1. Only Visiting This Planet – Larry Norman

ONLY VISITING THIS PLANET

Larry Norman

Prophet…scoundrel…poet…thief…comedian…clown…rock star…fallen star…

A living, breathing contradiction in terms, Larry Norman passed away on February 24th, 2008 at the age of 60. I attended the funeral, arriving late and “listening” to it from outside the doors of a Church near Salem, Or.

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Pastor Steve Wilkins spoke of the great Scottish warrior William Wallace several years ago at a conference. In his introductory remarks he noted that we actually know very little historical “facts” about Wallace and that most of what we believe about Wallace comes from an epic poem by an English Minstrel named Blind Harry a century or two after the death of Wallace.

Blind Harry’s poem stretches, twists and turn the truth on many occasions as it was compiled through oral traditions in which “legends” entered and merged, mixed and meshed with historical fact to create the larger than life character portrayed in the movie, Braveheart. And now even centuries later dissecting the truth from the legend and lore has proven to be nearly impossible.

But Wilkins argues that there is no real harm in the fabricated additions to the lore and legacy of Wallace, and in fact they play a very important role in actual history. Wilkins explains that it was the “legend” of Wallace that inspired many Scottish Christians to seek a new land in the Americas and eventually take up arms for the same freedoms they believed and perceived Wallace had fought for many centuries previous. It was not the actual truth that inspired them and carried them through difficult times and decisions, but the “legend” built upon the truth.

Larry Norman was born in Corpus Christi, TX but spent most of his formative years in Northern California near or in the Bay Area of San Fransisco. He was introduced to God and the Church early in his life at a Black Pentecostal Church in the neighborhood he grew up in.

In his late teens he joined a band called People! out of the Bay Area that took their name on as a response to the common use of animals or insects for rock band names like The Animals, The Beatles and The Byrds. A psychedelic, blues band People! only scored one hit with the song, a cover of the Zombies (which was OK I guess because they used to be people) hit song, “I Love You” that did crack the Top 20.

The album also contained the song “What We Need Is a Lot More of Jesus, and A Lot Less Rock and Roll,” which in reality comes off as a parody of mainstream evangelical Church life and thought. There was really nothing very “Christian” about the song despite its title. This is a bit odd as Norman would later claim that the album was supposed to be named after that song and that the supposed original artwork was changed to just a photo of the band and the title changed to simple. “I Love You.” Other band members would dispute this claim.

This would begin a long list of revisionist history claims by others regarding Norman’s version of things.

People! would record one more album for Capitol Records but Norman will have left previous to its release and end up only appearing one song. Along with the above claim of censorship by Capitol Records, Norman claimed that band members were being forced to embrace Scientology or forced to leave. This too is denied by band members.

The band would reunite 5 years later for a benefit concert at UCLA that would later be released under the name, “The Israel Tapes.”

Larry would record his first solo album, Upon This Rock, in 1969 for Capitol Records, the same label he claimed censored his work with People! This album is a very “Christian” album in all respects and would kick off a solo career that would last until his death in 2008. It is as the result of this album that Norman is credited with being the father of Christian Rock.

Christian Rock was born!

Upon This Rock is considered one of Norman’s finest works combining both blatantly Christian and evangelical messages as well as social and political commentary. This would remain a constant for Norman, who was the first Christian artists to make very progressive commentary on many issues that would conflict with mainstream Christianity.

The album would contain many Norman classics that would endure for decades including You Can’t Take Away the Lord, Moses in the Wilderness, Nothing Really Changes and Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation (which would become a youth group and Young Life favorite).Norman was influenced by Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Black Gospel Music and it shows here and on every album that would follow.

Also included on this album would be the first version of the song that would define both him and the Jesus Movement for all time, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” The song would be covered an inordinate number of time, not only by other artists but by Norman himself, appearing on more than just a handful of albums that would follow.

The Jesus Movement had a focal point of its ministry the idea of the soon coming secret Rapture of the Church. Theologians CI Scofield and Louis Sperry Chafer were primary influences as well as the Latter Rain Movement, a Pentecostal movement that emerge after World War ll that taught that the return of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Charismatic “gift” experiences would be a sign of the end times. Evangelist and “hippie prophet” Lonnie Frisbee would also play a major in the burgeoning musical genre.

The above coupled with the growing popularity of the unique “Dispensational” position on eschatology, the “Secret Rapture” was a major component of the Jesus Music and his rapture-ready song became the movements anthem. The song would even play a major role in the popular evangelical movie, “A Thief In the Night.”

Normans’ music and appearance would not play well in mainstream Christian circles that still argued that drums were inherently evil and the use of modern musical styles violated God’s ordinance. there is no doubt there was also a racial component to this issue as well. Norman’s music was heavily influenced not only by modern folk and rock of the time, but by Black Gospel music as well.

It would be the last nationally distributed album for Norman until the release of “Only Visiting This Planet” in 1972. In the years in between he would record and release two independent projects called “Street Level” and “Bootleg.” Both would feature grainy, underground looking black and white artwork. Both would also be “double albums” mixing live concert recording, studio demos of previously unreleased songs and future classics.

These albums would also reveal the smart and piercing humor Norman would always be noted for. Norman concerts were part rock and roll show, part revival meeting and part stand up comedy. This facet of his life and ministry would be introduced on these two albums. One section from “Bootleg” in particular really shines as he addressed the National Youth Workers of America Conference introducing “Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation.”

Several songs from the two “independent” releases would find their way on to what is known as the “The Trilogy.” The Trilogy of albums include Only Visiting This Planet, So Long Ago the Garden and In Another Land. Though recognized as a trilogy of records Norman only stated that they were informally created to deal with the present, past and future (respectively) with each album focusing on one of those topics.

Norman had left Capitol after “Upon This Rock” and singed with MGM to release “Only Visiting This Planet” as well as the following album, 1973’s “So Long Ago the Garden.” On both albums he received production help from George Martin, the famed producer of the The Beatles.  Norman stated that he had previously met Paul McCartney and that Paul had tracked him down to talk about his music. This is interesting as we will discuss when we talk about “Only Visiting This Planet.”

The album was decidedly more “secular” in content than any of Norman’s other releases. But much of the controversy in Christian circles came from the original cover (pictured above) because many argued the picture of the lion in the field superimposed onto Norman’s body was an attempt to cover the fact that Norman is naked in the cover as his navel is clearly visible. The later cover (below) would be cropped at a much higher point.

But it is true that the content was not as blatantly spiritual as other Norman releases. This may have caused him to not perform those songs as often in concert, which in turn may have impacted the general longevity of many of the songs. Mus9ically the album was very “current” for the time and flawlessly produced. Martin brought in the same “mellotron” keyboard used on the Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever” to use on the song, “Lonely By Myself.” There is a story that while recording the album in one studio Paul McCartney was in the adjoining studio recording “Live and Let Die.”

The album combined Norman’s penchant for 60’s blues, 50’s pop vocals and current social commentary to create a true classic worthy of more attention than it ever really received. Highlights include Fly, Fly, Fly, Be Careful What You Sing, Baroquen Spirits, Nightmare #71 and the haunting beautiful, “She’s a Dancer.” One interesting note is the “cover” of “Christmastime.” The song originally appeared on Randy Stonehill’s “Born Twice” album and is credited as being written by Stonehill. On this album the songwriting credit is given to Norman.

In response to many critics that he had “sold out” his Gospel message on the previous album, Norman followed up with “In Another Land.” It would take nearly three years to record and release this album that ranks a VERY close second in the list of great Larry Norman albums. This album would be released on Norman’s Solid Rock label and receive distribution by Word records in 1975.

“In Another Land” would mark the first nationally distributed “Christian” album for Norman and would also mark the on again, off again love/hate relationship Norman would have with the Christian music industry and, in turn, the industry would have with him. Consider that despite his in arguable multiple contributions to the industry he was not inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame until 2001.

The album was not free of controversy despite its very evangelical content. The first and most obvious issue was the unseemly longhair he sported, which in 1975 was simply unacceptable at the time. The cover also received complaints because Norman’s thumbs are supposedly switched with the right thumb on the left hand and vice versa, and that, it is claimed, is some sort of Satanic imagery.

SERIOUSLY!

“In Another Land” would contain many of Norman’s classics that would remain favorites for all time. The production is stellar and the use of limited spacing between songs keeps the record moving in non-stop fashion. Highlights would literally include the entire album! But I will note some interesting points.

The cover of Stonehill’s “I Love You” in a little odd since the only line from Stonehill’s original from “Born Twice” is the first line of the song. “The Rock That Doesn’t Roll” continues the theme of “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music” and would inspire countless musical defenses of Christian Rock. But rather than being a song about Christian Rock it is simply a play on words to describe Jesus. It is also the song that contains the lyric the album titles is based on.

UFO, The Sun Began to Rain, Six Sixty Six, One Way and Hymn to the Last generation would continue Norman’s popular “Second Coming” theme complete with Beast, Antichrist and Rapture.The reworked “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” edits out the references to sex and sexually transmitted diseases the original included in 1972. “Righteous Rocker #3” is a very short (chorus only) a capella reworking of the song from “Only Visiting This Planet.” I heard once that a second version was supposedly removed from “So Long Ago the Garden.”

“Shot Down” would prove to be his defense against detractor who believed he had forsaken the Gospel message on the previous album.

I’ve been shot down, talked about
Some people scandalize my name,
But here I am, talkin’ ’bout Jesus just the same.

I’ve been knocked down, kicked around
But like a moth drawn to the flame,
Here I am, talkin’ ’bout Jesus just the same.

I’ve been rebuked for the things I’ve said,
For the songs I’ve written and the life I’ve led.
They say they don’t understand me, well I’m not surprised,
Because you can’t see nothing when you close your eyes.

The album does credit Dudley on piano and John Michael Talbot on Banjo. But I wanted to note here that much of Norman and even Stonehill’s early work was greatly enhanced by guitarist Jon Linn. His work is much unheralded and he deserved much more respect. I know little about Jon but did read that he had passed away in the late 80’s or early 90’s.

One last song point out is “Song For a Small Circle of Friends.” The song is a list of artists the Norman counted as acquaintances and friends. It served as an evangelical call to these musicians.

With Clapton on guitar, and Charlie on the drums.
McCartney on the Hoffner bass with blisters on his thumbs.

Dear Bobby watch your fears all hide
And disappear while love inside starts growing,
You’re older but less colder
Than the jokes and folks you spent your childhood snowing.

And someone died for all your friends
But even better yet, he lives again.
And if this song does not make sense to you,
I hope His spirit slips on through, He loves you.

One stinging verse in hindsight is in regards to then good friend Randy Stonehill.

And love to you sir Stonehill,
Armed with your axe full gallop on your amp.
You’re crazy and you know it,
But I love you as we both crawl toward the lamp

As with the Stonehill review I will not dwell on that part of the story. There have been plenty of others that have written extensively on the subject. But I do want to note the opening line of this review and reinforce that those things which have  made Norman such an important and lasting figure in Christian music are not only the positives but the negatives as well.

His life would be filled with failed marriages and friendships. No artist ever recorded more than two albums with Norman and most left frustrated, jaded and angry. The rift between Stonehill and Norman lasted decades and much has been written on this and a controversial and decidedly one-sided documentary, “Fallen Angel” has been produced. Anyone with the interest and an internet connection can research the gory details I will avoid here. My point is that his life was both wonderful and tragic and both cannot be denied.

This album would prove to be a major influence on many young people and future Christian musicians. The honesty, well produced rock would break down many doors currently boarded shut. Though not a “heavy” record musically it still contained a serious rock vibe and socially significant content.

The following nationally album is what many, the present writer included, spelled the end or Norman’s artistic zenith. “Something New Under the Son” could really be considered a 4th album in the series, but “trilogy” just sounds more artistically satisfying. Also released on Solid Rock and distributed by Word records, the album would serve as the “heaviest” of Norman’s studio releases. This is a blues record through and through. Although recorded in 1977 it would also not see the light of day until 1981. This too would become a common problem of Norman’s both for himself and for the artists he was associated with, most notable Randy Stonehill and Daniel Amos.

It should be noted that there were several releases between “In Another Land” and “Something New” but were either generally unavailable (Starstrom), parody albums (Streams of White Light) or live albums (Israel Tapes and Roll Away the Stone). In fact “Israel Tapes” was recorded several years earlier (1975). Another album was a single that expanded into an album called “The Tune.”

This would also begin a frustrating history of Norman releasing poorly recorded live albums and albums of re-hashed demos, reworked song and compilations under different names. “Something New” would also mark the end of Norman’s national distribution agreements and all but one release would be exclusive to Norman’s Solid Rock or Phydeaux labels, primarily through mail order. I could discuss a majority of those albums but I’m not sure wordpress has enough bandwith.

“Something New” is often overlooked and that is a shame. As mentioned above, the album is a lesson in blues writing. Nearly every song would be considered a blues tune and Norman excels here. “Born to Be Unlucky” just flat-out rocks and Jon Linn gets to show off here. “Watch What You’re Doing” is hysterical and remained a Norman live favorite for years to come. Linn’s guitar and Norman’s harmonica trade-off some amazingly aggressive riffs.

Norman, who apparently had a lot of nightmares, recorded three songs with a numbered “Nightmare” title, but the best one is here. But the song that steals the show is the closing rocking romp, “Let The Tape Keep Rolling.” Though he would write several songs “reinventing” his history, this would be the best one and serve as a great lesson in how to write a great rockin’ blues song!

Norman would spend the 1980’s releasing two albums a year, though most would be poorly recorded live albums, anthologies and rehashed “favorites” with different arrangements and differing results in quality. There are a couple albums of note though.

“Letter of the Law” and “Labor of Love” would both be pretty decent pop rock records and probably deserved some national distribution. These were studio projects that contained several quality Norman tracks. I was able to obtain “test pressings” of those two albums and convince KYMS to play a few of the songs. they became pretty good hits and I contacted Larry to carry them at my store. Eventually a few independent distribution companies picked up the albums. Several of those songs would eventually be released on the album “Quiet Night” under the name Larry Norman and the Young Lions. One stand out is a cover of the late Tom Howard’s “Shine Your Light.”

Two last albums I wanted to point out are “Home at Last” and “Stranded in Babylon.” The first album was originally released by Norman as double album, but the Benson Company worked out a deal to create of single album release of what was felt were the best songs. This would mark the first time in a decade that Norman’s music would receive national distribution from a major Christian Record company. It would also mark the first album of primarily all new material during that same time period. It was also one of the first albums to be released on CD.

The album would be uneven, but it was hoped that it would bring Norman back into the public’s mind. It really never accomplished it as Christian radio was lukewarm and the buyers of Christian music were a whole new generation of people primarily unfamiliar with Norman.

“Stranded” was probably Norman’s best work after “Something New” and is worth picking up. Produced by his brother Charly, it marked a return to both social commentary as well as spiritual themes. Most importantly it showed Norman could still write new music that was powerful and compelling and that he could still rock. “God Part 3” is worth the price of admission! Lacking any real quality distribution it too went mostly unnoticed.

Norman’s music and ministry would influence probably the widest variety of musicians of any other Christian artists. Fans include the previously mentioned Paul McCartney, Cliff Richard, Van Morrison, John Mellancamp, Pete Townsend, U2, the Pixies and Sarah Brendel. There have been over 300 covers of Norman’s songs recorded included even by the likes of Sammy Davis Jr.

In Christian Music the list of artists who are fans would be too long to mention. He influenced everyone from Geoff Moore to DC Talk. There have been two tribute albums to Norman, including a “dance remix” compilation called “Remix This Planet.”

But that influence ultimately started with “Only Visiting This Planet.”  Recorded for MGM’s Verve label, the album would become the most influential Christian album of all time. It served as a lesson in how a Christian can write songs on every possible topic with true humanity all the while expressing the undeniable Biblical truths a Christian possesses. There are songs about lost love, sex, free love, politics, media, culture and theology.

George Martin produced the album that was recorded in London at his AIR studios in 1972. It would be, by far, the best produced Christian album for its time and still remains a quality production. Norman’s voice is at its very best, both his singing and lyrical voice.

The album starts with a song of lost love, “I’ve Got to Learn to Live Without You.” I have always believed that it was Norman’s attempt at a Top 40 pop song. The honesty and longing in Norman’s voice makes the song utterly believable. These are theme and thoughts shared by nearly all who have experienced a love gone wrong.Musically it contains a very beautiful string arrangement and a subtle similarity to what The Beatles finished their career with.

Today I thought I saw you walking down the street
With someone else, I turned my head and faced the wall.
I started crying and my heart fell to my feet
But when I looked again it wasn’t you at all.

Why’d you go, baby? I guess you know,
I’ve got to learn to live without you

“The Outlaw” follows and would become one of the two or three most famous Larry Norman songs even though it would not receive Christian radio airplay until several years later. The story of Jesus as portrayed by an outlaw working on the outside of the established religious community also would speak to Norman’s own situation. With limited acoustic guitar accompaniment and some keyboards, this song is all about Norman’s voice and words.

some say He was an outlaw that He roamed across the land
with a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
no one knew just where He came from or exactly what He’d done
but they said it must be something bad that kept Him on the run


While at a sales conference for The Benson company the sales force was being introduced to music from an upcoming Dana Key (DeGarmo and Key) solo project. One song was going to be a reworking of a DeGarmo and Key song. I commented that having Key re-record a song he had already sung wouldn’t “sound new” to fans and would possibly cause the listener to wonder why Key would need to do a solo album if he was just going to redo previously recorded songs.

Actually I said, “What’s going on a the record company? You guys running out of songs?” But what I really meant was the above. Either way Key went back into the studio and recorded a cover of Norman’s “The Outlaw” and it ended up being the biggest hit from that album.

For some reason, I never got a thank you letter.

“Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” would be a song that would continue to shock listeners for generations to follow. The blunt discussion included would not even be accepted well today with a more “enlightened” audience. Labeled vulgar, this ong is the primary reason many stores would never carry the album, even decades later.Driven by an amazing blues vibe the song remains one of Norman’s finest and on par with the best of Bob Dylan lyrically.

Sipping whiskey from a paper cup,
You drown your sorrows till you can’t get up,
Take a look at what you’ve done to yourself,
Why don’t you put the bottle back on she shelf,
Yellow fingers from your cigarettes,
Your hands are shaking while your body sweats,
Why don’t you look into Jesus, He’s got the answer.
Gonorrhea on Valentines Day,
And you’re still looking for the perfect lay,
You think rock and roll will set you free,
You’ll be deaf before your thirty three,
Shooting junk till your half insane,
Broken needle in your purple vein,

Why don’t you look into Jesus, he’s got the answer.

Martin had assembled an amazing backing cast and on this song it really shows. Great guitar work drives this tune to a huge finish. And the false ending, instrumental finish just works perfectly.

“Righteous Rocker #1” also known as “Without Love” predated Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” by nearly a decade but the similarities are shocking. Country blues riff propel a message of the need for God’s love no matter your personal situation.

You can be a righteous rocker, you can be a holy roller
You could be most anything,
You could be a Leon Russell, or a super muscle,
You could be a corporate king,
You could be a wealthy man from Texas, or a witch with heavy hexes,
But without love, you ain’t nothing without love
Without love you ain’t nothing, without love.

You could be a brilliant surgeon, or a sweet young virgin,
or a harlot out to sell,
You could learn to play the blues, or be Howard Hughes
or the scarlet pimpernel,
Or you could be a French provincial midwife,
or go from door to door with a death-knife,
But without love you ain’t nothing, without love,
Without love you ain’t nothing, without love.

The full length and most recognized version of “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” closes side one on the album. This post-apocalyptic ballad borrows directly from Matthew 24 and has the obviously distinct “Left Behind” theology at its core.

a man and wife asleep in bed
she hears a noise and turns her head
he’s gone
I wish we’d all been ready

two men walking up a hill
one disappears and one’s left standing still
I wish we’d all been ready

there’s no time to change your mind
the son has come and you’ve been left behind

The song would not only catapult Norman to the forefront of the Jesus Movement (a movement he never claimed nor felt any attachment to), it was featured in the movie “A Thief in the Night” and has even made its way into many hymnals. In fact, once a month at the Baptist Church I was raised in the would have a “Hymn Sing” in which congregant could request to sing a favorite hymn. I discovered that the Norman classic was included in the Churches new hymnal and would routinely ask to sing the song.

It wasn’t long before my raised hand was ignored.

Side two kicked off with “I Am the Six O’clock News,” which served a both an anti-war protest song as well as a critique of the modern media, especially television news broadcast that would routinely edit what would be discussed to meet political agendas. This was years Rush Limbaugh would lodge similar complaints, but from a distinctly different point of view.

I’m taking pictures of burning houses
Colored movies of misery.
I see the flash of guns, how red the mud becomes,
I’ve got a close-up view.

I’m the six o’clock news – what can I do?
All those kids without shoes – what can I do?
Military coups – what can I do?
I’m just the six o’clock news.

The song would fade out with a recording of an airline stewardess giving flight instructions over the roaring of a jet engine. As the roaring engine fades the early quiet strains of an acoustic guitar would fade in. This fed right into one of Norman’s finest lyrical accomplishments. “The Great American Novel” is comparable to the best Bob Dylan of Neil Young would write. +

This indictment against American politics would not sit well with mainline Christianity that would label him a liberal and communist and place him firmly amongst the atheist “hippy” left. The song would also feature some of Norman’s most indicting and creative lyrical content.

I was born and raised an orphan
in a land that once was free
in a land that poured its love out on the moon
and I grew up in the shadows
of your silos filled with grain
but you never helped to fill my empty spoon

The Church in the South that was still holding on to prejudice ways receives a very strong blow from Norman’s pen a well. Here though he also deals with the long ramifications and the impact on coming generations.

you kill a black man at midnight
just for talking to your daughter
then you make his wife your mistress
and you leave her without water
and the sheet you wear upon your face
is the sheet your children sleep on
at every meal you say a prayer
you don’t believe but still you keep on

This was obviously unexpected content from a Christian artists and deemed immoral, un-American and clearly unacceptable.

“Pardon Me” follows with the most odd and unique song in Norman’s catalog. After a string arrangement introduces the song Norman is accompanied by a very simple acoustic guitar. Dark, haunting and sad, the song deals with the understanding of “free loves” great cost and the moral decision to walk away despite the internal struggle for physical attachment.

Close your eyes, and pretend that you are me.
See how empty it can be
Making love if love’s not really there.

Watch me go, watch me walk away alone,
As your clothing comes undone,
And you pull the ribbon from your hair

If “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” is not the most covered Larry Norman song, then most definitely it must be “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music.” Norman’s defense of using contemporary music for the Gospel message. Many readers under 30 may have no idea that using contemporary music was not always acceptable. Norman and other have attributed the quote to Martin Luther though it has never been actually established.

This most likely came from possible comment Luther made regarding the use of certain instrumentation in Church music. Luther also said something to the effect that “Music is from God and that Satan hates.” But applying the actual quote to Luther is dubious.That doesn’t change the fact that the song is fun, rollicking rocker with a 50’s twist.

They say to cut my hair, they’re driving me insane,
I grew it out long to make room for my brain.
But sometimes people don’t understand,
What’s a good boy doing in a rock ‘n’ roll band?

There’s nothing wrong with playing blues licks,
But if you got a reason tell me to my face
Why should the devil have all the good music.
There’s nothing wrong with what I play
‘Cause Jesus is the rock and he rolled my blues away


Interestingly there is a line in the song that appears to be a knock on hymns and the tradition of hymns. Norman would later argue that he loved hymns, especially older hymns with deep theological content, but his complaint more against the modern church music of the time being dry and empty.

The album closes with “Readers Digest,” another lyrically heavy song that pre-dated rap by almost a decade and can be closely compared to Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” A fast-moving, groove oriented music serves as a backdrop for Norman to critique everything from the moon landing to The Beatles. Often caustic and humorous there are few sacred cows left standing at the end of the much too short song.

Rolling Stones are millionaires, flower children pallbearers,
Beatles said All you need is love, and then they broke up.
Jimi took an overdose, Janis followed so close,
The whole music scene and all the bands are pretty comatose.
This time last year, people didn’t wanna hear.
They looked at Jesus from afar, this year he’s a superstar.

Dear John, who’s more popular now?
I’ve been listening to some of Paul’s new records.
Sometimes I think he really is dead.

Norman would actually later remove the comments regarding Lennon and McCartney out of respect to the artists and even apologized for including the words originally. The song closes with the lyric in which the album derives its name.

You think it’s such a sad thing when you see a fallen king
Then you find out they’re only princes to begin with
And everybody has to choose whether they will win or lose
Follow God or sing the blues, and who they’re gonna sin with.
What a mess the world is in, I wonder who began it.
Don’t ask me, I’m only visiting this planet

Despite the controversy, rejection and vitriol spilled out over this album it has endured and more than one generation has been impressed and blessed by it. As stated above it was important on so many levels that a book would be required to discuss it all.

The same can be said for Larry Norman himself. Perhaps someday, like William Wallace, the legend will supersede the history and what is important will not be the failed marriages, failed friendship and finances, but rather the “legend” that will inspire future generation to create art as honestly, profoundly and professionally as is found on “Only Visiting This Planet.”

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I need a nap…

2. All Fall Down – The Seventy Sevens

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.

They rocked!

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.

https://greatestchristianalbums.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/32-scenic-routes-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.”

3. Victims of the Age – Mark Heard

VICTIMS OF THE AGE

Mark Heard

This could be the last day my eyes see
This could be the last day you see me
This could be the last night in my bed
This could be the last thought in my head

I won’t cast my life to the wind
I’ll treasure as much as I can
While I can, I can

Though I may be gone before too long
As long as I am here I’ll sing this song

This could be the last time

I do not cry very often. I will cry in a movie before I cry about things in my own life. I have never cried at a funeral, nor have I cried when hearing about the death of someone I did not know extremely well. Except on August 17th 1992 when I had learned of the death the previous day of Christian artist Mark Heard.

And I don’t know why…

Perhaps I was so moved by his music and felt such a connection to it that his death simply moved me. Or I have considered I was familiar enough with the story of his life and trials and struggles he endured for his art that I felt an empathy previously unknown. Sometime I believe it is because I realized the world lost a beautiful soul, a loving man and brilliant artist…and the world didn’t even know it.

That is the great shame of the life and death of Mark Heard. It is a shame that most of the world had no idea who the man was and what an amazing collection of art he had created in his 20 years as a musician, poet, producer and performer.

I could have just as easily placed every CD in a box and grabbed the top one to list and discuss as much as the next one. In fact I would gather that many will argue that I should have selected one fo the final three “Fingerprint” releases as the choice here. But as I look back on Heard’s catalog that one record simply keeps jumping out at me.

“Victims of the Age” was the second album of Mark’s that I would own (though I now own them all) and its consistently carried theme of city life and isolation and the ever-present Gospel ring as true today as it did in 1982. Plus I firmly believe that Victims, more than any other Heard release, walked the very fine line between commercially accessible and artistically intriguing as any other.

Heard’s musical career began with a small Gospel folk quintet,  Infinity + 3, on an album called “Setting Yesterday Free.” I picked up the “Fingerprint” re-release a few years ago and admit is possesses limited repeat listening, but it does offer a glimpse into the early songwriting of Heard with five songs written by him. The album was originally recorded and released in 1970 and eventually found limited distribution through Spirit Records a few years later.

A few years later he would produce his first solo release, the self-titled “Mark Heard.” The album would actually br re-released on Larry Norman’s Solid Rock label three years later and, so, in 1978 Mark heard made his Christian Music debut on a national level.

The album suffered from a limited budget and the production quality is obviously lacking, but the songwriting skills are prevalent as they would ever be. Most notable is the wonderful title track at its contemplative feel.

What will I do if you go away
Leaving these songs sitting here
What is the use if you’ve not cared to hear
Time and again I will pray this prayer
Loved saved and crying away
“Lord let the Truth reach hearing ears today.”

My, my–how the thoughts slip by
Who has seen them pass
How nice if everyone would carefully use a looking glass

1979’s “Appalachian Melody” would be the second and final album Heard would do for Larry Norman’s label. Heard, like nearly every other artist that worked with Larry, did no more than one or two releases on Solid Rock. But this album would receive some very positive attention with some regionalized airplay of several of the James Taylor-like acoustic ballads. The name of the album is somewhat ironic in that the musical backdrop was significantly less “Appalachian” sounding than the debut album though the Southern/Bluegrass influence is still present.

The album is not only loaded with amazing songs, but Norman did assemble quite a group of studio musicians and friends to help. Musicians credited include Norman, Stonehill, Jon Linn, Flim Johnson and the late Tom Howard on keyboards. But with all that help it should be noted that Heard’s immense musical talent would allow him to perform the majority of the music.

Highlight’s include On the Radio, Bless My Soul, Sidewalk Soliloquy, The Last Time and Castaway, a song which would appear on later re;eases as well and serve as one of Heard’s stronger radio hits. “Two trusting Jesus” should have become a regular wedding song, which was quite a popular musical form in the 70’s and 80’s, with its deeply loving and spiritual content.

Two trusting Jesus
There begins the story
Two separate pathways
Leading to glory
With God’s Son
One and one
Two eternal lives begun
Two trusting Jesus
Are two within His care

After recording an album that was originally released in Switzerland (Fingerprint), Heard returned to the United States and signed with Chris Christian’s Home Sweet Home label. The next five albums would be released on the label, but would mark Heard’s most difficult season artistically. According to interviews and the biography written about his life, Heard was constantly under pressure from label executives to make his music more palatable to the “CCM” audience.

Heard suffered from an ailment known as the low “J-quotient” in his music. By that I mean he was criticized by some for not using the name “Jesus” or God in his songs quite enough. The market at the time (today?) chooses to embrace and promote artists whose content is easy to decipher and required little critical thinking on the part of the listener. Heard did not, nor would he ever, fit into that mold.

We are better off for it even though it cost Heard quite a bit spiritually and emotionally. Described by many as a quiet, reserved, aloof and thinking man, his friends knew a man who was intensely thoughtful, creative and intensely funny. Regular concert goers were privy to his dry and wry humor and unbelievable musicianship. In fact I have argued and still firmly believe he was the finest acoustic instrument player I ever saw live, rivaling Bruce Cockburn in sheer musicianship.

Heard’s first release on Home Sweet Home was the decidedly more electric and rock oriented “Stop the Dominoes.” Mark would produce, arrange and record the album himself and hand-pick the background musicians that included John Patituci, Tom Howard, Alex MacDougall, Randy Stonehill and a very young a relative unknown female singer/songwriter, Leslie Phillips.

Less James Taylor and more bluesy rock with early influences of Lindsey Buckingham that would be a major influence on the album that is the our subject here. But Heard’s own words would describe the general response from the CCM market, even though a small and growing following was beginning.

Well my brothers criticize me
Say I’m just too strange to believe
And the others just avoid me
They say my faith is so naive
I’m too sacred for the sinners
And the saints wish I would leave

Whether instinctively or through experience Heard seemed to know that his music was planted firmly on the fringe of the CCM world. It is a shame because even this often overlooked album had several amazing radio friendly songs like I’m Crying Again, Call Me the Fool and To See Your Face. The latter was played on KYMS I recall.

After releasing “Victims” a year later Heard followed up with two relative acoustic driven album to attempt to appeal to the more AC CCM crowd. The first was the very impressive “Eye of the Storm,” which would include a new version of “Castaway” that would pick up some radio airplay on Christian radio stations nationwide.

It is also a special album in that Heard pretty much recorded the whole album at home by himself, playing all the instruments and performing all of the backing vocals, including a “gospel choir.” There is even a “horn section” that was Heard humming into his hands. Though there were a few overdubbed instruments added they were very limited and added one at a time.

If I remember right “Eye of the Storm” would be Heard’s most successful release. This would be a blessing and curse.

After the success of the previous album Heard was receiving pressure from the label to continue in a more acoustic vein in attempt to capitalize on the success of “Eye of the Storm.” Though decidedly “mellower” than Dominoes of Victims, “Ashes and Light” would not be the exclusive acoustic release the label was hoping for. Though filled with very radio friendly songs in the style of Tom Petty and John Mellncamp there never seemed to be a concerted effort by the label to break any songs on radio.

The album does stand out as it was the very first album recorded entirely in Heard’s home studio, Fingerprint Studios. I recall hearing stories of Heard playing an instrument or singing while simultaneously recording and engineering his own work. The album would also be the first to feature an appearance by Jesus Music pioneer and incredible songwriter on his own, Pat Terry. Heard would produce three album for terry, the first being “Humanity gangster,” a must own album that I one day hope appears on CD!

The opening track, “Winds of Time” remains one of my favorite songs in Heard’s catalog. The lyric rips at the heart upon every listen in our need to be completely filled with all that God has to offer. Heard calls it the “saturated soul.”

It takes a saturated soul
And a faith that will never let go

It takes more than mindless passion
It takes more than dogma in mime
It takes more than virtuous fashion
To withstand the winds of time

It takes a saturated soul
To withstand the winds of time

The song “Straw Man” is notable as the only song in history that includes the word “anhedonia.” Not for that alone, the song also stabs deep at the heart of those who build up arguments based on fallacies and spread the fallacies as truth, and who use those arguments against those in the body of Christ.

If true communication were ever to bless this congregation
And everyone knew just what it’s like to be somebody else
And no words were hasty and all thoughts were thought through
Might our anger not find a better target than ourselves?

“Mosaics” would be the last album on Home Sweet Home even though the label would release several”Best Of” money grabs, especially after his death. Fans criticized the label profusely for this as stories circulated that due to some contractual issues the surviving family members (wife Susan and daughter) were not receiving royalty payments for those projects. I have heard that some of those issues were eventually resolved but am unfamiliar with the details.

“Mosaics” would be a return to a more rock and blues influenced sound and would include a cover of T-Bone Burnett’s “Power of Love” and the song, “Miracle” co-written with Tonio K. Heard would go on to work extensively with both of those artists.

One other interesting note is that the album cover was of a picture of Heard that was cut up into sections and sent to several friends around the world who were asked to “fill in” the their piece and send it back. The pieces were then reassembled to form the album artwork.

The next album for Heard would be the group concept for What? Records recorded under the name iDEoLa. See https://greatestchristianalbums.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/31-tribal-opera-ideola/  for more information on this great release.

Heard would then disappear for several years producing albums for Randy Stonehill and forming his own label, Fingerprint, that would include artists like Pierce Pettis and the Vigilantes of Love, whom he would also produce.It would also be on Fingerprint that he would write, record and produce three of the greatest albums in his career and in Christian music for the time.

“Dry Bones dance” would be the first of the three “Fingerprint” albums released before his death in August of 1992. Both it and the follow-up album, “Second Hand” would be listed among the Top 100 albums by the editors of CCM Magazine. Interestingly enough, it would be “Satellite Sky” that would remain my favorite of the three.

This third release would be written entirely on the mandolin and would feature several songs that would later be covered on the Tribute album to Heard called “Orphans of God.” There is something about the uniqueness of the mandolin as the primary instruments in a rock and roll setting that makes the album so enjoyable.

It was also the last album before his death and while working for Frontline Distribution at the time we were selling the record into christian Bookstores. Several weeks before his death Heard came to a Frontline sales conference to promote the new album and the entire label that just had signed the deal with the company. As a longtime fan it was a privilege and joy to represent his music to an industry that never quite “got him.”

But my love and appreciation for Mark heard and his songwriting skills came with the impressive “Victims of the Age.” The album starts with the title track that addresses immediately a world that makes no effort to ensure its inhabitants and loved, accepted and carded for. Everything around us screams for our attention and yet offers little for that attention received.

Radio says, “I love you”
Street says, “That’s a lie”
Billboard says, “Give anything a try”
Sidewalks don’t say nothing
Streetlights don’t ask why

Could stars be screaming in the evening sky?

Caught between these voices
The sirens and the sage
One too many choices
For the victims of the age

The “city life” theme would consume the entire project as the listener imagines Heard getting into a taxi cab and driving around the city commenting on what he sees. The loneliness, despair and the glimmers of hope.It must be a universal question to wonder under our breath just who all these people are and what are their lives like. Heard asks the same question with sobering answers.

Half-baked traffic snake creeping in the evening sun
Clogged-up fast lane clears and the day is done
Everyone’s gone: some went to Hell, some went home

City life won’t let up while you’re waiting for the light to change

Most of the album falls in the middle American rock vein of Tom Petty and Neil Young, but with the lyrical precision of Bob Dylan and musicianship of Lindsey Buckingham. This is high praise that is well deserved.

The theme of individual despair and isolation continues as Heard is joined in the can by others who are seeking something…something that may not even realize they are seeking. Their nameless faces populating vehicles leading heard to wonder aloud.

Hypothetical mortal beings
Known only to themselves and God
Come and go and play the cameo
They’re just faces in cabs

All the hearts that are gonna break today
All the lovers who won’t come home tonight
Nobody feels their dynamite
They’re just faces in cabs

One must wonder where is the Church in all of this? What is our responsibility? Are we seen making a difference. We find mission avenues in foreign lands and neglect our neighbors.

All the heathen in Africa
All the heathen in West L.A. today
All of raging humanity
Is just faces in cabs

They’re just faces in the cabs-so I’ve been told
Just faces in the cabs-the masses out there
Just faces in cabs-anonymous souls

On “Nothing is Bothering Me” the results of these images appear to be limited as they ones commissioned to serve and help the down-trodden ignore the truth set before them.

We get the picture from week to week
The rich get richer and inherit the meek
Long since started preying on the weak
Am I the guilty party if I turn the other cheek

I’m alright
Nothing is bothering me
I’m just trying to keep the weight of this world
From dawning on me

Heard continues this study in juxtapositions as he compares people from all walks of life and how similar events may result in significantly different responses.

Some folks eat what flies leave
They get what they can take
Hunger has no heart and it will not wait

Rain can ruin your weekend
Or rain can spare your life
Depending on who you are and what your thirst is like

And when it’s day to me it’s night to someone
And when it’s night you might not want to go on

It is a big world out there and yet the church was called 2,000 years ago to make an impact in this world. Heard concludes the song with similar thoughts.

Some folks taste of Heaven
Some folks taste of Hell
Some folks lose their taste and they cannot tell

And when it’s day to me it’s night to someone
And when it’s night you might not want to go on

Heard does not let up on the second half of the album as he makes probably the most blatant indictment on the church and her response (or lack of) to the world around her in the song “Growing Up Blind.”

So we forsake this festering waste
And all of the wounds that we’ve seen bleed
In the name of the One who says that what we’ve done
Is turn our backs on Him in leaving the least of these

Growing up blind, growing up blind
Hearts in the darkness killing time
Growing up blind, growing up blind
How does it feel to be growing up blind

“Dancing at the Policeman’s Ball” should have been a mainstream radio hit for Heard. The quirky, dare I say “dancy,” song is the most reminiscent of Lindsey Buckingham. For some reason I every time I hear Steve Taylor’s, “This Disco (Used to be a Cute Cathedral)” I am reminded of this song and its look at those things that keep us from doing what we are commanded to do.

You hit the floor at the sound of the band
With a partner in your hand
Restless and breathless you dance the night away
Did I hear you say it is your aim
For every night to be just the same
And you hope the city outside’s gonna be okay

Dancing at the Policeman’s ball

Heard’s most scathing commentary may have reserved for “Everybody Love a Holy War.” This brilliant work features some of Heard’s finest lyrics as he addresses the “us versus them” mentality both within the walls of the church and the with the church and those on the outside. The content reminds me of Francis Schaeffer, who, I would discover later, had a great impact on heard’s theology and worldview. Here Heard addresses how those within the Church treat one another on doctrinal lines and how those in spiritual power rules use their authority to weaken those below them.

Many’s the man with the iron hand
Supposing his own thoughts to be Divine
He will break any bond-
’cause the other man’s always wrong
It’s a handy excuse for his crimes

Everybody loves a holy war
Draw the line and claim divine protection
Kill the ones who show the most objection
Everybody loves a holy war

But the battles are not just waged within the walls of the church, but the attacks are lobbed at the world in need of the gospel as well.

Dissident cries are met with cold eyes
And treatment the devil would get
Righteousness and truth
can be weapons in the hands of fools
While innocents go to their deaths

Everybody loves a holy war
Draw the line and claim divine assistance
Slay the ones who show the most resistance
Everybody loves a holy war

Heard, though, shine the bright light of grace and hope in the albums closing number. “Heart of Hearts” would feature backing vocals by Leslie Phillips who would later cover the song and make a hit out of it.

Tears in the city
But nobody’s really surprised, you know
My heart’s taking a beating
Existence is bleeding me dry, you know

But way down in my heart of hearts
Way down in my soul of souls
Way down I know that I am a fortunate man
To have known divine love

The trip around the city ends with more than just a glimmer, but rather and sunburst of hope as Heard realizes how fortunate is the man who has come in contact with divine love. the songs serves as the perfect and memorable ending to such an amazing record.

On July 4th, 1992 Heard suffered a heart attack while on stage at the Cornerstone Festival outside of Chicago. He continued and finished his set before asking to be taken to the hospital. After a few weeks he was released and a few weeks folloing he suffered a major cardiac arrest and passed away on August 16th. He was only 41 years old.

But Heard’s legacy would live well beyond “Victims” and well beyond his years as the incredible tribute album,”Orphans of God” shows. I am firmly convinced that this is the very best “tribute” album ever recorded. Many tribute albums are filled with artists who were fans or who were on the same label as the artist receiving the tribute. Here the album was filled with a diverse congregation of artists who were deeply and personally impacted by the music, ministry and art of Mark Heard.

Add to that the fact that the songs were written by one of the most impressive and talented songwriters of his or any other generation. It said that Bruce Cockburn named Heard his favorite songwriter. There is not much higher praise I could include that would say more than that.


4. Horrendous Disc – Daniel Amos

HORRENDOUS DISC

Daniel Amos

give up
repent
good riddance
and all God’s blessings on
“the band that won’t go away”

Camarillo Eddie (The Swirling Eddies)

I expect the inclusion of this specific Daniel Amos album to cause some level of consternation amongst my friends. My “Jesus Music” friends will complain that the album selected should have been “Shotgun Angel,” the iconoclastic, Sgt. Pepper of Christian Music. Other friends will complain that it should most likely be Alarma!, the album that birthed “new wave/punk” in the Christian market and initiated the famous (infamous) Alarma Chronicles 4-part album series.

But nestled directly between those albums is the most interesting, frustrating and glorious album in the Daniel Amos catalog. The story behind its creation, release and the aftermath that followed it is the stuff of legend. Broken promises, delays, changes, false starts, lost friendships and ultimately artistic achievement that is appreciated now more than 20 years later than it ever was at its release.

The album is also a bridge between two eras in Christian Music. “Shotgun Angel” is a flagship release in the Jesus Music annals while Alarma brought Christian Music into the 80’s as current as anything available in the mainstream market. But the band had to travel from one place to another and “Horrendous Disc tells” that story.

But it is not only for historical significance that “Horrendous Disc” is included; it also remains a testament to the artistry and songwriting superiority that is the possession of Daniel Amos front-man, Terry Scott Taylor. These are some of the most finely crafted rock songs in Christian Music history. There is depth, humor, caustic wit and deep-rooted faith at its core.

The roots of “Horrendous Disc” began many years previous when Terry Taylor and Steve Baxter were part of an acoustic quartet in Southern California called Jubal’s Last Band. After playing coffee houses, Church basements and local park amphitheaters, the band recorded a demo tape. After some line-up changes which included the addition of future Daniel Amos members Marty Dieckmeyer and Jerry Chamberlain the band auditioned for Maranatha! Music in hopes of landing a record contract with the Calvary Chapel subsidiary.

Another band had a similar name and both bands decided to change their names. One band became Gantlet Faith and the other, featuring Terry Taylor, chose the name Daniel Amos. Both bands were signed to Maranatha! Music and while Gentle Faith only recorded one album before front-man Darrell Mansfield went on to a long and successful ministry and career, it would be Daniel Amos that would make the greater impact on Christian Music.

Before recoding their first full-length release Daniel Amos recorded several “singles” that would appear on different Maranatha Music compilation albums including “Ain’t Gonna Fight It” and the long time favorite “ode to marital fidelity,” “Happily Married Man.” Both would be added to a special CD-reissue of the classic album.

The first Daniel Amos album (released in 1976) was a self-titled, country music classic that sounded more like The Eagles than Willie Nelson, and that sound was difficult for the band to later overcome. Another never-ending problem was that many fans thought Terry Taylor was Daniel Amos and would thank “Mr. Amos” for their great music and ministry. It was also during this time that the band would wear these huge 10-gallon cowboy hats that I often thought was more parody than possessing any real affinity for the musical genre.

There are so many amazing songs from this album that briefly discussing the album does it no justice. Highlights include the Jehovah’s Witness critique, “Jesus is Jehovah To Me” and another “apologetic” tune, “The Bible.” The latter sounding more like The Eagles than just about any other Daniel Amos song.

William, Losers and Winners and Walking on the Water would remain favorites for fans for many, many years. There were also songs that were so “hokey” that the listener can’t help but believe they were part parody. “Ridin’ Along” comes straight from dusty prairie cowboy movie and “Dusty Road” follows with the same feel. Taylor’s wry sense of humor would be visible in songs like “Abidin'” and “Skeptic’s Song.”

I noticed that from the several times I saw Daniel Amos in concert that those more “hokey” songs would be reworks drastically and come across as significantly more edgy and less country.

Hidden amongst the large hates, spurs and 1-3 beats were great lyrics and amazing vocal harmonies that would remain a staple for many years, even through the alternative, new wave albums. No matter the musical genre the band progressed through the heart of the band’s sound was always more Beatles than Eagles or Talking Heads. The Beatles influence would show itself more on the follow-up Jesus Music classic, Shotgun Angel than what was explored on the debut.

It should be fair to note here that those that believe the jump from country music darlings to rock rebels was a radical and unexpected shift simply did not listen closely enough to each album. There were hints of the future sound the band would present on “Shotgun Angel” on the debut and side two of Angel gives plenty of musical hints as to what was to follow with Horrendous Disc.

But what made “Shotgun Angel” such an important album in history?

Side one of the 1977 released album most resembles the debut with strong Eagles tinged Americana country, but with much more of an electric feel and vocals influenced more by the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” than previously displayed. The electric guitar is also featured more often.

The album also features limited spacing between songs as many flow from one to another. This is even more prevalent on side two, which is more of a “rock opera” than anything else as the breaks are nearly indistinguishable. The more obviously country leanings are reserved for a more humorous approach like what is found in “Black Gold Fever” and “Meal.”

Songs like “Praise Song” and “The Whistler” would show glimmers as to what would show up on “Horrendous Disc.” In fact when one listens to side two of Shotgun Angel it’s hard to not note the sounds that would become “Horrendous Disc.” The guitar of “Better” would become a trademark sound that would follow Daniel Amos as long as Jerry Chamberlain was involved.

The much ballyhooed side two of the album is actually a mini rock opera dealing with a specific eschatological viewpoint that was and remains quite popular. The Jesus Movement had a few very foundational viewpoints. One of them was the soon expected “Pre-Tribulational” Rapture of the Church and the coming rise of the Antichrist and Tribulation his arrival would usher in.

The story starts with a beautiful instrumental overture that would serve as a musical backdrop for the albums final songs.

“Lady Goodbye” picture the Church disappearing – at Christ’s “first” Second Coming – in a pre-tribulation rapture scenario with the main character being left behind to endure the coming tribulation complete with four horsemen (The Whistler) and “mark of the Beast” (He’s Gonna Do a Number on You). “Better” describes the supposed “cashless society” that is to accompany that time and man’s belief and admiration of the Antichrist.

Awakening from the horrible dream to find that it is all real the main character embraces the call of the Gospel no matter what the cost. “Posse in the Sky” reveals the “second” Second Coming, this time with the angels and previously raptured Church in tow bringing final judgment against the earth. All those done in a country/cowboy theme evident with words like “Possee” and “Shotgun”.

In 1986 Terry and band would re-release side two of Shotgun Angel as a project called “Revelation” through Frontline Records at the 10th Anniversary of the original. The reworking included brand new mixes and a new song called “Soon.” This version also included Pastor Chuck Smith reading relevant passages from the book of Revelation.

Those familiar with this particular eschatological views will find the message of the songs familiar. Even those like myself that do not hold to this particular can find the project powerful, exhorting and encouraging. Agreement on such issues are not as vital as noting that Paul challenged the Church in Thessalonica to encourage one another with the affirmation of Christ’s coming.

Daniel Amos would begin recording “Horrendous Disc” in late 1977 and early 1978. The album was finished and the masters were brought to Maranatha! Music. At that same time Maranatha! Music decided to no longer release albums by rock artists and concentrated primarily on the new Praise and Worship line and children’s music.

Word Record acquired the masters from Maranatha! in early 1978. They eventually leased them to Larry Norman’s Solid Rock label. This put Daniel Amos in friendly territory with artists like Mark Heard, Alwyn Wall and longtime friend Randy Stonehill. It also started the longest and most frustrating three years in the bands tenure.

During that time Terry and band would build a long-lasting friendship with Randy Stonehill which included several long tours where Daniel Amos would serve as Stonehill’s band as well as perform their own set. Terry would produce three albums for Stonehill, the most notable being Stonehill’s classic “Equator.” Those famous tours were known as the Amos and Randy Tour.

During those tours and other concerts they would begin playing songs from “Horrendous Disc.” They would continue to play those songs for three years with no album to support. Test pressings of the album were sent out to radio stations in 1979 and also sent to the band to sell at concerts. The album contained a different mix and different order of songs. Those issues would be the least of their problems as the album would still not be released for another two years.

This issue (along with others too ugly to address) caused a rift with Norman that would never be healed. Even in 2000 when Norman finally released the album on CD it contained bonus cuts by Norman that fans (myself included) hated. And when Taylor approached Norman in 2006 to re-release the CD as a Deluxe version Norman agreed, but then backed out and released another horrible version of the album, this time as a CDR with a horrible artwork copies.

The album did officially get released in 1981. About one week before their follow Alarma! hit the stores.

“Alarma!” was the first of an amazing 4-part album set that includes many of Daniel Amos’ greatest work. Each album contained a continuing story and lyrical content that matched. By the time the four album set was finished the band would have gone through four record companies (one for each release) and a name change of sorts. The first two albums used the entire name, Daniel Amos, while the third used the DA with a small font for the name and the final album, Fearful Symmetry, would sport only the DA moniker.

Those that discovered Alarma before they ever heard “Horrendous Disc” must have been utterly surprised the listener. Without thew knowledge of the transitional album Alarma was shocking to say the least. There was also controversy surrounding the album cover with the band members having their eyes blurred over. More than a few televangelist would make claims of Satanic origin of the cover. Of course they never bothered to note how the eyes appeared elsewhere on the project.

The symbolism of the cover would be all too apparent in the lyrical content on the album. Reviewers described the album as having some of the most scathing commentary of the Church and society ever recorded. No one safe from Taylor’s attacks. Remaining blind to the injustices and the downtrodden would be a theme that would be repeated over and over. Songs like Face to the Windows, Alarma, Big Time/Big Deal, Props, My Room and others would all deal directly with an apathetic Church that hides behind its own facade.

Musically Alarma and the entire series would find itself squarely in the forefront of the burgeoning Christian punk/new wave scene. Others came right before and after, but few matched the lyrical precision and musical chops of DA. Carrying the banner of both a musical genre and a lyrical assault must have not been easy.

1983’s “Doppelganger” was a darker and much more haunting release. It was also much more personal and dealt with the sins of the individual as well as the sins of the Church. Though the more outward attacks against commercialism (New car, Mall All Over the World) and televangelist (I Didn’t Build It For Me) were easy targets it is the more introspective and personal songs that pack a real punch.

“Real Girls” examines mans abuse of woman as objects while “Youth With a Machine” takes a look at the growing modern technology and the dehumanizing nature of it. “Doppelganger’s” theme is revealed in “The Double.”

My double’s sitting in another world
My double’s laughing in the heavenly places
I am his double here, I can expect
We’ll be together when time is no more

1984’s “Vox Humana” would be the most commercially accessible of the four projects. Sounding m a little more like David Bowie and Talking Heads, the songs are more pop and commercial sounding. there were even some singles that penetrated Christian radio.  Southern California’s famous KYMS even played a few songs included the very popular “Sanctuary.” The album is more upbeat and brighter lyrically and lends itself to the poppier musical edge.

Memorable tracks include Rocket Packs, the very popular radio song, Home Permanent and the aforementioned Sanctuary. But also worthy of mention is hauntingly beautiful, William Black. The drum tracks were recorded and then mixed going backwards in order to create the unique percussive sound. The practice began on Doppelganger with “Hollow Man” and is used effectively here and on “As the World Turns.”

One of the classic live songs “Dance Stop” also appears here. The first time I saw DA on the Vox Humana tour was at a local Christian nightclub called “The Lighthouse.” There was a good crowd of DA fans, but also a large contingent or early 80’s “Miami Vice” clones and Madonna wannabees there for the weekly meat (er…meet?) market who much preferred the DJ’s choice of Kim Boyce, Leon Patillo and Steve Arrington. The only time the dance floor filled up was during “Dance Stop.” The frenetic punk pace broke more than a few high heels I’m sure as the band would stop and start with incredible precision.

The final album in the series, Fearful Symmetry, would be hailed by many as their greatest artistic achievement. Of course many would also reserve that for every DA album upon its release. Fearful Symmetry would contain upbeat rhythms and melodies, but a more haunting vocal production to give the album an “other-worldly” feel to it. The album would also contain one of DA’s most successful rock radio single, The Pool.

Fearful Symmetry was more synthesizer driven and was heavily influenced by the writings of William Blake. The title of the album would come from Blake’s poem, The Tyger. I want to point out the final song on the album. One of Taylor’s most stunning ballads, Beautiful One sounds like it could have been included on Taylor’s early solo projects.

And in the wind a song
And moonlight on the lawn
Draws me on, and on
And thru the day a sigh
For dreamers such as I
Who steal away
To watch and pray

Daniel Amos would go to create some of the greatest and most memorable music in Christian music, though never receiving the recognition they so richly deserved. But it really points back to the album that went through the greatest trials to be heard. There is nothing horrendous about the album itself, though the story behind it most surely is.

By the time “Horrendous Disc” came to be the band had expanded to an official 6 members with permanent addition of keyboardist Mark Cook and percussionist Alex MacDougall. MacDougall had previously toured with major named mainstream artists and his impact was immediate felt.

The album starts with probably the “hardest” rocker in Daniel Amos history. “I Love You #19” sound like nothing the band had recorded previously, not anything like what would follow. Though much of the album would fall in a Beatles, Beach Boys and even Pink Floyd sound, this song kicks off with rock guitar riffs more akin to KISS and ZZ Top. Taylor’s voice is synthesized taking on the “out of the world” image the cover presented.

Now when I say it real pretty in a pretty rhyme
Does your mind get cloudy that’s a dirty crime
Well, Does it do things any good to tell you
That I’m standing here because- I love you
Well, does it do things any good to tell you
That I’m standing here because- I love you
Does it do things any good to tell you
That I’m standing here because- I love you- yes I do
I said I love you- love you- yes I do

The song would remain a concert opener for quite some time and had a following of fans for the three years the album lived in limbo.

“Hound of Heaven, with its Pink Floyd like guitars and atmospheric background instrumentation sets the musical tone for the rest of the album. This song concept, taken from the classic poem by English poet Francis Thompson, reveals the undying “hunter” nature of God as He follows after the soul that tries to flee.  Taylor presents the “seeker of souls” as one who through the common aspects of ones life finds the pressure from the Almighty to see His grace.

We got lost among the stars
Hollywood flash, cash, mansions and cars
Deep sea diver lear flyer
Will this thing go to the moon?
Give me elbow room, and for heaven’s sake
Take this aching away

You can’t run, you can’t hide, from the hound of heaven
You’re free to choose, can you refuse the seeker of souls

“Near Sighted Girl With Approaching) Title Wave” tells the odd story of approaching doom that is missed by those too consumed with their own lives to see what was coming. The music, not surprisingly. has a touch of the Beach Boys with a wicked twist. It even includes a Latino inspired bridge complete with Spanish lyrics. Taylor here shows his wry wit and command of the language of songwriting in describing this young girls ignorance and obliviousness to her present situation.

Up in her room she gets out of the sack
Goes down to the beach and lies on her back
In the sunshine all day, what’s the hurry?

She dreams of long youth, no wrinkles or fat
No thoughts of bedpans or deathbeds
And that keeps her smiling all day, what’s the hurry?

The song concludes with the inevitable results that serve as a warning.

Even the guys with muscles cried, “The tide is rising!”
And all the folks with porsches made it up to the cliffs
A group of kids were praying that I’m sure went up to heaven
But no one tried to surf…

It’s a tidal wave, it’s a watery grave
She really tried to swim, she couldn’t in the end

Taking musical inspiration once again from the Beatles and Beach Boys, as well as arrangements inspiration from Queen, “Sky King (Out Across the Sky)” is either referring to personal eschatology at death or end times eschatology with the Resurrection. It’s beauty both musically and lyrically is captivating from its keyboard opening to its harmony driven closing.

Ain’t no packing bags when your voyage is to the son
Ain’t no last good-byes when heaven calls you on
It’s hard to believe this dreary night is gone
But I can feel it’s meant for everyone

This is not a dream, you’ve taken flight, far above the world
You walk on clouds, you ride the light, far above my head

Out across the sky, out across the sky
I’m out across the sky

After a UFO sound effect and spastic percussive introduction by MacDougall, “On the Line” talks about the many different ways God tries to reach mankind whether it’s the stars in Heaven, the song on the radio or the Bible (a letter He signed with love).

He’s got some bulletins on the radio
You turn the beatles up instead
Why do you settle for strawberry fields
His talk of heaven could fill more than your head

And when you draw back the curtain
He’ll paint a pretty picture for you
And if a billion stars don’t convince you baby
He sent some letters signed His name with love too

You know He calls you long distance
No doubt He’s dropped you a line
Right now He’s saying it on your Hi-fi
Quit talking and listen a while

Midway the song changes musical directions and has more a late 70’s rock/funk feel with a great percussive work by MacDougall, before returning to the original vibe and closing out. The album is filled with these great changes and shows that Taylor’s songwriting prowess is not just limited to the lyrical content, but to the musical arrangements as well.

The only song I ever remember playing on KYMS overnights was “I Believe In You.” This is the only song that could have fit on “Shotgun Angel” as it has a real Eagles feel to it, but with a stronger jazz influence. This song of unbridled faith is as beautiful lyrically as it is musically.

Sometimes just got Your letters to read
These promises You’ve asked me always to believe
Then despite the feeling, I’m saying I believe in you

I believe in you
I believe in you, when the night comes
‘Cause the light comes too, I believe in you
I believe in you, and that you’re coming back
To make my dreams come true

The only two songs not written and sung by Taylor are “Man in the Moon” and “Never Leave You.” The coincidentally appear back to back on the album. Both maintain the distinctive sound of the rest of the album and are creative expressions of faith.

The album closes with the title track. This epic has the feel of Queen with a subtle opening verse followed by tight harmony vocals and musical changes throughout. The story of man whose sins may be private in his own household are lived out before a God that sees and knows all. There is no escape from God who sees that which is done in public and in private. The nightmare of the subject of the song is that no matter where he turns, whether on the radio or on a billboard along the highway, his sins are displayed for all to see.

The show is over, he pours himself a drink
Best to forget about it
Put a record on the stereo and try not to think
And the record plays
“…This is your life, you beat your wife…”
We’ll spare the gory details and simply say

Recording artist God hears it all
Recording artist He has total recall
Your sneaky moves are right here in the grooves

The album closes with the eerie warning and a definite uncomfortable feeling with a wall of sound vocal droning on and causing the listener to reflect on all they have just heard. It is a powerful way to end this amazing record.

It is a shame that this album and the band went through all that it did. I often wonder if it had been released properly, with a strong marketing support and more than a week before Alarma! hit just what kind of impact it could have made. When one considers it was three years late it is amazing that it sounded as current and progressive as it did when it was released. It does show what an amazing and important band Daniel is and was that an album left on the shelves for three years and is now over 30 years old is still as vibrant, fresh and original.

5. For Him Who Has Ears to Hear – Keith Green

FIR HIM WHO HAS EAR TO HEAR

Keith Green

The three men I admire most
The Father, Son and Holy Ghost
They took the last train for the coast
The day the music died…

Don McLean American Pie

There is an on going debate as to when the “Jesus Movement” and the “Jesus Music” that is attached to it actually ended. Some have argued that ended with the increase in large Christian record companies. Others believe it was when Churches or ministries stopped being the focal point of distribution centers of the albums and artists. Other argue that it was when artists stopped asking for “free love” offerings and started demanding minimum pay outs and contracts with demands. Quite often I hear it is when artists stopped performing “altar calls” at the end of their concerts. Some simply state the turn of the decade between the 70’s and the 80’s spelled its doom.

I will avoid the fray and only make one statement regarding this issue. The “Jesus Movement” with its emphasis on evangelism, giving, street witnessing, free will offerings, altar calls and ministry focus prioritization may have died anytime between 1978 and 1984 as Christian labels began to be absorbed by larger companies who were in turn absorbed by secular, international conglomerates, but the “heart” of the Jesus Movement and Jesus Music itself died on July 28th, 1982 when an overfilled Cassna 414 crashed just after takeoff  outside of Lindale, Texas.

On that ill-fated flight were 12 people including the pilot. There was a missionary family; father, mother and six children. Two other children were on board as well. The youngest was two years old. Her name was Bethany Green. Her father, also on the flight,  was named Keith.

When Keith Green was 10 years old he was hailed as “the next big thing” in rock and roll. He was one of the youngest solo artists ever signed to a record deal and was the youngest to ever be signed to ASCAP as he was not only the next big heart-throb and cover boy of teen magazines, but he could write and perform his own music even before he became a teenager.

He signed to Decca Records in 1965 and released a couple singles as well as making appearances on The Jack Benny and Steve Allen shows. He was a teen idol in the making. But then along came Donny Osmond and the cute curly-haired boy seemed to fade from the spotlight. God had a different plan for young Mr. Green and the world and the Christian community would be better off for it.

After years of drugs, free love and a self-serving lifestyle, Green found God in a very real and radical way. He developed friendships with other musicians rather quickly and began writing songs for others and started a radical ministry in which he bought several houses in a Los Angeles suburb and made them available to recently converted drug users, ex-convicts and prostitutes. The little neighborhood community was named Last Days Ministries.

Some of those friends he developed included Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy and the Ward siblings known then as the 2nd Chapter of Acts. One of the first collaborative efforts became the Jesus Music classic “Your Love Broke Through,” originally recorded by Phil Keaggy and later by Green and a host of other artists.

In 1976 he signed a record deal with the ministry focused Sparrow label and lent his talents to the classic, contemporary musical “Firewind.” One year later the Christian community would be introduced to the man who would be labeled part poet, part preacher, part prophet. His musical style was a piano based pop rock with similarities to Elton John and Billy Joel. His lyrical style was a confrontational, prophetic and exhorting style with similarities to Jeremiah, Joel and John the Baptist!

He would record and release four albums before his death in 1982 including his debut, which is the subject of our writing here, No Compromise, So You Want to Go Back to Egypt and Songs for the Shepherd.

Sparrow would release a “Best Of” collection before his death as well as his relationship with them lasted for only the first two albums. He decided to make a radical shift in the marketing and sales of his product by offering the album only in concert and through mail order. Though that part of the marketing was not original, what was different is that he made the albums available for whatever the person could afford, even if that meant free. Over 25% of the sales of the following albums were sent out at no charge.

Eventually distribution deals were worked out so that Christian Bookstores could sell his product but they were originally only available as two packs where the buyer would receive two copies for the price of one and were expected to use the free copy as a ministry tool to evangelize.

There were several posthumously released albums, primarily best of collections, live recording and tribute albums. There were two complete original recording released of songs that had been recorded, at least in demo form, by Keith before his death. They were “The Prodigal Son” and “Jesus Commands Us to Go.”

The latter was a primary theme of Green’s ministry. Concert were not only evangelistic rallies but were also rallying events calling a complacent Church to missions and evangelism. His lyrical content and between song talks would reflect this position and passion.

According to biographies and interviews Green was fascinated and impressed by the evangelist and preacher, Leaonard Ravenhill. Ravenhill’s no-nonsense evangelistic approach and fiery sermonizing would leave a lasting impression on Green that would inform his worldview and theological leaning. This would be all so present on the debut album, “For Him Who Has ears to Hear,” the object of our discussion, but even more so on Green’s sophomore release, “No Compromise.”

The opening track, “Soften Your Heart,” is an evangelistic call to repentance but the theological leanings can be seen as somewhat troubling.

You try to make things to complicated
But you really don’t have to be so smart
You don’t learn a thing
Until you soften your heart

Here Green calls for the listener to soften their heart to receive the Gospel message being proclaimed. The problem is, though, that Scripture tells us that it is God that softens and hardens (Ezekiel 36,  Romans 9). This more law oriented and revivalist approach is similar to the traveling preacher, Charles Finney. Evangelism is once again the focus in How Can They Live Without Jesus, You! and Altar Call.

The primary theological pool that Green drew from was of the Finnyist and Arminian variety and he took seriously the call to proclaim the need for works and to warn of apostasy. This would show most often in his songs directed toward himself. The would include Make My Life a Prayer to You, I Don’t Wanna Fall Away From You and My Eyes are Dry.

Green’s focus though is directly related to the Church and what he saw as a complacency. Taking a cue from Tony Campolo Green proclaimed that we are to “go unless we are called to stay.” This single focus impacts a good amount of  the content on “no Compromise.” Songs focusing on a weak Church include Asleep in the Light, Stained Glass, To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice.

The exclusively law oriented content would start to even itself out with a more gracious understanding in the following release, “So You Wanna Go back to Egypt.” Though there was plenty of content aimed at the inadequacies of the Church, there was a much better understanding of God’s grace and His working within his Church. Even the more convicting songs finally included more of a sense of humor and satire to prove the point as in the case of the title track.

So you wanna to back to Egypt
Where your friends wait for you
You can throw a big party and tell the whole gang
Of what they said was all true
And this Moses acts like a big shot
Who does he think he is?
Well it’s true that God works lots of miracles
But Moses thinks they’re all his

Oh we’re having so much trouble even now
Why’d he get so mad about that c-c-c-cow (that golden calf)
Moses seems rather idle
He just sits around, he just sits around and writes the Bible!

Oh, Moses, put down your pen!
What? Oh no, manna again?

Oh, manna waffles….
Manna burgers
Manna bagels
Fillet of manna
Manna patty
BaManna bread!

One interesting note to consider is Green’s belief in the deceptive nature and actions of the Devil. The first three projects all contain a song that deals with Satan. It stands out because of the very limited number of Christian artists that deal with the subject and here Green had recorded three songs on three albums.

One other important progression on “Egypt” is the beginning of a more worshipful tone. The album contain the worship classic “O Lord, You’re Beautiful,” a focus that would consume his final album, “Songs for the Shepherd.” More than worship Green’s songs come across more like hymns.

“Songs for the Shepherd” would be Green’s final release before his death. It almost seems fitting that the final album would be an album dedicated to worship and contain hymns that would continue for decades, possibly centuries to come. Songs that continue to be used in Churches worldwide even today include How Majestic Is Thy Name, You Are the One and There Is a Redeemer.

But our focus here is on the record that started it all in the Summer of 1977.

The sweet-natured half-smile, kind eyes and one-way finger nearly obscured by the head and face of hair on the cover does not serve as indication as to what laid within the grooves of this album. This is not sweet, syrupy, pabulum CCM with songs of encouragement for your “tough days.” Though the Jeremiah in rags pointing at God’s people with the Word as a sword would be the experience of the following album, “No Compromise,” there still is the ever-present call for repentance and holy living. But also noticeable are songs obviously written at a time just after conversion focusing on those beginning moments of love and joy.

This debut album would not only showcase Green’s songwriting and vocal acumen, but would also be the most piano focused release. There are times that the listener feels like Green is sitting in his living room playing their piano and performing just for them. The central focus of the piano in the instrumentation and mic puts one of Green’s finest skills front and center.

The reason for this is that the album was recorded almost completely live in the studio with very limited overdubbing, just limited to strings and backing vocals. This “live” feel was probably as much for budget as for the listener’s experience, but for this record it works. The focus throughout remains the voice, the piano, the songs.

The album starts with “You Put This Love In My Heart,” a Elton John type piano driven pop song reflecting on God’s undying love and intrusive offer of love and grace.

Cause your love has released me
From all that’s in my past
And I know I can believe you
When you say I’ll never be forsaken
Your love is gonna last

There’s so much more I should say
If I could just find a way
You put this love in my heart

A continuing theme of God’s faithfulness amidst our sin is the focus of the ballad “I Can’t Believe It!” while “Because of You” handles the same topic but in a decidedly more upbeat fashion. Where the former is more introspective the latter deals with how the change in one’s life impacts those around them.

Now people just can’t believe, that my life used to be
Something that no one had any use for
I’d stay at home each night, never shine the light
And i thank you, it will never be like before

It’s because of you
People point at me and say i like what that boys got
And because of you
I confess i don’t have a lot
But what i have is because of you

Now people smile at me and ask me what it is
That makes them want to be just like i am
So i just point to you and tell them, yes it’s true
I’m no special one, i’m just one man

It’s because of you

The more upbeat songs tend to showcase Green’s amazing piano work and this song may be his finest work on the album.

One song from the album that remained a radio standard for many years to follow is “When I Hear the Praises the Start.” This song of God’s undying love for His bride is sung from the point of view of Jesus calling out to His Church.

My child, My child, why are you weeping
You will not have to wait forever
That day and that hour is in My keeping
The day I’ll bring you into Heaven

For when I hear the praises start
My child, I want to rain upon you
Blessing that will fill your heart
I see no stain upon you
Because you are My child and you know me
To me you’re only holy
Nothing that you’ve done remains
Only what you do in Me

Honky-tonk piano highlights “He’ll Take Care of the Rest,” a song that continues the theme of God’s persevering work for His people. using Moses and Noah as Biblical examples of God’s faithfulness. This song shows Green’s more playful and humorous side that would be completely absent on “No Compromise.”

The classic “Your Love Broke Through” follows. There is an interesting story regarding the song. Green had written the song a few years earlier with Randy Stonehill but graciously allowed Phil Keaggy to record the song and release it before himself. That is simply unheard of not only today, but ever.

The first of Green’s “trilogy” of songs about the Devil follows with “No One believes In Me Anymore.” Again here Green displays his lighter and more humorous side. Honky-tonk piano again drives this song about the limited belief on the Devil, both in and out of the Church. The point is the deceptive nature of God’s enemy, his greatest deception being that of getting people to no longer believe in him. The song works as a musical version of CS Lewis’ classic book, “The Screwtape Letters.”

Oh, my job keeps getting easier
As day slips into day
The magazines, the newspapers
Print every word I say
This world is just my spinning top
It’s all like child’s play
You know, I dream that it would never stop
But I know it’s not that way
Still my work goes on and on
Always stronger than before
I’m gonna make it dark before the dawn
Since no one believes in me anymore!

Well, I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors

Green’s most passionate performance is reserved for “Song to My Parents,” a plea to his family to find the love that God has for them. As one whose entire family are believers I can only imagine how heart breaking this experience must be for people.

“Trials Turned to Gold” deals with the common struggle all Christians face when coming against difficult times and trying to understand God’s plan amidst the trials.

The view from here is nothing near
To what it is for You
I tried to see Your plan for me
But I only acted like I knew

Oh Lord forgive the times
I tried to read your mind
Cause you said if I’d be still
Then I would hear your voice

The album closes with Green’s version of the 2nd Chapter of Acts classic “Easter Song.” This song in unique on the album as it is the only song not written or co-written by Green and one of the few times he covered a song on any album in his career. It should be noted that Green does add a verse not in the original.

Green’s voice, though, is brighter and stronger on this song than just about any other in his career. This remains one of the two or three greatest songs of the Jesus Music era and Green’s version is a worthy one and the perfect way to finish this amazing and timeless classic record.

Green’s impact on Christian music and ministry cannot be understated. There have been three tribute albums made by various artist including one by rock and alternative label, Tooth and Nail nearly 20 years after his death. His impact was so great that a collection of artist there were in diapers when he dies were moved and motivate enough to lend themselves to covering his amazing music.

I only saw Keith Green in concert once – if it can be called a concert – at the Anaheim Convention Center. I don’t recall too many songs from that evening. I don’t even remember much of what Green had to say. What I do remember was that he demanded after the last song that everyone not applaud, get up and leave quietly and not to talk until they got to their vehicle.

I did not leave convicted as I am sure was the purpose, but rather left condemned. The grace of God was a foreign subject that evening. There was plenty of “law” present but no grace. I would later come to discover Green’s approach was very similar to that of traveling evangelist of the 1800’s, Charles Finney.

I have had several people tell me that as Keith’s ministry matured his level of grace presented increased and the case made for evangelism was more compelling than convicting. Unfortunately for me that evening informed my opinion of Green and his music more than the music itself and I did not listen to Green’s music until after his death in 1982, some three years after the concert I attended.

Oddly enough when I share this story I find that I was not alone in my response. Right or wrong there were several others like myself that possessed the same testimony and feelings regarding Keith and his music. But in hindsight I discovered the true treasure that was Keith Green and especially the debut record that bore the message of Jeremiah, the zeal of John the Baptist and the heart of the Jesus Movement.

6. Jesus Freak – DC Talk

JESUS FREAK

DC Talk

Sometime in 1990 right at the time of the release of DC Talk’s second album (first full length), “Nu Thang”, Toby McKeehan (tobyMac), Michael Tait and Kevin “Max” Smith (K-Max) performed a concert at Southern California’s Magic Mountain amusement park. As the local sales representative for The Benson Co, the distribution company for their label, Forefront, I was asked to take the band on a tour of local Christian Bookstores the following day.

I took them Newport Beach instead!

So began a friendship with the three guys that make up DC Talk that lasts until today. In the early days of DC Talk they were tireless self-promoters and would do (and did do) just about anything to help sales and reach the masses. This included being roadies for then mega-group, DeGarmo and Key while performing as the opening act on the tour. They always seemed tired when I met them in the early years. I figured a day off would do them good.

Every time I see any of them, which isn’t nearly as often as I used to be when I was more involved in the Christian Music industry, that day is always brought up. But it helped me discover the guys behind the platinum albums and their hearts and vision. I will always be grateful to God for that privilege.

The first time I met they guys I had just begun working for the Benson Co. on the East coast. They were doing a concert in the Hershey, Penn. area with DeGarmo and Key and decided to go see this new band that the record company was so excited about.

I had just left my job in Southern California as manager of Maranatha Village. I was also a contributing writer and reviewer for a magazine out of the Lancaster, Penn called “Notebored.” When I met them band backstage they had a copy of the newest issue of the magazine which I hadn’t had a chance to see yet. That issue contained a scathing, negative review of their self-titled debut EP. Some ten years later or more Michael Tait would still quotes from that review!

I think it took me at least two or more years to fess up that I also wrote for that magazine at the time.

The first night I met the band I also was able to secure a copy of the very limited (for some good reasons) demo cassette that the band originally released called, “Christian Rhymes to a Rhythm.” That original demo featured a low-budget (demo) version of “Heavenbound,” the song that would introduce them to thousands of fans on their national debut about a year later.

The three guys met at Liberty University in either 1987 and ’88. At first it was just Toby and Michael and they began performing the combination of rap/hip hop and Gospel music at Churches and youth events in the area. They were originally knows at DC Talk and the One Way Crew and later shortened it to just DC Talk. Toby took the name DC Talk originally from his hometown but then made it an acronym for Decent Christian Talk.

Toby would rap while Michael would sing both separately and then began to merge the sounds. This was actually quite progressive for the time as even in mainstream music at the time the two styles were separated. Kevin joined soon after and his inclusion added a little more of a rock edge with more of a Bryan Duncan and Bono vocal sound.

Upon signing with Forefront records (then the home to DeGarmo and Key) the band released their self-titled debut project. The single “Heavenbound” became instant hit with young “youth group” kids around the nation, especially young girls who found the trio cute and fun like their secular counterpart New Kids on the Block. The comparison, whether justified or not, stuck for at least another album until the maturity of the band took hold.

Heavenbound may have been a hit but not on radio because of the taboo attached to “rap” music. At the time there were a handful of Christian rap artists but none had reached mainstream Christian music success do to the fear and bad reputation associated with that style of music. There was also an undeniable racial issue attached to the censorship as well.

The live performances of the band won over many converts in the early days. It’s important to remember at the time that rock and rap were seen as opposing musical forces and the merging of the two was suspect. Plus any connection to a boy band like New Kids was also seen as a detriment. So with that in mind the band opened up on tour for one of the biggest “rock” bands in DeGarmo and Key. That prejudice regarding the style and boy band comparisons was held by me as well.

But the very first time I saw them live I was won over. The pure energy and passion put into the performances transcended genres. Both Michael and Toby were great showmen and owned the stage. At that time Kevin spent quite a bit of time behind a keyboard and didn’t really start to own and work the stage for a few more years. Incredible live performances would be a trademark for the band for the decade or more that followed.

As for the album itself it really does lend itself to the New Kids comparisons with but more a rap feel than a vocal band feel. The album also suffers from a repetitive structure and songs do tend to sound a lot alike, especially “Gah Ta Be” and “Final Days.” The heavier guitar on “The King” sets it apart even though the rapped verse structure is nearly identical to the previous songs. Along with “Heavenbound” highlights include “Spinnin’ Round” and the album closer, the ballad “He Loves” which showcased Tait’s smooth and strong voice.

On a side note, does anyone else think Toby looks like Anthony Michael Hall on the cover?

“Nu Thang” was leaps and bounds an improvement over the debut. More instrumentation and sampling, improved arrangements and significantly more diversity in rap structure. There was also an increase in the vocal side of the songwriting arrangements and the vocals handle both verse and chorus responsibilities. But it is still primarily a hip hop/rap album in the vein of early Fresh Prince style.

“I Luv Rap Music” became an instant favorite and shows a more playful side to Toby’s rap styling. The Fresh Prince comparison remains here as well. Other highlight include the title track, “Walls” and “Talk It Out” which, though a strong song, really falls into the New Kids camp. The album, though, shows vast improvement in all areas and paved the way for the album to come which would shatter the perception of rap and hip hop in Christian Music.

“Free at Last” is the first platinum selling album and also netted the group their first Grammy Award. As much as the boys showed growth from the first to the second, the leap here was even that much greater. More rock influenced hip hop, vastly improved rapping, memorable song melodies, mature songwriting and top shelf production. Song contain improved structure with better and more creative arrangements. The album would also begin a tradition of additional interludes between songs and merging of one song from another.

This would pay off as the band began to receive greater recognition on Christian radio and began to make inroads into the mainstream music market with Grammy recognition and significant mainstream sales. To give an indication just how popular the album was it remained the number one selling album on Billboard Magazine’s CCM Chart for 34 straight weeks!

I received a call from the guys inviting me to be their guest at a taping of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno as they were going to perform the reworked cover of the Doobie Brother’s monster hit, “Jesus Is Still Alright.” This song contained Toby’s best and most effective rap to date with an incredible double time rap in the bridge.

I went early and met with the guys in the green room before they went on and was always amazed at their seeming lack of nerves. We were joking around up until the taping time when I had to go grab my seat near the front. I had been to several tapings of the show, both with Leno and previously when Johnny Carson was the host, and what I saw that night I had never seen before.

It was obvious that most of the crowd was unfamiliar with DC Talk because as Joy mentioned after the monologue who the musical guest was there was no overwhelming applause. It was obvious that Leno was relatively unfamiliar with the group as well. But about midway through the performance I noticed something I had never seen Leno do before.

Leno got up from behind the desk and walked all the way to edge of the stage area that separated the main stage and the musical performance stage and peeked around the corner to watch the rest of the performance. Leno’s guest that evening joined him and you could tell that they were talking about impressed they were with DC Talks performance with the guest jumping and dancing along with the boys. It was obvious to all that Leno was “blown away.”

When they finished what was a really fantastic performance Leno moved over to them quickly and congratulated on an amazing performance. I was really proud of them and still remember the guy sitting behind me saying something to his date as we were walking akin to “Who the f@&# were those guys…that was f*%&#$% amazing!”

I smiled.

Another advancement made was in the area of videos used to promote the album with one of the strongest being the one for “Jesus Is Still Alight.”

Other highlights from the album include the title track, Time Is and the hit “The Hardway.”

Other songs include the fantastic cover of Lean On Me,  Word to the Father and Luv Is a Verb, the song that would give a hint as to what would come some three years later. Also included are two pro-purity songs, “That Kinda Girl” and the response to George Michael “I Don’t Want Your.”

Some fans may have thought the band had literally fallen off the face of the earth. Music years are not unlike “dog years” and a three-year span between albums seemed like an eternity in the music business.

And I don’t care who you…you didn’t see it coming!

Many people believed that with the previous success the band experienced with “Free at Last” and the lucrative deal negotiated with Virgin Records that the band would feel the need to water down its message and embrace a more “neutral” lyrical stand with primarily love songs, social issues and a compromise of their Decent “Christian” Talk.

What they got instead was an album called “Jesus Freak.”

It is almost impossible to describe what a revelation “Jesus Freak” was when it was released. Heavy guitars in the grunge vein (while grunge was popular and not 10 years later), brilliant songwriting, near perfect production execution and the single greatest assortment of songs just about any single artist has ever collected into one album. It is nearly a Greatest hits record unto itself.

The album sold over two million copies, garnered the band its second Grammy Award, debuted in the Top 20 on the “secular” sales charts in Billboard magazine and the single “Just Between You and Me” charted in the Top 30. Videos received regular airplay on MTV and the band moved from co-headlining mid-sized arena and large churches to playing venues like The Rose garden in Portland and The Pond in Anaheim.

The influence of truly modern music married to rap and hip hop was not just a creative twist on the genre it was genre destroying. Rockers, rapper, moms and daughters all bought the album. there seemed to be no crowd that did not find the album fascinating and compelling. it walked away with nearly every award imaginable and landed on more Top 10 lists than any Christian album in history. It was both groundbreaking and earth shattering.

The album also marked the decidedly obvious move away from the rapped verse, sung chorus structure that had dominated previous releases and Toby even began singing. The change alone made way from a solo career that has not showed any signs of slowing down.

The album kicks off (and I mean KICKS) with “So Help me God” and it is obvious from the first 10 seconds that things are not how they used to be. Toby voice has a distorted, sampled sound and his rapping is edgier and the guitars swirl, whine and grind complete with driving distortion and heavy guitar solos. Surrounded by a world that wants to drag them into its trap the opening cries out for God to keep them within His will.

GOD SO HELP ME
THIS IS MY SOULS PLEA
I’M DESPERATELY DEVOTED
I CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF YOU

CAUSE YOU ARE THE ONE I LOVE
CAUSE YOU ARE THE ONE I NEED
CAUSE YOU ARE THE ONE I’M SEEKING
CAUSE YOU ARE THE ONE FOR ME

That is not the normal fair from a band that is supposed to be using this record to become “rock stars.” From the very first song the fears of “selling out” or “watering down” are more than just dismissed, they are obliterated!

The song that should have been the crossover hit follows with “Colored People.” This song clearly shows the growth and maturity in the songwriting as the topic had been addressed by the band previously, but not with the grace, compassion and lyrical acumen. I also found that a song of racial reconciliation would be sung primarily by Kevin and Toby a stroke of genius.

A piece of canvas is only the beginning
It takes on character with every loving stroke
This thing of beauty is the passion of an artist’s heart
By God’s design, we are a skin kaleidoscope

We gotta come together, aren’t we all human after all?


As strong as the opening tracks are there is nothing compare to the title track. “Jesus freak” remains one of the finest unions of hip hop and melodic heavy music in history. It’s important to remember that this song was recorded and released four to five years before bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park released their debuts! This was not just a creative use of combining musical genres, it was truly revolutionary!

Again the content easily assuaged the fears some fans and creates may have about a lack of lyrical integrity. The amazing thing about the album is that even critics that normally are drawn to and supportive of a more vague content were impressed with the content here. It wasn’t the same old tried and true CCM pabulum, simplistic and “Christianese” lyrics that had infected the industry throughout the years, it was fresh, original, creative and clear at the same time. This is one of the true strengths of the album.

Kamikaze my death is gain /Ive been marked by my Maker a
peculiar display.
The high and lofty they see me as weak
cause I won’t live and die for the power they seek, yeah

What will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus freak
what will people do when they find thats its true
I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak there aint disguising the truth.


After a quick sample from Brennan Manning another of the several radio hits beings with “What If I Stumble.” This is one of the best uses of all three vocalist in one song and one of most passionate from Kevin.

“Between You and Me” follows and proved to be biggest cross over hit from the project. Borrowing for Jesus’ command to not come to worship if there is an issue between brothers, here is another call to reconciliation.

Just between you and me
I’ve got somethin’ to say
I wanna get it straight
Before the sun goes down
Just between you and me
Confession needs to be made
Recompense is my way to freedom (now)
Just between you and me
I’ve got something to say


The biggest Christian radio hit ended up being a cover of Charlie Peacock’s “In the Light.” Here Toby takes a rare lead vocal spot for the first half of the verse. The song is highlighted by a special guest appearance by Charlie Peacock in the final chorus. This song has remained a radio favorite and Toby still performs the song live during his solo tours.

This amazing album concludes with alternative leaning “Mind’s Eye.” Bringing with a spoken work opening closer to Steve Scott than rap.The bridge contains a sample from a Billy Graham sermon on the work of the Holy Spirit. The band has formed a relationship with Pastor Graham over the years playing at several Billy Graham youth crusades.

In my mind I can see Your face
Love pours down in a shower of grace
Life is a gift that You choose to give
And I believe that we eternally live
Faith is the evidence of things unseen
People tell me that You’re just a dream
But they don’t know you the way that I do
You’re the one I live to pursue

DC Talk would record one more album, “Supernatural” before taking an indefinite hiatus. This album would actually break “Jesus Freaks” record for the best first week sales in Christian Music history debuting at #4! A strong project on its own, it did not have the total package of impressive content and originality as Jesus Freak. “Freak” simply made the mold and then went ahead and broke it.

Supernatural would be last album from DC Talk. There would be one final tour and EP that contained two songs each from the members as solo artists.

Toby has gone on to an immensely popular solo career with four full albums to his credit that all have sold extremely well and has garnered countless awards and accolades. He has received Grammy and Dove Nominations and wins.

Michael Tait put together a rock band using his last name for a moniker before recently taking the reins as the new lead vocalist for Newsboys. The first solo album did quite well with several radio ready singles. The early results from the new Newsboys album has been quite positive.

Kevin Max has gone on to record several highly praised records on his own. His own career has been one that is more artistic and counter-culture than mainstream Christian Music though his content is clearly biblical. He has chosen to go a more “independent” route to allow his artistic freedom the space it needs.He has remained very approachable through his website and avenues like Facebook. On a recent release,”The Blood”  DC Talk reunited on a cover of Prince’s “The Cross.” He has publish his poetry as well.

The final tour was also a combination of solo sets and hits performed as a group. I attended one of those final shows in Irvine, CA. I count it a privilege that on that evening sitting in front row Toby noticed me sitting there, yelled “Hey Dave” and then jumped from the stage right on top of me.

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.