MY FAVORITE CASSETTES (I WAS ALLOWED TO LISTEN TO), AGE 7-15
Originally posted on Pitchfork (2005)
1. Unguarded, Amy Grant
My big sister was always a bigger Amy Grant fan than myself-- at least on the surface. But I secretly borrowed her cassettes when she was away at school and learned all of Amy's songs by heart. My impressionable young mind was sucked in to the controversy surrounding this artist in the Christian press. Amy was infamous for appearing barefoot-- with her pants rolled up to reveal her toned ankles-- in the racy pictures that were provocatively displayed alongside her debut album's liner notes.
It was with Unguarded that I first discovered my dark fascination with the dangerous, edgy side of pop music-- undoubtedly an early stepping stone in the slippery slope towards my teenage obsession with G.G. Allin. It wasn't a surprise to any of us when Amy Grant committed the ultimate sin by divorcing her loving husband/songwriter Gary Chapman and marrying known philanderer/country music star Vince Gill.
2. Michael W. Smith Project, Michael W. Smith
As with most other groundbreaking artists, the greatness of Michael W. Smith wasn't realized until nearly two decades after the release of his first album. I was familiar with his music on a secondhand basis. It seemed to be constantly playing in the background at our house, either on my sister's stereo (M.W.S. frequently collaborated with Amy Grant and he was extremely handsome, without any of Amy's sluttiness), or in my parent's car. The song "Friends" was a family favorite long before a certain TV show stole the name and made the word synonymous with hedonism and debauchery. Michael recently reached the zenith of his career when he performed at the Republican National Convention along with fellow creative luminaries Third Day and Brooks & Dunn.
3. Welcome to the Real World, Mr. Mister
Welcome to the Real World was the first recording I ever owned. It was given to me by my sister on Christmas Eve 1986. My parents looked at the cassette skeptically until my sister pointed out the seventh (God's Most Holy Number...Coincidence? No.) song on the tape, entitled "Kyrie", which contains the repeated chorus, "Kyrie Eleison...", which obviously means, "Lord, have mercy upon us". My parents nodded in approval, but then it was my turn to be skeptical. Could a song influenced by a Greek phrase chanted in response to the Ten Commandments at Catholic Mass really rock? As soon as I heard the key-changing third chorus, sung in harmonic acapella with the biggest and best drums ever recorded in the background, the answer was obvious. My only remaining question was: "Could modern music ever achieve this level of greatness again?" To be honest, I'm still wondering.
4. Revival in the Land, Carman
To this day, Carman remains the one artist that I've had the privilege of seeing live more times than any other. Revival in the Land was definitely amazing enough to warrant my family shelling out over $50 per concert for the four of us to attend, time and time again. In fact, I'd still pay $50 just to hear one song (I'd definitely choose the epic spoken word rock opera known as "A Witch's Invitation", only one of the many epic spoken word rock operas that fill the Carman catalogue) performed live by Carman today. Not to be overshadowed on this star-studded casette, the song "Resurrection Rap" proves Revival in the Land was already one step ahead of the hip-hop curve. But as with every artistic visionary, Carman is not without his detractors. In summary, here is a quote from otherwise credible Terry Watkins on his website, Christian Rock: Blessing or Blasphemy? (Highly recommended: http://www.av1611.org)
"Webster dictionary defines "blasphemy" as "lack of reverence for God." Blasphemy saturates Christian rock, such as the blasphemous "humor" of Carman Dominic Licciardello, better known as Carman. His blasphemous, street-jive, dialogue between John the Baptist and Jesus Christ as teenagers on his video "Live...Radically Saved" is digusting (sic)! Here's a sample of Carman's blasphemy: JOHN: "Hey man, Hey cuz, Whatchoo doin man? I ain't seen you in a long time. HEY, BABY." (John calling Jesus baby!) Jesus turns and says, "Hey, what's up, John?" See, Jesus is always cool; he's always together. He's got his thing together, y' know, Then Carman blasphemously imitates the Lord Jesus Christ walking hip-jive doing what Carman calls "THE MESSIAH WALK". UNGODLY! BLASPHEMY!"
5. The Joshua Tree, U2
I bought this album at a shopping mall store called Showers of Blessings when I was nine years old. If the store name doesn't make it's target demographic obvious enough, I'll spell it our for you. It was a Christian bookstore. And there was the U2 cassette, safely lodged in between the latest hit releases from "Three Sixteen" (as in "John 3:16", I'm assuming) and "Viktory!" (the cover featured a spandex clad gentleman wielding a crucifix-shaped guitar). With surroundings like these, I didn't have to rationalize anything about making the purchase to my parents. Little did they know that U2 would go on to cover "Sympathy for the Devil" (written by known Satanists), dress in drag (like perverts), and then eventually record a song with the lyrics "Jesus" and "Fucked" less than 10 words apart (like profane blasphemers). This dramatic Fall from Grace is yet another example of the danger in interacting with known sexual predators like Brian Eno.
6. The Yellow and Black Attack, Stryper
7. Soldiers Under Command, Stryper
8. To Hell With the Devil, Stryper
9. In God We Trust, Stryper
Stryper represents many firsts for me. Stryper remains the first band my dad ever told me about. I can still hear him proudly saying, "Hey Danny, these guys sound pretty cool. I hear they even drink fruit juice backstage instead of hard liquor". Stryper was my first heavy metal concert, and the only heavy metal concert my dad has ever held my hand through. In God We Trust wasn't the first Stryper cassette, but it was the first Stryper cassette I owned, and furthermore, the first cassette I loved (and yes, I had already purchased The Joshua Tree a year before). Stryper quickly became the first band I ever liked enough to purchase their entire back catalog after buying their current release (for sake of comparison, I didn't do this with the Beatles until the year 2001). Stryper also featured the first drummer that I ever noticed as a standout member of any band-- possibly because Robert Sweet was a highly skilled percussionist, but most likely because he was stunningly beautiful. Best of all, Stryper was the one and only reason I could ever rationalize watching MTV, "But Mom, I'm just waiting for the 'Always there for you' video to come on!"
10. Free At Last, DC Talk
While the rest of the world was discovering Nirvana, I was discovering DC "Decent Christian" Talk. There was something about those three guys that made me simultaneously excited and embarrassed to be liking them. They were two white guys and a black guy from Virginia that in retrospect, were basically just a "non-secular" version of Color Me Badd with more rapping (and I just recently realized that it was actually one of the white guys who did all the rapping in DC Talk. Forgive me, I was young). The funny thing is that it was my discovery of Nirvana (after the singer guy died on the same day as my prom) that made me dislike DC Talk. Then, the first band I was in (a grunge band, no less. With Justin, no less) went up against a DC Talk cover band at the 1995 Westside Christian High School Talent Show. The DC Talk cover band consisted of two guards and a forward from the school basketball team, who decided to do a version of DC Talk's "2 Honks and a Negro (...servin' the Lord!)" with the words "guards" and "forward" substituted for "honks" and "negro". We soundly eliminated them. But, DC Talk had the last word in 1996, when they toured the world with a complete backup band and a choreographed dance troupe, performing Nirvana's "All Apologies", with "Jesus is the way" substituted in the place of "everyone is gay." Rumor has it that Kurt replied by asking to remain buried.