Influential Albums: 1178-1184
Thu., Aug. 3. 2023 4:33pm EDT
J. Jackson, lead singer and lyricist for ApologetiX here again.
Here are the latest entries in the "albums that influenced me" series I started writing in May 2020.
Note: Just because an album appears on this list doesn't mean I give it a blanket endorsement. Many of the secular albums on this list are mainly there because they wound up being spoofed by ApologetiX.
1178. Jesus Freak - DC Talk
DC Talk released their landmark fourth LP, Jesus Freak, in November 1995. It went to #16 on the Billboard 200, selling over two million copies, but I was a little late to the party. And by the time I finally took the time to familiarize myself with its contents, I wasn't really in a partying mood. Nevertheless, I discovered this album at just the right time ... it helped get me through some of my darkest days in the summer and fall of '99 while I watched helplessly as my first marriage was strapped to a conveyor belt heading for the incinerator. I hate to jump on bandwagons (especially long after everybody else), but Jesus Freak may be my favorite CCM album of all time; It's definitely in my Top 10. I'd actually heard the title track, which bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 (#109), three years earlier, because our old next-door neighbor's teenage son had that song blasting on repeat one day. But it's different when you're listening to something of your own volition. DC Talk closed the Thursday-night portion of Creation '99. I'd seen them at Creation '92, but I was super-impressed with how far they'd come in the seven years since. The tune I remember most from the '99 performance was their racial-unity anthem "Colored People," one of the best songs I've ever heard on the topic. I bought my own cassette copy of Jesus Freak in July '99. One of its tracks, "Just Between You and Me," became the group's first and only secular Top 40 hit, reaching #29. More amazingly, all 10 of the main tracks (not counting two brief interludes and an orchestrated hidden-track poem at the end) hit the Top Three on either the Christian Hit Radio (CHR) or Christian Rock charts: "Jesus Freak" (#1 Rock), "Mind's Eye (#1 CHR), "Just Between You and Me" (#1 CHR) "Like It, Love It, Need It" (#1 rock), "In the Light" (#1 CHR), "What If I Stumble?" (#1 CHR), "So Help Me God" (#3 rock), "Colored People" (#1 CHR), "Day by Day" (#3 rock), and "What Have We Become?" (#1 CHR). Meanwhile, the two interludes, "Mrs. Morgan" and "Jesus Freak (Reprise)," are hilarious, and the hidden track, "Alas, My Love," is pretty cool, too. A number of the cuts on Jesus Freak took turns at the top of my playlist, but in the long run, I'd say my favorites are "Mind's Eye," "So Help Me God," "Like It, Love It, Need It," "Day By Day," and the title track. To properly summarize this album, I'll have to borrow a phrase from The Lego Movie: Everything is awesome!
1179. Take Me to Your Leader - Newsboys
Released in February 1996, Take Me to Your Leader was the sixth Newsboys LP and the first one I purchased after Step Up to the Microphone, in July '99. I thought the title and the cover were cool, but the songs were even cooler. Apparently, the record company and radio-station programmers agreed, because 10 of the 11 tracks hit the Top 10 on either the Christian Hit Radio (CHR) or Christian Rock charts: "Reality" (#1 CHR), "Take Me to Your Leader" (#1 CHR), "Let It Go" (#1 CHR), "Cup O' Tea" (#1 rock), "Breathe" (#1 Rock), "Breathe (Benediction)" (#2 CHR), "God Is Not a Secret" (#2 rock), "Lost the Plot" (#2 rock), "Breakfast" (#4 CHR), and "It's All Who You Know" (#6 CHR). The only non-charting track was "Miracle Child." That one took a little while to grow on me, but once it did, it became one of my favorites. Of course, there were many of those on Take Me to Your Leader. As with DC Talk's Jesus Freak LP, different songs topped the chart in my heart at different times. It didn't hurt that one of my all-time favorite Christian lyricists, Steve Taylor, co-wrote eight of the songs, but that's not the only reason I like them, although his witty wordplay permeates the project, most notably on the songs "Take Me to Your Leader," "Breakfast," "God Is Not a Secret," and "Reality." For my money, those last two in particular are hard to beat for overall excellence in message, music, lyrics, and subtle humor in the midst of serious subject matter.
1180. Going Public - Newsboys
While I was experiencing all that unexpected upheaval in July 1999, my parents were far away on vacation for a few weeks, unreachable by phone and blissfully unaware of their son's predicament. I can't remember if they were in Europe or on a cruise. Mom and Dad did occasional fancy trips like that, but they weren't globetrotters or jet-setters ... it just was a case of bad timing. Once they returned home, we had a lot of catching up to do. Soon after that, I moved in with them, which is kind of a drag when you're 35 years old. But God used that time to bring us closer together and to strengthen their relationship with my daughter, too. Dad accompanied me as I went to buy a new used car, a Honda Accord. That's biblical, you know: The Bible says multiple times that the disciples were all in one accord (Acts 1:14, 2:1, 4:24, 5:12, 15:25). Whether you've heard that joke before or not, the first cassette I ever played on its tape deck was the fifth Newsboys LP, Going Public, which I had just purchased ... although it was originally released five years earlier, in July 1994. The first three tracks on side one all reached #1 on the Christian Hit Radio (CHR) charts: "Real Good Thing," "Shine," "Spirit Thing," as did the first track on side two, "Truth and Consequences." Another track, "Be Still," went to #2. Yet another, "Let It Rain," went to #7. Our local Christian FM station mainly had a talk/preaching/teaching format, so they didn't play a lot of contemporary Christian music (CCM), although I'd briefly seen the group perform "Shine" several years earlier on some television special. Other than "Shine," I didn't know what the hits were. But my initial favorites were "Real Good Thing," "Shine," "Spirit Thing," "Going Public" (such a powerful song), and "Be Still." I love those tunes to this day, but I grew to really appreciate and cherish the last two tracks on the album — neither of which was a hit — "When You Called My Name" (written from the perspective of a discouraged pastor) and "Elle G." (written from the perspective of a person trying to cope with a loved one's suicide). Both were very poignant. "Let It Rain" is great, too. Steve Taylor and Newsboys vocalist-drummer Peter Furler co-wrote all 10 tracks, with assistance from Newsboys guitarist Jody Davis on the opening track, "Real Good Thing," and Wade Jaynes on the closing track, "Elle G."
1181. Bloom - Audio Adrenaline
As discussed a while back, I received Audio Adrenaline's second LP, Don't Censor Me, for Christmas in '94 after expressing affection for the song "Big House." However, I was busy with other things by the time their third LP, Bloom, arrived in February 1996. I finally purchased it in July '99, and it helped me survive that summer. Whereas Don't Censor Me had been primarily pop, Bloom was full-fledged rock with an alternative accent. Audio A. received a rich reward for this daring departure from a safer style: Bloom became the band's first and only gold album (half a million copies sold), reaching #77 on the Billboard 200. Seven of its songs hit the Top Three on either the Christian Hit Radio (CHR) or Christian Rock charts: "Walk on Water" (#1 CHR), "Secret" (#1 rock), "I'm Not the King" (#1 rock), "Man of God" (#2 CHR), a cover of the old Edgar Winter Group hit "Free Ride" (#2 rock), "Never Gonna Be as Big as Jesus (#3 CHR), and "Good People" (#3 CHR). I was oblivious to all that when I bought Bloom. My favorites have fluctuated over time, but they have included "Secret," "Good People," "I'm Not the King," "Walk on Water," "See Through," "Gloryland," "Bag Lady," "I Hear Jesus Calling," and "Memoir." And what self-respecting Spinal Tap fan could resist "Jazz Odyssey" and the commentary by Smooth Steve? But Bloom is a winner from start to finish.
1182. Supernatural - DC Talk
DC Talk capitalized on the Thriller-esque success of their Jesus Freak LP with a live recording, Welcome to the Freak Show. Fans would have to wait almost three full years for the trio's next studio album. Sadly, it would be their last as a group, aside from compilations. But what a way to go! Released in September 1998, Supernatural debuted (and peaked) at #4 on the Billboard 200 and sold over a million copies. I got my mine on cassette in July '99. It's slicker, shinier, and sometimes fluffier than Jesus Freak, which sold two million, but it contains a few songs that I love every bit as much, namely "It's Killing Me," "Dive," and "My Friend (So Long)." I'd seen and heard DC Talk perform that last one at Creation '99, and I liked it instantly, although I had no idea what it was called at the time. My next tier of favorites from Supernatural would probably be "Fearless," "Wanna Be Loved," "Since I Met You," and the title track. All the tracks are top-notch, though. Eight of them hit the Top Five on either the Christian Hit Radio (CHR) or Christian Rock charts: "Into Jesus" (#1 CHR), "My Friend (So Long)" (#1 CHR, #1 rock), "Consume Me" (#1 CHR), "Wanna Be Loved" (#1 CHR), "Supernatural" (#2 Rock), "Godsend" (#1 CHR), "It's Killing Me" (#4 rock), and "Dive" (#4 CHR, #9 rock). I didn't have access to charts when I was getting acquainted with this album, but these tunes take me back to a trying time that eventually turned triumphant, so they'll always have special meaning to me.
1183. Some Kind of Zombie - Audio Adrenaline
I liked Audio Adrenaline's third LP so much that I bought their fourth a week or so later. Yes, the summer of '99 was a bad time for me personally but a great time musically. Some people medicate with drugs and alcohol; I used Christian rock albums (and a lot of prayer and walking). Released in November 1997, Some Kind of Zombie was a worthy successor to Bloom. I didn't listen to it as consistently, but it had some really great tunes and clever concepts for songs. My favorites were "Chevette," and "Some Kind of Zombie," followed by "People Like Me," "Blitz," "Flicker," and "Superfriend." But I also liked "New Body," "Original Species," "Lighthouse," and "God-Shaped Hole." I finally had the chance to meet the guys in Audio A. in their dressing room at a New Jersey festival we both played in September 2001. I told them how much I liked the song "Some Kind of Zombie," and one of them said, "Well, I'm glad somebody did." I'm not sure if they got backlash for the zombie imagery or what, but I thought it was a great simile for being "dead to sin" (Romans 6), as the lyrics plainly state. The album didn't sell as well or chart as high as Bloom, but it still made the upper half of the Billboard 200 (#99). Four of the tracks reached #1 on either the Christian Hit Radio (CHR) or Christian Rock charts: "Some Kind of Zombie" (#1 rock), "People Like Me" (#1 CHR, #4 rock), "Blitz" (#1 rock, #25 CHR), and "Chevette" (#1 rock, #5 CHR). Two other cuts charted: "New Body" (#2 rock, #11 CHR) and "God-Shaped Hole" (#17 CHR).
1184. Running with Scissors - "Weird Al" Yankovic
"Weird Al" Yankovic's 10th LP, Running with Scissors, will always be special to me. It was released on June 28, 1999, and the guys in ApologetiX went to see Al in concert just a month later, on July 30, at Pittsburgh's I.C. Light Amphitheater. We'd seen him there before in '96, but this time was quite different, because we were there as guests of Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz, who has been Al's drummer since 1980. He even introduced us to Al after the show. But that was only part of the story. As you might expect, a number of our early fans were also "Weird Al" fans. In addition to being Al's drummer, Jon was his webmaster. Somewhere along the line, somebody who was a fan of both Al and ApologetiX mentioned us to Jon. That eventually led to an online conversation in which Jon volunteered to do some of the drumming on the next ApologetiX CD if our schedules aligned. Well, you can bet we made sure they aligned! Thankfully, Al and his band were going to be in Pittsburgh the day before his concert, so Jon made plans to record with us on July 29. Since I was the only member of the band who didn't have another full-time job, I got to be Jon's chauffeur to and from the studio — The Audio Loft in Ambridge PA. But first I took him to lunch at one of the Primanti's restaurants (I think it was the one in Moon Township and Karl met us there). He spent the whole afternoon and part of the evening in the studio with all four of us (the other two being ApX bassist Keith Haynie and our regular drummer at the time, Fred Behanna). Jon wound up playing drums on seven tracks that would later appear on our Biblical Graffiti CD: "One Way," "Second Timothy," "Fast Paul," "Crazy Little King God Loves," "Revelation Man," "Armageddon Valley Someday," and "Enter Samson." Fred graciously allowed that to happen and played on the other 15 tracks. Jon was incredibly friendly, funny, and easy to work with, and he did a fantastic job on the drums. In the years since then, we have corresponded on numerous occasions. From time to time, I have sent him new ApologetiX CDs (one copy for him and one for Al), and he has responded with kind notes. Furthermore, he has sent us copies of several new Al CDs as they came out, including Poodle Hat (2003), Alpocalypse (2011), and Al's most recent LP, Mandatory Fun (2014). But getting back to Running with Scissors ... the best known track is probably "The Saga Begins," a Star Wars-themed spoof of Don McClean's "American Pie." My favorite parody on the album was "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi," a take-off on "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy) by The Offspring. None of the cuts from Running with Scissors made the U.S. chart, but "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi)" hit #67 on the Australian pop chart. As usual, Al had original material on this album that I liked even better — "Your Horoscope for Today" and the 11-minute closing track, "Albuquerque." I also enjoyed "My Baby's in Love with Eddie Vedder," a joyous zydeco tune that sounded totally and deliberately incongruent with the brooding image of Pearl Jam's lead singer. And I always love Al's polka medleys; his deadpan, sing-songy delivery of the lyrics never ceases to amuse me. "Polka Power" was no exception, featuring accordian-ized snippets of 14 pop and alternative hits from 1997-98, five of which ApologetiX went on to spoof. All five of our parodies were already in the works before Running with Scissors came out, though. Maybe we should have called our '99 LP Running with Scriptures.