Here’s what I was listening to during my last days of high school, and over the summer as I began to realize my need to separate from the seemingly small world around me (despite some people that I really wanted to hold on to) and to emotionally prepare myself for my first semester at Occidental College, which I chose over Pitzer out of the two schools that had accepted me, in the fall.
In with the New:
Code of Ethics
Jars of Clay
Sixpence None the Richer
Out with the Old:
Steve Taylor (as a solo artist – appears later with Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil)
It Was Worth a Try:
Big Tent Revival
Listen on Spotify:
This is picture of the rollercoaster Viper at Six Flags Magic Mountain, in Valenica, California. I went from never having ridden a rollercaster at all as a child, to becoming well-versed in them as a teenager. (And now, as a full-grown adult, I’m terrified of them again.) I made a few trips to Magic Mountain with classmates and church friends in those years, but none was more memorable than the time I went with Andrea. She was a friend from youth group, and quite shocked when, during a phone conversation about me being a senior and whether I was going to actually find a date for my senior prom, she basically offered to be my date. As the months went by and prom grew closer, she began to express discomfort with the idea of shopping for a dress and basically being on display at a social event where horny teenage boys are basically just trying to get the girls to go upstairs with them and spend the night (and I totally agreed with her on that, plus I never liked going to dances to begin with), we decided instead to take Senior Ditch Day and go to Magic Mountain. And it was way more memorable than some awkward old prom would have been.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Take Control”, Code of Ethics (Arms Around the World, 1995)
I discovered pretty early on that I had an affinity for the sound of techno music, but not necessarily the repetitive structure. So I really took to this Code of Ethics album – a gift from Brian – for mixing techno and Euro-pop and a little bit of industrial. It was a sound I could get lost in. I always think of Metroid 2 when I hear this fast-paced, busy dance track, since he and I were playing it the first time I listened to the album. Turns out that this track was co-written with Ian Eskelin, who I would later come to know as the lead singer of All Star United.
2) “Sunshine and Joy”, Lisa Bevill (All Because of You, 1994)
I’m not sure why I decided so early on to go from fast-paced techno to more relaxed, sunny R&B, but whatever. This song was catchy and I thought the horn intro was cute.
3) “Painted a Rainbow”, Cindy Morgan (Under the Waterfall, 1995)
Cindy Morgan was another artist that Brian introduced me to, and I was intrigued by how her album had “sections” – the generally happy, relaxed stuff at the beginning, and then the “dark side” for a few songs, and then the peaceful conclusion. While the “dark side” intrigued me the most, because I wasn’t used to hearing that stuff from CCM pop singers, this track became my favorite largely because of that irresistible vamp at the end.
4) “Flood”, Jars of Clay (Jars of Clay, 1995)
Here it is – the first appearance of my favorite band, with what would later become an insanely massive hit. They were just starting to gain buzz at this point, so they were kind of like my little secret. I bought their album (which at the time was advertised with a sticker saying “On tour with PfR”) with some of those “1 Free With 4” coupons that my Mom would collect when she bought stuff at Lighthouse, as a sort of graduation gift to myself. It’s a shame they discontinued those coupons.
5) “Two Sets of Jones'”, Big Tent Revival (Big Tent Revival, 1995)
My brief fling with Big Tent Revival fandom pretty much began and ended with this amusing little story song, a modern retelling of the parable about the guy who built his house on the rock and the other guy who built it on the sand. I loved the 3/4 rhythm and the folky “lai de dai”s. I ordered their album from Columbia House, and rapidly became disappointed at how utterly stupid most of the other songs were. They devolved into one of my most hated bands a few years after that.
6) “Out of My Hands”, Tony Vincent (Tony Vincent, 1995)
Another Euro-pop/techno-influenced artist that I got into – he had a surprising amount of Christian radio success despite having a voice that was described as “androgynous” (perceived gender ambiguity is something that Christian subculture is usually squeamish about) and more groomed for Broadway (which is what he’s been doing for the better part of the last decade). Looking back, I’m surprised to find that his album has aged pretty well – even the singles.
7) “More About You”, Eric Champion (Vertical Reality, 1994)
I tried to get Brian into Eric Champion once. It was during lunch while he was hanging out in one his classrooms with some kids in the art academy on the north end of campus that they’d open it up to so they could play games and stuff. I thought he’d like the bumping beat and all that. And he did. And then the teacher discovered him with a walkman on and confiscated it. I don’t remember how exactly I got my Vertical Reality tape back, or whether he ever got his walkman back. Poor guy.
8) “No Stone to Throw”, Sierra (Sierra, 1994)
Another point where I realized that I really liked country-influenced music. If the preachiness of this one were toned down a bit, it’d be a lot like a Dixie Chicks track. This song just hit a lot harder than Sierra’s contemporaries in Point of Grace, since it talked about this fictional character Maggie who had been “to hell and back” (wow, they said “hell” on Christian radio!) and just got judged and shunned by people who were supposedly Christians.
9) “Eyes Wide Open”, Out of the Grey (Diamond Days, 1994)
Whoa, Out of the Grey does a rock song! This one was a pleasant shocker when I first heard it on Diamond Days, which was, for the most part, a pretty glossy record. I must have played that tape to death, along with their self-titled, which I borrowed a few more times from my youth pastor until she finally just gave it to me. OOTG might have been a contender for my favorite group at that point, but it was brief – 4Him were on their way out and Jars of Clay were on their way in.
10) “Red, White, Black & Blue”, Nouveaux (Beginnings, 1995)
“See a picture of our nation’s flag in the year 2002, waving there in the poison air, red, white, black & blue.” Well, thank God that prediction didn’t come true. In any case, I was highly amused by this biting political track, and it became one of the reasons why I simply had to check out Nouveaux. The acapella breakdown in this one was just killer.
11) “Jesus Is for Losers”, Steve Taylor (Squint, 1993)
Here’s the infamous song that made me curious about Steve Taylor, even though my first glimpse of that title on the back of the Squint cassette convinced me to stay far away. The video, and his explanation of the song when he hosted CCM TV, made perfect sense. Even my Mom picked it up – “Oh, he means the down and out.” So many CCM songs seemed to focus on being a goodie-two-shoes; I’m glad that Taylor was able to cut through the B.S. and say no, we’re all pathetic, and if you don’t recognize that you are too, don’t bother signing up for this Jesus business.
12) “Everlasting Love”, Chris Eaton (Wonderful World, 1995)
I had been hearing Chris Eaton for a while, backing up various other singers on their records, without realizing it. It took me a while to get into his album (Brian really liked it), but I enjoyed this track, his first single. I liked the way it “breathed”, with sound effects made of vocal snippets despite the more “organic” nature of the song. I would always think of the color green when I heard this one.
13) “Moment of Choice”, Margaret Becker (Grace, 1995)
I was listening to Margaret Becker on the agonizingly long night before that Magic Mountain trip that I construed as a “date” but she didn’t, and this song kind of hit me, reminding me not to waste time just because I was waiting for a more interesting day in my life to come along. the special day came and went, and was memorable, but we remained just friends, and that was for the best.
14) “If That’s What It Takes”, Clay Crosse (My Place Is with You, 1993)
On the way back from the day at Magic Mountain with Andrea, her dad was playing this song in his truck, and I really hadn’t liked Clay Crosse much before that, but she seemed to, so I figured I should check him out and I borrowed the tape. This song, which was lamentably never a single, really hit me over the head because it blurred the line between a guy trying to woo a girl and God trying to woo humanity. Which is something that I kind of scoff at when I hear it in a song now, but you know, it was another one of those, “If a girl knows I like this song, she’ll think I’m really romantic” types of things.
15) “Within a Room Somewhere”, Sixpence None the Richer (This Beautiful Mess, 1995)
I wasn’t sure what to make of Sixpence when I first heard them. I liked the balance between the gritty guitars and the delicate voice of Leigh Bingham. But I thought their album was really depressing, and I wasn’t used to Christian music that explored those sorts of dark corners of a believer’s life. I enjoyed the careful groove of this song, which opened up into a killer coda with an abrupt ending.
This picture was taken at my high school graduation in June 1995, at the Pasadena Civic Center (across from what is now Paseo Colorado). On the left is Andrea, the dork in red is obviously me, my brother Eric is hiding behind my yearbook, and Michael is the one on the right standing there looking like, “this is stupid”. I really had to doctor this photo to get rid of some of the wear and tear it’s received over the years, and it’s a good example of why I usually don’t use pictures with people in them for my CD covers – it’s hard to position the words so that their faces aren’t obscured. But I have a limited number of photos of places I went during those years, so this was the one I chose.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Soul Tattoo”, Margaret Becker (Soul, 1993)
Another choice cut from Becker’s previous album. This one showed her letting loose a little more with the guitar and vocals, though it was still highly produced. I didn’t mind – I thought the sound effects floating around during the little “breakdown” were pretty cool, and anyway, the song was a blast to sing along to.
2) “High”, Tony Vincent (Tony Vincent, 1995)
Tony Vincent does a snappy little Beatles-style tune with some really witty wordplay. Of course I had to listen to this one over and over and try to memorize it.
3) “Cross of Gold”, Michael W. Smith (Change Your World, 1992)
This was a classic tune from one of MWS’s pivotal recordings, which was a few years old at that point, but was just getting familiar with it. I really liked the challenging lyrics in this song – probably one of Wayne Kirkpatrick’s better attempts at being confrontational. It had sound effects and silly gimmicks up the wazoo, but lyrics like “I’m trying to see what you’re headed after, but I can’t see where you’re coming from” hit me right between the eyes. I could show outwardly that I was a Christian to my classmates, but did I act any different because of it? Or did I just give them more cause to ridicule Christianity for being “fake”?
4) “Liquid”, Jars of Clay (Jars of Clay, 1995)
This was actually the song that got me into Jars, since I hadn’t heard “Flood” until I bought the album. I had never heard such a mixture of acoustic instruments, a more “rock” attitude, and slamming programmed drums. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a pretty cool mixture. I bought the album, and my brother said they didn’t look or sound like a “Christian band”, and he was surprised at how graphic about the crucifixion of Christ this song’s lyrics were.
5) “Angels Falling”, Cindy Morgan (Under the Waterfall, 1995)
Putting this song here was a bit of a clever retcon on my part – I had always thought it was one of Cindy’s coolest songs, being the dark, cautionary dance track that it was – but I had too many long songs and not enough room on one side of a cassette. I included the “Oh, How the Angels Are Falling” intro, which is a superbly creepy poem about people who died in rather grim ways, and which starts off with the sound of monks chanting – one of the main motifs from “Liquid” as well.
6) “Lights Out”, Newsboys (Going Public, 1994)
And then we continue with more dark creepiness! Leave it to Steve Taylor to help the ‘boys come up with this furious, almost industrial track which ridicules Christians who think they know exactly when the world will end, and completely shut down in terms of trying to do anything useful in the world while they wait for their expected rapture. I knew people in my church who belived that 2000 would be the end of the world, and I remember once, back when I was in junior high group, asking the group leader why I should bother doing any work if the world was just going to end in a few more years. Thankfully he didn’t share that belief. It was pretty silly, and I came to question it as I got older, which kind of left me a bit nervous when 2000 actually approached. But back in 1995, that still seemed so far away!
7) “Hurricane”, Code of Ethics (Arms Around the World, 1995)
I added a number of darker songs that I had been enjoying at the time, when I went back and redid this as a CD. This was another one that didn’t make the original cut, but should have – a slicing Nine Inch Nails-style indictment of a murderer who showed no remorse. I was partially fascinated and partially disturbed that Christian singers could write about stuff like that and stores would sell it.
8) “Love, Salvation, the Fear of Death”, Sixpence None the Richer (This Beautiful Mess, 1995)
I really didn’t understand this song at the time, but I thought the bass and guitar riffs were pretty rad. How could a Christian claim to “hate myself”, and was this song endorsing suicide with its “staring straight into the face of hell”, or what exactly was going on here? As I got older, I came to appreciate Sixpence’s honesty, but at the time, this was one of those songs that I hoped my Mom didn’t find out I was listening to.
9) “William & Maggie”, Charlie Peacock feat. Christine Denté (Everything that’s on My Mind, 1995)
This was the song that really stood out to me on Charlie Peacock’s album – I kind of thought the whole thing was trying almost too hard to be clever in every single song, but I thought this one, about a married couple looking back on their dreams and wondering what they’ve actually accomplished – was pretty cute. Of course having Christine Denté sing backup didn’t hurt anything!
10) “It’s a Matter of Love”, Anointed (The Call, 1995)
Yet another group that Brian liked. I was a bit bummed that their album got so mellow farther in, since I really liked the more upbeat side of R&B and what little urban music I was exposed to at the time. This one was fun, with its let’s-stick-together lyrics and funky guitar licks.
11) “The First Uncloudy Day”, Lisa Bevill (All Because of You, 1994)
This was one probably one of the few “quiet storm” sorts of R&B/pop songs that really got my attention in those days, likely because the one-two punch of “Sunshine and Joy” and “Hold On” led me to listen to this album incessantly, to the point where I slowly realized that this track was a favorite too. It kind of reminded me of something that Out of Eden might have sung.
12) “Westworld”, Chris Eaton feat. Christine Denté (Wonderful World, 1995)
Is it obvious that I was rather obsessed with Christine Denté’s voice in those days? It seemed like anything she sang backup on, I instantly loved. (I kind of cheated by having here appear twice on one CD, but technically, she’s not the main artist on either song, and I didn’t have an Out of the Grey track on this side.) I thought this song was amazing even before Christine showed up – I could picture rolling grass hills and trickling water as Chris Eaton described a beautiful landscape that he could always escape to and find solitude. Then, when he found himself wishing some other person could be there with him, Christine would show up in the middle of the song for an absolutely shimmering vocal duet. They did this in concert together when I saw Out of the Grey live later in the year with Chris Eaton as their keyboard player (he did a solo set in the middle of the show), and I’m glad I caught that while I could, because it was a pairing I’d never get to see again.
13) “Some Things Never Change”, Nouveaux (Beginnings, 1995)
This song was kind of the centerpiece of Nouveaux’s album – their best song in the days before “Maybe Tomorrow”. The melancholy vocal harmonies were just off the register on this one, as they spoke from the point of view of God, who would forgive sins seventy times multiplied by seven, but whose heart broke every time His child walked away. I related to that – even at that young age where I still believed I was a fairly innocent and good guy, I knew I returned often to habitual patterns that I wasn’t proud of, despite my passionate prayers that I would be able to behave better.
14) “I See the Lord”, Ron Kenoly (God Is Able, 1994)
This one was a callback to the days before I really got into CCM, when I would listen to my Mom’s Integrity worship tapes all the time. Ron Kenoly was hugely popular among our church congregation, so much so that we couldn’t get through a service without “Lift Him Up” or “Mourning Into Dancing” or “Ancient of Days” or one of the other tunes that he had popularized. I don’t think we ever sang this one, though. Too bad – it had one of those slow-moving climaxes guaranteed to gets charismatic hands premanently raised in the air and eyes all tearing up. I tacked on the bass solo from the previous track that introduced the song, and there’s actually a good amount of instrumental talent here with that and the flute solo, and the choir of voices… yeah, this one’s a classic from before the days when “worship” was the trendy thing in CCM. It still gives me the shivers, which is why I had to present it here in its full nine-minute glory.
15) “Power of Love”, Michael O’Brien (Michael O’Brien, 1995)
I probably should have ended on “I See the Lord”, but it was from a live recording and I’d have been forced to just awkwardly cut it off, so I had tacked on this song at the end, which says some rather generic stuff about how love will get you through, to the tune of some brassy, classy pop music.