Cruel Inventions


A study of artistic restrictions in the field of Contemporary Christian Music

by Greg Scheer


Genesis * Exodus * Judges * Revelations
Bibliography * Discography

INTRODUCTION

When Leslie Phillips left the contemporary Christian music industry and started a new career using her nickname Sam, she claimed that she left because she was given no room to grow artistically. In this paper I will examine musical and lyrical restraints in contemporary Christian music (hereafter called CCM) as well as stylistic differences between the CCM and secular markets.

"Genesis" is the brief history of CCM that is necessary to provide a foundation for later discussions. Although I will periodically refer to pop music concepts and terms, it is not possible to provide a similar account of the whole popular music industry.

"Exodus" accounts Christian artists that are leaving CCM, flirting with the secular industry, or have chosen not to enter the Christian market at all. It also examines the CCM industry and audience's reaction to such artists. Drawn from these findings, a discussion of artistic limitations in CCM will follow.

If such limitations exist in the minds of the artists, industry, and audience, how does that manifest itself in the music? "Judges" compares six albums representing various approaches to Christian music, assesing the differences and similarities that can be heard in order to uncover their ideological standpoints. "Revelations" draws conclusions from the previous three sections.


GENESIS

A quiet revolution had taken place since John Lennon declared that the Beatles were more popular than God. Suddenly a whole generation raised on free love, drugs, rock and roll was looking for something more eternal. They found it in Jesus Christ -- not the Jesus Christ who was found in their parents' churches -- but a Jesus Christ that was much like them -- the ultimate hippy. These self-proclaimed "Jesus Freaks" originated in California, centering especially in Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa.

Like most religious revivals, the "Jesus Movement" was accompanied by a new music that expressed the mood, culture, and tenets of the new faith. "Jesus Music" was an attempt to use the language of the generation-- music-- as vehicle to bring Christ to the generation. As William D. Romanowski points out in his history of Jesus music, "Baptizing rock music with Christian lyrics was a way of legitimizing the music for born-again hippies and making it viable in the youth market" (Schultze 1990, 149).

Some Jesus musicians experienced some earlier success in the music business, and felt they could no longer continue to perform music that made no mention of their faith. Larry Norman, formerly a part of the marginally successful rock group People, left the band and released what is generally accepted as the first Jesus music album: Upon This Rock. For others it was a natural extension of their faith. Groups such as Love Song met at their church (Calvary Chapel) and used their music in the church services and the coffeehouses that were such an integral part of this new movement.

Early Jesus music was dependent on the scene from which it came. As the youth of the 60's converted to Christ, they created a stir which reached as far as magazines such as Rolling Stone and Time; but the revival itself got the coverage, and the music only served to fuel the movement. Unlike the hippy culture, Jesus musicians didn't serve as the prophets that actually steered the movement; they were alternately evangelists and cheerleaders.

Consequently, Jesus musicians didn't have the backing of an industry as their secular counterparts did. They produced low budget albums that were sold at concerts, and promoted by word-of-mouth. Radio shows such as The Scott Ross Show and Paul Baker's A Joyful Noise helped to promote such albums as The Everlastin' Living Jesus Music Concert put out by Calvary Chapel's Marantha! Music label, but the exposure was not used to boost the musicians careers or finances. Instead the money was used to subsidize the scene: "When some money would come in from one album, we would send another group in to record. When the money came back from that album, somebody else would go in" (Rabey 1991, 12).

Except for Love Song being chosen as the best religious album of the year in 1973, Jesus music continued to be a highly localized, underground music scene that served the greater purposes of the Jesus movement. Musicians continued to release inexpensively and independently produced albums that they sold at the concerts they held in churches and at para-church functions such as coffeehouses and Jesus festivals.

As these bands continued to tour, they began to cross paths with musicians from Jesus groups in other parts of the country. They soon saw themselves as part of a larger, fragmented music scene, and desired to unite and organize Jesus music nationally. In 1975 "The Fellowship of Contemporary Christian Ministries was born out of a desire to see the segmented ministries of the contemporary outreaches brought together under a common mode of communication and fellowship." (Baker 1985, 94) Out of this meeting also sprang an annual summer conference and a newsletter.

The increased attention devoted to Jesus music ushered in a new era marked by the formation of a fledgling industry. Word records found an increase in their contemporary sales from 5% in 1975 to 60% in 1977, which led them to increase promotion in that area starting with a $75,000 campaign ("The music is today, the message is forever"). They soon had competition from Sparrow records (formed by former Word/Myrrh executive Billy Ray Hearn) and Benson Publishing which became active in the new market with the formation of Greentree Records.

Ironically, the organization and promotion that brought "Jesus Music" up from the underground, also brought about its demise. The term "Jesus Music" was used by converted hippies specifically to avoid the word "Christian", which they thought signified the established and stagnant American church. Now the music had come full circle, and those marketing the music knew that it had to appeal to the larger Christian church if it were to have a market at all.

In 1978, "Contemporary Christian Music" became the standard title for the industry after the publication of the trade/popular magazine Contemporary Christian Music began. The magazine served to promote and unite the industry to an even greater degree, until gospel enjoyed a 5% share of the total music market in 1980. This is phenomenal growth when it is considered where it came from: part of the 3% "all other" category in 1977!

Another indication that Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) was becoming more established as an industry was that some Christian singers felt they needed to rebel from what they saw as a trend in CCM -- marketing taking precedence over ministry. Keith Green released his 1980 album So You Want To Go Back To Egypt without a set price, letting people send him as much money as they could afford to make sure that everybody who wanted the album got it. The industry waited to see what would happen, and his experiment was successful, which led others such as Dallas Holmes to hold "free-will offering" concerts.

Although there were some that wanted to fight the system, most Christian singers and record executives were comfortable with the thriving new market. So comfortable that they continued in the same direction until the market slumped in 1982. At that point, there was an industry shakedown where many companies closed, and the only product that was selling well was Christian aerobics albums.

In 1983 Amy Grant almost single-handedly revitalized CCM with her album Age to Age, much like Michael Jackson'sThriller had done for the slumping secular industry. Of course, many factors can contribute to a pop success, one of which was probably the doldrums that the music industry was facing, but more importantly was the way in which Jackson and Grant reached their market.

As pop music promoters had found with the successful marketing of black rhythm-and-blues to white audiences, when a stylistic crossover act hits, it hits big. Michael Jackson already had the support of the black audience, but when he won the support of the mainstream, he went beyond all expectations. The situation in Christian music was more problematic, because up until this point there was no mainstream. Romanowski's analysis of the situation is the following:

"During the 1970s, the emergence of Christian artists using diverse musical styles subdivided the Christian subculture along the lines of taste groups. This reduced the size of the potential audience and limited record sales, keeping CCM artists out of the limelight of the recording industry. What was needed was a musical style that would consolidate the array of taste groups that made up the gospel market, and an artist who could appeal to different groups". (Schultze 1990, 156)

Amy Grant's album Age to Age did just that. She had already had a number of fairly popular albums, which put her in an ideal position for further promotion; she was young enough to draw the teenage market, but the album was mature enough that it wasn't exclusively for a teenage audience; she was out-spoken about her faith, so that even the most conservative Christian felt she was a sister, and she was attractive enough that she had marketing appeal. More importantly, she had struck upon a style that was accessible to all Christian ears. A style that Romanowski describes as "contemporary praise," or "A Nashville country flavor and neoclassical twist were added to current popular musical styles and fused with praise-oriented lyrics characteristic of much traditional gospel music." (Schultze 1990, 157)

The album went platinum (over a million copies sold) and made both the CCM and secular industries re-evaluate the potential of Christian music. According to statistics given by Word's Stan Moser, half of the people in the U.S. are active in church, but only 10% go to Christian bookstores where most Christian albums are sold. This statistic led to a distribution deal between A&M and Word, where Word would continue in the Christian market, and A&M would market Word's products to the secular market. The album that was released under this deal,Unguarded, went platinum in half the time it took Age to Age.

The success of the Word/A&M deal led to many other Christian/secular unions, but none as successful as Amy Grant's. In fact, many were failures. MCA folded its Songbird label after only a year and a half attempt of marketing Christian acts. Distribution deals failed for both Sparrow Records (with MCA) and Light Records (with Elektra/Asylum.) Still, hopes persisted of finding another Amy Grant with deals stabilizing between Sparrow and Capitol, and a new Christian label appearing on Warner Brothers/Reprise.

The music and industry had come a long way from the days where "Jesus Music" was sold in church fellowship halls to the CCM industry of 1986 which was worth $86.5 million, and that was slowly making inroads into the secular industry.


EXODUS

One would think that the success of CCM and the exposure of CCM artists in the popular markets would be a source of joy for proponents of CCM, but it is one of the on-going controversies within the industry. This section will discuss the various fringe groups of CCM that stretch the definition of CCM and infuriate and confuse orthodox listeners.

"Crossover" is the name given to musicians in specialized genres (such as CCM, Country and Western, or Jazz) that can successfully market their music to the larger industry. Examples include Chuck Mangione's Jazz crossover hit "Feels So Good" or Seattle's alternative rock band Nirvana scoring a huge pop success with "Smells Like Teen Spirit". It might seem paradoxical that a song would have to cross over to become pop music. Afterall, if it is a popular, doesn't that qualify it as pop music?

Not necessarily. The music industry is divided along stylistic lines that determine which radio stations will play what music. There are Country, Easy-Listening, Hard Rock, and Jazz formats, and of course, Pop (Top 40) formats. Since the Pop format represents a synthesis of many musical styles, it often includes music that was originally marketed specifically to a smaller market, was successful, and seems to have enough appeal to the mainstream pop audience.

For some artists, the crossover into the pop market seems a natural extension of their musical style. For instance Kenny G, a Jazz/Fusion saxophonist typically grouped in the Jazz/Instrumental category, has a musical style very similar to current pop styles, so it was a logical transition for him to crossover into the pop market. Others have to make more of an effort to court the mainstream industry.

Such is the case with CCM artists seeking to cross over. To gain the acceptance of the mainstream they need to re-think their musical product and their marketing image. The production quality of the artist's recording must be high in order to keep up with other pop recordings, their image must be tailored to look modern and "in", and the religious side of their lives and their music must be down-played in favor of something more marketable.

This last point gives Christians the most trouble. They don't mind the effort to keep up with the industry in respect to musical style and production quality, but when crossing over means backing away from singing about Jesus Christ, many feel it is selling the soul of CCM. Two letters to CCM magazine respond to an article about crossover artist Deniece Williams, summarizing the whole crossover debate:

Reading your article on Deniece Williams really made me think about and even question this whole "crossover" thing. Now I don't wish to judge the motives of anybody who feels they want to take the Gospel out to a "secular" audience - after all, that is our commission - what I question is the compromise I see some artists make to get their stuff to the mainstream market. If you have to compromise the "Good News," then it really isn't the "Good News." It's just . . . nice and pleasant, but isn't the Gospel. "What the world needs now is love, sweet love," is what many Christian artists are saying now. I don't mean to sound like an old sour legalist, but what the world needs now is Jesus... If we're too afraid to mention his name for fear of it endangering our musical career then I think we're doing the wrong thing. -J.R. Brooklyn, NY

Thanks for the cover on Deniece Williams. I appreciated her honesty in addressing an issue that I feel strongly about: mainstreaming [the] gospel... I get very tired of hearing artists like Deniece criticized by fellow Christians for being "too secular," or that "their music isn't Christian enough." Such comments are unfair and ridiculous, in my opinion. I think it is great that artists such as Deniece and Amy Grant care enough about spreading the Word that they try to reach people from all walks of life... W.F. Grove City, OH (Feedback 1990)

These letters represent the major arguments for and against crossover artists, but don't address the ideologies that create them. What should the term "Christian music" mean? Brian J. Walsh states that

"Christian art is understood alternately as art produced for liturgical use, art that employs explicit religious imagery or symbolism, or art that attempts to evangelize the viewer or listener." (Walsh 1989, 172)

A response to a letter from a Christian Contemporary Music reader puts the question in the context of the CCM scene:

"The music made by the artists you've mentioned is probably better labeled "contemporary music by Christians" than "contemporary Christian music... Most of it is not "gospel" music - music which centers itself lyrically around the central theme of the Christian gospel - and therefore is not fully embraced by Christian radio or Christian music buyers." (Ask CCM 1991)

The artists to whom he is referring form another group that stretches the idea of CCM. Those evangelicals that can accept the idea of non-evangelistic Christian music, will find that many Christian artists have been in the secular industry for quite some time.

Some, such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Cockburn, and Donna Summers are musicians that became Christians mid-career and saw no reason to leave the secular market. Others were Christians long before they had to pick a record label, but chose not to join the Christian market. Among the many bands that have Christian members are: T Bone Burnett, U2, The Alarm, Take 6, After the Fire, King's X, Stryper, Maria McKee, and Robin Lane. Of these, only Stryper intentionally entered the secular market in order to evangelize. The others either didn't know that the CCM market existed, or felt that its market was too small.

A handful of Christian artists left secure careers in CCM to struggle in the secular market citing artistic reasons. Among these are Leslie Phillips, who was one of the industry's most successful singers. She says of her departure:

"I started writing songs when I was about fourteen, and I thought that the church would be a good place to sing those songs. I though I would find an audience there that would want to listen to songs about spiritual things. But I found that the church was a lot more restrictive and narrow-minded than I had thought; I felt strangled as a writer. And so I parted with that." (Wild 1989)

"I guess the main thing is, I want to grow as an artist and I want to be able to write about whatever I want to write about. And I really don't want to be restricted, and I feel like I am in gospel music." (Willman 1988)

Steve Taylor's split with CCM came about differently. "Because of his satirical style Steve found the gap between his record company's expectations and what he was actually producing steadily widening. This was compounded by the crash of the US Christian record market in 1987 which saw a conservative backlash by Christian labels to the `more overtly pious' song, a genre Taylor has never felt at home with." (Barrett) He now has a new group, Chagall Guevara, whose new album is on the secular MCA label.

The aforementioned artists show that there is a wall between the Christian and secular music markets. Some have chosen a career on the secular side of the wall because of the obvious increase in market size, but others have chosen secular careers for artistic reasons. The question that concerns this paper is whether the market that the artist chooses affects the music that they produce.


JUDGES

To address the issue of the market effect on the music, I chose six albums by Christian performers representing a cross-section of markets and marketing approaches. They will mostly be evaluated in pairs, although some general comments will also be made.

I. The first albums to be compared are The Call's Reconciled and Russ Taff's Russ Taff. Reconciled was released in 1986 on the secular Elektra/Asylum label; a year later, Russ Taff came out on the Christian label, Myrrh. Russ Taff, former singer with the conservative gospel group The Imperials, is at the opposite end of the music industry as The Call, who would be classified as alternative or college rock; however, they share artistic interests since Russ Taff included a song from Reconciled called "I Still Believe."

Although a Christian faith is an assumption of a performer like Russ Taff, who is well within the confines of the CCM industry, Christian radio stations and bookstore owners were not sure where The Call stood, and whether they should include the song "I Still Believe" on their playlists and recordshelves, since it came from a secular rock band. In an ironic twist to the crossover controversy, Michael Been, the leader of The Call sent them signed copies of the Apostle's Creed, a statement of the Christian faith, to still their fears and ensure his place in the Christian market. (Hancock 1991, 9)

Some of the differences in the music can be attributed to the disparate markets which the albums address. Alternative rock is aimed at a college-educated audience that seeks intelligent lyrics and fairly aggressive music. The musician in the CCM market has to appeal to a large percentage of the smaller CCM market in order to survive financially, and therefore often attempts to bring in younger listeners with upbeat music that also suits older listeners. In keeping with these restrictions, Russ Taff is toned down by slick production. Aggressive drumming is smoothed over by sustained synthesizer lines; Taff's gutsy, blues vocals are offset by lush background vocals; and the supporting band plays with studio precision. In contrast, The Call leaves all rough edges intact and makes no attempt to fill the empty spaces.

The songs reveal different musical backgrounds and approaches to making an album. Taff, though a co-writer of a few of the songs, is primarily a vocalist. He excels at gospel and blues vocal stylings, and had the wisdom to leave the songwriting to others. The songs are all well-crafted and show a heavy gospel influence, especially in the chord progressions, allowing for instrumental solos and Taff's improvisatory vocal style. Reconciled displays none of the technical finesse that one encounters on Russ Taff. Instead, a sparse songwriting style that highlights the lyrics is used. The songs, primarily written by Been, tend to be more modal than Taff's jazz-like tonality. At first, the songs' simple, repetitive structures sound lackluster; but a simple beauty emerges on further listening. Of course, these musical differences could also be attributed to any number of factors other than the artists' market: musical background, contributing instrumentalists, producers, and production budgets.

The lyrics are what destine albums for a particular market, since listeners (especially Christians) are seeking lyrics that reinforce or enhance their own worldview. Interestingly, a comparison of lyrics on these two albums shows almost as many similarities as differences. In contrast, their debut albums are vastly different: The Call creating angst-ridden alternative rock and Taff died-in-the-wool CCM -- but Been was encouraged to be more open about his faith in his writing, and Taff received "the steady encouragement to risk being [him]self." (Taff 1987)

One immediately notices that Russ Taff contains only one explicit reference to Jesus. Reconciled has none. This might seem trivial, but one of the concerns Christians have is that Christ has a place in Christian music -- that references to Jesus aren't replaced by more more nebulous terms such as "you", "God", or "love." Although both albums choose to use veiled references in discussing their faith, Russ Taff makes his intentions plain by capitalizing every reference to God. Also, except for one love song, the whole of Russ Taff deals with religious topics such as God's love freeing one from doubt, remaining faithful in a broken world, and a re-working of Psalm 69. Reconciled makes no effort to court a Christian audience.

An example of their different approaches is seen in their treatments of "I Still Believe". Originally written by Been, it was inspired by an experience he had as an actor while filming The Last Temptation of Christ (which in itself is enough to place him on the outside of the mainstream Christian community). In the scene, the disciples are waiting for forty days for Jesus to come back from the wilderness, and they are wondering if they'd been tricked by Jesus, though in the end they remain faithful. (Hancock 1991, 9) The Call treats the song as a cry of desperation on the edge of doubt; Russ Taff turns it into a jubilant affirmation of faith. Taff shortens the title from "I Still Believe (Great Design)" to "I Still Believe," and creates his own spoken introduction to the song: "It's a long hard road, a lot of changes coming -- hard changes", indicating that he sees the tribulations discussed in the song as part of outside forces that can be overcome by belief. In The Call's version Been speaks softly as the music starts, "Make it up as we go along" -- perhaps a studio joke that made its way to vinyl or an indication of Been's approach to his faith.

II. The success of Amy Grant's 1982 album Age to Age (158 weeks on the Billboard charts with 1.1 million units sold) led to a distribution deal between Word (Grant's Christian label) and the secular A&M Records. At first, the idea behind the deal was to get her music to the estimated 90% of America's Christians that don't frequent Christian bookstores; but after the success of Straight Ahead it became a bona fide attempt to cross over into the pop mainstream. Her latest album,Heart in Motion, is even further entrenched in the pop tradition, containing mainly love songs.

While she sees her album as a healthy alternative to what most of pop music promotes, many Christians feel she's selling out or even losing her faith. After a concert in Detroit, she was handed a box of flowers containing a note that read: "Turn back now. You can still be saved if you renounce what you've done." (Jahr 1985, 98) What kind of musical changes could have inspired such a rebuke to be given to the singer that ten years earlier epitomized what CCM aspired to be?

The most noticeable change is in the lyrical content. When she was at the height of her CCM career with Age to Age, the songs spoke only of Jesus or one's relationship to Him. Overt religious references dropped with each subsequent release, and her latest album, Heart in Motion contains the word baby more than God. (Hafer 1991, 18) Grant defends herself, saying:

"I've never believed the quantity of information about God is most important. It's the quality, the impact of a word timely spoken. If Christian artists make every 3-minute song a sermon, always pounding in `the message,' people are going to quit listening. Those of us with careers built around ministry often fall into a trap in which we think, `For God to be able to use this song, we need to put it into a certain musical format or manipulate the lyrics. God is much bigger than that. If we commit a record to him, ask him to do something miraculous with it, he will. On Heart in Motion, I've written about the realities of life, and trust God will do something miraculous in his own time." (Hafer 1991, 18-19)

Grant's musical style also changed. The `contemporary praise' genre which she almost single-handedly created in 1982 has been replaced by an upbeat style that fits in comfortably with the pop mainstream. Age to Age was orchestrated with lush strings and background vocals, and the piano and guitar that dominated most of the songs were augmented lightly with drums, bass, and electric guitar. On Heart in Motion this changed to an instrumentation driven by drums and synthesizer.

One thing that has remained unchanged is Grant's ability to write, co-write, or find songs with strong melodies and lyrics that come across as honest and timely. Consider "In a Little While" from Age to Age. She turns a verse describing the mundane details of a bad day into a chorus that affirms the joys of an eternity with the Father. Though "Ask Me" from Heart in Motion tackles the weighty subject of child abuse, much the same method of songwriting is used. She starts with the story of an abused child, and the chorus states:

Ask me if I think there's a God up in the heaven
Where did He go in the middle of her shame?

questioning why God would let such a thing happen. But the girl that is the subject of the song answers that question herself the next time the chorus comes back:

Ask her how she knows there's a God up in the heaven
Where did He go in the middle of her shame?
Ask her how she know there's a God up in the heavens
She said His mercy is bringing her life again

If such an affirmation of God's love were not enough to calm the critics, Grant, who says, "I'd rather do a record chock full of great songs that make it to hit radio and have one song at the end that says, `Have I earned the right to say something really important?'" (Hafer 1991, 18) does just that with the last song on the album, "Hope Set High."

When it all comes down
If there's anything good that happens in life
It's from Jesus

III. Of all of the albums compared in this paper, Leslie/Sam Phillips' show the greatest contrast. After four successful CCM albums, she broke off from the Christian industry entirely, changed her first name to Sam, and released two new albums on the secular Virgin label. While Amy Grant sees her crossover into the mainstream pop market as a natural progression of her musical career and a new way to share her faith, Sam Phillips "is embarrassed by her years as a perky Christian pop performer who felt pressured to sing simple hosannas to the Lord. She flatly disowns her first two albums, Dancing With Danger and Black and White in a Gray World, as `uninteresting. I usually tell people, `If you like me, don't go back and look for them.'" (Moerer 1991, 36) The only artistic tie she has to her CCM career is her new husband, T Bone Burnett, who produced her last album for the Myrrh label, and has continued to produce her current albums.

It was T Bone Burnett that helped bring about many of the changes in Phillips career. She wasn't going to record her fourth Christian album at all until Tom Willet of Word Records suggested she make the album with Burnett. Phillips said that

"There was definitely pressure with the last album, and by pressure I'm not pointing the finger at an one person. Basically, I let the pressures get the better of me and some of those songs [from her earlier albums] are sellouts... I have been making myself so crazy by thinking I have to write for this person or that person or this industry or that one that I just finally went, `Hold it! I'm not going to listen to that. I'm just going to write the album I've always wanted to write...'" (Grenger 1987, 24)

Though she doesn't disclose what specific pressures she was under or who the source was, much of her earlier music does, indeed, seem forced. The only currently available Leslie Phillips album, the 1987 retrospective greatest hits Recollection, shows a nominally talented singer/songwriter wading aimlessly in the wake that Amy Grant had made in the small pool of Christian music. At times she even tries to recreate the formulas that made Grant successful.

There are strong similarities between Phillips' "Strength of My Life" and Grants' "In a Little While." Both begin with a narrative of a bad day, in which the singers turn to the Bible for comfort, and in turn find cause to praise God. However, Grant's song provides enough details that the story seems believable and leads one further into the song; the problems that are described in Phillips' song seem two-dimensional causing the solutions to appear superficial as well. Furthermore, the music doesn't have any of the finesse that propels "In a Little While" forward.

Without the restrictions that hindered her earlier music, Sam Phillips set out for new musical territory. Her music became decidedly more obscure lyrically, more interesting in respect to instrumentation, and contained no overt religious subjects. What distinguishes her latest album, Cruel Inventions, is T Bone Burnett's brilliant production. An impressive group of musicians including Van Dyke Parks, Marc Ribot, Elvis Costello, Alex Acuna, and Scott Musick and Jim Goodwin (of The Call), are featured in Burnett's quirky style of recording.

Though the sounds one encounters on the album are exciting in and of themselves, the songs suffer from many of the same problems as Phillips' earlier work: the meanings are often frustratingly obscure, the rhyme schemes tend to be simple, and she doesn't provide the vivid images that hold a listener's attention and make a song believable. "Private Storm," epitomizes the strengths and weaknesses of the album's lyrics. Well-crafted lines like:

the private storm
and our souls are worn from the tears
the private storm
and it rages on through the years

are offset by lines such as:

No warning the ground pulls out from underneath
We tiptoe through air until we see the blood on their teeth

which seems to use `teeth' simply because it rhymes rather than using it as a completion to the meaning of the couplet. The song also illustrates that much of the music on the album is successful largely because of T Bone Burnett's production. The elemental parts of this song are the acoustic guitar chords and vocal line, which are beautiful but not breath-takingly so. To this, Burnett adds an arpeggiated line on an electric guitar that gives the song its mood and character. This occurs throughout the album: a good, but not riveting song is given an arrangement that makes the music exciting.

Sam Phillips' earlier work proves that the CCM market can be a restrictive atmosphere, but her later albums show that not all artistic problems are solved by entering the less restrictive secular arena.


REVELATIONS

Performers such as Sam Phillips allege that there are artistic limitations in CCM, making it seem as if the powers that be have a stranglehold on the pens of Christian artists. But this is not an accurate picture.

There is no evidence of purely musical restrictions. Since the CCM audience accepts the music as an amoral vehicle for the message, the industry is free to produce the musical styles they find popular. The CCM industry then, like all music industries, is governed by financial rather than moral restraints.

The are some instances where performers have been excluded from CCM, but the reasons have as much to do with the market the performers and record companies have chosen as it does with religious conviction. For instance, when the heavy metal group Stryper decided to foster a new image that put its faith in the background, their distribution deal with the Benson Company ended. The company's statement was: "The band has taken a different approach to lyrical content, one that does not contain overtly Christian lyrics. This indicates a new direction that does not conform to the mission of the Benson Company." But usually artists change focus over a longer period of time, giving audiences time to adapt; also, Christian artists that move away from evangelism and worship music usually retain some religious elements in their music, which is enough to keep the confidence of the industry.

In fact, confidence is the deciding factor for inclusion or exclusion from CCM. As Amy Grant said, "The Christian music realm is a family..." (Goldberg 1985) and those within the CCM community will accept the music of those they feel confident are part of that family. Those that profess the basic tenets of an evangelical faith and communicate that to the CCM family in a way that it can understand will be accepted as insiders, regardless of musical style; the outsiders are those that choose to express their faith in terms that aren't familiar to the CCM community, or don't foster a relationship with it.

Consider some of the examples in this paper: The Call, who previously had no connection with the CCM industry, gained airplay by assuring the decision-makers that they were indeed Christians. Later, when their secular label dropped them from their roster, they were picked up by a Christian label.

Amy Grant is now making albums that are almost completely secular in lyrical content, but because she has fostered her relationship with the CCM family -- continually explaining what she is doing and assuring them that she is still motivated by the same faith -- she has been able to successfully crossover into the secular market while keeping her devoted Christian fans.

Sam Phillips, on the other hand, chose to break from the Christian market and explain her new life in vocabulary too nebulous for most evangelicals, and is now an outsider to CCM. It should be pointed out that sales for The Turning were actually higher than her previous albums, so she could have chosen to follow the same path as Amy Grant, carefully keeping a foot in both industries.

Perhaps the real problem is not that the CCM industry or audience restricts the artists, but that the complexity of the artistic equation increases in CCM. As an observer of Phillips' career commented, "Art and commerce are tough enough to pull off together. When you add spirituality to the equation, it's even more difficult." (Moerer 1991, 36) But as Phillips herself proved, if selling good music within the confines of the CCM market is too difficult, you can leave.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ask CCM. Contemporary Christian Music (April 1991):8.

Baker, Paul. Contemporary Christian Music: Where It Came From, What It Is, Where It's Going. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1985.

Barret, Peter. "A Principled Man." Strait 32 (no date):26-29.

Feedback. Contemporary Christian Music (March 1990): 4.

Goldberg, Michael. "Amy Grant Wants to Put God on the Charts." Rolling Stone (June 6, 1985): 10.

Granger, Thom. "Leslie Phillips Saves Her Best for Last." Contemporary Christian Music 9 (May 1987): 23-25.

Hafer, Tod "Amy Grant, Why the Controversy?" Christian Herald 114 (September/October 1991):17-19.

Hancock, Jim. "The Door Interview with Michael Been." The Door 118 (July/August 1991):7-10.

Jahr, Cliff. "Amy Grant: `I'm Not a Prude.'" Ladie's Home Journal 102 (December 1985): 96ff.

Moerer, Keith. "Tired of Living in a Perfect World, Sam Phillips Set Out to Become Human." Request (August 1991):36-38.

Rabey, Steve. "Maranatha! Music Turns Twenty." Contemporary Christian Music (April 1991):12.

Schultze, Quentin J., ed. American Evangelicals and the Mass Media. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990.

Walsh, Brian J. "The Christian Worldview of Bruce Cockburn: Prophetic Art in a Dangerous Time." Toronto Journal of Theology 5 (Fall 1989):170- 187.

Wild, David. "Sam Phillips Plays the Name Game." Rolling Stone (May 18, 1989):30.

Willman, Chris. CCM Notebook. Contemporary Christian Music (November 1988):8.


DISCOGRAPHY

Grant, Amy. Age to Age. Myrrh 7016697274, 1982.

Grant, Amy. Heart in Motion. Myrrh 7016907619, 1991.

Phillips, Leslie. Recollection. Myrrh 7-01-687461-3, 1987.

Phillips, Sam. Cruel Inventions. Virgin Records America, Inc. 2-91617, 1991.

Taff, Russ. Russ Taff. Myrrh 7016848612, 1987.

The Call. Reconciled. Elektra 60440-2, 1986.


Copyright 1993, Greg Scheer.

I encourage you to use the material presented in this paper in any way you see fit as long as proper credit is given and you notify me that you've used it.

Greg Scheer
516 Montview Pl
Wilkinsburg, PA 15221
(412) 247-7364
GregSchee@aol.com


The lyrics are reproduced here for study purposes only.

I STILL BELIEVE

I've been in a cave
For forty days
Only a spark
To light my way
I want to give out
I want to give in
This is our crime
This is our sin
But I still believe
I still believe
Through the pain
And through the grief
Through the lies
And through the storms
Through the cries
And through the wars
I still believe

Flat on my back
Out at sea
Hoping these waves
Don't cover me
I'm turned and tossed
Upon the waves
When the darkness comes
I feel the grave
But I still believe
I still believe
Through the cold and through the heat
through the rain
And through the tears
Through the crowds
And through the cheers
I still believe

I'll march this road
I'll climb this hill
Upon my knees If I have to
I'll take my place
Upon this stage
I'll wait till the end of time
For You
For people like us
In places like this
We need all the hope
That we can get
I still believe
I still believe
Through the shame
And through the grief
Through the heartache
And through the tears
Through the waiting
And through the years
I still believe

Words and music by Michael Been and J. Goodwin
1986 Neeb/Tarka Music/Ascap, Tileface Music (BMI)

IN A LITTLE WHILE

Got a ticket coming home.
Wish the officer had known
What a day today has been.
Then I stumbled through the door
Dropping junk mail on the floor.
When will this day end?
But the your letter caught my eye
Brought the hope in me to life.
Cause you know me very well.
And I bet you wrote me just to tell me

Chorus:

In a little while
We'll be with the Father.
Can't you see Him smile?
In a little while,
We'll be home forever,
In a while.
We're just here
To learn to love Him.
We'll be home
In just a little while.

Boy, that letter hit the spot.
Made me think of all I've got
And all that waits for me.
Guess I've known it all day long.
Wonder where my thoughts went wrong.
When will my heart believe?
Wakin' half-way through the night,
Reachin' toward the lamp for light.
Pickin' up the Word I find.
Here's another letter to remind me

Repeat Chorus

bridge:

Days like these are just a test of our will.
Will we walk or will we fall?
Well, I can almost see the top of the hill
And I believe it's worth it all

Words by Amy Grant and Gary Chapman
Music by Brown Bannister and Shane Keister
1981 Bug and Bear Music, Meadowgreen Music, Inc., Hand Rail Music/ ASCAP and Addi Music/ BMI

ASK ME

I see her as a little girl hiding in her room
She takes another bath and she sprays her momma's perfume
To try to wipe away the scent he left behind
But it haunts her mind

You see she's his little rag, nothing more than just a waif
And he's mopping up his heed, she is tired and afraid
Maybe she'll find a way through these awful years to disappear

Ask me if I think there's a God up in the heaven
Where did He go in the middle of her shame?Ask me if I think there's a God up in the heavens
I see no mercy and no one down here's naming names
Nobody's naming names

Now she's looking in the mirror at a lovely woman face
No more frightened little girl, like she's gone with out a trace
Still she leaves the light burning in the hall
It's hard to sleep at all

Till she crawls up in her bed acting quiet as a mouse
Deep inside she's listening for a creaking in the house
But no one's left to harm her, she's finally safe and sound
There's a peace she has found

Ask her how she knows there's a God up in the heaven
Where did He go in the middle of her shame?Ask her how she knows there's a God up in the heavens
She said His mercy is bringing her life again

Amy Grant/Tom Hemby
1991 Age to Age Music, Inc./Edward Grant, Inc/ Puxico Music (ASCAP), adm. by Reunion Music Group, Inc.

STRENGTH OF MY LIFE

I open my eyes to the sound of morning news
And wish for ten more minutes left to sleep.
And as I get into the shower the thoughts of facing one more day
Overwhelm me, and I begin to weep.
And I've never felt like I needed Your help so bad.

Well, my tears are pushed away now for the sake of morning rush
`til the bible on the table catches my eye.
And I read that You are near to the hearts that break with grief
And I realize that I don't have to try
To live life myself because You're ready to help me live.

And Everyday I look to You to be the strength of my life.
You're the hope I hold onto, be the strength of my life.
Be the strength of my life (2x)
Be the strength of my life today.

Each day has its problems it's troubles and its tears
It seems I'm always anything but strong.
When I learn to know my weakness, I understand Your strength.
And even when the hard times last so long
I won't try by myself, I'll just ask for Your help each day.

And Everyday I look to You to be the strength of my life.
Breathe on me and make me new, be the strength of my life.
Be the strength of my life (2x)
Be the strength of my life today.
Leslie Phillips
(No lyrics were provided, so this example was transcribed from the album)

PRIVATE STORM

we lock the hurricane indoors
looking for shelter, we deny and ignore
afraid that our words bring clouds we talk in code
the thunder of cruel perfection covers love
and we're cold

the private storm
and our souls are worn from the tears
the private storm
and it rages on through the years

no warning the ground pulls out from underneath
we tiptoe through air until we see the blood on their teeth

time doesn't heal, the scars turn into wounds
as we walk lightly silent screams in the storm

Sam Phillips
Eden Bridge Music (ASCAP)