Influential Albums: 1010-1016
Fri., Feb. 17. 2023 8:37am 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:
1010. Immortal - Cynthia Clawson
Talk about odd couples: On the other side of the King's X compilation cassette Chris made me, there were a bunch of selections from this album by gospel singer Cynthia Clawson. I never did ask whether he put them there on purpose or just taped over a cassette one of his parents had previously recorded. Released in 1986, Immortal was her ninth LP. After I got over the shock of transitioning from the piledriving power of King's X to the mostly mellow moods of Clawson, I really enjoyed her stuff. It helped that one of the tracks was "Spirit Shine," which I'd heard played at one of our Friday-night prayer groups, probably by Thom Passante's future wife, Kim. I'd loved that song and had actually been hoping to find it someplace, but I didn't know who did it or what it was called, and it was hard for me to describe, because I couldn't discern what she was saying in the chorus or remember any of the other words. The last place I ever expected to find it was on the flip side of a King's X tape! I also enjoyed "Immortal Invisible," "Softly And Tenderly (from A Trip To Bountiful)," "Heart Song," and "Bring It to Jesus." I eventually bought the CD for myself.
1011. All Fall Down - The Seventy Sevens
The Seventy Sevens (or The 77s or The 77's or 77's) are another critically acclaimed Christian rock band I should be more familiar with by now. I've had friends who loved them, but I've never immersed myself in their catalog. Shame on me, because they put out three of my favorite Christian rock songs: "Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba," "The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes, and the Pride of Life," and "This Is the Way Love Is." Great lyrics. Great music. Great Scott! Why haven't I taken the time to listen to more of their stuff? Let the scolding begin. I did listen to their second LP, All Fall Down (1984), on one of Dana's cassettes, though; that's how I discovered "Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba." No, that song has nothing at all to do with our parody "Baa! We're Lambs." In fact, 77s lead guitarist/vocalist/lyricist Mike Roe would probably gag if he heard it.
1012. Ashes and Light - Mark Heard
The late great Mark Heard died far too young ... of cardiac arrest two weeks after a heart attack ... at age 40 in 1992. However, in his short lifetime, he inspired many other Christian artists, enough so that there have been three tribute albums released covering his material — in 1994, 1996, and 2017. I was only familiar with one of his albums (borrowed from my friend Dana,) but I liked it a lot, and I'm grateful that I got to hear it while Mark was still alive. Released in 1984, Ashes and Light was Mark's ninth studio LP. He was obviously a very literate, thoughtful lyricist. Musically, this album reminded me a little of Richard Marx, possibly because of the vocals, although that observation might offend some Mark Heard fans. My favorite song was "Straw Men." Other memorable tracks included "Washed to the Sea," "We Believe So Well," "Age of the Broken Heart," "I Know What It's Like to Be Loved," "Threw It Away," and "The Winds of Time."
1013. I Put Away My Idols - Dion
You've heard of Celine Dion? Meet serene Dion. Here's another album Tim Hart lent me in 1988 that I forgot to mention earlier. Singer-songwriter Dion DiMucci first found fame in the late '50s as lead vocalist for Dion and The Belmonts, with hits like "I Wonder Why" (#22), "No One Knows" (#19), "A Teenager in Love" (#5), and "Where or When" (#3). After going solo in 1960, he achieved even greater success: "Lonely Teenager" (#12), "Love Came to Me" (#10), "Little Diane" (#8), "Donna the Prima Donna" (#6), "Drip Drop" (#6), "Abraham, Martin and John" (#4), "Lovers Who Wander" (#3), "Ruby Baby" (#2), "The Wanderer" (#2), and "Runaround Sue" (#1). Released in 1983, I Put Away My Idols was Dion's third in a series of Christian LPs and got nominated for a Dove Award and a Grammy. The title track was exceptionally catchy. Other songs I like include "Here Is My Servant," "Trust in the Lord," "Give It Up and Surrender," and the clever "They Won't Tell You." In 2022, I read Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth (Stories, Humor & Music), a light-hearted and enlightening spiritual autobiography he wrote in 2011 with acclaimed Pittsburgh-area author Mike Aquilina. My favorite moment happens in 1968 when Dion reaches rock bottom in his life, addicted to alcohol and drugs, and has to move in with his wife's family. He asks his father-in-law, Jack — a cheerful, praying man — in passing to pray for him. Jack replies, "Oh, Dion, you should try praying yourself. God loves to hear from strangers." As Dion recounts, "So one night I tried it. I got down on my knees, just as I'd seen Jack doing, and in my inimitable, rambling way, I asked God to take away my obsession with alcohol, to break the chains. And He did — just like that. Since that moment, I've never taken a drink or done drugs. I've never wanted to. It was as if God was just waiting for me to ask." I loved that story.
1014. Love Song - Love Song
I met percussionist Jeff Pakula when he started coming to our Tuesday-night Bible study in downtown Pittsburgh in the fall of 1989, and we also attended the same church and served on the worship team together for a while in West Elizabeth PA the following winter. He would go on to become the first drummer for ApologetiX, from 1992-93. But Jeff was already jamming with us from 1990-91 before the band had an official name. What's more, he graciously let us do that at his house. Because he got saved in the early '70s, Jeff had a lot of great old "Jesus Music" albums from that decade which he allowed me to borrow, including this landmark 1972 eponymous debut LP from Love Song — one of the first Christian rock bands to achieve widespread popularity. My favorite tracks were "Little Country Church," "Front Seat, Back Seat," "Welcome Back," "Changes," and "A Love Song," We used to play both "Little Country Church" and "Front Seat, Back Seat" at practices and at concerts in the early days of ApologetiX.
1015. White Horse - Michael Omartian
I first became aware of this album while reading a CCM magazine article I've mentioned before, "The 25 Best Contemporary Christian Albums of All Time." White Horse was riding high at #4 on the list. That was good enough for me to give it a listen and, after listening, I wholeheartedly agreed it was good enough to merit that lofty position. The music was impeccably played and written — complex like progressive rock yet accessible like pop. Although White Horse never made the Billboard 200, Michael Omartian was certainly no stranger to the Billboard charts; his resume as a session keyboardist and producer is extremely impressive and too long to list here. Remember the 1976 #1 hit "Theme from S.W.A.T." by Rhythm Heritage? He was the keyboardist for that group. Remember "She Works Hard for the Money" by Donna Summer? He co-wrote that. He also produced these #1 songs: "Sailing" and "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" by Christopher Cross; "The Glory of Love" and "Next Time I Fall" by Peter Cetera; and "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" by Michael Bolton. Furthermore, he has played keyboards and arranged for artists as diverse as Steely Dan, Barbra Streisand, John Lennon, Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson, Richard Marx, Reba McEntire and many other famous performers. The excellent lyrics on White Horse were written by Michael's wife, Stormie, an author (of over 50 books) who once dated actor-comedian Steve Martin. Original ApologetiX drummer Jeff Pakula lent me his copy of White Horse, and I later bought it for myself on both cassette and CD. My favorite songs are "Jeremiah" (later redone by Russ Taff on his first solo album), "Fat City," "Sliver Fish," and "Take Me Down," but all nine tracks are great, and the whole thing is a masterpiece.
1016. Gentle Faith - Gentle Faith
Jeff Pakula had this LP, too. Although released in the disco days of 1976, it sounds more like the rock music that came out in '72-73. I'd never heard of Gentle Faith before, but what a find! The plain sleeve cover gave no clue as to just how exciting the music was. It's truly a great album, combining fun, funny tunes like "The Whole Lump of Dough" and "Noah" with serious, poignant songs like "Jerusalem" and "Turnaround" ... a joyous rocker like "Living in the Sonshine" with beautiful, heartfelt ballads like "It's So Good to Know," "My Love for You," and "Home." I love all eight of those tracks, and the other two — "Simple Song" and "Goin' Back Home" — are fine numbers as well. Not a bad one in the bunch! My only regret is that Gentle Faith didn't put out more albums. The group's lead singer-harmonica player, Darrell Mansfield, formed the Darrell Mansfield Band in 1977 and has since recorded over 30 albums, including projects with Eric Turner and REZ's Glenn Kaiser.