what he believes. There is a broad embrace of “Church” here that anticipates the movement from the solitary “I’ve been in a cave” at the beginning of the song to the communal “for people like us in places like this” ending with a common resort to hope. This is the communion of saints the Creed refers to and to which Michael Been repairs.

    Reply

  12. Posted by Jeff Vance on September 3, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Very nice. Loved THE CALL. By the way, who are you? Can’t find a bio. Sounds like we ran in some of the same circles. I bought by first Larry Norman project at Maranatha Village. Used to listen to KYMS. I remember how progressive they were, going from a U2 tune to David Meece. It blew me away. They are why I’m in Christian radio today. I remember driving to LAX and hearing Job Gibson for the first time. Still like him. Been a CCM fan since 1981 while in the Marines at good ole Camp Pendleton. Started with Stonehill, Keith Green, Bob Bennett & Petra. So many great acts over the years. Did an “oldies” show for 2 years here at 91.3 WCSG in Grand Rapids MI. A friend of Mark Hollingsworth, another one who’s been around. Anyway, just curious.
    Jeff

    Reply

  13. Posted by David A. on September 12, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Great memorial, thanks !

    I could have been sitting next to you in the bus.

    I was class of ’82, running cross country & track at Christian High in San Diego, about the time I discovered Christian Rock.

    (KROQ – you must’ve been in LA, right ?)

    Not sure when I got ‘The Call – Reconciled’ but you can bet I’m going to go search for it now. I enjoyed all the background on The Call – stuff I hadn’t heard.

    God is painting this tapsestry we call the (universal) Church – we are all related in Him – an it’s greatly enjoyable to discover all the ways that is true, here & there.

    May the LORD bless Michael Been’s family – he now KNOWS Him who he has believed !

    David A.
    Texas

    Reply

  14. Posted by David A. on September 15, 2010 at 5:11 am

    David,

    Just a quick comment, just saw your blog linked elsewhere, “I was a teenage dispensationaist”.

    Had to chuckle. Here you are a thinking man’s music critic (me too, but lacking your depth) and we’ve both travelled the distance from Dispensational to Reformed theology. Right ?

    Caught your ref to Pastor Steve Wilkins in the Larry Norman review – and the Serrated Edge book reference too. Curious – do you go to a CRE church somewhere ? Or are you a reformed guy hanging out in broad evangelicalism ? (That’s us for now….)

    Well, brother, glad the LORD is still working on the both of us. Soli Deo Gloria !

    I’m subscribed here, I should get notified by email……

    Reply

  15. Posted by Kim Passante on October 2, 2010 at 5:36 am

    I am so glad I found this moving and detailed accounting of Micheal Been and The Call. I found them
    from MTV Walls Come Down video. I graduated high school in ’82. I found U2 with the October album
    and The Alarm The Stand. God used them to draw me to a personal relationship with Jesus. I had
    the pleasure of seeing The Call open for a band I dont even remember. I went to see them. Briefly,
    I had the opportunity to exchange some kind words with Michael after this show in 1987. Progress
    to 2010, I sought out The Call’s works on cd and had been enjoying them all over again, I actually,
    had been praying that The Call would be a reunion band a much deserved one. I always will lament
    the lack of respect and recognition they deserved. But, it was not meant to be. I have learned to
    lean not on my own understanding. I pray the grief that the Been family is going through is one tempered with the awareness that in the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy.

    Reply

  16. Posted by Mark on December 7, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Very interesting and informative!! Although I’m a late commer to the Call, I do remember the “Walls came down” from 1983. The song later caused me to start trying to find out everything I could about this band and Michael Been. I wished I could have seen them live, but the internet has given me most of the info I’ve been looking for. I didn’t listen much to Christian music at the time but was enthralled with 2nd Chapter and some of the searching undertones in the music of Kerry Livgren and Kansas.

    Thanks so much for this blog.

    Reply

  17. This is my first time to your blog and although I was a huge Call and Michael Been fan in the 80’s and into the 90’s today was the first time I heard about his death. It was quite a shock. I need to come back and read the rest of your post but thank you for letting everyone know what a great body of work this man was responsible for. Great job.

    Reply

  18. […] A really great write up of another Christian fan is one called Michael Been Remembered – from another blog site (”The Greatest Christian Albums of All Time“).  Check it out, […]

    Reply

  19. Posted by Rich on February 13, 2012 at 3:52 am

    Listen to Lenny Kravitz. I was amazed to hear his Christian music, Ben Harper, there are many great ones. God Bless brother.

    Reply

  20. Posted by Dwight on April 5, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    Good post. And I know you! At least I remember who you are… I used to be a frequenter of Maranatha Village, and you turned me on to Ian Cussick! Still love that record. Too bad it never got a CD or digital release of any kind. I was a big Call fan as well, and got to see them at Bogarts in Long Beach, with Mark Heard opening. Amazing show! Hope you are doing well.

    Reply

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