Influential Albums: 933-939
Sat., Dec. 3. 2022 4:20pm EST
Here are the latest entries in the "albums that influenced me" series I started writing in May 2020. Rather than listing the albums in order of preference or excellence, I'd been listing them in chronological order of when they influenced me, as best as I recall.
Last week, we finally got to 1988, when a born-again experience started a seismic shift in my musical tastes. We'll continue with the action here:
933. The Keith Green Collection - Keith Green
The second Keith Green album I remember borrowing from Tim Hart was The Keith Green Collection, a 1981 "best of" Sparrow Records from his first three studio albums, plus three previously unreleased songs he'd recorded in concert. Those live tracks rank among my favorites: "Rushing Wind" and "Scripture Song Medley" are two that I sang many times to my kids when they were little, and "The Sheep and the Goats" is an extremely clever retelling of the famous lesson Jesus gave in Matthew 25:31-46. It somehow manages to be outrageously funny and dead serious at the same time. In fact, one of the things I appreciated about Keith Green (and several other Christian artists I would soon discover who would also become major influences on my songwriting) was that he could move effortlessly from songs that made you laugh to songs that made you cry to songs that made you think to songs that made you worship. My other favorites on The Keith Green Collection were "Asleep in the Light," "You Put This Love in My Heart," "He'll Take Care of the Rest," "Your Love Broke Through, and "Lies." But there would be more Keith Green to follow soon enough. I think ApologetiX may have played "He'll Take Care of the Rest" at our very first concert on March 27, 1992. We were already doing mostly parodies, but we still threw occasional cover versions of Christian rock and pop songs into the mix.
934. More - Mylon Lefevre & Broken Heart
I think More by Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart may have been the first contemporary Christian music (CCM) LP I ever bought that wasn't by Amy Grant. As I stated earlier, our local National Record Mart didn't have a very big CCM section, but I'd heard about Mylon from Tim Hart and possibly some others at the Bible study. This 1983 release was another album that didn't rock nearly as much as I expected, aside from the song "Free Man," which I enjoyed. It took a while to grow on me, but my other favorites would eventually be "Givers and Takers," "The Power," "My Heart Belongs to Him," and Mylon's Johnny Cash-style recitation of scripture at the beginning of "Praise Hymn." I wasn't listening to CCM back in '83, but I think they must have played the title track a bit on the radio, because a number of people mentioned that particular song to me. I would eventually see Mylon in concert two or three times in the next year or so, and his live shows and later albums definitely rocked a lot more. But I'll get to them in some of my later entries.
935. Russ Taff - Russ Taff
After serving as the lead singer for The Imperials from 1976-81, Russ Taff left the group and began a successful solo career. His first album on his own, Walls of Glass, came out in 1983, and yielded a massive hit, "We Will Stand," which topped the Christian adult-contemporary chart for 15 weeks. I never heard it at the time, but the people who chose the music for our Oremus chorale group at IUP apparently did, because they had us perform it in the '87 or 88. My first real exposure to an actual Russ Taff recording, however, was his eponymous third album. My friend Tim Hart was raving about it, especially the song "Walk Between the Lines" (a #1 hit on both the Christian pop and AC charts), so I bought the cassette for myself. Finally, an album with some rockers on it! Well, a few of them, at least. My favorites were the lead-off tracks on sides one and two, "Shake" and "I Still Believe." I played those two songs to death. "I Still Believe" was originally written and performed by The Call and released on their 1986 album, Reconciled, then later redone by Tim Cappello on the soundtrack LP for The Lost Boys. I owned the latter album and loved that song in '87, but I hadn't been able to hear the lyrics too well, so I didn't really know what it was about. Russ Taff's powerful voice and impassioned performance on his version left absolutely no doubt as to what was being said and what it meant. "I Still Believe" was definitely one of my anthems of '88. Other favorites for me on this album were "Higher" and the aforementioned "Walk Between the Lines." The song "Down in the Lowlands" was a bit of a downer, but it's the song that first made me take a deeper look at Psalm 69. I saw Russ Taff in concert soon after at Soldiers and Sailors Hall in Pittsburgh, and I'm pretty sure that was my first official Christian rock concert, but this was not my last Russ Taff album.
936. Comin' On Strong - Carman
One of the first tunes I ever heard that I liked on Christian radio was a humorous-yet-inspirational story about the Resurrection from the devil's perspective. The DJ never named the title or the artist, but I did some asking around and discovered the song was called "Sunday's on the Way" and was performed by some guy named Carman. It had come out in 1983, but I didn't hear it till '88. I searched in vain for it at my local mainstream record store, but they had a couple of Carman's more recent recordings, so I picked up his '84 follow-up album, Comin' On Strong, on cassette. It had another very entertaining and powerful biblical-story song called "Lazarus Come Forth." Carman seemed to me to be a bit like an Italian Keith Green with a touch of Las Vegas. Like Green, his music delivered a powerful, uncompromising message; his songs ranged from funny to powerful to touching to worshipful; and he never stayed in the same groove too long. My other favorites on this album were "Get Outta My Life," "This Thing Is Real," "Spirit Filled Pizza," and "Blessed Is He Who Comes." It's not my favorite Carman album, but it was my first, so it'll always have a sentimental spot in my heart.
937. Not of This World - Petra
I bought this tape at the same store and on the same day I got Carman's Comin' on Strong cassette. Unlike Carman, I had actually heard of Petra before 1988. The guys in my inner circle of college friends were aware of a few CCM artists, even if we didn't know their songs, and Petra was one of them. We used to jokingly refer to them as "Tony Petra," as if we thought it was a solo artist rather than a group. But Petra was more than just a group; they were a legitimate rock band. Released in '83, Not of This World found Petra firing on all cylinders. I was quite pleased with their sound, which reminded me a little of Triumph or Rush (thanks in part to lead vocalist Greg X. Volz), although the cover art seemed more inspired by Boston. But Petra was more than a just pretty voice; their lyrics didn't merely deal with superficial matters of the faith. They discussed meaty topics, came up with clever titles and choruses, and provided scripture references in their liner notes (a practice ApologetiX would also employ once we started releasing albums). My favorites songs on Not of This World were "Not by Sight" and "Godpleaser." Other great cuts included "Bema Seat," "Lift Him Up," and the title track. If my album entries persevere as planned, prepare for a plethora of Petra, etc., etc.
938. This Means War! - Petra
It didn't take long for me to buy another Petra album. I selected their newest release at the time, This Means War! (from 1987), just prior to Easter in '88. It was Petra's second LP with new lead singer John Schlitt. As longtime CCM fans know, Petra was the world's most popular Christian rock band in '85 when lead singer Greg X. Volz left for a solo career ... a very similar situation to what was simultaneously going on with Van Halen, the world's most popular secular rock band at that time. Of course, Van Halen's new lead singer would be Sammy Hagar, who first found fame with the band Montrose. Petra's new frontman would be John Schlitt, formerly of the band Head East, best remembered for the FM-rock classic "Never Been Any Reason." Both Van Halen and Petra ending up having more #1 albums with their new singers than with their predecessors. This Means War! rocked harder than my previous Petra purchase, Not of This World. My favorite tracks were "The Water Is Alive," "All the King's Horses," and "He Came, He Saw, He Conquered." I also liked "Get on Your Knees and Fight Like a Man" and "This Means War." Furthermore, both of the ballads, "I Am Available" and "Don't Let Your Heart Be Hardened," were well written and pleasant. And I love the fact that Petra taught us about a lesser-known-but-still-important person in the Bible with the song "Kenaniah." I remember having a particularly uplifting moment listening to "The Water Is Alive" while driving to Pittsburgh on Easter Sunday, which fell on April 3 that year. I finally saw Petra in concert at the Creation '88 music festival about three months later. I also saw them at other multiple-artist events in 1992 and '99. That last time, ApologetiX was opening for them (along with some other acts) at a big radio-sponsored show called Q-Fest in Rockford IL. It was the first time we'd ever played that far west, and it resulted in us getting our photo on the front page (and several photos on the follow-up page) of the next day's edition of The Rockford Register-Star newspaper, which had a circulation of about 100,000. We got such an overwhelming response from the audience that it opened up many doors for us in nearby Wisconsin and inspired us to start applying to play at other big music festivals across the country. God gave us quite a bit of success with that. We also had the opportunity to open up for John Schlitt in 2004 and 2006. Super-nice guy! Petra, I'm glad I met ya!
939. Infidels - Bob Dylan
After a trilogy of overtly Christian albums (I'll get to the third of those later on this list), Bob Dylan eased up a bit with Infidels, released in October 1983. Nevertheless, biblical imagery, allusions, and references abounded, most notably in the songs "Jokerman" (the album's most famous number), "Sweetheart Like You" (the album's only charting single, #55 pop), "Neighborhood Bully," and "Man of Peace." Yes, Dylan had stuff like that in his lyrics long before becoming a Christian, but these are much stronger. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, who played lead guitar on the Slow Train Coming LP in 1979, returned to not only play guitar but also co-produce Infidels. This was another cassette I think I had purchased in '87 but only got around to playing in the spring of '88. I didn't like it nearly as much as Slow Train Coming and Saved, but it still had some inspirational moments. My favorite tracks were "Jokerman," "Man of Peace," "Neighborhood Bully," and "Union Sundown." I also love these lines from "Sweetheart Like You" which I always took to be about the Church or about believers in backslidden situations like the Prodigal Son (of course, Dylan rarely, if ever, explains his lyrics or confirms people's theories about them): "You know, news of you has come down the line even before ya came in the door. They say in your father's house, there's many a mansions — each one of them got a fireproof floor. Snap out of it baby, people are jealous of you. They smile to your face, but behind your back they hiss. What's a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?"