Christian Rock Thursday are back! (Although they’ll probably continue to be intermittent for the rest of 2014)
This week’s installment is from B.O.B. (Bunch of Believers). There’s now a much more famous rapper called B.o.B., and every time I hear his name in a conversation about music, I momentarily wonder why there’s been a resurgence of interest in mediocre late-90s Christian ska.
Ska punk hit the mainstream in the 1990s with the arrival of the Mighty Might Bosstones (1993) and No Doubt (1995), so naturally Christian ska became a cultural phenomenon around the end of the decade. As the unusually well-sourced Wikipedia entry on Christian ska observes, “Whereas in mainstream markets the popularity of ska had peaked about 1996, the Christian music marketplace is known for being significantly behind trends in the Christian market”. No shit. It offers no less than three citations for this not-particularly-controversial claim.
Not all Christian ska-core was terrible, I’m reliably informed by people who (unlike me) don’t hate ska. Apparently Five Iron Frenzy were actually quite good. However, there is nothing funny about being quite good, so we are going to look at B.O.B., who were complete shite.
Once again, we see that Christian Rock is acting as the propaganda mouthpiece of the Christian Right. Let’s play SPOT THE TROPE!
Legend Seven were never one of the biggest Christian bands (although Wikipedia tells me today’s song was reached #2 on the Christian charts in 1992), and they weren’t one of my favourites either. For some reason, though I got this song stuck in my head the other day, and gave me the idea for this blog series. So here we are.
“Angela” is off the band’s first album, when they were just called Legend. They later changed names to Legend Seven, presumably because there was already a more famous secular band called Legend. Here’s the song:
It came out in 1991 (or 1992; there are two conflicting reports on Wikipedia, and my copy of the CD is in my old bedroom at my mum’s house) and it sounds pretty typical of the time. Or, rather, it sounds pretty typical of Christian rock at the time, which means it sounds typical of secular rock three years earlier. Now I’m allowed to listen to secular music, it reminds me a bit of Thunder, a British early-90s band who really wished they were Free or Bad Company.
During cock rock era, it was pretty common for bands to write songs about tearaway teenage girls, and in a lot of ways, this song is just another one of that genre. The difference is that if this had been a Motley Crue song, Angela would have been the object of lust. In fact, there is a Mötley Crüe song called “Angela”, and that is indeed the case. That’s what girls are in hair metal songs; they exist to embody the fantasies of the male singers. They are simultaneously worshipped (because they are the providers of sex) and despised (because they are ‘trashy’).
I learned that abortion was wrong before I learned what abortion was. I later learned that abortion was murdering an unborn child. I learned both of these things from Christian rock songs.
A typical example was “Who Will” by DeGarmo & Key, from their 1989 album “The Pledge”, which I found for £1 in a Christian bookshop bargain bin in about 1992. I was seven at the time. I never actually liked “Who Will” very much, but I heard it a fair bit because my dad played the whole album in the car. He never talked to me about the lyrics or what the meant, but I took it that everything therein had his approval since it was Christian and he kept playing it.
For a while, Whitecross were my favourite band. I was a bit late to the scene (they were at their peak when I was still learning how to use a toilet), but they had actually been a lot of Christian kids’ favourite hair metal band. Their lead vocalist, Scott Wenzel, sounded almost exactly like Stephen Pearcy from Ratt. In 1987, this was a major selling point. Ratt were a platinum-selling band, but conservative Christian parents wouldn’t let their kids listen to them. Solution: Whitecross.
Unlike most Christian versions of secular bands, Whitecross were pretty good (by the standards of a genre which critics universally regard as the nadir of rock n’ roll). I think By Demand, a compilation of Whitecross bangers, might be a better listen than Ratt’s best-of Ratt & Roll 81-91. Whitecross axeman Rex Carroll compares pretty favourably to 80s guitar heroes like Dokken’s George Lynch. And Whitecross definitely have more good songs than Dokken (which is to say, they have some good songs).
Of course, I had no idea at the time that Whitecross sounded like Ratt and Dokken because I wasn’t allowed to listen to those agents of Satan.
Anyway, the Whitecross song I have chosen to dissect is “No Second Chances”, which isn’t necessarily one of their best. It’s here because I find it disturbing.
So as you probably gathered, this song relates Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus. As hard rock lyrical fodder, this is—as Bill & Ted would say—most atypical.
DC Talk might be the most successful evangelical Christian group ever. Their 1995 album Jesus Freak sold two million copies in the US alone. And, if I might have a Christian rock hipster moment here, I liked them before they were famous.
Still, I was recently reminded (by an amusing list called “Top 10 Christian songs that also work as parodies of Christian songs“) of DC Talk’s all-time low point, “I Don’t Want It”.
Yo, s-e-x is a test when I’m pressed
So back up off with less of that zest
Impress this brotha with a life of virtue
The innocence that’s spent is gonna hurt you
Safe is the way they say to play, then again safe ain’t safe at all today
So, just wait for the mate that’s straight from God
and don’t have sex ’til you tie the knot
(This rap was so good they included it in the song twice)
Everyone [here meaning “all the people I grew up with”] knows [here meaning “was indoctrinated to believe”] that your ‘purity’ is the most precious gift you can give your spouse. Because they care so much about their fans, DC Talk wrote a song to help them stay pure: playing “I Don’t Want It” to a potential suitor is a foolproof way to ensure you don’t get laid.
This is the first installment of my series on Christian rock. Read the introduction here.
Carman was where it all began for me. Before my family discovered Carman, Christian music was tedious, church was boring, and there’s an excellent chance I would have looked for entertainment in secular culture. After Carman, being a Christian seemed exciting, like something I wanted to do for myself rather than just something I did because it was my duty as a member of my family.
Compared Michael Jackson, Carman was not fantastic. But, at least in my case, Jackson was not really the competition (although I had heard “Black or White” at school and it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard) (proper school, that is, before I went to the ACE school). Carman’s competition was Graham Kendrick and Don Francisco, and had I known the term and been allowed to use it, I would have told you that those guys sucked balls.
The first Carman song I ever heard was “Radically Saved”.
Today, governments are worried about the radicalisation of young Muslims and the Government spends millions on anti-radicalisation programmes. In 1991, I (aged six) began to think of the term as a badge of honour.
Welcome to the first installment of a new series. When I named this blog “Leaving Fundamentalism” I really meant it to be a diverse examination of all the unusual parts of my bizarre Christian upbringing. In the end, mostly because of my PhD studies, the blog has been swarmed by posts critiquing ACE. Here’s a bit of light relief: Once a week I’ll show you a Christian rock song from my childhood and talk about how it affected me.
People might be misled by this into thinking that ACE and Christian rock are somehow related. They aren’t, really. ACE is adamant in its opposition to Christian rock music. In fact, that was the first thing I disliked about ACE. Long before I realised how sexist it is, or how racist, and years before I noticed they’d been teaching me lies, I loathed ACE because they were opposed to Christian rock music, which for me was the biggest reason that I was enthusiastic about being a Christian.
In the rules for ACE’s student conventions (annual competitions between ACE schools and students), the music section reads now as it did when I was in school:
Competition arrangements are to be Christian or patriotic rather than secular. Classical instrumental music is allowed as long as it is non-offensive to Christian values or good taste. Music sung or played with a jumpy, sensual, or worldly style is not acceptable. Contemporary Christian, jazz, gospel rock, or gospel country music are not acceptable. In our music guidelines, “contemporary” refers to a style of music, not the date on which a piece was written. Music must be appropriate for a typical conservative fundamental church service (musical arrangement, text, and presentation).