You Gotta Have Faith: Idolator’s Christian-Rock Revue

While your Idolators are not complete heathens, we didn’t listen to much Christian rock growing up–unless, of course, you’re counting Stryper’s “Honestly” and the first half of The Joshua Tree as “Christian rock.” So we were surprised when we read Andrew Beaujon’s excellent Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock, which follows the origins of the modern-day religious-music movement, and name-drops dozens of bands we had never heard of before. We asked Beaujon to send us a few sample tracks, which we’ll divide in two parts; today’s entries focus on “the very earliest days of Christian music,” Beaujon notes, “when the ‘Jesus
People’–disaffected hippies whom conservative Christian churches welcomed–roamed the earth.” A few sample songs after the click-through, along with Beaujon’s notes. Look for part two tomorrow. God willing.

Larry Norman, “Walking Backwards” [MP3, link expired]
As befits such a complete weirdo, Norman’s had astonishing influence on pop culture: If you’ve ever seen an athlete point skyward, he’s using a sign Norman invented; if you’ve ever been to church camp, you’ve sung his “Song of Salvation”; and if you’ve ever been in a bookstore outside of Manhattan, you’ve probably noticed a series of books called Left Behind, which take their name from the chorus of Norman’s 1969 Rapture rock classic, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” This song is a little less widely known, but I love the strings, the weird chord changes, and the way Norman’s ethereal voice wraps so sweetly around the concept of backsliding into sin.

Andraé Crouch and the Disciples, “My Tribute” [MP3, link expired]
Crouch was the only traditional gospel artist to cross over to the mostly white Jesus People, probably because he incorporated R&B and pop into his church music. This is his signature tune, and the only anachronism for its time (1971) is Crouch’s insistence on using “thee” to address God. Builds slowly and gives some clue to the power of Crouch’s live performances.

2nd Chapter of Acts, “Easter Song” [MP3, link expired]
Wow, wow, wow. Those unchartable harmonies, that fuzz bass, the spiraling Moog–it’s all a little bit Godspell, sure, but this family act’s first big hit is a wild, beautiful reminder that it takes Americans to make a mainstream religion truly weird.

Body Piercing Saved My Life [Official Site]

  • j clicky clicky

    I am always compelled when people speak of Mr. Beaujon to point out that he was the major force behind the D.C. indie pop band Eggs, and that Eggs’ Exploder 96 record is awesome.

  • Dan Gibson

    Please tell me there will be some Daniel Amos in part two. I’m suspecting either Mute Math or David Crowder.

    On another note, Beaujon’s book is incredible.

  • Clare

    I’d be interested to hear what Beaujon thinks of D.C. Talk, the only blatantly Christian band I can think of that ever received a modicum of mainstream success. If you ignore the fact that it’s about Jesus, their single “Consume Me” is one of the sexiest love songs I’ve ever heard.

  • Dan Gibson

    There are a number of “blatantly Christian” bands that have had mainstream hits, not that any of them are terribly exciting. Sixpence None The Richer? P.O.D? Reliant K? That’s not counting the Amy Grant/Michael W. Smith soft rock element, either.

  • Matthew Perpetua

    Beaujon writes a bit about DC Talk in the book — it’s been a few months since I read it, but I recall the tone being largely positive.

  • mike a

    This book came into my life just as I was exiting a period of trying to be an Orthodox Jew, reflecting on what it all meant, and (way too much) trying to figure why the Jewish version of Worship Music I heard was so atrocious. If Christian rock is five years behind the times, than “Boro Park Rock” is stuck in 1985, with its cheesy synths and Jim Steinman-esque flourishes. As Andrew himself says in the book: once you’ve immersed yourself in secular pop and rock music, it’s hard to put yourself in the state of mind that would allow you to enjoy your respective religion’s Worship Music.* Combined with my eternal fascination with religious youth culture, you can understand why I responded to this book in such a personal way. I’d recommend it to anyone.

    * Which is one reason why I could never understand evangelicals burning rock records, actually. What if you subsequently realized you were too harsh in your scriptural analysis and wish you still had them?

  • Bort

    Thanks to Idolator, I have got to get this book. I listened to a lot of “Christian” artists when I was in high school, but now, the ones that are good enough for me to listen to are the ones that are getting mainstream radio airplay – and most folks don’t know they are Christians, and their music is good enough to speak for itself.

  • radosh

    I’ll put in a plea for Lost Dogs and mewithoutYou. Having read Andrew’s excellent book, I’m guessing he’s already got a Pedro the Lion track ready.

    What if you subsequently realized you were too harsh in your scriptural analysis and wish you still had them?

    Talk to any CCM fan over 30 and 90 percent will tell you this is exactly how they feel. There’s a riff on the subject in a recent documentary called Why Should The Devil Have All the Good Music that makes a nice companion to Body Piercing.

  • Audif Jackson Winters III

    Is it blashphemous if I want to bang the chick on the cover of the book?

  • joe bananas

    this thread needs more 77s.

  • Scott Steg

    I can remember playing CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) back at my college radio days since I went to a Christian College. I had found that music by Christians was better than people who made Christian music. I guess I never thought that high-fiving, slam-dancing or breakin’ with a diety was my way of reverence to someone who could (by belief) potentially zap you out of existence on the spot. Unfortunately, thats what is now called “worship music” in some circles and its making churches become cheesy.

    I can also remember going to Christian Music Festivals when I’d meet bands who said “We’re like (insert ‘secular’ band name here), but we’re Christian.” I never understood the point of that. Then I went to a few concerts after the festival and realized what a huge industry this was. You’d see such and such a band, and no matter how good or bad they were, since they were a Christian band, you would have loads and loads of buses in the parking lot with youth groups to see the band. Made for good parking if you came in your own car to say the least.

    I guess what I’m saying is I’ll check out the book and see what the observance really is. At least he props my alma mater (Calvin College) on the blog.

  • Pete the Chop

    Who was it that said, “Christian rock is neither”? ‘Cause I agree with that guy.

  • Wasp vs Stryper

    Back in high school I went to see some Christian rock festival for straight edge kids; it was promoted along the lines of “think Christian rock is all Amy Grant, sissy stuff? think again, Christians are hard core and cool” and “get ready to be rocked by hard rock bands and Jesus”

    Being a midwestern dork, I got excited and thought it would be like one of those hardcore shows that took place in DC.

    Sleeping at Last was the first band to take the stage.

    Needless to say, we packed up the tent and drove home that minute.

  • Dan Gibson

    I’m really wondering how anyone not directly affliated with the Christian rock has heard of the Lost Dogs.

  • mike a

    I had found that music by Christians was better than people who made Christian music.

    Oh, definitely – especially when the people making that music are still faithful. I’d even say that the tension between the secular and the sacred leads to more interesting music. Low’s Secret Name is a good example – it’s full of subtle LDS references, right down to its album title.

  • Wicked Zoot

    Please tell me Stryper is on tomorrow.

    Christian rock the the place where mediocre artists go to make some bank off idiots with no taste. Can’t boo God, can you. It’s a pussy way to make a living.

    (Ditto mike a, BTW. Belle & Sebastian, Sufjan Stevens, etc etc… even bloody U2 are all head and shoulders above this crap)

  • JDR

    David Crowder Band, hopefully, will be featured in Part Two. Their stuff is great, even better if you’re a believer, but good nontheless.

  • radosh

    Please no David Crowder. It will confirm everyone’s worst prejudices.

  • Dan Gibson

    I only guessed Crowder because of Beaujon’s musical crush on him in “Body Piercing”. I still have a hard time imagining anyone outside the CCM echo chamber enjoying his music.

    I also would like to point out the irony of Wicked Zoot’s mentioning of U2 as “better than this crap”. I bought every U2 record up to and including the Joshua Tree at a Christian bookstore. So, at one point, at least, they were in the same boat as “2nd Chapter of Acts”.

    However, if there’s isn’t a 77′s song posted tomorrow, Kanye and I agree, then this site has no credibility.

  • so1omon

    Count me among the kids who grew up in the Christian ghetto… and still takes the occasional trip back for nostalgia’s sake.

    Beaujon’s book is probably the best look at the Christian market I’ve ever seen. He takes it all on – from worship music and the Jesus People to bands that aren’t interested in the whole “Christian music” thing.

    DanGibson probably wants his book back.

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  • TheRapaputyBand

    Rocketh on, from the Rapaputy Band!