Here’s what I was listening to in early 1995, leading into my final semester of high school. These songs were my motivation as I prepared for AP tests, badminton matches, and rejection from a cute girl or two.
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
Greg Long (as a solo artist – appears later with Avalon)
It Was Worth a Try:
Listen on Spotify:
This curvy street is El Prieto Road, a street at the tip-top of northwest Altadena, where my friend Brian used to live. On certain days off from school, or minimum days (and several times during the following summer), I’d make the trek up there on my bike (which took nearly an hour from my house in Pasadena) and we’d play video games and listen to new CD’s he’d bought at his house. Some of these songs still bring scenes from Donkey Kong Country or Metroid to mind.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Grace”, Margaret Becker (Grace, 1995)
Brian got me into Margaret Becker – I’d liked her as a part of the trio with Ashton and Denté, but didn’t realize that her solo style was more of a slick, smartly produced pop thing. Interestingly, I later found out that she was kind of Christian music’s rock queen in her earlier years, so apparently the push toward programmed pop wore her out after this album. This title track from the first album of hers that I ever heard hasn’t aged too well, but I thought it was darn catchy back then – the funky programming and the quirky idiosyncracies throughout the song are the perfect example of a Charlie Peacock/Tedd T. collaboration.
2) “We’re a Band”, Audio Adrenaline (Don’t Censor Me, 1993)
This song was pretty dumb, but when I first heard a rock band rapping on the radio, and a bunch of guys inanely delcaring “We’re a band!”, I laughed and I had to check out that band. Turns out it was Audio A, who had gained some notoriety opening for dc Talk on their Free at Last tour. For better or worst, they were my introduction to rap/rock, a hybrid genre which I enjoyed in many different forms over the years to come.
3) “Wonder Why”, PfR (Great Lengths, 1994)
My classmate Ari was into PfR before I was. I didn’t fully appreciate the meeting of classic and modern rock influences at the time, and their songs really had to grow on me. I liked this one pretty much instantaneously. I remember getting in trouble while listening to this song on my walkman during a study period in my physics class… the teacher, Mr. Davis was cool about us eating in class or listening to music while working on individual problem sets, so in that sense, he treated us more like college students. But he definitely wasn’t cool with me talking to my neighbor at “walkman volume” – you know how it is, when you’ve got headphones on and you don’t realize how loud your voice is.
4) “Dancin’ in the Fire”, Eric Champion (Vertical Reality, 1994)
My Mom bought me a copy of Vertical Reality for my 17th birthday – it was the first album I owned that could be considered a “concept album”, with its sci-fi theme of a hacker trying to escape the wrath of “Govtrol”. I considered Champion to be a “techno” artist (a style which I didn’t mind even though my friends derided it), but I was pleasantly surprised to note that some of his songs had a slight urban influence. This track made me want to have a big boombox to carry on my shoulder or something. I loved that a Christian artist could get away with saying something like “Smile when they screw you over”.
5) “Wings”, 4Him (The Ride, 1994)
An upbeat and infectious ditty from my favorite vocal foursome, with a bouncy 6/8 rhythm to help it glide along. I’ve always had a thing for fast songs with a 6/8 rhythm; it’s a lot more playful than 4/4.
6) “Unfolding”, Out of the Grey (Diamond Days, 1994)
Though it took a while to grow on me, this track became my favorite one on Diamond Days when I finally got that album. I used to create these colorful covers for the folder I’d put my schoolwork in, mostly 3-D mazes that I’d draw using colored pencil, and many of them were themed after the covers of albums I liked. I did one for Diamond Days that had an “Unfolding” theme – there were parts of the page that could be folded over, replacing out one section of the maze with another. Needless to say, nobody could figure out how to solve the maze other than me.
7) “Sierra”, Sierra (Sierra, 1994)
I always thought Sierra, with their heavy amounts of Wilson Phillips influence, was a classier and more believable female vocal group than Point of Grace. I found it amusing that a group would name themselves after one of their songs, and on a self-titled album, such that if you were to see a video for it (none existed in this particular case) on TV, it would say at the bottom of the screen:
Yeah, I was pretty easily amused in those days.
8) “What a Friend”, Greg Long (Cross My Heart, 1994)
I’m not sure why I ever liked this song, or Greg Long. He had a few pretty songs, but was a bit too perky and schmaltzy for my tastes, even then. I fell in love with this song pretty much right away – the bubbly keyboards and the melody of it were pretty much all I needed to be hooked. It was more about style than substance with this one.
9) “The Finish Line”, Steve Taylor (Squint, 1993)
Here’s a great song that has stood the test of time! I was really iffy about Steve Taylor – the “Bannerman” video that I kept seeing was too weird for me and it seemed like his lyrics were a bit too much on the odd side. But I saw him host an episode of CCM TV where he talked about his songs “Jesus Is for Losers” and “Smug” before showing the videos, and I found those to be intriguing, so I borrowed the tape from Carol Ann, and discovered this excellent tale of being a new-born Christian determined to run the race for God, falling in the mud, having hypocrites laugh at you, and then finally finding redemption and wisdom at the end of it.
10) “Let It Show”, John Schlitt (Shake, 1995)
I mentioned before that I had never been into Petra, so I’m not sure what appealed to me about a solo album by their lead singer, but this crunchy little song about boldly sharing your faith did the trick, I guess. Most of the rest of it was silliness, and I quickly forgot about it.
11) “Elle G.”, Newsboys (Going Public, 1994)
This has got to be one of the most underappreciated Newsboys songs of all time. I always liked it, even back in the day when I didn’t want anything remotely dark or disturbing on the “Christian” albums that I was buying. What can I say, the music was compelling and I felt a tinge of sorrow for this character who had run away from home and apparently committed suicide. I had a friend who had mentioned to me a few months back that she had flirted with the idea of suicide; thankfully it never became anything more than that, but maybe that’s why this one hit home.
12) “The Hardway”, dc Talk (Free at Last, 1992)
A classic dc Talk ballad – I could definitely relate to those moments of not listening to God’s wisdom, messing up royally, and not berating myself for thinking more carefully. Though many folks prefer either the “video mix” or the Freak Show rendition of this song that came out later, I still prefer the original.
13) “Walk On”, Susan Ashton, Margaret Becker & Christine Denté (Along the Road, 1994)
What better to follow a hip-hop-influenced ballad than a dose of pure country? OK, so maybe lots of things, but this was one song that helped me realize that I could enjoy country-influenced music when it was more gritty than whiny and watered-down. This one’s surprisingly edgy for an otherwise subdued album, and Susan’s lead vocal knocks it out of the park… too bad her later foray into mainstream country totally flopped.
14) “Please”, David Mullen (David Mullen, 1994)
Long before Nicole C. Mullen was in the CCM spotlight, her husband David Mullen, with his strange gravelly voice, had a brief glimmer of success with this passionate ballad. David was a very quirky guy and sometimes he hurt my ears, but I liked the more organic sound that he brought to the table – there was more oomph and even a little playfulness than your typical pop artist.
15) “The Way Home Back”, Guardian (Swing, Swang, Swung, 1994)
Go figure – Guardian was another heavy-hitter in the Christian metal world, but the one time I actually made a point to check them out was when they did a much more laid-back, acoustic album. This song was a good happy medium, rambling along on its jangly acoustic and electric guitars, complete with a totally wacky video, so it got stuck in my head despite not making a whole lot of sense to me. It’s a pretty off-kilter way to end a CD, but I kind of liked to come up with sudden, unexpected endings for my mix tapes back then – at least for side one.
Another of my many shots of streets where I used to go bike riding. This is Canyon Boulevard, approaching the entrance to Monrovia Canyon. Michael, a friend from church, lived out that way with his mom, who was friends with my mom, so while they spent time together, Michael and I would play Super NES games in his room (his setup being notably more ghetto than Brian’s, though mine wasn’t too great either), or go out and explore his neighborhood. I was always drawn to the foothills, wanting to get to the top of whatever windy roads I could find, so it was natural that we’d stumble across Monrovia Canyon, a place I’d rediscover many years later as an excellent hiking destination.
Where in the world is this?
1) “I Now Live (Remix)”, Crystal Lewis feat. Brian Ray (The Remix Collection, 1994)
This was another one of those “It had a good beat and not much else” type of songs. I heard it in a music store and instantly bought Crystal Lewis’s greatest hits album because I liked the bumping beat, Crystal’s sassy voice, and the guest rap (turns out it was her husband – I had no idea). Crystal was popular in SoCal long before she made it to the national CCM spotlight, but I think I liked her better in the old days.
2) “Marchin’ and Movin'”, Carman (The Standard, 1993)
Here’s the most embarassing weak link of my early mixes – an actual Carman song, preserved for the perverse amusement of whoever stumbles across it. It wasn’t even one of his more popular numbers, but I liked the robotic motion of it and the rapid-fire “rap” in the middle. it was another variant on Carman’s favorite “beat the snot out of the Devil” theme, and that was all good with everyone I went to church with, because we were all good victory-claiming Charismatics! This was another song that I actually sang for the congregation. I’d shrivel up and die if I had to go back and watch myself doing that. At the end, when there’s a shotgun sound or explosion or whatever on the recording, I pointed at one of my friends and made a motion as if I was shooting her, just to be funny.
3) “Big House”, Audio Adrenaline (Don’t Censor Me, 1993)
This one probably needs no explanation. It was the quintessential youth group song of its era. I thought it was pretty dumb when I first heard it, but I came to like Audio A for other reasons, and it grew on me, so it’s here as a reminder of CCM culture at the time. (Shoot, back then I even liked “Jesus and the California Kid”!)
4) “I Will Be with You”, Margaret Becker (Soul, 1993)
I was pretty enthralled with thing song when I first heard it at the tail end of Soul, which Brian made a copy of for me along with Grace. I was never big on the end-of-the-world fantasies that so many of my fellow congregants were into, but the way Maggie B. described being with God at the end of days here sure gave it a romantic tone that worked for me.
5) “Spirit Thing”, Newsboys (Going Public, 1994)
“It’s just a circuit judge in the brain”. I thought this was a pretty catchy and clever dance track about that inexplicable thing called a “conscience”. Between them and Out of the Grey, I was getting a decent dose of clever wordplay that would influence the kind of lyrics I’d come to expect from other artists in the future, as well as my own fledgling songwriting talents.
6) “Great Lengths”, PfR (Great Lengths, 1994)
This was PfR’s big hit at the time – a song that I thought was positively barf-inducing when I heard its whimsical string intro on the radio, but that I later came to appreciate as PfR slowly grew on me. The line “Quiet my desires ’til they die” always jumped out at me because I often felt that the things I desperately dreamed of and prayed for were probably not the things God wanted for me and that was why I wasn’t getting them, in some weird Murphy’s Law sort of way.
7) “One Man Gets Around”, Charlie Peacock (Everything that’s on My Mind, 1995)
Charlie Peacock was one of those guys who everyone in the industry seemed to revere, and I thought this and one or two of his other songs were fun, but for the most part, I couldn’t fully see how talented he was at the time. I did enjoy this one on the radio, though – “They knew of you in Hollywood, though that’s up for debate.” I think that line was actually funnier to me during my hyper-conservative high school years when I bought into the whole “the media is the Devil” thing.
8) “Smug”, Steve Taylor (Squint, 1993)
One of the aforementioned Steve Taylor songs that got me hooked. I remember bringing the tape with the video on it that I had recorded from TV to youth group, and showing it to the others… Andrea and Carol Ann couldn’t figure out whether to laugh hysterically or be really grossed out when Phil Madeira’s green face appeared over the end of the video and starting spouting off a bunch of self-righteous crap.
9) “Don’t Keep Heaven”, Lisa Bevill (All Because of You, 1994)
This was, for a year or so, my absolute favorite song in the whole entire world. It was a harder-egded, urban-influenced song about conflict, complete with rap sections and a surprise false ending, and harmonicas and other weird organic influences. Basically, it was a divinely inspired mess. I think I was starting to figure out how Christian radio worked at that point, and it saddened me greatly to deduce that this one was too weird to have a chance as a single.
10) “Real Thing”, 4Him (The Ride, 1994)
From here until the end of the CD, there’s a long string of “songs that made me cry”, or elicited some sort of an emotional response of that nature. I think it was the music video that tugged my heartstrings on this one, though now I can’t remember why.
11) “Touch”, Eric Champion feat. Fleming McWilliams (Vertical Reality, 1994)
This was the other big ballad from Eric Champion’s CD. I liked the duet and the choir and all of the random things going on in the background. We actually had an assignment for my music appreciation class, where we were given partners and asked to choose two scenes from the same movie and pick songs that would work well as a soundtrack. My partner and I chose Disney’s Aladdin, and I used this song with the “Whole New World” scene where Aladdin and Jasmine are singing to each other on the flying carpet. My partner picked some song by Slayer, and as much as I didn’t want to admit it, the banging and crashing lined up extremely well with the scene where Aladdin has to escape from an erupting volcano.
12) “The One I’ve Been Waiting For”, Out of the Grey (Diamond Days, 1994)
Out of the Grey had this funny way of making spirituality romantic, but not without being believable and down-to-earth about it. This song, while a bit cliche, was one of their best examples of that, and it was rightfully a hit single. What I really fell in love with was Scott’s extended acoustic guitar solo on the album, technically the end of “Love Like Breathing”, but it fit with this song in terms of rhythmic continuity, so I kept it on here as an intro.
13) “When a Grown Man Cries”, Bob Carlisle (The Hope of a Man, 1994)
Shocker: I actually liked Bob Carlisle before the “Butterfly Kisses” era. I wasn’t a huge fan, but this song, kind of a Promise Keepers theme, really seemed to validate the existence of a young man who wanted to be in touch with his emotions instead of shoving them down and acting all hard like most of the guys around me tried to do. This one still stands out as a stellar performance – the man could sing with real conviction when he had something powerful and non-mushy to sing about.
14) “I Believe in You”, The Kry (You, 1994)
This was like, the song that made tears well up in my eyes at like three different times. First it was the youth choir that breaks in near the end of the song, then it was the quiet buildup to the end (which is where I discovered that certain chord progressions really float my boat, even though I didn’t know how to identify such a thing at the time), and finally, there was the little girl at the end reading that famous passage from Romans: “For I am persuaded…” The Kry was generally a little too straightforward and serious for most of their stuff to resonate with me, but the songs that did hit hard.
15) “Heaven of My Heart”, Whiteheart (Highlands, 1994)
“I Believe in You” made for such a spectacular ending on its album that figuring out how to put it on this mix without having it actually at the end was a real task. Fortunately, this epic rocker saved the day, working perfectly as a blissful flight of fancy to mark a sort of entry into Heaven after the bold declaration of faith even with death as a possible consequence stated in The Kry’s song. I never really got into Whiteheart, but this song definitely ranks among the finest Christian rock had to offer in the 90’s. I love the dual vocalists, the passion, the mention of how “the world spins and breaks apart” in the chorus, the glittery synthesizers that close out the song… yeah, it’s pretty much perfect.