Chapter 25: Praise and
''Praise and worship'' became a key phrase in much of the mainline Christian music of the eighties. As the line between contemporary and inspirational/M.O.R. became increasingly diffused, contemporary praise and worship music provided a comfortable middle ground, much as the praise/Scripture choruses of the sixties and seventies had done.
The victorious praise musicvertical musictook on a whole new style in the eighties. There was a contemporary flair to much of it, enhanced by advanced recording techniques, synthesizers, and larger recording budgets. The music wasn't limited to choir and congregational performances; solo artists also did well with the new ''hallelujah'' music, as did groups.
Each year there had been a few worship and praise songs introduced which would become long-lived classics. If the song adapted well to congregational singing, it had an even better chance for a long life.
Song of the classics came via Andrae Crouch's masterful writing. ''The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,'' ''Jesus Is the Answer,'' ''Bless the Lord,'' and ''My Tribute (To God Be the Glory)'' were a few which would long be sung and remembered, in churches and in homes. Bill and Gloria Gaither also had been reliable sources of praise music for more than a generation. ''Let's Just Praise the Lord,'' ''Alleluia,'' and ''There's Something About That Name'' were a few of the classics from their pens which managed to cross age barriers and establish themselves in churches, as well as on radio.
Songs by Crouch, the Gaithers, and several other noted composers became new hymns for the seventies and eighties, to be added to the very popular Maranatha praise choruses such as ''I Love You, Lord,'' ''Sing Hallelujah,'' and ''Let's Forget About Ourselves.'' Even
before the beginning of the eighties decade, hymnbooks such as The New Church Hymnal from Lexicon Music included songs such as Kurt Kaiser's ''Pass It On,'' Mylon LeFevre's ''Without Him,'' Andrae Crouch's ''Jesus Is the Answer,'' Karen Lafferty's ''Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God,'' John Fischer's ''All Day Song,'' and even Larry Norman's somber last-days lament, ''I Wish We'd All Been Ready.''
There were other compositions and records which managed to carry a spirit of praise and worship in a more contemporary vein, by using more contemporary arrangements, recording techniques, or rhythms. One of the genre was ''The Victor,'' recorded first by Jamie Owens-Collins (the composer), then Keith Green, and much later, in 1984, incorporated into a musical of the same name by Jimmy and Carol Owens. ''The Victor'' employed much of the same musical style as had the extremely popular ''Easter Song'' by Jamie's friends, the 2nd Chapter of Acts: a light, rhythmic ballad, building in 6/8 time to a rousing anthem which would stir hearers to their feet in grand finale. The influence carried through on an even more elaborate note when Michael Omartian, who arranged for both 2nd Chapter and Jamie, recorded ''Here He Comes'' on his Adam Again album.
Glad, a Pennsylvania-based group of musicians, some of whom were trained in classical music, often performed harmony-based music which occasionally gave rise to contemporary anthems of praise. One of their compositions, ''Sing,'' was another harbinger of praise songs to come from contemporary Christian songwriters and singers in the eighties. First recorded on their own 1980 album Beyond a Star, it was also picked up by Debby Boone for her With My Song album in the same year.
Boone's album of modern praise and worship music was a landmark recording, as she introduced a new genre of songs to many contemporary-music fans. ''I really prayed and sought the Lord for what kind of music He wanted me to do,'' she explained in a private interview. ''I wanted it to be something that would bring glory to Him and would please Him as a sacrifice of praise and be unlike anything I'd ever done before.''
With My Song, released on Lamb & Lion Records, was produced by a man who, in the coming years, was to have considerable influence in contemporary Christian music, especially as a producer. There was a certain sound, a certain formula, which producer Brown Bannister managed to hook on to and would become more or less a trademark and a trend in Christian recording for several years to come.
In addition to Glad's second album (Beyond a Star, co-produced
with Ed Nalle) and Debby Boone's With My Song, Bannister produced a considerable number of other contemporary albums. His crowning achievement came in 1982 when he produced Amy Grant's Age to Age album, a marked departure for the young singer from earlier records, which Brown had also produced.
The opening song on the Grant album closely resembled much of the song style and production of Boone's With My Song. ''Sing Your Praise to the Lord'' ushered Amy into virtual stardom, and it also firmly solidified the trend toward rousing, building, fully-orchestrated, contemporary, neo-classical praise songs. This song, and the many others like it to follow, bridged generation gaps and pleased nearly everyone but the most traditional of the traditionalists.
''Sing Your Praise to the Lord'' was written by Richard Mullins, one of several young songwriters of a new breed which greatly contributed to contemporary Christian music in the eighties, including the songs of praise and worship. Quite a few of the most prolific composers and lyricists were based in Nashville. The decision of several record and publishing companies to hire staff writers, or at least to sign on more exclusive writers, drew new, contemporary composers to a city which had previously been best known for its country music. Companies such as Meadowgreen, Paragon, and Word Music helped to establish a foothold for the contemporary writers in Music City, USA.
Much of the music conceived by the songwriters who made up the new Nashville genre was of the contemporary praise variety, relying heavily on Scripture passages for their inspiration. Writers such as Michael Card, Michel W. and Debbie Smith, and others helped determine a new direction for much of the contemporary Christian music in the eighties.
At least one man traced church music back through the years and worked at fusing its forms with the current trends. Rather than living in Nashville, he resided and wrote on the grounds of a monastery in Indiana and later a retreat in Arkansas. John Michael Talbot, who along with his brother had been part of the seventies country rock group Mason Proffit, took new directions in 1980 when his spiritual convictions led him to join a Franciscan order in the Catholic church. Talbot delved deeply into the early musical heritage of the church and out of those studies came a steady stream of simple and melodic guitar music and singing with an ethereal, almost mystical feel to it. Due to his earlier affiliation with Sparrow Records, his Catholic music was released through the same company, resulting in an unusual crossing over of Catholic music into the Protestant market.
As early as 1979, after nearly a decade of creating their own hymns and Scripture/praise music, Maranatha! Music started showing indications of a renewed interest in the standard hymns of the church, as well as a continued interest in creating new ones, usually based on Scripture. In that year, their album Hosanna featured several California artists performing slightly contemporized versions of old faithful hymns of the church, such as ''Fairest Lord Jesus,'' ''Great Is Thy Faithfulness,'' and others.
Four years later Tom Howard and Bill Batstone teamed up to create a Psalms Alive! album of original songs based on Scripture verses performed by a full orchestra and chorus, and utilizing synthesizers, drums, and other more contemporary instruments and instrumentation usually associated with pop music. The second Psalms Alive! album followed in 1984.
On the whole, the Maranatha Singers albums, originally called Maranatha's Praise Series, began skewing more toward an easy-listening, M.O.R. sound, though away from the folky Jesus-music feel of the first praise albums of the early seventies. The records became progressively more polished, better adapted to the new traditional audiences of the eighties.
''There's been more of a praise/worship feel to much of the contemporary Christian music in the past two years,'' confirmed Billy Ray Hearn, president of Sparrow Records in 1984. ''That's a trend that's at its peak right now.'' Hearn had experienced considerable success with his Hymns Triumphant abums, and he noted the possibility that new record buyers for such product were being found in the book sections of the bookstores. ''Maybe the people who go into bookstores and buy books have all of a sudden discovered that there are records over in the record department.''
But Hearn noted that he had seen a surprising mixture of musical tastes. ''I know a lot of kids and adults who like contemporary music but are also giving me comments like, 'I loved your Hymns Triumphant!' The same people that are buying Praise Strings are also buying the new-wave music of Steve Taylor. They go to church and hear the hymns and they go Saturday night and hear a jazz group like Koinonia. It used to be separate, but no more.''
On Hearn's label, Steve Green, a tenor who had first sung with an excellent Christian rock group known as White Heart, and then performed with The New Gaither Vocal Band, released a 1984 album which bridged the stylistic gap with contemporary praise music.
Indeed, as Hearn said, the popularity of the contemporary praise songs seemed to hit an unprecedented high in that year. Consider this list of just some of the songs released and charted in
popularity in 1984: ''Hosanna,'' by Michael W. Smith; ''Hosanna,'' recorded by Karen Voegtlin; ''Hosanna Gloria,'' by Farrel & Farrel; and ''Sing the Glory,'' sung by Stephanie Boosahda. Equally popular in that year were songs focusing on the many names and characteristics of God, a trend probably started by the popularity of Michael Card's and John Thompson's ''El Shaddai,'' featured on Amy Grant's blockbuster Age to Age album. Some of the 1984 songs included: ''Jehovah,'' recorded by Grant; ''You are Jehovah,'' by Glenn Garrett; ''Jahweh,'' written by Gloria Gaither and contemporary Christian singer Carman; ''Baruch Hashem Adonai,'' by Kelly Nelon Thompson; and ''Y'shua ha Mashiach,'' sung in 1984 by Scott Wesley Brown. Also recording some memorable tracks of more traditional music with a contemporary flair were Twila Paris, with ''We Will Glorify'' and ''Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,'' and Kelly Willard, whose 1984 album on Maranatha! was filled with Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs, including ''Nothing But the Blood'' and ''Washed in the Blood.'' Even the Rex Nelon Singers, long known for their southern-gospel flavor, crossed over into contemporary radio with a beautiful, original chorus entitled ''O For a Thousand Tongues.''
Sandi Patty was a singer who greatly helped in the continuing diffusion between contemporary and traditional church music styles. Her extraordinary voiced mesmerized radio listeners, record buyers, and churchgoers alike. Her wide vocal range astounded listeners as she carried audiences to new heights of ecstasy and inspiration. Perhaps such a description sounds more like a prepared press release, but it is exactly the effect Sandi had on most of her audiences.
Her musical career began when she sang with her father's Ron Patty Trio. While attending Anderson College in Indiana, She continued her singing. It was during and after her touring with the Bill Gaither Trio, and appearing before those massive audiences, that her career really took flight, much like Don Francisco's had before her. During those performances on the road, the singing of the Dottie Rambo composition ''We Shall Behold Him'' thrust her into a new high in popularity.
By late 1983 Patty had become another sweetheart of Christian music, much like Amy Grant, though their respective labels, true to form, would have preferred that such a comparison be left unmade, each proud of their own favorite daughter.
Sandi's fame first hit in her native Midwest and then in the South, spreading from there to a national recognition which would in 1983 win her three Dove Awards. Her album Sandi Patty Live: More Than Wonderful, co-produced by Sandi, David T. Clydesdale, and prolific producer Greg Nelson, edged its way to the five hundred thousand
sales mark in late 1983. Thousands of young, aspiring singers dreamed of singing Sandi Patty songs in their churches: ''We Shall Behold Him,'' ''Upon This Rock,'' ''O Magnify the Lord,'' and the duet she performed with Larnelle Harris, ''More Than Wonderful,'' written by Lanny Wolfe.
The Benson Company, for those Impact label she recorded, took those young singers one step closer to fulfilling their dreams by recording and selling Mastertrax, the original instrumental backgrounds used in the actual recording of Sandi's hits. The Mastertrax tapes, recorded on high-quality chromium dioxide cassette tape, featured the songs of the most popular artists on the Benson labels and their most popular recordings. The series proved so popular that Word Records introduced a similar series in 1984, called Studio Series. These original background tapes joined the list of thousands of other tracks which had been sold by Lexicon Music, Christian World, and other companies for years, bringing the full presence of professional musicians into the smallest of sanctuaries. They became as common as the organ and piano in many of America's churches.
Chapter Twenty-six || Table of Contents