The latest part of the ongoing series chronicling, in no particular order, the greatest 1001 recordings made by Christian artists
Continued from page 4
28. STAPLE SINGERS - UNCLOUDY DAY, 1956. From the various
artists album 'Jesus Is The Answer', Charly.
What roots Pops, Mavis and co had. This chilling spine-tingling hit is a black gospel classic, Pops' reverberating swamp-blues guitar droning, and Mavis swooping and gyrating like she has 20 years of storefronts behind her rather than being the gauche teenager that she was back in 1956. And as a bonus you can get it on the wonderful compilation album as the Harmonising Four's "When Tears Are Falling".
29. SAINT - ISLAND PRISONER, 1986. From the album 'Times's
End', Pure Metal.
Metal is still for many Christians the musical equivalent of a Black and Decker through the cranium yet once you've learnt its own ferociously wall-of-sound rules, it's a music that no other genre can equal for a primeval excitement. Best heard in the moshing steam-heat of a gig it's deceptively difficult to capture on record. This blast from '86 when white metal was emerging from the obscurity of US underground movements to force the Christian music moguls to pay attention is as heavy a piece of metal as your ears are likely to tolerate. With a vocalist who specialises in shrieks loud enough to create their own sonic boom and a guitar sound overdriven to the limit, it's clearly not music for every occasion. But if you feel born to boogie or want to ensure that Satan knows his place in the pit of hell, this thunderous lump of white hot metal will get you there.
30. TERRY TALBOT - WHO IS HE/HE IS JESUS, 1983. From the album
'On Wings Of The Wind', Sparrow.
It's been his brother John Michael who's rather cornered the market in contemplative worship songs which subtly fuse medieval church music, fulsome classical orchestration and delicate harmonies but Terry's album did it best of all. Aided by the London Philharmonic, Terry sings some exquisitely beautiful compositions of which this is the most haunting. And the multi-tracked harmonies resonate with a mood of devotional purity. After a year or two few albums retain their listenability let alone their intended role of drawing the listener into communion and adoration of God. The fact that for me and my family. 'Wings Of The Wind' does that in 1990 helps me believe that long after many of those American sickly-sweet worship banalities pouring out have been forgotten - this album, though long deleted, will still be touching the hearts of those fortunate enough to possess a copy.
As published in CR4, 1st November 1990
31. TIM MINER - DID I FORGET TO SAY, 1988. From the
album 'I Know You Think You Know', Sparrow.
One of CMM's most understated talents, its as a blue eyed soulman that the so-gifted Californian neatly grabs the attention - Tim's efforts as a purveyor of rock gospel are deadly anonymous. The killer on an uneven album is this gem, a beautiful mid-tempo 'floater' (as a soul jock I used to know would say) which dreamily eases along while Tim soulfully glides across a song so catchy that it is only when you study the lyric the penny drops it's a song about repentance not soppy romantic 'lurve'. If you thought Tim hollered good and soulful on the recent D-Boy rap gem, catch this delicious slice of slinky soul-gospel.
32. JUDSON SPENCE - HOT AND SWEATY, 1988. From the album
'Judson Spence', Atlantic.
Songs about sex in Christian music circles are as common as fleas on a Dove Award winner so it is hardly surprising that this wonderfully up front song about the forbidden topic should come from a 'secular' album. Judson is another Tim Miner, a major blue-eyed soul talent whose brilliance remained unrecognised in CCM circles. Ol' Jud got his one moment of recognition with the release of this big-budget stone killer of an album. This is the choice cut, a hard funk rhythm track which is downright wicked (just catch those spurts of rhythm guitar), an engagingly catchy hook and plenty of room for Judson to purr, growl and rasp. Judson is as black sounding a honkie as ever hollered "Lord have mercy" into a microphone while the track, supplied by the kind of creme-de-la-creme sessioners most CCM singers can only dream about, still generates heat to the feet in as fast moving a genre as contemporary dance. But what lifts the cut above its compatriots is the lyric, addressed to a girl who thinks Judson is a "wham, bam, thank you mam" kind of guy. With no trace of coyness the singer tells his would-be lover that "there ain't no need to get hot and sweaty" because "there's more to love than sex." Yep, your pastor would find this song beyond-the-pale but in reality this is New Testament theology presented in the context where the issues really take on relevance - in the steam heat lust of the disco.
33. HEAVENLY GOSPEL SINGERS - THE PRODIGAL SON, 1935. From the
album 'Heavenly Gospel Singers', Nugrape.
As the authoritative sleevenote on this album rightly points out "whenever a modern gospel singer makes his way down the aisle of a church, wringing his hands, contorting his body, and wrenching an emotional reaction from his listeners, he pays tribute, however unconsciously, to Gospel Jim, the Heavenly Gospel Singers' Jimmy Bryant. But Mr Bryant was more than a pioneering lead singer who brought acrobatic histrionics into the pre-war gospel circuit. His was a voice every bit as soulfully declamatory as the leather-lunged leaders of the Dixie Hummingbirds (who Jimmy joined briefly in 1939) and the Sensational Nightingales. This tough and soulful-piece of black gospel acappella is compellingly fresh 40 years on from its recording. One wonders if Sandi Patti will fair as well.
34. KEITH GREEN - THERE IS A REDEEMER, 1983. From the album
'Songs For The Shepherd', Pretty Good.
There are few more powerfully anointed albums than the one Keith recorded months prior to his tragic plane-crash death. This classic contemporary hymn is surely the artistic culmination of a brilliant talent and a heart which gave its utmost for his highest. In all the much deserved criticism levelled at the banality of many current worship songs let us not forget the rare but very real high spots, like this glorious God-directed anthem. The arrangement as on all the songs on this album is superb too.
35. WHITES - DOING IT BY THE BOOK, 1988. From the album 'Doing
It By The Book', Canaan.
Country gospel has been poorly served by British record companies in recent years. Cash and Hamilton IV apart, few country gospel albums find their way across the pond. When the full and complete History of Gospel is finally written (don't look at me, mate!) a good few chapters are going to be needed to chronicle the seminal hillbilly pioneers who not only gave gospel much of its early creative impetus but also were a key ingredient in the cultural collision that was rock 'n' roll. All this of course is as water off a ducks back to those who put down country music as a jolly knee-slapping anachronism or who find the glossy outpourings of showbiz-Nashville the musical equivalent of a glass of salt water. But if like me you do like eerily-voiced ladies whose nasal harmonies sound American as a plate of Mom's apple pie, and an acoustic picked so fast you can almost feel the wind created by the flying digits, this is for you. Both Sharon and Sheryl White sound wonderfully down home, this mid-tempo bouncer is as infectious as measles and Ricky Skagg's picking (he also co-produced) is a joy to the ear.
36. LUST CONTROL - RACE, 1988. From the album 'We Are A Condom
Such is the genius of rock'n'roll that sometimes timeless classics can be recorded by musical incompetents while the most technically brilliant musos can sometimes produce nothing more than yawns. This bunch of weirdo's from Austin, Texas play their very occasional gigs in masks, sing songs of staggering effrontery and judging from the evidence of this bedroom/ basement tape made for a budget of 5p, can barely play their instruments. But what these guys have is ENERGY and as they career into a full tilt punk-throwback one doesn't just get a blaring excuse to pogo-one-more-time one gets a chance to smile. The song? The words 'I'm saved by grace' repeated ad infinitum with wonderfully effective unison bawls of "GRACE!!" The US Christian underground's finest hour.
37. JOHN PANTRY - EMPTY HANDED, 1978. From the album 'Empty
As any composer will tell you the toughest thing to do in popular music is to write a truly simple, yet truly memorable song. John did it in 1978. Already a seasoned studio pro by the time he cut his first Christian music album John has never recorded a better song than this. A lugubrious ballad with a stark piano led accompaniment the whole effect is achieved by the strength of the haunting melody, the direct simplicity of the lyrics and a voice which teeters between tremulous uncertainty and triumphant faith. As a piece of interpretive singing it's never been surpassed in British pop gospel.
38. ELDER CURRY - MEMPHIS FLU, 1931. From the album 'God Give
Me Light 1927-1931', Herwin.
Among the many strands of music history still to be unravelled by the ethno-musicologists is the key contribution made by the 'sanctified piano' players whose stomping two-hand attacks on the keyboards were not only one of the most exciting sounds ever committed to shellac but were a key musical element in the development of ragtime boogie, jazz and (later of course) rock'n'roll. The gloriously named Arizona Dranes was probably the best known exponent of this style but judging from this delicious recording cut in Mississippi in 1930 one Charles Beck was her equal. Mr Beck gave a stomping accompaniment to a Church Of God In Christ group led by guitarist McGhee and with a ragged chorus headed by Jo Ann Williams singing a song also recorded under different titles by pre-war gospel giant Rev McGee. That's the fax 'n' info for the discographically inclined. For those who just want to hear romping gospel piano played by a digit-flying wizard begin searching for this vinyl re-issue.
39. LESLIE PHILLIPS - STRENGTH OF MY LIFE, 1984. From the
album 'Dancing With Danger', Myrrh.
The general consensus is that the T-Bone Burnett produced The Turning' is Lesley/Sam's finest album. Certainly her other albums, as the brittle-voiced singer strove to find her stylistic niche, are rather patchy. But on this track a minor masterpiece was created. A ballad which envelopes the listener with the swirling understatedness of its arrangement and a lyric (weeping in the shower no less) which could have been pure bathos in the hands of a lesser singer but takes on the vivid dimension of a soul-exposing itself for art's sake in the hands of Leslie. As she reaches for her Bible we're ready for the anthem of faith. "Be the strength of my life/ the strength of my life/ the strength of my life today." Such is its surging resonance that at least one church has extracted the chorus to use in times of praise and worship. But you need to hear that breathy, vulnerable voice, the state-of-the-art accompaniment (Dann Huff, Nathan East, et al) and Russ Taff s soulful interjections on the climax to get the full effect.
40. PAUL CLARK - LOVE OF MY LIFE, 1984. From the album 'Out Of
The Shadow', Us Myrrh/UK Myrrh.
Another uncredited duet, this one featuring the delicious voice of Kelly Willard, the Californian lady who's added her superlative lead and backing vocals to seemingly hundreds of albums. Like the Leslie Phillips cut (which would make a perfect segue to this all you creative DJs) this is a ballad duet, and again like "Strength Of My Life" is a hybrid which in addition to pop gospel performance could be used in the context of praise and worship. Paul Clark is a Californian songwriting craftsman who was popular Stateside for a decade but seems to have faded into custom-album obscurity in recent years. A shame as the man, whether singing the country and folk-tinged songs of his early albums or the jazz fusion style songs of much of this album had a rare way with melody and lyric. His art has never been better displayed than on this beautiful ballad which takes as its lyrical focus the Lord's supper.
As published in CR5, 1st April 1991
41. JON GIBSON - MERRY GO ROUND, 1988. From the album
'Body And Soul', Frontline.
After the devastating contemporary funk of 'Change Of Heart' the doyens of Christian blue eyed soul were a little taken aback by 'Body And Soul'. Here was a much softer often acoustic album, with a new line in thoughtful introspection for that gloriously sinuous Stevie-like voice to wrap around. Less immediate than its predecessor it did contain this stone classic, a mid tempo ballad with a haunting hook, and a lyric which observed that it was a merciful God who allowed the whole carousel of human existence to keep turning. A prime example of a track that released as a single and promoted heavily could have made it to the pop charts such is the quality of the song.