Christian Music: A Personal History-Part 1

1 Sep
The Controversial I Predict 1990

The Controversial I Predict 1990 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Music has always been an obsession in my life.  I was five when I stumbled across my mom’s old collection of 45’s and began listening to Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley.  At age 6, I discovered the Beatles when Yellow Submarine was shown on Television on July 4th.  What better way to spend Independence day, hamburgers, sparklers, and then a psychedelic soundtrack in pure Beatles harmony.

At age 8, I bought my first 45 with some money I had saved from allowance.  I bought “She Loves You” by the Beatles on Parlaphone.  I played both sides until I had memorized every note and word.  My first LP purchase was the double LP soundtrack of the movie Grease.  I loved the old 50’s style with a twist of Olivia Newton John.  What a combination!

From ages 8-14. I spent most of my free time glued to a record player or radio, soaking in the best of the old and new sounds of popular music.  Groups like Soft Cell, A ha, Billy Joel, and U2 began to fill up my own record collection.  If I wasn’t listening to music, I was reading about it.  I used to go to the library on a weekly basis to read Billboard magazine and to see the Top 200 album charts.  Other than Billboard, I read bios on the Beatles and had Rolling Stone’s massive encyclopedia of rock.  I read it almost as much as I read the Bible.

Christian Music

Somewhere in my early teens, I began to become aware of  something called Christian Rock.  Rock music that was from a Christian point of view and a more hip look to the covers-well sort of…  My first taste of Christian music was Amy Grant and Sandi Patti.  I enjoyed some of Amy’s early stuff, but a little too soft.  Sandi was just so canned and opera sounding that I hated it instantly.  It didn’t help that I had a Baptist aunt (we were Presbyterian-after all) who insisted that Amy Grant was not Christian and that Sandi Patti was the best thing since chocolate.  It only made me hate Sandi and like Amy more.

These early tastes, left me with the impression that Christian music was pretty much limited to soft rock.

Steve Taylor & Stryper Rock My World

I think it was a Sunday school teacher who told me about Steve Taylor.  He said I might like it, so I trekked on down to the Christian bookstore and found a $4.99 cassette (blue-kind of cool to see a blue one) by Steve Taylor called I Want To Be a Clone.

I took it home and popped this blue meanie into the cassette player…and it shocked me.  It was actually kind of cool. The music was modern (at least, modern for 1984) and the lyrics were biting and sarcastic.  What teen couldn’t relate to biting sarcasm?

I played the tape to death and was fascinated by Taylor’s Christian worldview put to a pop rock soundtrack.  I was hooked….

My next trip to the Christian bookstore, I spent over an hour just browsing all the different artists, meticulously studying the covers to try to pick my next purchase.  I think the manager thought I was trying to shoplift, because she kept poking into the section and asking if I needed help.

Actually, I did…since I didn’t know what any of these groups sounded like.  I told her I liked Steve Taylor and she directed me to the rock cassettes.  She also pointed me to a cassette deck and told me that they had demos of all the groups.  I was free to listen to the demos to help me find my next big group.

I wasn’t really a metal fan at this point, but I had vaguely heard of a group called Stryper.  The cover looked very cold war meets Motley Crue and the title was Yellow and Black Attack.

I purchased the Stryper cassette and hoped it would live up to its repuatation.  I stuck it into my player at home and the thrashing and slashing came pounding through my stereo as Stryper launched into “Soldier Under Command”.  At one point, I ran over to the player and switched it off.  Michael Sweet was screaming Jesus so loud, that I wasn’t sure if it was ok or not.  I had never heard anything like it.  Could you really play metal music and still be a Christian?  These guys sure seemed to think so.  But the spandex, screaming, and feminine make up and hair doos had me wondering if this was really Christian at all.

A few times through the cassette, and I began to enjoy the intricate guitar work and layered vocals…even if I wasn’t into the spandex, I was willing to overlook it.  These guys were good and the music rocked, while not being raunchy.  If anything, they were down right Evangelical in their lyrics.

This was my first foray into Christian music and began a journey that would last over 25 years.  A journey that started as a fan and turned into a profession.  One that had many strange twist and turns.  One filled with many fun and musical moments.  Others filled with politics, money, and the hypocrisy that seems to follow.

One that I enjoy remembering in one sense, but also fills me with a measure of regret.  I’ll explain more as I get the chance.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

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3 Responses to “Christian Music: A Personal History-Part 1”

  1. Freedom September 4, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    Very cool post!!!!!! I look forward to the next post in the series!!!!! I am a HUGE music fan (mostly all things Heavy Metal and Hard Rock) and I am still a big Stryper fan. I just saw them back in May, they played a music festival (all 80’s hard rock/metal bands, headlined by Ratt and Queensryche) and they still can play, Michael Sweet can still belt out the lyrics (better than many of the other singers that day!). One thing I noticed was how much younger and healthier they looked than their peers who had to go to rehab. They were one of the highlights of the festival and many people commented that they went on too early in the day. Fortunately they did play one song later (a cover of Black Sabbath’s Heaven & Hell from their most recent covers album) in the day during what was call the “All Star Jam”, but with Vinny (Dio, Heaven & Hell, Black Sabbath) and Carmen (Vanilla Fudge) on drums.

    I have a pretty good size collection of Christian Metal in my collection from that period of time – some good and some really bad, Most of the bands were a “clone” of a popular Metal band at the time. Very few of them were original (Stryper would be one – they were able to create their own sound). I remember the cds/cassettes of many of the bands were always pushed as a “Christian version of X band.”

    As I got older, I got to meet some of the artists of that time. I think you will find this interesting with your Christian bookstore background – the vast majority of them felt they were lied to by the “Christian” record companies when they signed the original contracts (some had to sue to get paid what was due to them per the contracts – the “Christian” labels were just as bad as the mainstream labels when it came to paying earned royalties). Many of the artists were Christians that wanted nothing to do with the Christian bookstore/record industry – they wanted to play to as many people as possible and have as much distribution as possible. They were all told that their record would be available everywhere. Turns out their was no distribution deal with the mainstream retailers and they were stuck in the Christian space.

    Can’t wait for part two!

    • christianagnostic September 4, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

      Thanks Feedom-

      I should have a little more time to write, now that the kids are back in school. It’s fun for me, in one sense, because I was such a music nerd.

      I always enjoyed Stryper (once I got over the screaming) and had the chance to talk to Michael Sweet at an industry event. I always found him to be genuine and humble despite his success. But as you pointed out, Stryper was truly a part of the music/ metal scene in LA and then the world, not just a rip off artist that was being sold as a Christian alternative to someone else.

      you said

      “They were all told that their record would be available everywhere. Turns out their was no distribution deal with the mainstream retailers and they were stuck in the Christian space.”

      That doesn’t surprise me. Because many of the Christian labels were owned by bigger mainstream companies (Sony, Warner, ABC, etc…) they could say with a straight face that there would be mainstream distribution, but often times it would be close to non-existent when an album was released. They would focus on Christian bookstores and the mainstream side would only pick it up if their was mainstream radio/video play. Which would only happen if a label’s marketing/ radio team really had their stuff together (most didn’t).

      I have some stories along that line, that I’ll get to in my next couple posts.

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  1. Christian Music-A Personal History-Part 2 « christianagnostic - September 5, 2012

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