Christian Rock

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Aug 272009

Our Shuffle Sunday pick a few weeks ago reminded me of a theme I’d been planning to work up for a while. See, for my senior thesis I researched the phenomenon of Christian rock, otherwise known as Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). I examined the fan base, seeing who they are and why they buy what they buy. During the course of this I was exposed to quite a bit of Christian music, and learned that musically, it’s like any other genre: 90% of it is terrible, the other 10% not bad. Lyrically it spans the gamut from the in-your-face (Larry Norman, Newsboys) to “Jesus is my girlfriend” non-specificity (Amy Grant, Switchfoot).

Here’s some of the not bad, CCM artists covering other CCM artists (mostly). To dispel a few popularly-held beliefs: Creed is not CCM and neither is Evanescence. These are Christians who rock (horribly), but were never part of the CCM community. Know who was though? Sufjan Stevens. So don’t be so quick to roll your eyes. Go below to learn and if you want to check out that thesis, it’s here.

DC Talk – I Wish We’d All Been Ready (Larry Norman)

This was CCM’s first hit, a tune from 1969 by the “Godfather of Christian rock,” the man who the term “Jesus freak” was coined to refer to. The movement started when evangelicals brought a bunch of California hippies into the church. They abandoned free love and drugs, but didn’t want to abandon rock and roll. DC Talk are the biggest Christian hitmakers of the ‘90s – their song “Jesus Freak” is arguable the best CCM song ever – so it’s fitting they pay tribute to their forefather. Even if the lyrics are…well, you’ll see. [Buy]

Relient K – Between You and Me (DC Talk)

DC Talk’s 1995 album Jesus Freak heralded the second coming of Christian music. It sold two million copies to Christians and non-Christians alive, proving that whether one agreed with the message or not this was music to jump to. Relient K currently blur that same line, alternating Christian rock festivals with Warped tour appearances. [Buy]

Jars of Clay – God Will Lift Up Your Head (Trad.)

The more I listen to Jars of Clay, the more I begin to think they may be the best CCM group out there. Great musicians, greater songwriters, and phenomenal interpreters. For their album Redemption Songs they put new music to a dozen old hymns, making them both poppy and emotionally inspirational. [Buy]

Lost and Found – Scars and Stripes (Tim Graf)

The duo that invented speedwood – like speed metal, played on acoustic instruments – tackles a peer’s tune on a b-sides disc released only to fan club members. It’s more complicated lyrically than a lot of CCM tunes, which makes it more interesting. [Buy]

Third Day – Saved (Bob Dylan)

Many readers will know Dylan had a born-again phase, releasing three Christian albums. Needless to say, it’s an obvious source for in-the-know bands like Third Day to tackle. And did I mention Dylan’s coming out with a Christmas album in October? Maybe he hasn’t left the faith after all. [Buy]

Sanctified Glory Mountain Revival Family – Guilty By Association (Steve Taylor)

Ever since the controversy over his tongue-in-cheek hit “I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good” – he blows it up because he’s an ice cream man worried about losing customers – Taylor has been a bit of an outlaw in the world of CCM. Here he’s just as sarcastic as ever, criticizing Christians who think listening to secular music will send you straight to hell. [Buy]

Geoff Moore & The Distance – Why Should the Devil (Have All the Good Music)? (Larry Norman)

This song title could be called the mantra of Christian rock. It’s the quote commonly used to justify a genre that some Christians still object too (check out this site – it’s pretty funny). Well, he clearly doesn’t – this song rocks. [Buy]

Audio Adrenaline – Gloria (U2)

U2 is another band of Christians who rock, but enough of their songs are Biblically informed that there’s a whole Christian rock tribute album to them. Fun fact: many Christian radio stations will only play CCM covers of U2 songs, but not the originals. [Buy]

The Swirling Eddies – Alcatraz (Al Denson)

We heard their DeGarmo and Key cover a couple weeks ago, and this track comes off the same lovingly mocking album that takes the silliest classic CCM tunes and makes them even sillier. Ironically, it also makes them better. [Buy]

Philmore – Living On a Prayer (Bon Jovi)

Bon Jovi is in no way a Christian group, so it’s interesting to see a song you never thought of as religious repurposed. All of a sudden the title has a totally different meaning. [Buy]

Aug 162009

Shuffle Sundays is a weekly feature in which we feature a cover chosen at random by my iTunes shuffle. The songs will usually be good, occasionally be bad, always be interesting. All songs will only be available for one week, so get them while you can. After you listen, discuss this week’s tune in the comments.

“I Use the J-Word?” What the heck is the J-word? Well I won’t tell you directly, but let’s just say this is a Christian rock song.

Wait, wait, don’t close this window! I know, Christian rock isn’t the most popular topic on blogs, but the story behind this one is pretty good. DeGarmo and Key came to the fore of the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) scene in the ‘80s as the Christian equivalent of Hall & Oates. Now don’t think they fought that label; they self-consciously tried to sound as close to the “Maneater” hitmakers as possible, to lure secular fans away from secular rock with songs like “God Good, Devil Bad.”

I suppose they succeeded in one regard – their music sounds just as dated today as Hall and Oates’! Rife stuff for, as the Brits would say, taking the piss.

Enter the Swirling Eddies. A CCM band themselves, they take things far less seriously than DeGarmo and Key. Their biggest hit? “Hide the Beer, the Pastor’s Here!” Now this is a Christian rock group we can all get behind.

Their 1996 covers album Sacred Cows does just what one does with sacred cows: tear them down. The cows in question are classic CCM hits, from Amy Grant’s insipid “Baby, Baby” and DC Talk’s look-how-street-we-are “I Luv Rap Music.” Embarrassing stuff, well worth a bit of ridicule.

The amazing thing is though, even as the Eddies mock these songs, they make them sound pretty good. For these jabs are all in good fun; this album’s subtitle is “The Songs That Helped Us” after all. The tune starts out with some classic rock guitar licks and plenty of cowbell, a ZZ Top stomper railing against MTV keeping Christian music down.

The lyrics reflect the over-the-top evangelicalism of the Moral Majority decade. “They told us we were fascist / Cause we made it clear and plain / That the only trip to heaven / Is through a five letter name.” Methinks DeGarmo and Key were listening a little too closely to Hall & Oates, because if that song is trying to convert anyone it sure seems “Out of Touch.”

The song may not be subtle, but it is catchy. The Eddies delicately walk the line between homage and mockery. It probably won’t make you want to run out and hear the original, but it’s fun as hell. Or, as the case may be, heaven.

The Swirling Eddies – I Use the J-Word (DeGarmo and Key)

What do you think? Discuss this song in the comments section below.