Chapter 27: New
Jesus-rock music, when well done, often had an element which was missing in the majority of secular pop releases: spiritual relevance. So in most cases, in order to get the message clearly across, the lyrics were miked more ''up front'' than in conventional secular rock, in which singers' words were more occluded. The vital lifeline for Christian music remained the lyricsgospel themes couched in familiar musical expression.
''But I can't understand a single word of what that Jesus-rock band is saying, so they're not of any use or value,'' would cry many older people in their criticism of Christian rock. What many of them failed to recognize, even into the eighties, was the phenomenon of what could be called ''decreased lyrical perceptiveness,'' which seemed to be experienced by countless numbers of rock-generation parents and grandparents. The older they got, or the less interested they were in rock music, the less they'd hear of what was being sung.
But the argument against inaudible lyrics in many cases was no more than the persistent frustration of older people not being allowed into the musical world of youth. When Christian new-wave music began to come on the scene in strength in the eighties, lyrics suddenly began to clearly stand out again. That would seem to have put an end to those arguments about distinguishable words.
It didn't. Even though the lyrics were lucid, complaints against new wave and new music came in hot and heavy, this time challenging the dress, hairdos, and lifestyle of new wave, punk, and techno-rock. Once again the Christian rockers, though performing the music and patterning some of their dress after the secular, usually held the line on lifestyle. It confused the critics, but evidently reached the youth.
Christian new wave and techno-rock music's arrival in the early
eighties seemed the camel's back-breaking straw for the opponents of Christianity and rock music getting together. Would this new breed of religious rockers bring a punk lifestyle with them? Even the first edition of Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? speculated on that question, and only partly tongue-in-cheek.
Instead of introducing a radical, deadly lifestyle, such as secular punk had done, Christian ''new music'' filled a serious gap in Christian music. The young people who just gave blank stares when told that Bob Dylan or Paul Stookey or Dion DiMucci was a Christian now lit up when they saw creative, eighties-clad people their own age playing a stacatto song which got onlookers hopping.
The new Christian music was, like its secular counterpart, greatly influenced by early, garage-band rock, back in the days when virtually anyone with a Silverstone guitar and a lead vocalist had hopes of making a hit record. With the youthfulness came a vitality, a joy, and even a new sense of urgency. More important, the new music often carried with it a refreshing blatancy of lyricsstraightforward, simple, and often clearly evangelistic words, rather than hidden, double-meaning references to the faith. No one could charge those singing the new music with lyrics and didn't get to the point. Consider the song belted out by the California group Undercover at Knott's Berry Farm amusement park's Christian Music Night in 1983: ''If you'll excuse us, we love Jesus.'' No hidden meanings there.
One of the most radical of the new-music writers and performers was also one of the quickest to catch on. An American Baptist ''preacher's kid'' from Denver, long, lean, and lanky Steve Taylor, formerly part of the Jeremiah People music/drama troupe, lifted the roof at the Christian Artists Seminar in 1982 with some of the most animated Christian music to date.
A quite remarkable thing happened during that historic Colorado performance. The audience, treated to top Christian talent, but not used to Christian new wave, got it square in the ears and eyes. There was laughing, cheering, and clapping in the audience, all at the same time. Taylor was pleasantly outrageous.
At a repeat performance the next year, on the same stage, the response was much the same. But this second time a disenchanted member of the audience went back to the sales table where Taylor's material was being sold and swiped her arm across the table, sending the material to the floor. Her justification: Taylor's music was revolting to her, definitely not of the Holy Spirit. Taylor's reason for singing it: he had composed and sung biting, concise lyrics aimed
directly at a complacent church, rather than pacifying his audience with more soothing, ''everything is okay'' lyrics, which was characteristic of so much Christian music.
But by 1982 many of the audience members were evidently ready to hear such truths. As a result of the overwhelming reception he got at Estes Parkone woman exceptedTaylor was signed to a contract with Sparrow Records. His first recording, I Want to Be a Clone, was a mini-album featuring six songs. Produced by accomplished Christian record producer Jonathan David Brown, the mini-album became a moderate hit in spite of virtually no radio airplay to support it, due to its high rock velocity. Taylor's second album, Meltdown, also produced by Brown, would meet with even greater acceptance.
Topping off Taylor's good showing on the first time out, the singer/writer received a letter of commendation from noted Christian author and thinker Dr. Francis Schaeffer, congratulating Taylor for the lyric content of his songs, and reitering the definite need for the church to hear such provocative lyrics.
Taylor expressed his exhortations with humor, which sometimes made his music tolerable even to those who didn't like new wave or rock. He administered ''a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.'' That sugar was something that only a limited number of singersTaylor, Randy Stonehill, Daniel Amos, Carman, Gary Chapman, and a few othershad managed to effectively weave into their acts.
Thus, the new Christian rock of the eighties had at least two strong points: evangelistic lyrics which reintroduced simple songs of the type that had earmarked the Jesus movement of the late sixties and early seventies, and caustic, exhortative lyrics aimed at shocking the sometimes-sleeping church into new motivation and a cleaning-up of its act. Both attributes were early Jesus music revisited.
There was a third function of Jesus-rock music, too: alternative entertainment for Christians or for people in general who felt that secular performers had carried their music too far. Young people could opt for contemporary Christian music recordings and concerts rather than support secular music, Hollywood movies, or Music Television (MTV), which brought rock videos into millions of homes nationwide. All forms of secular entertainment showed increasing moral turpitude, hard to justify for someone seeking to live a Christ-centered life.
So Christian rock gravitated to the public auditoriums more often than churches, although their access to school auditoriums became greatly limited during the eighties, thanks to congressional
legislation and hardening local laws less tolerant to Christianity. Skating rinks also turned out to be great gathering places for Christian young people, families, and Christian rock fans. Contemporary Christian music nights and church nights at rinks across America proved extremely popular.
The list of Christian rockers had grown by 1984 to an impressive variety of performers, the majority of which seemed to come from the West Coast. Maranatha! Music and their associated A & S and MRC labels stayed on top of the new music crest with releases by Undercover, the Lifters, the Altar Boys, and others. The Lifesavors were signed by Refuge Records. Leslie Phillips, who later signed with Myrrh, first appeared on A & S. Quickflight carried their techno-rock from the Canadian Tunesmith label to the Texas-based StarSong label. Myrrh distributed an innovative new label, Exit Records, which introduced the 77s, Vector, and other rock groups through Sangre Productions in Sacramento, California. (Later Word added the Broken Records label to their roster, featuring new-wave music groups.) Stryper, the most ostentatious of the groups in their appearance, released their hard-rock album on Enigma Records, a secular label.
TV celebrity Lisa Welchel, from the series ''Facts of Life,'' delivered a young rock sound on her debut recording, All Because of You, on Nissi Records. Her LP producer, John Rosasco, also created strong, pop-rock recordings for artists such as Joe English and the Cruse Family.
Christian female rockers came in strong in the eighties, whereas in earlier days their main strength had been in folk songs. In addition to those mentioned earlier, several other women made their mark in Christian rock music. Sandi Brock often sang leads for Servant, an Oregon band whose sound varied between music reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane and the Go-Gos. In Barnabas, Nancy Jo Mann belted out strong leads following the style of the Resurrection Band's Wendy Kaiser. Of a softer vein, but still rock, was Michele Pillar. Kathy Troccoli added a soul touch to her rock.
Rock group Daniel Amos, one of the most creative of the bands to come out of contemporary Christian music, moderated their sound over the years from country rock to innovative, new Christian rock and concept music. Single artists producing noteworthy rock included, among others, Mark Heard, Pat Terry, Will McFarlane, Tim Miner, Paul Clark, Steve Camp, Kenny Marks, Darrell Mansfield, Rob Fraizer, Randy Stonehill, Rick Cua, and others.
Bob and Jane Farrell and Dony McGuire and Reba Rambo McGuire
were husband and wife duos who delivered some solid rock in varying styles. Both Prodigal and DeGarmo & Key produced high-energy rock with provocative messages. Canada's Daniel Band added their own driving music to the eighties' rock roster.
Of the harder rock groups, there were three which probably could be categorized as the hardest-driving, both in miles logged and in enthusiasm for keeping the rock rolling. Resurrection Band continued an unimpeded effort in evangelism, with some of their post rock-concert altar calls drawing young people by the hundreds to the stage for salvation or recommitment. Servant seemed to be on the road almost constantly, rocking out with hard-edged music and stage effects.
Petra, however, was the most persistent in Christian rock record sales. Three of their albums, More Power to Ya, Not of This World, and Never Say Die, had sold around six hundred and fifty thousand aggregately, with their three earlier albums totaling another one hundred thousand. They had performed more than thirteen hundred concerts by the end of 1984, their eleventh year. Out of their Nashville offices, Petra geared up for another year of performing for more than half a million people on stage, and probably more on record.
Though most of the young ''new music'' mentioned earlier was being created on the West Coast, many of the most memorable rock festivals were held in the Midwest, especially the Chicago area, which hosted the likes of the Illinois Jam, the 1982 Harvest Rock Fest, and Cornerstone '84, hosted by Jesus People USA (JPUSA), who also sponsored the veteran Resurrection Band.
While Christian rock seemed to be having a good sprint at the Christian music market, there were many contemporary artists who were more laid back, recording excellent albums of more mellow music. One of the most underpromoted but also most deserving of attention in that regard was Bob Bennett, whose two albums First Things First and Matters of the Heart helped to establish Bennett as a musician's musician. His second LP was ultimately chosen as Best Album of 1982 by the writers of CCM magazine. Bennett's music was largely composed of acoustical ballads, and Jonathan David Brown brought the songs out to their fullest as producer of both Bennett albums.
Some of the other artists keeping pretty well to middle ground in their contemporary music and developing followings included Wendy Hofheimer and Mary Rice-Hopkins (better known as Wendy & Mary), Cynthia Clawson, Pete Carlson, Steve Archer, Chris Christian, and others.
By the mideighties, a soft, easy style of jazz had finally gained acceptability among Christian music listeners after a rough and sporadic start lasting a decade or more. Secular jazz band Seawind's popularity in the early eighties trickled over into the Christian market, based on the fact that some of the members of the group were Christian and their songs often gave further credence to their faith.
While Seawind opened the doors from one side, Christian jazz artist Fletch Wiley and Christian jazz fusionist James Vincent helped them along. Wiley, also an album producer and former member of Andrae Crouch's group the Disciples, recorded for Star Song Records out of Pasadena, Texas. And Vincent came from the secular Caribou label to record his second album, the latter on Sparrow. Paul Clark, Phil Keaggy, Roby Duke, Bruce Cockburn, and a few others had all shown jazz leanings in their recordings, but it was late 1983 before a seemingly steady flow of Christian jazz recordings began.
Keith Thomas released an album of upbeat piano jazz. John Mehler and Kenneth Nash (the latter formerly with secular group Weather Report) created an album of jazz arrangements of Maranatha! choruses and a few originals, entitled Light the Night. Likewise, Nash produced his own album of ''devotional moments in praise and spoken word,'' Quiet Streams. Omega Sunrise did Seawind-type music. Former Seawind members Bob Wilson and Larry Williams teamed up with Tommy Funderbirk and Dan Huff to form ''The Front.'' Sparrow's Koinonia jazz group started out playing one night a week at a club in Southern California and had two albums out by 1984. Interestingly, three of the members of KoinoniaHarlan Rogers, Bill Maxwell, and Hadley Hockensmithhad been three-quarters of Sonlight, which recorded some of the first jazz-flavored Christian music a decade earlier on Light Records. The other member of Sonlight had been Fletch Wiley.
Koinonia and some other groups and artists also showed a distinct Latin American influence in their music; Abraham Laboriel, Alex Acuna, and Justo Almario, the other three of Koinonia, hailed from south of the border. Also, reggae, ska, and other island music found its way into many songs recorded on contemporary Christian music albums, following secular trends. In 1984 one of the most notable reggae-influenced recordings was ''Love's Not a Feeling,'' a hit song for Steve Camp and Michele Pillar.
Trumpeteer and vocalist Phil Driscoll showed a distinct jazz flavor in much of his music. He had the remarkable ability to sound like the best of himself, Joe Cocker, Chuck Mangione, Bob Seger, and Ray Charles, all at once. No surprise, then, that white audiences,
black audiences, younger audiences, older audiences, rock audiences, jazz audiences, and praise audiences all went for some facet of his music.
The bridging of racial divisions, such as was done in a minor way by Driscoll, had by 1984 not gone as far as some artists would have preferred. Andrae Crouch expressed his concern for the industry's separation of black and white gospel. Suffering from the lack of ample black gospel radio stations and the strong tendency of white gospel stations to avoid much of the black gospel music, many of the black gospel artists did not get adequate exposure.
However, many contemporary Christian artists who were black preferred to be contemporary Christian artists first, with no allegiance to one type of audience over another. Myrrh Records was successful in establishing strong markets on both sides of the racial fence for black artists such as Leon Patillo, Morris Chapman, Philip Bailey, Al Green, and others. Andrae Crouch and the Disciples had broken the ground with their albums on Light Records years before. But Andrae was right in his assessment overall, music by some excellent performers found the bridging of racial barriers a considerable task. Perhaps Myrrh Records had taken the best move, by including all artists on the one label rather than creating labels specifically for black or white gospel music.
Toward the mideighties, Christian music finally began to wend its way in substantial amounts into the next frontier: the burgeoning video market. Working with considerably lower budgets than their secular counterparts, Christian labels and artists stepped up efforts at producing creative videos which would stand up against the secular ones.
Silverwind's colorful ''Song in the Night'' video, released in 1982, was one of the first creative clips (i.e., nonconcert videos) for contemporary Christian music. It had been preceded by Word's More Than Music video show and Sparrow's videotaped Barry McGuire concert, which resulted in his album Inside Out and a few other experiments in Christian video music.
Soon Swedish rock group Jerusalem had a video out, which was shown on MTV a few times. Also taping on video were the Archers in a Colorado concert performance. Within a few months, other artists joined the stream into video. As Christian television networks began requesting video clips for their programming, the labels and artists stepped up their efforts further.
By 1984 the artists on video representations of their music included, among several others, Jerusalem, Sheila Walsh, Stave Taylor,
Mylon LeFevre, Amy Grant, DeGarmo & Key, Sandi Patti, Randy Stonehill, the 77's, Charlie Peacock, Russ Taff, Benny Hester, Leslie Philips, and Michael W. Smith. Several secular crossover artists also produced an array of videos: Donna Summer, Bob Dylan, U2, Kansas, and others were included, although their overtly Christian songs were not necessarily the ones featured. Secular involvement was also noted increasingly in production, editing, and direction of many of the videos, as trained video creators in the Christian sector developed.
A few of the videos were successfully landed on programs and networks in the secular world, but it was tough going. MTV was pretty well a closed market, expressing virtually no interest in playing the Christian videos, regardless of how good they were. The large secular labels had virtually cornered the market for the largest music television network. In 1984 lawsuits began to test the exclusivity arrangements many of the big secular labels made with the dominant music video medium. In the meantime, Christian rock was for all practical purposes off-limits on MTV.
However, more interest and accessibility was attained on national and local video-clip shows, which were coming into vogue by 1984. The smaller music networks also showed more interest than the giant MTV. It was on those services that artists such as Steve Taylor, whose video of his song ''Meltdown'' was the first Christian rock video ''hit,'' had a sporting chance to infiltrate the secular.
The main use of videos in the early eighties was in promotion of recorded product by the record labels and artists. Through displaying the various videos in record and book stores, record buyers were able to ''get a little closer'' to the recording artists.
In 1984 all of the major labels, and some smaller ones, were beginning to view the sales potential of videos at the consumer level. Because of the increasing demand for purchaseable or rentable videos, the labels obliged with their debut of sale-or-rent videos. And in the same year the first Christian ''video-oriented'' music store opened in Columbus, Ohio. Heartsong Records, Tapes, and Videos displayed a wall of fifteen video monitors in the store, allowing customers to see and hear their music.
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