This one was made not long after I started my sophomore year of college. That semester, and even the end of the summer preceding it, has a lot of fond memories attached. I felt like I came back from Catalina Island a changed person, more patient and willing to serve instead of being served. OK, I was still impatient in other ways, most notably in terms of wanting a relationship, but I wasn’t as obviously on the prowl for a girlfriend in 1996 as I was in 1995. Mostly, I was happy to be back on campus, and it was really exciting to meet new freshmen and help them learn the ropes just as some of the upperclassmen had done for me during my first year. I had this deliriously happy sense of knowing what I was doing, but still being young and having so many new things to experience. That’s a rare feeling that’s been difficult to recapture since then.
In with the New:
Dave Matthews Band
Out with the Old:
It Was Worth a Try:
World Wide Message Tribe
Listen on Spotify:
This is Bell-Young Hall, my favorite of all the dorms I lived in at Oxy. It wasn’t the most modern of the dorms, or the most attractive to live in, but it had the most character. I chose it for my sophomore year because it was likely to have a large amount of freshman, and freshmen were generally the easiest people to reach out to, both friendship-wise and ministry-wise, since they were likely to be the least busy with hard classes, and the least tied down to existing commitments. The moment I arrived on campus for my sophomore year, to move into this dorm that I’d spent so much time in the year before (Lina’s old dorm room now belonged to me and Chris – I chose it that way on purpose), was like a new beginning for me.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Memoir”, Audio Adrenaline (bloOm, 1996)
“It’s the summer of my lifetime, I’ve been blessed with some fun.” That pretty much summed up how I felt as I prepared to leave camp in August, with some great memories behind me and huge levels of anticipation for the semester ahead.
2) “Lord of the Dance”, Steven Curtis Chapman (Signs of Life, 1996)
The day I got back to the mainland, there was a massive power outage in L.A., so much to my chagrin, I couldn’t turn on the radio and check out what new music had surfaced in my absence. The power finally came back on later that day, and I eagerly tuned in to the local Christian station (this was before the days of The Fish and Air1) to see what they had cooking. The first thing I heard was this mystifyingly cool song from SCC that blended rock and twang into a heck of an enticing stew. To this day, I think it’s the best song he’s ever done.
3) “I’ll Always Believe in You”, World Wide Message Tribe (We Don’t Get What We Deserve, 1996)
I bought a ton of new music after getting back from the island, to make up for the almost 3 months’ hiatus. One of my stranger impulse buys was an album by this techno-dance group. I thought the dude rapped like Cookie Monster, and I didn’t care much for the instrumental and remix stuff, so I tended to focus on the songs where the female vocals were up front. This was my favorite song on that album – lyrically about as deep as a wafer, but extremely catchy. I like techno music when it balances a driven and mechanical feel with strong melodies.
4) “You’re the Voice”, Rebecca St. James (God, 1996)
Looking back, RSJ’s version of this song – and most of her God album – deserved the slamming it got for sounding like an Alanis Morissette clone. Back then, even though my friend Michael had Alanis’s album and let me listen to it, I denied the similarities. All I knew was that this whole album had massive hook power and it was a great sonic update for RSJ. I wore it out during my sophomore year and probably drove Chris insane in the process. One especially cool thing about this song was how it balanced the programming and live drums. That way the song has a bit of a hi-tech feel but the chorus still has a lot of raw power.
5) “Maybe Tomorrow”, Nouveaux (…And This Is How I Feel, 1996)
Quite possibly the best love song ever recorded by a Christian rock band. This song zeroed in on my romantic “someone must be out there for me” sensibilities and shamelessly exploited them, with rich acoustic guitars overflowing in abundance. I think I had a lot of overly idealistic ideas about romance back then, not having actually experienced it yet. But now that I have, this song still means just as much to me. it’s hopeful without being idiotically naïve.
6) “Anything”, PfR (Them, 1996)
The excitement of hearing PfR’s newest single on the radio was offset when the DJ announced that the album it came from would be PfR’s last. Bummer. I was just starting to really get into them! (Of course, we all secretly knew that they would reunite a few years down the road. Though nobody expected it to happen more than once.)
7) “Thief”, Third Day (Third Day, 1996)
This is one of those rare songs that very nearly made me cry the first time I heard it. Maybe I was more mushy and sentimental back then, but that still wasn’t an easy thing to accomplish. The way Third Day told the story of the crucifixion, from the point of view of one of the thieves hanging beside Jesus, just hit home with me. It was a creative way to get a message across, and this one stands as my favorite Third Day song… likely the best thing they’ll ever do at this point.
8) “Drive In Drive Out”, Dave Matthews Band (Crash, 1996)
One of the many bands that Chris was into was the Dave Matthews Band. A few other friends had also noted that Crash, their new album at the time, had some pretty superb musicianship on it. I was still too timid to get my feet wet with “secular music”, but I heard most of this album a few times when Chris was playing it in our dorm room, and it only took one listen to this song, which according to Dave Matthews was written so that drummer Carter Beauford would have something to bang on, for the crazy instrumental vamp at the end to be stuck in my head in a way that made it easy to recall years later, despite not having heard it in a very long time. I finally investigated the rest of Crash some four years later, and became a pretty big DMB fan for a while.
9) “Cup o’ Tea”, Newsboys (Take Me to Your Leader, 1996)
One of the crazier, thrashier song on the Newsboys’ best album. It may or may not have been autobiographical on the part of John James, questiong what his audience wanted to hear and whether he should give them that, or what he felt they needed to hear, and how he should go about being tactful in the process.
10) “Sparkle in Your Beat”, Eric Champion (Transformation, 1996)
This is a goofy techno-rock song if I’ve ever heard one. The spoken vocals and the weird metaphors about clothing and music are an odd way of describing the transformation that happens when one becomes a Christian… but looking back, I really appreciate Eric Champion for being himself. He was a weirdo, but he sure made on heck of an addictive album that year.
11) “Down on My Knees”, Susan Ashton (Wakened by the Wind, 1991)
“I’m not worthy of forgiveness, but I just have to ask.” That line and a rich acoustic melody caught my attention enough to warrant including this song on my mix even though it was around five years old at the time. I don’t normally do that, but I had just bought her “best of” album and figured “what the heck, it’s a good song”.
12) “All Fall Down”, Sarah Masen (Sarah Masen, 1996)
It’s funny that I got so immediately hooked on this brilliant, catchy little number, and yet I really didn’t “get it” with most of the rest of Sarah’s album. I could tell something artistic was going on there – I just wasn’t patient enough to decode a lot of the slower songs at that point in time. Regardless, I think 1996 was a great year in terms of CCM exploring its more “alternative” side, when even a lot of established artists were branching out into a more earthy and lyrically inventive approach. Too bad so many of ’em regressed from that a few years later when modern worship became the “in” thing.
13) “Encircling”, Iona (Journey into the Morn, 1995)
This long song is one of many trilogies that Iona has done (I later found out that there was at least one per album), and the many majestic swells throughout the different sections of this song are tied into my memories of hiking on Catalina Island, just as “Inside My Heart” and many other tracks from this album are. My Mom was almost immediately hooked on the band when she heard the calming flute section at the end of this song.
During Fall Break that October, a bunch of friends and I went camping in Joshua Tree. I’m not much of a rock climber, and I was kind of afraid to try it, but I wanted to have something to do during those two extra days with no classes. It ended up being one of the most enjoyable outdoor experiences of my life. We camped out at Jumbo Rocks (which is where this picture was taken, though it’s not one of mine, since I didn’t have a camera with me that weekend, stupidly), and I remember the first night there, I was scrambling around by myself, and I got up to vantage point near our campsite, where I could see out over all of the surrounding rocks. As the sun set, everything around me was a deep shade of red, orange, or gold. It was absolutely breathtaking. It would be eight years before I was able to return to Joshua Tree after this trip.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Flower in the Rain”, Jaci Velasquez (Heavenly Place, 1996)
Alright. I might have been guilty of buying an album because I thought the singer was young and cute. But this song was gorgeous, and remains one of the most beautiful pop ballads I’ve ever heard, regardless of Jaci’s age and appearance. Jaci might have been a guilty pleasure, and this song might have been a little “girly” compared to my normal tastes, but dang it, it was a good song.
2) “Like It, Love It, Need It”, dc Talk (Jesus Freak, 1995)
I threw this one on here to commemorate my first dc Talk concert, which I went to with Tim, my new music buddy whom I had been introduced to through InterVarsity. Tim became a lot more than just a music buddy within the next few months – he’s probably the best guy friend I’ve ever had. But at the time, all we really knew was that we liked a lot of the same stuff. And this guy embodied the term “Jesus Freak”, right down to his long hair which he would wave around at concerts. (I kinda thought he reminded me of Dan Haseltine from Jars, before Dan cut his hair.) I learned to step away in order to avoid getting whacked in the face.
3) “Praise Song”, Third Day feat. Rich Mullins (Third Day, 1996)
A simple, but great worship song that capped off a great debut album before it was popular to be known as a “worship band”. The hammered dulcimer and Southern-fried female vocals just made it that much cooler than it already was.
4) “I Need”, Sierra (Devotion, 1996)
Imagine Point of Grace singing country music, and you might be able to approximate this one. A lot of folks saw Sierra as a POG knockoff, but you know what? They were a better group because they were a little better about using real instruments instead of wall-to-wall programming. I suppose POG tried the more organic thing in due time, but I had lost interest in the AC girl groups by then.
5) “God Is Not a Secret”, Newsboys (Take Me to Your Leader, 1996)
The beginning of a trio of “evangelism” songs that ended up on this mix – this one talks about society’s pressure to keep people quiet about the things they believe in, and the compromises people with those beliefs sometimes make in order to be accepted. I was never one of those “shout from a soapbox ’til you’re blue in the face” types, but I had become increasingly fascinated with the question of “How do you present your faith in a way that is appealing, but also authentic?” I don’t think I ever denied my Savior in front of people by my words, but I do know that at times, my actions contradicted what I believed. Then again, nobody in those dorms fully had their faith convictions all figured out at that point.
6) “If I Said Nothing”, Michael O’Brien (Conviction, 1996)
For an AC/pop type singer, Michael had some surprisingly mature songs on his second album, which was another one that I picked up right after getting back from Catalina. This piano-driven song was a great way to put the notion of “lifestyle evangelism” into words, and it reminded me to be an example to the people in my dorm that I was hoping to reach out to – I needed to talk less and do more if I was ever going to convince them that the Christian faith was real and worthwhile.
7) “If Only…”, Nouveaux (…And This Is How I Feel, 1996)
This song was actually the real reason I bought Nouveaux’s album. I actually had their debut Beginnings, and I enjoyed the 80’s rock/metal sound, but this acoustic turn resulted in some gorgeous stuff. This song’s tricky time signature and luscious guitar picking remained stuck in my head for weeks after I first heard it, and its depiction of creation crying out in praise inspired me to write my own song on the subject, which I called “Silence’s Song”.
8) “Tuesday”, Sarah Masen (Sarah Masen, 1996)
This song was one of the mellower tracks on Sarah Masen’s album that first jumped out at me – it talked about a completely ordinary day when some random hint of a glimpse of God just jumps out at you, and you suddenly regret just callously walking by every day and not noticing God in the details. In college, I had many days of “running and running without a chance to stop and chat at the sky”, but sometimes there were those gloriously calm afternoons where I could just be outdoors, walk aimlessly around the hilly campus, and get all of that backlogged need for prayer out of my system.
9) “Only Natural”, Steven Curtis Chapman (Signs of Life, 1996)
I was listening to SCC on my walkman as I went out on an expedition of my own, climbing around in a boulder-filled crevasse at Joshua Tree while some friends of mine were doing more serious rock climbing (with ropes and belaying and all that) nearby. For someone who thought he had no interesting in rock climbing, I got fairly brave all of a sudden, maybe even stupid, going off on my own, like that. Anyway, the organic nature of the album fit the setting well, and this song was one of those that got my attention because of how it talked about human nature and then turned the phrase around to offer hope in the midst of seemingly endless sin – “I don’t have to be only natural.”
10) “Deep Calling Deep”, Margaret Becker (Grace, 1995)
This is another slightly older song which took on new meaning that year. I had made friends with a girl named Amy during my stint on Catalina, and I just thought she was an amazing an insightful individual. She and I ended up on the same boat back to the mainland in August, and obviously that gave us a lot of time to talk. She talked a lot about growing deeper in her relationship with God, and she came up with this analogy while looking over the side of the boat, something about shallow water vs. deep water and how the shallow water could be treacherous. I don’t exactly remember it now, but I thought it was brilliant at the time. And it reminded me of this song. Sure wish I knew what that girl ended up doing after college – we fell out of contact with each other after about January 1997.
11) “Abba (Father)”, Rebecca St. James (God, 1996)
I thought this song was interesting, how it wandered about melodically, incorporated an Irish blessing into its chorus, paraphrased Isaiah 40 (a passage that came to mean a lot to me that year), and ended in a flurry of strings and strange guitar sounds. Yet another reason why I couldn’t stop listening to God that year.
12) “Lindisfarne”, Iona (Journey into the Morn, 1995)
This song has a peaceful, watery rhythm to it that always reminds me of sailing. So it seemed like a fitting tribute to Catalina – my island – as I said goodbye to it at the end of the summer. The song describes an experience, a spiritual transformation on the island of Lindisfarne, which I guess is somewhere near the island of Iona in the UK, so I just related that experience to my own growth and transformation that summer.
13) “Let Go”, PfR (Pray for Rain, 1992)
Another older song that struck me at an unexpected time. I had never heard PfR’s earliest album, and I actually hadn’t heard Them in its entirety until Tim loaned me a tape with Them copied on one side and a few older PfR songs on the back. I was listening to it during an early morning hike at Joshua Tree during fall break. Sitting on top of a lonely pile of rocks, looking out at the peaceful desert landscape – it was just the perfect time for God to gently remind me of the small, trivial things that I needed to let go of. Funny how nature makes me more receptive to that voice.