Feliz jueves, sports fans, and welcome to another edition of Random Thursday. Today is Weary Willie Day, and it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I clicked on this explanatory link, and was relieved to see that it refers to a clown character introduced and made famous by Emmett Kelly long before any of you were born.
By the way, that has absolutely nothing to do with anything that follows (hence the “random” in the post title). Well, other than what we’re about to discuss could also be considered “ancient history.”
I was browsing through my iTunes library yesterday, wondering just how many of the 6,242 files (not all of them are songs; there are a handful of voice recordings plus some silent “spacers” that I used for…well, that’s another post for another day, maybe) I had forgotten about.
The oldest song in my library is entitled Touch of Hope by Mo’ Horizons from their album …And the New Bohemian Freedom, which iTunes says I added it in 2004. But that’s neither here nor there. What actually caught my eye was that the 34th song that I added (five years later; that doesn’t sound right but Apple is never wrong) was a Christmas song by Amy Grant. And that sent me down a long but rather enjoyable rabbit trail.
The last two decades of the 20th century birthed and nurtured the brave new world of so-called Contemporary Christian Music (hereinafter, CCM). For folks like me, raised in the church and fed by traditional hymns, CCM was a new and exciting twist to praise and worship music.
I still remember making CCM mixtapes for friends (and later, mix-CDs), oblivious for a long time to the irony of a Christian engaging in such a flagrant violation of copyright laws. Those cassette tapes provided the soundtrack to numerous roadtrips before long before the advent of satellite radio.
I have more than 1,200 songs in the CCM genre (and sub-genres, such as CCM-Rock, CCM-Reggae, CCM-Worship, CCM-Alt, CCM-Funk, CCM-Metal/Punk [seriously]), and while I don’t have any of them in frequent listening rotation, browsing through them yesterday and today brought back a lot of great memories.
So, here — in no particular order — are members of a sample of musicians and songs that had a big influence on the way I viewed late 20th century music as a spiritual conduit. Perhaps some of these were also influential in your life.
Note: All of the songs that follow were released well before the creation of YouTube. Some of the videos therefore are, well, audio-only uploads, and others are more current performances of the original songs, but still by the original artists. Also, the songs I’ve chosen for each artist aren’t meant to be their signature recordings (although some are), but are songs for which I have a special fondness, for various reasons.
Rich Mullins — Our God is an Awesome God (1988)
I confess that I never followed the career of Rich Mullins, but his music was immensely influential on many people and artists. My recollection is that the first song ever sung in the newly-minted “contemporary” worship service at First Baptist Church, Midland, in 1990 was this one, and it remains a favorite of mine today.
Carman — Sunday’s On The Way (1983)
I didn’t realize until I researched this post that Carman’s music pre-dated that of Mullins, but there it is. Carman (Carmelo Domenic Licciardello) is oft-mocked for his over-the-top theatrical performances and music, but I never doubted his sincerity. I attended one of his concerts in the Ector County Coliseum in Odessa, Texas. Carman died earlier this year at age 65; I hope his music will continue to find an audience for decades to come.
Brian Duncan — Don’t Ya Wanna Rap (1989)
Duncan is another CCM musician that I was privileged to see in person, at a concert in the Midland Center, Midland, Texas. He has a wide repertoire of styles, and I’ve chosen one that’s perhaps on the silly side, but his evangelical message is clear and steady.
Audio Adrenaline — Big House (1993)
The rock/pop music influences on CCM were strong in the 90s, and bands like Audio Adrenaline, Big Tent Revival, Petra, Pray For Rain, The Waiting, OC Supertones (which was more of a ska band, but work with me), etc. were omnipresent in the genre.
Dakoda Motor Co. — Stand Up (1994)
This band was lesser known than some of those mentioned above, but their musicianship was (and still is) obvious. The group was influenced by the surf-rock of the 60s and the punkish sounds of The Ramones. The bass riffs on Stand Up still grab my attention.
Delirious? — Deeper (1997)
It’s odd, but in a way the following song by the English band Delirious? (not a typo) opened a whole new world of Christian music to me. The vulnerability and hope expressed in the lyrics along with the upbeat and hopeful melody was different than anything I’d ever heard in the context of praise and worship music.
Lost Dogs — Sweet Work of Love (1996)
The Lost Dogs were a “supergroup” of Christian musicians associated with other successful bands, and I always got the impression that they used this outlet as a way to express the edgier aspects of their faith. OK, that’s not right. This is more accurate, I think: they wanted to express their faith in edgier kinds of music and lyrics.
So far, the distaff side of CCM hasn’t been represented, except for the Dakoda Motor Co. vocalist. But the ladies had an outsized influence on the changing face of praise and worship music, albeit in a more sedate-but-no-less-powerful style than the guys, beginning with…
Amy Grant — El Shaddai (1982)
Opinions may differ, but for me, Amy Grant was the Godmother of CCM, and still remains the best-selling Christian musician of all time. Sure, her divorce of her first husband, Gary Chapman, and subsequent marriage to Vince Gill was something of a blemish on her career, but grace abounds, and she remains strong and influential in her faith.
Cynthia Clawson — Immortal, Invisible (1986)
OK, this is a stretch for inclusion in an article about Contemporary Christian Music, unless you consider yourself a contemporary of 19th century songwriters. The lyrics to Immortal, Invisible were written in 1867 and set to a melody composed almost 30 years earlier than that, and the song appears in literally scores, if not hundreds, of hymnals of various denominations…but Cynthia Clawson’s version made it fresh and new for me.
Sandy Patti & Larnelle Harris — More Than Wonderful (1989)
If Amy Grant is the Lady Gaga of CCM, Sandy Patti (or Sandi Patti, or Sandy Patty — the lady had more names than whatever Snoop Dogg is calling himself nowadays) was and is CCM’s Maria Carey. My wife once trained for a marathon listening to a playlist consisting of nothing but Sandy/Sandi’s music. (She’s also another artist that visited Midland and we attended her concert at the Midland College coliseum.) This duet with Larnelle Harris never fails to move me.
Annie Herring — We Will Worship The Lamb (1992)
I never took the time to find out much about Annie Herring, but I almost wore out with multiple listenings her album of worship songs entitled There’s A Stirring. She’s perhaps the oldest living representative of the music I’m presenting today — she’s 76 — but her music is timeless and, well, spiritually stirring.
Cindy Morgan — Listen (1996)
I’m hard-pressed to think of a musical artist I respect more than Cindy Morgan. Her music is adventurous and challenging. She’s not a prolific recording artist, but her career has been long and when she does put out an album, it’s inevitably a compelling offering. Since we’re discussing 20th century music, I picked Listen, from the album of the same title, and it’s a terrific record, but I would urge you to also consider her later albums, such as Beautiful Bird (2008) and especially the bluegrass-flavored Bows and Arrows (2015); the latter record has a song that should be on the playlist of every Christian’s funeral.
Well, I hope this has been as much fun for you as it was for me, although musical tastes being what they are, your memories and experiences may well have led you in different directions. So, at the very least, perhaps I’ve motivated you to scroll through your musical library and relive some experiences that helped to shape your faith in ways small or large. And if that’s the case, please feel free to share them in the comments, or if you came here via Facebook, leave a comment there. Dios te bendiga.