This particular “soundtrack” was actually the one that first inspired the idea to go back and blog about all of the mixes that I had made. Back in 2004, when attending my 5-year college reunion, I talked to some people who I hadn’t interacted with much since college, or even since my freshman year, and we even had a reunion “hallspread” in the dorm that I lived in during that first year. It brough back strong memories, to the point where I really wished I had the whole thing on video, so I could go back and relive some of the stuff I’d forgotten. I started relistening to my old mix tapes, with this one first, just to bring back some of those memories and think about what I’d learned and the people who had stuck by me through that difficult, but highly rewarding, phase of my life.
In with the New:
Church of Rhythm
Out with the Old:
East to West
It Was Worth a Try:
Listen on Spotify:
Ah, freshman year. This is a picture of Stewart-Cleland, where I lived during my first year at Occidental College, and the grass area out front affectionately known as “Stewie Beach”. It was an all-freshman dorm except for the Residence Advisors and Hall Director, so I ended up living with a lot of people who, despite appearing to me like they had the world figured out, were really just muddling through the awkward growing pains like I was. I was probably still way more socially inept than most of ’em. I have lots of fond memories of this place, and the connection between these songs and freshman year is especially strong… but there are also lots of embarassing things that I did and said within the confines of these walls as well.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Like a Child”, Jars of Clay (Jars of Clay, 1995)
Freshman year was the beginning of my undying fandom for my favorite band, and it wasn’t long after that this song about approaching faith as childlike belief and pure wonder became my favorite song – period. It’s like a theme for me, and while I may have been more childish than childlike at the time, I was also growing up in an important way. Freshman year was when Christianity became more than just a nice club for me to belong to – my hunger for real faith began at that point, largely thanks to my involvement in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and it hasn’t gone away since then.
2) “Angeltread”, Sixpence None the Richer (This Beautiful Mess, 1995)
I don’t think I was capable of understanding Sixpence’s artistry back then. But this song rocked, and I loved the eerie, quiet verses that exploded into its big, noisy chorus. “Is this some kind of holy test, to stitch the treadmarks off my chest?” If only I had known that sometimes faith has to be tested to become stronger… I think that season actually arrived a little later on in my college career.
3) “Cry for Love”, Michael W. Smith (I’ll Lead You Home, 1995)
I think this was the most played song on Christian radio in 1995. That was when I actually still cared about Christian radio, and listened to 20: The Countdown Magazine faithfully every Saturday night.
4) “Baby Baby”, Amy Grant (Heart in Motion, 1991)
This song, as cheesy as it may be, reminds me of one of those cute little moments when I was visiting my friend Lina in her dorm room, and the song came on the radio, and despite the fact that I only listened to Christian music and she knew next to nothing about it, we both knew this song (due to it having been a mainstream radio hit), and we just stopped talking for those few minutes and sang along. Out of the ups and downs of the next four years that we went to school together came one of the most treasured friendships I’ve ever had – a decade and a half and still going strong.
5) “When the Feeling Is Gone”, East to West (North of the Sky, 1995)
My mushy romantic side was drawn to this song, even though it wasn’t a song about romance. It was a song about doubt. That concept was foreign to me then – I was still living on borrowed faith. Nevertheless, it was comforting during times when I was feeling lonely and bummed out about girls, and wondering how God could possibly have a plan for me that made sense. I was a hopeless romantic in those days, even to the point of reading things into songs that weren’t there in order to get that temporary love-song high that I couldn’t get from a real person.
6) “Who’s Got Your Back?”, Church of Rhythm (Church of Rhythm, 1995)
Lina liked some of the male R&B groups that were popular at the time, like Boyz II Men and All4One, so I loaned her Church of Rhythm’s debut album, which was the closest thing to her musical tastes that I could come up with. (I should have tried Commissioned. Duh.) Interestingly, the group later took more of a pop/rock approach before disbanding altogether, and Max Hsu ended up being a founding member of Superchic[k].
7) “Christafari”, Christafari (Soulfire, 1995)
I knew this guy Sean, a senior from InterVarsity, who was into a lot of different kinds of Christian music. So he loaned me this CD and I got my first taste of, uh, reggae music. Assuming that this is in any way authentic. Hey, It’s catchy. Back then, that’s all I really cared about.
8) “Just a Man”, Code of Ethics (Arms Around the World, 1995)
One of my next-door neighbors was this guy named Nate, who was really into Nine Inch Nails. He’d play their music late at night, sometimes really loud, which was annoying. But we later became friends, when he started dating my friend jen. I kind of liked NIN’s style even though I was disgusted by the lyrics, so I’d get attached to songs like this which probably drew from NIN as an influence.
9) “Gravity”, Out of the Grey (Gravity, 1995)
Man, I was heavy into OOTG in those days! This particular song strikes me as a tad judgmental now, but at the time, I thought this was pure poetry. They did always have a way with the wordplay. I can remember bringing this song into my songwriting class during the spring semester, thinking it was an example of great songwriting, and having it get reamed by the rest of the class for lines like “By grace or grave, you’ll feel the gravity”. I don’t think I understood the concept of tact in those days.
10) “Alma Rose”, Tamplin (In the Witness Box, 1995)
Tamplin’s follow-up to their ass-kicking self-titled album was a bit of a scattered letdown. But I was pretty captivated by this song about a violinist in a concentration camp. I liked the tricky, clattering drums, and the guitar solos which would sometimes imitate a violin.
11) “Spinnin’ Round”, PfR (Goldie’s Last Day, 1993)
I’ll stick by this one as one of the greatest rock songs Christian music has ever seen. Man, what a ball of energy! This was when I really started getting hooked on PfR. Sometimes you just need a little mindless fun played fast and loud, y’know?
12) “There Is a Love”, Out of Eden (Lovin’ the Day, 1994)
I guess I figured that listening to chirpy, poppy, girl-fronted Christian R&B (like there was that much of it at the time!) would make me more likeable to any Christian girls within striking distance. Once again, this was my mushy romantic side taking over. Yeah, this was one of the many “She is out there and I will find her!” songs that perpetually made their way onto my mixes. I still enjoy it somewhat. So sue me.
13) “Breath of Heaven”, Chris Eaton (Wonderful World, 1995)
I sang this song (containing Chris Eaton’s original lyrics from before the song was altered to be specifically about the Virgin Mary for an Amy Grant Christmas record) at the Christmas banquet InterVarsity put on that year to help alleviate suffering students in the midst of finals week. Man, I hated that week. The finals weren’t too bad, but rushing to get everything done and say goodbye to everyone before packing some of my stuff up and moving home for the long four weeks of Christmas break was really depressing for me. I wanted to stay and play!
14) “Take My Hand”, The Kry (You, 1994)
“Faith before fear”. That’s not a line from the song, but it was that thought, and this song about how “faith is to be sure of what you hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen”, that encouraged me when I was walking into a big unknown as I tried, and failed, to find an on-campus job. I had never really held a job before, so I was really scared and frustrated, not knowing the best way to go about the whole process, but part of my financial aid package stipulated that I had to work to earn some of the cash. So onward I plunged, eventually taking a job from the bottom of the barrel – calling Oxy alumni to request that they donate money to the school. Many of you college graduates know how this one works, and it’s rather demoralizing to be on the other end of it. On the upside, I was pretty good about letting them go when I could tell that they weren’t interested. I did end up listening to some rather “interesting” rants from really old guys about how the whole school had supposedly gone to pot when they took the crosses down from Herrick Chapel, or hired a Black President. Yeah, I wasn’t getting paid nearly enough to put up with that crap. But it was a job, and it helped me build experience and patience.
15) “Seize the Day”, Carolyn Arends (I Can Hear You, 1995)
Carolyn Arends might have been one of the first true singer/songwriters I got into. This song was just classic. It didn’t take me long to take the plunge and buy her album (and oh, do I remember those long bike rides into Pasadena to get all of my Christian tapes at Lighthouse), and it was probably one of the first I bought more on the basis of lyrics than music.
This is the fairway at Campus by the Sea, a rustic camp on Catalina Island where I went with Occidental’s InterVaristy chapter for our first Fall Conference (and every year of college thereafter as well). It would become a deeply significant place for me, as I would later end up spending two summers working at this camp. For now, I was just a wide-eyed young traveler, happy to be away from the chaos of school for a few days with friends, and really excited for what I would learn about the character of Jesus that weekend (our guest speaker was an impressionist who did amusing, one-man-play type scenes that were basically interviews of people who knew Jesus). That was the weekend I discovered that I really, truly enjoyed worship. Maybe it was just the new songs I was learning, but something within me finally connected with the ritual of praising God through song as we all stood in that wooden, dusty lodge with our hands and voices raised to Heaven.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Jesus Freak”, dc Talk (Jesus Freak, 1995)
This song was such a shock to me when I first heard it. Little did I know that rock and rap had been hybrid-ized many times before! In any event, I loved it for its extreme nature, and it ended up being majorly stuck in my head during orientation week of college. I didn’t realize at the time that it would go on to be such a landmark recording, not just for Christian rock, but CCM altogether.
2) “Free”, Church of Rhythm (Church of Rhythm, 1995)
Another entry in my attempt to prove I listened to, and liked, all different kinds of music. Of course, CoR was more pop than R&B or anything else, and this particular track was more of a light dance-pop type thing. I threw it on there because it was stuck in my head the day that all of us freshmen went to the beach during orientation. I interacted quite a bit with a girl there who was interesting, to say the least. (And very obnoxious. But I was blind to that at a time.) And of course, all events hinging on a girl that I liked needed documentation.
3) “Still in Love”, East to West (North of the Sky, 1995)
Rachel, one of the seniors from Braun Hall, led the Bible study for our two dorms that year. We bonded to some degree over music, and I would find myself going to her when I was frustrated with certain aspects of the fellowship or didn’t understand why we played certain “boring” worship songs, or whatever. She put up with a lot, and it helped me to grow up a little. I got her East to West’s second (and final) album as a Christmas gift that year, since she was nice and took me Christmas shopping due to my not having a car.
4) “Noonday Sun”, Margaret Becker (Grace, 1995)
Margaret Becker was actually one of the “common ground” artists that Rachel and I both liked. This was one of Maggie B’s odder songs, being more of an Ace of Base-type dance thing, but I thought it was fun. She would actually perform it live (as weird as that was) when I saw her at Knott’s Berry Farm during the first of a few years when I went to their New Years’ celebrations, which were like mini-Christian music festivals.
5) “Everywhere”, The Kry (You, 1994)
This song will always remind me of my friend Matt, who blasted his favorite Christian rock albums loud and proud from his dorm room, which, incidentally, was immediately above Lina’s. I was visiting her one day when I heard this song, and I had to go up and see where it was coming from.
6) “Love Song for a Savior”, Jars of Clay (Jars of Clay, 1995)
It was my new favorite band, and it was popular at around that time. So of course it had to go on the tape. Duh. I’d like to say something deeper about it since it is a beautiful song of devotion, but at the time, I was more in love with the music.
7) “No One’s Ever Died for Me Before”, John Elefante (Windows of Heaven, 1995)
Yet another case of an artist I didn’t like when he first hit radio, but who snuck in through the back door with a captivating ballad that grabbed my romantic side. I may have romanticized my faith a bit too much in those days. But then, CCM has always done that.
8) “Dying Man”, PfR (Goldie’s Last Day, 1993)
I actually heard Great Lengths before I got around to listening to this classic PfR album. I didn’t like the album much at first, truth be told. But a few songs snuck in through the back door and started to get stuck in my head. Something about the melody of this one was extremely memorable, in a desperate sort of way, and it kind of haunted me during the first few days of Winter Break, when I started to realize how much I missed the new friends I had made in the dorms.
9) “Bleeding”, Sixpence None the Richer (This Beautiful Mess, 1995)
This was basically a song about paranoia, a sudden worry that the one you love will vanish and you won’t be able to fend for yourself. Something like that. I was pretty desperate for acceptance that year, because I knew I could be kind of a nerdy kid, not exactly the most popular guy in school, so I kind of grabbed on to whatever connections I could – sometimes even to the point of overstaying my welcome – and then got a bit annoyed when I later realized that other people’s commitment to me wasn’t exactly on the same level as my own commitment to them. (Of course not; I was the one with all the time on his hands.)
10) “The Survivor”, Phil Keaggy (True Believer, 1995)
I had no idea when I first heard this song that it was about abortion, from the point of view of the threatened fetus. I just knew that the quiet acoustic guitar stuff was wonderfully eerie, and then it turned into total rockage at the end when the electric guitar came in. Seven minutes of instrumental goodness.
11) “Somebody Love Me”, Michael W. Smith (Change Your World, 1992)
I don’t think I ever stopped to ponder how useless a song like this was at this point in MWS’s life, when he had been married for quite a while. This song was basically Grade A pop fluff thrown on to Change Your World in an attempt to snag the fickle attention of a crowd raised on Diane Warren’s love ballads. In any event, boy, did I relate at the time! “Waiting for somebody to dance across the floor, sweeping me off of my feet…” Dang it, where are you? I’m sitting here alone in my dorm room at 1 in the morning listening to Michael W. Smith all by myself, for crying out loud! SAVE ME!!!
12) “Dreaming of April”, Out of the Grey (Gravity, 1995)
Yet another OOTG song that blew me away pretty much immediately. The Dentés had a knack for melodies that were both romantic and catchy. I loved how springtime was personified as a woman here, because that was always a season I looked forward to when winter made everything grey and depressing.
13) “Garden for Two”, Code of Ethics (Arms Around the World, 1995)
A cute little song that Barry Blaze wrote when he proposed to his wife. I fell for practically every Christian love song that crossed my path in those days. This one still stands out a little bit, though, since it makes a distinct statement about the beauty of monogamy.
14) “Chart the Unknown”, The Basics (Haven Road, 1994)
The Basics – essentially a coffeehouse duo comprised of a husband and wife, were the first indie band I got turned on to. I didn’t understand the concept of not having a record label at the time. These folks actually came and played in Samuelson Pavilion on campus one night, and I was going to do a concert report on them for the music class I was skipping twice a week. But I started feeling distressed for some indiscernible reason that night, and I left the concert early. I felt alone in the night, like I was suddenly reaching out for a faith that was difficult to grasp. (This may have been a precursor to the despair I later felt during my sophomore year.) Running into my friend Jade, who was just randomly sitting on the steps leading up by Pauley Hall, as I was on the way back to my dorm, brought some reprieve as I told her how I was feeling and she described how she had come known the assurance of Jesus’ embrace. Meanwhile, in order to get that concert report done, I decided to tag along with my friends Angela and Tracy, who loved the band, to see them at a coffeehouse in Glendale the next night. The Basics were more subtle and honest in their musical approach and their questioning than I was ready for from a Christian band – but you know, I thank them for that now. This track was actually one of the hardest to hunt down when I was redoing these mixes on CD, since it was from an out-of-print indie album that no one I knew had. I actually managed to get an mp3 of it for free from the band by asking nicely.