Steve Taylor – I Predict 1990 – 1987

The first time I saw the cover of I Predict 1990, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know it (apparently) resembled a tarot card, or that Steve seemed to be making (apparently) some sort of weird hand signal. I did find it kind of unsettling, though. ‘Man, what is with that creepy expression…’ But, c’mon, this was Steve Taylor. I loved his music, his lyrics, his clever, skewering humour. Loved it so much that as a teenager I insisted my mom listen to the entire On The Fritz album in one sitting, while I explained every song in detail. And, sure – Steve was controversial. Challenging. Slightly possibly maybe verging on inappropriate, once in a while. (“Lifeboat”, anyone?)

So, I put on the album. And the first track hits me with:

Now I don’t care if it’s a baby or a tissue blob
but if we run out of youngsters
I’ll be out of a job, and so I
I did my duty cleaning up the neighborhood
I blew up the clinic real good

Steve, what the heck.

But I hung in there. And then came the line: “The end don’t justify the means anytime”

Okay. Okay. Phew. Steve hadn’t lost it completely. I got it.

But certainly, with this third studio album Steve pushed the ‘acceptable topics for CCM artists’ envelope to a pretty big tipping point. Or at least the ‘acceptable treatment of topics’. Listeners had come to expect his biting, uncomfortable-making lyrics; but people all along the conservative/liberal spectrum of Christian thought weren’t sure what to, well, think. Many simply closed the book on him after this album – some not making it past the first song.

And that was (and is) a real shame. Steve’s music asks listeners to really hear what’s being said in the lyrics – and to seriously consider that those lyrics might be holding a mirror up to stuff we might want to examine in ourselves. His stuff isn’t for lazy listeners. But when we let ourselves get so bound to tightly-held and well-reasoned opinions, we can lose our cool over a ‘shocking’ song like “Clinic” and miss the chance to engage in critical thinking and respectful debate. Do I agree with everything Steve Taylor says? Nope. (Some day I’d love to talk with him about “Jung and the Restless”…)

And hey – there’s a LOT of good stuff on this album. Some of my favourites are…no, that’s too many to list. But here are a few comments…

– “What Is The Measure of Your Success” – If you get a chance, watch the video – it’s pretty powerful. He nails the mood of a regretful, bitter, dying businessman.
– “Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel A Lot Better” – Another delightfully satirical lyric, having the opposite effect of making you smile (hopefully).
– “Jim Morrison’s Grave” – Fantastic song. Poetry and rock.
– “Innocence Lost” – Emotional piece about a visit to death row. Gets me every time.
– “Harder To Believe Than Not To” – A beautiful song, haunting and moving. Taking its title from the writings of Flannery O’Connor, an American writer, the song argues against the idea that Christianity is a crutch.

Tracks

1. I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good – 4:11
2. What is the Measure of Your Success? – 4:38
3. Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel A Lot Better – 3:25
4. Babylon – 4:48
5. Jim Morrison’s Grave – 4:29
6. Svengali – 4:28
7. Jung and the Restless – 4:32
8. Innocence Lost – 5:02
9. A Principled Man – 3:26
10 – Harder to Believe Than Not To – 4:31

Personnel

Some Band
Steve Taylor – vocals and backup percussion
Dave Thrush – saxophones
Jeff Stone – guitar
Glen Holmen – bass
Jack Kelly – drums
Steve Goomas – keyboards
Gym Nicholson – guitar

Additional musicians
Dave Perkins – additional guitar on all songs except “Jim Morrison’s Grave” and “Harder to Believe”
Greg Husted – assorted keyboard tracks and accordion
Papa John Creach – fiddle
Ashley Cleveland – vocal stylings on “Jim Morrison’s Grave”, “Svengali”, and “Babylon”
Annie McCaig – backing vocals on “Success” and “A Principled Man”
Nathan East: bass on “Clinic”
Gary Lunn – bass on “Hope”
Lisa Cates – percussion
Mike Mead – more percussion
Mary Bates – operatic vocal on “Harder to Believe”
Jim Horn – tenor sax on “Clinic”
Ross Holmen – French horn
John Andrew Schreiner – synth bass on “Svengali”
Janet Croninger – “Jung” woman
Fred Travalena – “Jung” doctor
Del Newman – orchestration on “Harder to Believe Than Not To”

Production notes
The Beaufort Twins (Dave Perkins and Steve Taylor) – producers and engineers
Dave Perkins – producer, engineer, mixing
Steve Taylor – producer, mixing
David Schober – engineer
Malcom Harper – engineer
Robert Wartinbee – assistant engineer
Michael Ross – engineer on “Harder To Believe”
Music Grinder, Los Angeles, California – recording location
Reelsound Bus, Nashville, Tennessee – recording location
Wayne Cook Studios, Los Angeles, California – recording location
CBS Studios, London – recording location
Reelsound truck, Austin, Texas (48 track) – mixing location
Bob Ludwig – mastering
Masterdisk, New York, New York – mastering location
Dave Perkins and Steve Taylor are listed as producers as “The Beaufort Twins.” A likely satire of the Mick Jagger & Keith Richards production/songwriting partnership billed as The Glimmer Twins

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Michael W Smith – The Michael W Smith Project – 1983

The MWS Project introduced us to Michael W Smith, a fresh young musician with stellar keyboard, writing, and arranging skills and a knack for writing catchy worship riffs. The positive, ‘preppy rock’ sound hit most of the popular 80s pop rock notes. His soon-to-be-familiar signature styles get their beginnings here: keyboard-heavy arrangements with plenty of synth; full choirs for backing vocals; emotionally-charged ‘milestone’ lyrics; and the first of many anthem-like worship songs.

Indeed, The MWS Project covers some ground in terms of song types. MWS has always interested me in that he writes for a multitude of occasions and venues, not just moods or subjects. On his debut album we find music for rock concerts, worship services, and even weddings/funerals/graduations:

– high energy biblical storytelling in “Could He Be the Messiah?” and “Be Strong and Courageous” (which always reminds me of Van Halen’s “Jump”)
– high energy exhortations toward the pursuit of Christian living in “The Race Is On” (I saw this in concert, and thought he was going to leap off the stage, he had so much energy), “You Need A Savior” (this lyric warrants some further discussion, but that’s for another time), and “Love In The Light” (this one has stuck with me; every time I read or hear any part of 1 John 2:8-11, it starts playing in my head)
– instrumentals (“Sonata in D Major”, “Looking Up”, “First Light”, “Alpha Overture”)
– a contemplative piece (“Too Many Times”, one of my favourites)

…and of course, two songs firmly entrenched in the collective CCM unconsciousness: Friends, and Great Is The Lord.

One last thought: What was he going for with the original album design?? MWS is a self-professed sci-fi aficionado, so maybe it was meant as a nod to video games, and science fiction movies like Tron… The album was re-released in CD format in 1987 with an updated cover and photo.

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Track listing:
1 – Sonata in D Major – 1:13
2 – You Need A Savior – 3:34
3 – Could He Be the Messiah? – 4:28
4 – Too Many Times – 4:25
5 – Be Strong and Courageous – 3:42
6 – Looking Up – 3:23
7 – The Race is On – 3:41
8 – First Light/Love in the Light – 5:30
9 – Friends – 4:16
10 – Great Is The Lord – 2:52
11 – Alpha Overture – 3:40

Credits:
Music
Michael W. Smith – lead vocals, background vocals, acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, Yamaha GS2 synthesizer, Prophet-5 synthesizers
Shane Keister – OB-X synthesizer, Prophet-5 synthesizers, vocoder
Jon Goin – guitars
Mike Brignardello – bass guitar
Mark Hammond – drums, Roland TR-808 drum machine on “First Light”
Mike Psanos – percussion
Dennis Solee – saxophone
Gary Chapman – background vocals
Jackie Cusic – background vocals
Diana DeWitt – background vocals
David Durham – background vocals
Teresa Ellis – background vocals
Amy Grant – background vocals (“Friends”)
Pam Mark Hall – background vocals
Chris Harris – background vocals
Gary Pigg – background vocals
Kim Smith – background vocals
Production
Michael W. Smith – producer, assistant engineer
Michael Blanton and Dan Harrell – executive producers
Mike Psanos – recording engineer
Brown Bannister – assistant engineer
John Woods – assistant engineer
Jack Joseph Puig – remixing
Recorded at Tree International Studio (Nashville, Tennessee)
Hank Williams – mastering
Mastered at Woodland Sound Studio (Nashville, Tennessee)
Bill Brunt – art direction
Tim Campbell – photography

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Amy Grant – Straight Ahead – 1984

For a church-goin’ teenager in the 80s, Amy Grant’s albums were almost required listening. Along with musicians like Michael W Smith and David Meece, she helped fill out the actual ‘pop’ corner of CCM.

Amy’s music had a broad appeal. Parents liked the positive lyrics sung by a friendly, wholesome girl-next-door; youth choir directors liked both the lyrics and the quality of the music. And teens, I think, appreciated that her music sounded different than any easy listening Christian music they’d heard before. Here was a Christian pop singer with just enough of an edge to make a sheltered teen feel a tiny bit rebellious. (Okay. Maybe that was just me.)

On to the album itself. For the most part, the songs of Straight Ahead have aged well. There are some recognizably 80s synth settings and electric guitar stylings, and the fade-to-black endings stuck out a little, but nothing sounded as dated as I thought it might. And whatever you think of the style, the production values are fantastic. This is a well-engineered recording of a tight band. Amy’s vocals are always good, with clarity of enunciation and sound, and lyric-appropriate colour and shading.

Track Listing:
1 – Where Do You Hide Your Heart 3:56
2 – Jehovah 5:56
3 – Angels Watching Over Me 4:10
4 – Straight Ahead 3:47
5 – Thy Word 3:21
6 – It’s Not A Song 3:27
7 – Open Arms 3:23
8 – Doubly Good To You 3:13
9 – Tomorrow 3:23
10 – The Now And The Not Yet 3:37

Credits:
Arranged By [Strings] – Alan Moore (3)
Art Direction – Dennis Hill (6)
Engineer – Jack Joseph Puig
Engineer [Additional] – Daniel Garcia*, Gene Eichelberger, Jim Baird*, Jerry Mahler, Kevin Burns, Steve Ford
Executive-Producer – Dan Harrell, Gary Chapman, Michael Blanton
Photography By [Amy’s photos] – Aaron Rapoport
Photography By [Traffic light] – Michael Borum*
Producer – Brown Bannister

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Steve Taylor – The Lost Demos Bootleg – 1988

Today’s offering is The Lost Demos, a bootleg of twelve classic Steve Taylor tunes. No-one’s sure where it came from, but I’m glad it surfaced.

I suggest listening to the demos back to-back with the officially-released versions. Listen for slight (or drastic) lyric variations, changes in instrumentation and tempo, and even differences in vocal delivery. Beyond the expected demo-to-pressing upticks in performance and production quality, some songs have a noticeably different feel.

Of particular note:

Hero – Compared to the Meltdown version, this is almost lullaby-like. The bell-like 80’s synth would become a harsher 80’s synth; the driving bass riffs aren’t here; and in the bridge, the ascending chord progression maintains the lighter, ‘major’ mood.

Bouquet – Starting out almost folks-y, it slides into 80’s elevator music territory – far more mellow than the officially released track (which ST has said he doesn’t much like, preferring Sixpence None The Richer’s acoustic version on the I Predict A Clone tribute album). Numerous lyric changes for this emotional story.

Whatever Happened To Sin – A faster tempo, and more lyric changes. The official version was controversial, but here we see that Steve had actually toned it down a bit.

Jenny – As with Hero, this has a different mood from the Meltdown version; slightly faster, more acoustic guitar – a lighter backing for a heavy lyric.

Lead Me – Written for the musical “Dreamer: What Really Happened To Joseph”. As far as I can tell, this version seems to have been released only on the album Jeremiah People: The Reunion.
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Track Listing:
1 – I Want To Be A Clone – 2:40
2 – Written Guarantee – 2:44
3 – Steeplechase – 1:44
4 – Hero – 3:30
5 – Sin For A Season – 3:41
6 – Bad Rap (Who You Tryin’ To Kid, Kid?) – 2:57
7 – Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Number’s Up? – 4:07
8 – Guilty By Association – 3:27
9 – Bouquet – 3:04
10 – Whatever Happened To Sin? – 3:00
11 – Jenny – 3:48
12 – Lead Me – 2:45

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U2 – The Unforgettable Fire 12″ Single – 1985

The 12” vinyl format of “The Unforgettable Fire” functions more as an EP rather than as a single promoting the song itself [u2songs.com]. “The Three Sunrises” starts Side 1, with the title track coming second. Side 2 includes “A Sort of Homecoming (Live)”, “Love Comes Tumbling”, and “Bass Trap”, an instrumental from the album sessions. “Bass Trap” was created by looping a few bars of Adam’s bass, with Edge playing guitar and Daniel Lanois playing pedal steel over top.

Trivia 1: The Australian and New Zealand release misspells “Unforgettable’ as “Unforgetable” on both the front and back sleeves; the error was subsequently corrected in the front, but not the back.

Trivia 2: In the Canadian release, “Love Comes Tumbling” has a ‘false start’ at the beginning of the song, which does not appear on the Wide Awake in America EP.

Track Listing:
1 – The Three Sunrises 3:52
2 – The Unforgettable Fire 4:56
3 – A Sort Of Homecoming 4:06
4 – Love Comes Tumbling 4:45
5 – Bass Trap 5:14

Credits:
Composed By – U2
Design – Steve Averill, U2
Design [Realisation] – The Creative Dept. Ltd. Dublin*
Photography By – Declan Quinn
Remix – Kevin Moloney, U2

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