Influential Albums: 954-960
Fri., Dec. 23. 2022 5:58pm EST
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.
A month ago, we finally got to 1988, when a born-again experience started a seismic shift in my musical tastes. The story continues below:
954. October - U2
Although I'd been a U2 fan since the winter of 1982-83 and had even seen them in concert during their Joshua Tree tour in the fall of '87, I'd never paid much attention to their second LP, October. However, in the spring of '88, I discovered it was their most overtly Christian album, inspired by experiences three of the members (Bono, the Edge, and Larry Mullen Jr.) had as members of a non-denominational charismatic evangelical community called Shalom Fellowship. I learned more about October from some U2 fans in my Bible study and also from a 1987 U2 biography I read shortly thereafter, Unforgettable Fire: Past, Present, and Future - the Definitive Biography of U2 by Eamon Dunphy. October was recorded between April and August 1981 and released in October (of course) the same year. Bono summed up that period of the band's career when U2 were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005: "Can you imagine your second album — the difficult second album — it's about God?" The one song I knew on October already was "Gloria" (from the live version on Under a Blood Red Sky), but I found out I hadn't really known it at all. Not being able to discern the lyrics back then, I'd assumed it was about some girl named "Gloria," like the old '60s classic by Them and The Shadows of Knight. Even though I'd been a choirboy in the Catholic church during much of my grade-school years, it had never dawned on me that the "Gloria" Bono was singing so passionately was the same Latin word I used to sing in "Gloria in Excelsis Deo." The chorus of the U2 song is actually "Gloria in Te Domine — Gloria exultate," which means "Glory in You, Lord — Glory, exalt (Him)." If I'd been able to understand the rest of the lyrics on the live version, I would have caught other lines in plain English like " Oh Lord, loosen my lips" and " Oh Lord, if I had anything — anything at all — I'd give it to you." Well, better late than never. Other notable tracks included "Rejoice" and "With a Shout (Jerusalem)," but my favorite track musically besides "Gloria" was actually "I Fall Down."
955. On the Fritz - Steve Taylor
I think I first borrowed this album from my friend Dana and subsequently made myself a cassette copy, although I eventually bought it on CD as a gift for somebody else. Released in 1985 and produced by Ian McDonald (formerly of King Crimson and Foreigner), On the Fritz came out between the two Steve Taylor LPs I already owned, Meltdown and I Predict 1990. Like them, it was loaded with great songs. Some were funny, like "This Disco (Used to Be a Cute Cathedral)," "It's a Personal Thing," "Drive, He Said," and "Lifeboat." Others were serious, like "On the Fritz," "To Forgive," and "I Just Wanna Know." Of the 10 tracks, those seven were the ones I liked best. A few of my favorite lines included: "So the crowds grew, and their praise did, too, and a mailing list sent you money. So they love Jerry Lewis in France — does that make him funny?" (from "On the Fritz"); "There's engines stalling and good men falling, but I ain't crawling away" (from "I Just Wanna Know"); "All you phonies get it wrong — double lives take half as long" (from "Drive, He Said"); and just about every single word in "It's a Personal Thing." Another line that left a lasting impression I've tried to live by as a lyricist is in a song I didn't mention before: "If your music's saying nothing, save it for the dentist chair" (from "You've Been Bought"). I presume Steve was alluding to the Muzak they used to play in dentist offices, although my dentist at the time, Dr. Tannenbaum, liked to hum. Come to think of it, his name was Steve, too (well, Stephen), and his initials were also S.T. Hmmm ... I just did some research, and Steve Taylor's name is actually Stephen as well, but that's his middle name. His first name is Roland.
956. I Want to Be a Clone - Steve Taylor
I probably borrowed this one from my friend Dana at the same time as On the Fritz. Although it was slightly less than 17 minutes long, Steve Taylor's six-song debut EP served notice to the CCM community that he was a force to reckoned with. His clever commentary on both the world and the church made him an equal-opportunity annoyer. Taylor was merely following in the footsteps of '70s trailblazers Larry Norman and Keith Green, but it was still startling stuff for Christian music in 1983, especially with the "new wave" feel of the music. My favorite cuts were: "Steeplechase," "Whatever Happened to Sin?," and the wonderfully witty title track. Dana also lent me a 1985 maxi-single featuring Taylor and Scottish CCM singer Sheila Walsh called The Trans-Atlantic Remixes, the highlight of which was an eight-minute duet called "Not Gonna Fall Away." Some of the music on those records may seem dated now, but the messages are still relevant to today's times.
957. Between the Glory and the Flame - Randy Stonehill
As I mentioned in an earlier entry, Randy Stonehill was one of the first Christian artists I ever heard of, thanks to my old college roommate Lance Craig. But I didn't know any Stonehill songs until 1988, when my Bible-study friend Dana let me borrow a cassette copy of Randy's '81 LP, Between the Glory and the Flame. The first two songs on it stuck out to me, so I taped them and played 'em many times: the title track and "Die Young." At some point, I was also introduced to "Keep Me Runnin'" from his landmark 1976 LP, Welcome to Paradise, and really enjoyed that one, too. Randy will reappear on this list later. I finally saw one of his live appearances in the '90s at Kennywood Park in West Mifflin PA. He was extremely entertaining.
958. The Yellow and Black Attack - Stryper
I first read about Stryper in Rolling Stone magazine while I was in college. At the time, I dismissed them as a gimmick. Christian metal? Throwing Bibles into the audience? Really? Later, an old guitarist friend of mine who was not predisposed to like anything evangelical started raving about the guitars on the song "Soldiers Under Command," and I thought, "Well, perhaps the music is legit, at least." By 1988, I was ready to take Stryper seriously and give 'em a spin. My friend Dana had all of their stuff. The group's debut album, The Yellow and Black Attack, was initially released as a six-song EP in '84, then re-released as an LP with extra songs added in '86. My favorite songs on the LP were "Loud 'N' Clear," "You Won't Be Lonely," "You Know What to Do," and the Christmas tune, "Reason for the Season." Many years later, ApologetiX briefly met Stryper's guitarists, Michael Sweet (who is also their lead vocalist) and Oz Fox when we both played at Sonshine Festival in Willmar MN in 2006. I saw them play live while we were there. Even though it was outside, I think it was the loudest concert I've ever attended.
959. Knocked Out Loaded - Bob Dylan
I'd been pleasantly surprised by Dylan's 1983 LP, Infidels, so I took a flyer on a discount copy of his 1986 release, Knocked Out Loaded. As an old friend of mine used to say when giving faint praise of something, "It was extremely OK." And that may be a little generous. I was hoping for more of the Dylan I'd heard on Slow Training Coming and Saved or even Infidels, but I had to squint really hard to find him aside from sparse spiritual snippets in "Maybe Someday" like "Through hostile cities and unfriendly towns, 30 pieces of silver, no money down" and Maybe someday you'll hear a voice from on high, sayin' 'For whose sake did you live, for whose sake did you die?'" There was, however, one track with an outright profession of faith, "They Killed Him," although it was written by Kris Kristofferson. The song's first two verses were about Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., but the song's climatic third verse contained the payoff: "The only son of the God Almighty, the holy one called Jesus Christ — He healed the sick and he fed the hungry, and for his love they took his life away — on the road to glory, where the story never ends — just the holy son of man, I'll never understand — my God, they killed him." The other interesting tracks to me were "Driftin' Too Far from Shore" and "Brownsville Girl," an 11-minute epic that wasn't exactly melodic but still had some entertaining and mildly amusing moments. For folks wondering where Dylan's coming from spiritually these days, here's a quote he gave in an interview published in The Wall Street Journal on December 19, 2022: "I'm a religious person. I read the scriptures a lot, meditate and pray, light candles in church. I believe in damnation and salvation, as well as predestination. The Five Books of Moses, Pauline Epistles, Invocation of the Saints, all of it."
960. To Hell with the Devil - Stryper
Stryper's third LP went to #32 on the Billboard 200 and even had a Top 40 single ... honestly. And that hit literally was "Honestly," which went to #23 on the pop chart. Released in October 1986, To Hell with the Devil sold a million copies, and I borrowed one that had been purchased by my friend Dana. My favorite tracks were the "Calling on You," "To Hell with the Devil," "Free," and "Sing-Along Song." That last song really showed off the band's harmonies, which were stellar, especially for a metal band. ApologetiX bassist Keith Haynie and his wife, Krista, played "Honestly" for the official bride-and-groom dance at their wedding reception in 1990. I know, because I was there, even though I'd never met either one of them until that day. Ah, but that's another story for another time ...