Friday, June 24, 2011

90 – Miracle Mile- Guardian

Where Stryper paved the way, Guardian was soon to follow.

Enigma Records, Stryper’s label in 1985, signed Guardian after an associate of Stryper passed along a demo tape of the band. Their first album, First Watch, betrayed their Stryper connection as it imitated the melodic metal Stryper was making popular. I heard it and passed. I had already heard the same album from a dozen other bands.

After an extensive tour, two of the members left the band, and the remaining members asked to be released from their contract. Two new members joined, including a new lead singer, and they began working with the production team of John and Dino Elefante. With a new production team and a new singer came a new sound, not quite the glam/hair metal of the first album. Fire and Love was overwhelmingly received; a 1992 tour with Stryper helped the band achieve new levels of popularity. I didn’t pick this one up for a long time, the memories of their first album leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

And then Miracle Mile was released, and I gave it a listen in the demo booth. Miracle Mile featured more of a classic rock/blues influence married to hard rock, with more grooves and less volume for volume’s sake. And I dug it. I still include it on road trips when I need to get motivated.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

91 – Chagall Guevera S/T

Coconut as a food I can’t stand. Coconut’s as a music establishment… another story.

Steve Taylor was a minister’s son who graduated from high school in 1976. He enrolled in Biola University in California. During his freshman year in college he was chosen to attend a music camp run by John Davidson, where he learned singing from such luminaries as Tony Orlando, Florence Henderson and Davidson himself. But it was the release of The Clash’s London Calling album that changed his life musically. Taylor left Biola and enrolled in the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he graduated with a degree in music and theater, and a minor in culture shock.

Taylor became part of the third incarnation of Christian music which attempted to speak to the current generation not only in their musical language but their cultural language as well. In 1982 he performed at a Christian music seminar in Denver and was immediately signed to a record contract. His first album, an EP entitled I Want To Be A Clone, was released that year. He released three more full-length albums, the story of which may or may not be told in future installments, and left the Christian music industry in the late 80’s.

Enter Chagall Guevara. The band took its name from revolutionary Che Guevara and artist Marc Chagall, and consisted of Steve Taylor along with four other members of the Christian music community who wished to start a rock band from the ground up, not relying on past reputation, and not relying on the Christian marketing machine to garner album sales. It was all about the music. They performed in clubs and artist showcases and ended up being signed to MCA.

I knew that Chagall Guevara was Taylor’s latest project, but I didn’t know about the release of their debut album until I read a three-star review of it in Rolling Stone. After reading that issue at the public library I shot out to the mall where one record store after another didn’t have it. But Coconut’s did, and Coconut’s earned my $11.98 that day.

This was great rock and roll, a little REM here, a little Clash there, wrapped up in catchy hooks and Taylor’s unique lyrical content. Songs like “Escher’s World” (Up's down, down is out, out is in/ Stairways circle back to where you've been/ Time falls, water crawls, are you listening?), “Play God” (You buy prestige/ And spread decline/ You ought to swim the channel/ You stroke so fine) and “The Rub of Love” (Every other week on visiting day/ I get tolerated by his new wife/ I swear, if he ever really held me/ They'd have to pry me off with the jaws of life) were like nothing I had heard in the Christian world before, including from Taylor himself.

Alas, the first Chagall Guevara album turned out to be their last, the band chewed up and spit out by a music marketing machine that didn’t know what to do with them. Steve Taylor retired from performing for several years and concentrated on producing some of The Newsboys best albums, as well as running his own label and getting the band Sixpence None The Richer pushed to the moon. He returned to his own music in 1994, releasing one final album before moving on to other ventures.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

92 – Murder By Pride- Stryper

First appearance by Stryper on this list. It won’t be the last.

Stryper may have just been one of a number of hair bands of the 80’s, except for two things- the yellow and black stripes, and the fact that they flung Bibles into the audience. They signed to a mainstream label in 1984, released five albums between 1984 and 1990, and then went on hiatus when Michael Sweet went solo.

2005 saw rumors of a Stryper reunion, which became fact with the release of the album Reborn. Reborn was not just a spiritual metaphor for this band, they really did seem to find a new groove on this album, rocking as hard as they ever had. Reborn came, Reborn went.

In 2006 news came of a new Stryper album in the works. Days before recording was to begin, Michael Sweet’s wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and the album was put on hold for more important concerns. When Kyle Sweet’s cancer went into remission, the band proceeded.

Sad news for rock and roll fans came in 2007 with the news of the suicide of Brad Delp, Boston’s lead singer. A tribute concert was planned, and Michael Sweet was asked to sing with Boston for this show. He later joined the band as co-lead vocalist.

Kyle Sweet’s cancer returned in 2008, and in March of 2009 she passed away.

With the tumultuous events of the past three years behind them, Stryper released the album Murder By Pride in 2009, with the highlight being their cover of Boston’s song “Peace of Mind”, featuring Tom Scholz on guitar. Michael Sweet makes it plain on this song why he was asked to join Boston; I don’t know of many rock vocalists who have the range Brad Delp had.

In the same way that To Hell With The Devil expanded upon the strengths of Stryper’s first full-length album Soldiers Under Command, Murder By Pride improves on Reborn by leaps and bounds. One thing Stryper has always done well is match up hard rock with hooks and grooves. Michael Sweet’s vocals have matured; he still manages a powerful range, but without the screaming and shrieking from years gone by.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

93 – The Last Temptation- Alice Cooper

This is where my criteria for what to include in my top 100 Christian albums could take a beating. But you know? My blog, my rules :)

Is there a rock music fan who doesn’t know who Alice Cooper is? Born Vincent Furnier, he took the stage name Alice Cooper and was one of the first musicians to marry theatricality to rock music. Groups like Kiss owe Alice Cooper a debt of gratitude.

Alice Cooper fell victim to the lifestyle of excess that many 70’s rock stars pursued. Alcoholism affected his career and his marriage, and almost took his life. In the process of kicking the alcohol habit, in the 80’s he embraced Christianity. The Last Temptation is rooted in that belief.

The concept album presents a morality tale featuring the character Steven, who is simply looking for a good time. He meets up with The Showman, who says that in order to see a good time at the theatre he must sell his soul to him. The Showman presents Steven with a picture of how his life will be if he doesn’t follow him, and what Steven can expect if he does.

Steven becomes aware that the Showman could very well be the devil himself, and struggles with the temptation to be part of the show. In the song “Stolen Prayer”, co-written with Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Steven cries out:
You showed me your paradise
And your carnival of souls
But my heart keeps telling me
That ain't the place to go
Well, I'm not invincible
So I want you to leave
Well, I'm so convincible
But have I been deceived

I take your words and try them on
Yeah, it's a perfect fit, boy
You tell me one size fits us all
Yeah, like an old straightjacket
Well, tell me why I'm so afraid
All my words are spoken
In a stolen prayer
In the end he resists the Showman, who continues to tempt him, but now he has the power to resist:
What about truth
What about life
What about glory
What about Christ
What about peace
What about love
What about faith in God above
What about war
What about hell
What if I stumble
What if I fell
What about blood
What about greed
And all of these things you're offering me

Yeah, what about me, little me
You lose and I win
You couldn't suck me in
It's over, you have no power
You’re lost
And I'm found
And I'm Heaven bound
Go back to where you belong
To where you fell
Go to hell
---“Cleansed By Fire”
This album is fantastic. By presenting his faith in this way, Alice Cooper taps into universal themes such as the struggle between good and evil. The album can be seen as a Christian parable or merely good storytelling. If you have preconceived notions of Alice Cooper, you need to check this one out.

Monday, June 20, 2011

94 – Revelation- Darrell Mansfield Band

Darrell Mansfield is one of the veterans of Christian music, having started in 1976 with the group Gentle Faith. He formed the Darrell Mansfield Band soon thereafter. He has gone from rock to pop to traditional and electric blues.

In the early 80’s I discovered a small mom-and-pop Christian bookstore called Living Words, in the back of an office building in North Ridgeville. I was 19, but not sitting on a whole lot of money, but that was OK. At the time the major Christian labels had stickers on music product that you could collect and redeem for free tapes. And boy did I take advantage of that program. Popped Revelation into the player, heard some screaming guitars, and waited no longer to redeem five stickers for it.

Revelation stands out in the Darrell Mansfield catalogue as the hardest rock he ever attempted. A couple of attempts at heavy metal don’t really work, but for a good road trip hard rock album, it jams. His harmonica makes an appearance on several tracks, “Give It Up” being a great example. “Jesus Will Reign” makes for a great rock worship song. But the highlight song for me is the last track, “Waiting”. Acoustic guitar begins the song written as an exhortation from the Lord to his people to be ready, you know not the day or the hour. The guitars build in intensity throughout, and the vocal harmonies give off a Boston vibe.

Darrell concentrates on the blues these days. After a couple of well-received blues albums with Glenn Kaiser, he recorded some of his own, and also plays harmonica for blues artists recording in Southern California. His blues albums are good, but this album in particular holds a lot of memories for me as a new believer who wanted something that rocked as well as spoke to a faith that was becoming the central point of my life.

I shopped at Living Words for 20 years, until the Internet era brought on a different retail model and killed a lot of the mom-and-pop stores. Not sure what Ray, Sonya, Jeff, Jodi and Ellis are doing now, time and circumstances long since erasing our connections. Thanks for the memories, guys, as well as giving me a place to spend a heck of a lot of money.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

95 – Struggle- Six Feet Deep

This is the only spot on the top 100 in which I knew the band members. Therefore I have to make a disclaimer here- interpretations of events are my own.

It was 1992. I was working at Marco’s Pizza as a delivery guy…err… “service representative”. I was getting turned on to a lot of different styles of music thanks to Living Words bookstore and Heaven’s Metal magazine. It was on one of those music buying jags that I frequently took that I saw a flyer up on a bulletin board- Living Sacrifice was coming to Euclid. Well, I didn’t get to see too many Christian concerts, and metal shows generally didn’t make it past California or New York. Occasionally a place in Columbus would bring a band in, but that was 3 hours away. There was no way I was missing this show.

Someone forgot to tell my manager at Marco’s that I had a concert to attend. I worked lunch most days, and I should have been able to get out with plenty of time to drive to Euclid. Think again. I left work at 7PM, and the concert was at 7:30. I went home long enough to change my shirt and get my ticket, and then I broke all kinds of laws to get there by 7:40. The opening band, Weeping Prophet, had already taken the stage.

In between bands I went to the lobby to check out their merchandise table. As I signed up for their mailing list I noticed that several addresses ahead of me had Elyria as a hometown. This was cool. I had to figure out a way to meet these guys, although I had no idea who they were. Somehow I had to make this work.

The hand of fate intervened for me. The promoter had a drawing for free stuff which I had entered. The winners of most of the free stuff? A group of guys in the front row, whose names matched the names on the mailing list, the guys from Elyria. After Circle of Dust played their second or third ever set, I found the guys in the lobby. Myk, Mike, Tom, Matt, Joanne, Cheryl, Lesley, Leslie… I think they were all there, possibly some others whose names I can’t remember. But Myk, Mike Tom and Matt for sure. After discussing some bands and shamelessly mentioning that I too was from Elyria, Ohio, they mentioned that they had a Bible study going, and would I like to come? Hmm… hell yeah I wanted to come.

This was my introduction to the band Six Feet Deep, a hardcore band from my hometown. I went to the Bible study, which was led by Johnny, another musician who was from Los Angeles. He married a woman named Tracy I believe, and they moved back to Tracy’s hometown of Amherst. I was certainly the odd man out in this group of Christians, where the average tattoo rate was probably three per person and the body piercing… let’s just say more than me. Of course, it isn’t hard to get more than zero. But it wasn’t a clique thing, which is what I feared. Instead , it was all about the Bible and the fellowship. They were friendly and welcomed me in, and I was able to cross “Become friends with a punk band” off my bucket list.

I began attending their band rehearsals. It was fascinating to watch songs progress from simple guitar lick to fully finished with lyrics. I remember one in particular, a song based on Psalm 69 called “Valley of Salt”. They played one groove over and over… and over… and over, but the end result was a great tune. They weren’t just about playing fast, but matching fast and hard playing with hooks and grooves. My favorite song of theirs, “Out of the Wreck”, even featured a little rap. (If one of the guys in the band is reading this, does this song exist anywhere? My demo tape has long since worn out.)

They eventually were signed to REX Records, a Christian label which specialized in metal and hard rock acts, and recorded their first full-length album Struggle. And for the first time in my life, my name was listed in the “special thanks to…” section of an album. They worked hard to get to this point, and I rejoiced with them.

We hung out together, eating breakfast at Country Kitchen after Bible study many times. I drove some of them to Michigan for a concert one Saturday afternoon, where I got an intimate look at the drummer as he mooned our car down a Michigan highway. The relationships I formed were what I envisioned church to be in my idealistic mind. (Except for the mooning.) But time marches on. In 1993 I decided to move out of town and pursue a master’s degree in theology. Somewhere along the line the Bible study group scattered to the four winds. Marriage entered the picture for some. I soon lost track of this little group of Christians whose presence in my life for that short year made a world of difference to me.

I ran into Matt at the Record Exchange several years later and he updated me on the whereabouts of the group. A couple of the guys formed a new group called Brandston, and later on Swarm of Bats. A couple of the guys were out of music altogether. Unfortunately, one woman, a very talented photographer who was one of the nicest women you were ever going to meet, had been killed in a car accident. Not sure who was still attending church and who wasn’t, but at the time I ran into Matt I wasn’t, so who was I to judge?

So to Myk, Mike, Matt, Matt, Tom, Johnny, John, Leslie, Lesley, Cheryl, Joanne, Tracy, Amy, and whoever else whose name is slipping my mind, thank you. You made a crappy year of my life a little more enjoyable and full of life and fun. And Cherie, God rest your soul, you were a very fun woman who I miss. I wish you were still with us.

Sometimes the album becomes more about the context in which I hear it than the album itself.

96 – Face The Music- Mylon LeFevre and Broken Heart

Mylon LeFevre was born into a family which was a legacy in Southern Gospel music, although he only recorded one album in the Southern Gospel vein. As a 17-year-old, he achieved a certain amount of fame and fortune when Elvis Presley recorded his song “Without Him”. Soon a number of artists recorded the song and the royalties started pouring in. But Southern Gospel was not what he wanted his musical future to be. He wanted to speak to his generation in their language- he wanted to record a rock album. In 1969 he recorded the album We Believe, and became somewhat of an outsider in both his church and his family.
In 1970 Mylon signed with Atlantic Records and released several albums over the decade, the most well-known being an album with Alvin Lee entitled On The Road To Freedom, featuring guest musicians such as George Harrison, Steve Winwood and Ron Wood. He also acquired a heavy drug habit, almost dying of a heroin overdose in 1973. He entered a drug treatment program that year and came out clean.

In 1980 he gave his life to the Lord at a concert by the group 2nd Chapter of Acts. He chose to give up the music industry at that point, giving up all of his royalties and taking a job as a janitor at his church. In 1982 he began to write music again and formed the band Broken Heart with members of his church.

Face The Music was released in 1988. It took me awhile to warm up to this one, which is one reason I originally listed it in the 101-125 list. Side 1 (remember album sides?) is decent pop-rock music, ending with the worship song “Mercy Seat”. Side 2 begins with a Bruce Hornsby-soundalike song entitled “Again and Again”. A really good song, but the Bruce Hornsby-like pianos are all over it. After the mellow “Again and Again”, the song “Change” comes barreling out of the speakers, a powerful song both in the intensity of the music as well as the expression of the heart of man to change.
I am not the man I will be
When He cracks the sky
Bit I know I'm getting closer

Here's the reason why
Jesus wrote new legislation
In my state of mind
Giving me a revelation
Every day I find
I've got a change
Thank You Lord, I've got a change of heart
The next song, “Rock of Safety”, takes the intensity down a little. The final song, “Lamb of God”, is still being sung in churches 20 years later. The lyrics are simple, expressing John the Baptist’s proclamation in John 1:29- “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” We sang this song many times in college fellowship groups, where one acoustic guitar and simple songs could bring heaven to earth.

Mylon LeFevre will show up in this countdown again. His music has had as much effect on my early Christian life as any other group in this countdown.

Friday, June 17, 2011

97 – Revival- David Mullen

In 1989 I discovered a folk duo whose music changed my life. I had been sticking with mainly Christian music at the time, but after seeing a video on MTV (when the M stood for “music”) for a song titled “Closer To Fine” I thought I might have found the next U2- you know, a group of Christians trying to sneak in under the radar. And when I bought the cassette simply titled Indigo Girls, and heard songs like “Prince of Darkness” (“I will not be a pawn for the prince of darkness any longer”) I was sure of it. At that time in my life I felt like I had to justify my entertainment choices by the Christian content.

I was getting frustrated with the Christian music being produced. The arguments about Christian music being of less quality musically don’t hold water with me now, but they certainly had merit at one time, and this was one of those times. The lyrics “God knows the way/ you’d better stick like glue” were the last straw. I wasn’t going to buy any more Christian music until they could give me something better. Indigo Girls and Tracy Chapman were giving me more meat than the Village Preacher bookstore could supply me.

Just when I thought I was out… they keep pulling me back in.

Back then you could go into the Christian bookstore, slip on some headphones and give tapes a listen before you bought one. Just out of curiosity, and a tad bit of boredom, I stopped in and started through the cycle of new releases. Bleh… bleh…bleh… hmm, wait a minute, let me fast forward this one… oh wow… oh man, this is actually some decent rock and roll here! The tape I was listening to- Revival by David Mullen.

David Mullen had a good blues-pop-rock thing going on that album. The first song, “Revival”, was decent, but the second song “Sho Love You” kicked things up a notch. Had I stopped there, I would have missed the gold, but fortunately I flipped the tape and heard “Fallen World”, “The Blood” and the highlight, “Live So God Can Use You”. Prayers that kick ass. I can dig that.

David Mullen won the Dove Award in 1990 for Best New Artist. I haven’t been able to find a list of nominees for that year, but I can guarantee you that either the field was weak that year or someone was asleep at the wheel, because back then rock artists just didn’t win any of the big awards.

I waited two whole years for the follow-up, and the Christian music industry didn’t disappoint me, sanitizing David Mullen’s sound to a brightly polished sheen. Oh man. He released one more album two years after that which I never even bothered with for several years, until I could get it in the discount rack for a buck. He hasn’t recorded since then, although he is a prolific songwriter and producer. He is better known as being Mr. Nicole C. Mullen.

Hey, I like Nicole C., but I miss that sound.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

98 – West Coast Diaries volume II- Charlie Peacock

The Christian music scene has gone through several stages of development over the years. In the late 60’s-early 70’s you had what was called “Jesus Music”. Young people were coming out of the 60’s and taking different paths. One of those paths was a religious revival known as the Jesus Movement. Instead of getting a haircut and wearing a tie like a good God-fearing Christian stereotype, they chose to come as they were, and bring their friends just as they were. Another thing they brought with them was their music. Music was the language of the revolution. What better way to testify to the power of Christ than the language people spoke?

In the mid to late 70’s the simplicity of Jesus Music became the business of Contemporary Christian Music. It slowly began to make its way into Christian bookstores. Labels were formed for distribution, and magazines were formed for publicity. And eventually, as is the case with most “revolutionary” movements, the rebels became the establishment. And when the establishment pushes hard….

… the next generation pushes back. The third stage of Christian Music took place in the mid-80’s and consisted not only of a shift towards punk and new wave music, but also a shift in attitude. T-Bone Burnett once stated that you could sing about the light, or you could sing about what you saw because of the light. And a new generation wanted to shed the “churchy” reputation and make the music they enjoyed listening to, the music that was popular at that time and not five years previous. This has never been anything new, whether you are talking about music, politics, or other issues of life. The establishment wants to hold onto the power and the revolution wants to take the power, not realizing or just not caring to realize that the attitudes they condemn are the attitudes they will be holding ten years later. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Charlie Peacock was part of that mid-80’s paradigm shift in Christian music. He comes from a jazz background and brings that to the pop music stew. His first albums were released on A&M; a third album was released on Island but was lost in the post-Joshua Tree shuffle. Going independent, he released a series of three cassettes known as the West Coast Diaries. Volumes 1 and 3 contained pop/jazz/new wave music, and volume II was recorded by the Charlie Peacock Acoustic Trio (Charlie, Jimmy Abegg and the late Vince Ebo).

I’m a huge fan of acoustic music, and this won’t be the last acoustic album in the top 100. The words of Psalm 51, with the psalmist crying out for mercy and forgiveness for his sins, works marvelously in an acoustic context. This album works best for me late at night, when the body gets sleepy and the thoughts get mellow. I would love to see some of these songs make their way into worship services. Music directors, make it happen.

Charlie has moved from the revolution to the establishment, becoming a highly successful producer in Nashville. I can’t say that I’ve liked everything that he’s recorded since, but I appreciate the mix of styles to form a unique blend.

Vince Ebo, you are missed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

99 – Apostolic Prayers- IHOP Worship Team

Before anyone asks, no, not the pancake restaurant.

The International House of Prayer was founded by Mike Bickle in 1999 as a place for prayer and worship music to go on 24 hours a day. Different teams of musicians take two hour blocks, and “intercessory missionaries” live at the center, making prayer their full-time occupation. Sort of a modern twist on monasticism, without the celibacy.

This is a different kind of album. Six tracks, each one focused on a different passage of Scripture. One guy reads different portions of the passage throughout the track, with a female singer singing not only the passage but extemporaneous prayers inspired by the Scripture verses; the band plays in the background. It works very well. When I need some material for meditation purposes this is one of the albums on my list.
Colossians 3:16 says “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” IHOP manages to put that verse in action very well.

This is an example of one of the songs on the album, based on Ephesians 1:16-19. The editing of the video isn’t that great but the song is good.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

100 – Day of Fire S/T

Day of Fire’s lead singer, Josh Brown, formerly sang lead with the band Full Devil Jacket. After surviving a heroin overdose he made changes in his life, giving his life to Christ, and forming Day of Fire. Their debut album was released in 2004.

There are times when you just need something to express the cry of your heart.

I stumbled upon this album at a time when things were particularly difficult in life. My son had been diagnosed as autistic early in 2004, and my wife and I were still working out all of the nuances as to what that even meant. And then my two-year-old daughter was suspected of having developmental delays. We had wanted a large family, but now I wasn’t sure that I wanted to populate the special education services of the county. My beloved grandmother had passed away, and I was out of a job. The stress was wreaking havoc on my relationship with my wife. My marriage was circling the toilet bowl. And then the band Day of Fire entered my radar screen.

The song “Cornerstone”, the requisite power ballad off the album, spent a lot of time in heavy rotation on my computer and on several mix CD’s. I can remember driving to church, thinking that I didn’t even want to be making that drive, that me and Jesus needed to renegotiate our contract, and this song coming on. I’m a big fan of 90’s-era grunge and hard rock, and Day of Fire carries a definite Nirvana-Stone Temple Pilots vibe. Sometimes you need to rock hard and Day of Fire met that need for me in 2004 and 2005.

The song “Run”, from their second album Cut and Move, was the theme song for the WWE Pay-per-view event Unforgiven in 2006. They released one more album, Losing All, before going on indefinite hiatus. Josh Brown has done reunion shows with Full Devil Jacket and formed a new band, A New Rebel.

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Top 100 Favorite Christian Albums

I’ve always been a music fan. From the days of the Bay City Rollers, to the Captain and Tennille, to the hottest band in the world- KISS!; from Casey Kasem and American Top 40 on WGCL to music blogs and file-sharing services, I have always had a decent collection of music going of various genres and bands.

I remember the first album I bought on my own. We had been visiting our relatives in upper Michigan, and some of those cousins happened to be Circus Magazine reading, long-hair wearing, 1970’s rock music fans. And one of those bands just happened to be Kiss. Well, Kiss made quite an impression on me, and I wanted a Kiss album to call my very own. So when we came back down to lower Michigan to resume our lives and shop at Kmart as a family, I wasn’t interested in household goods or furniture; there was only one area I wanted to check out, and that was the area that sold 12-inch circular slabs of vinyl. I wanted…

"You can look at the records, but no Kiss!" my father intoned authoritatively.

Well, crap. That's the group I wanted. So I did what any rational 11-year-old boy would do when he wanted his own way- I threw a fit in the middle of K-mart. Having two children of my own who are prone to fits, I know how embarrassing they can be to a parent. At the time, of course, I didn't care. I had the allowance money available, and I wanted a Kiss album! I wanted a Kiss album! Soon my father relented, with the understanding that under no circumstances would the volume approach the level appreciated by Dan and Don. "Sure," I said with a wink. I would just wait until you weren't home. With the deal struck I was allowed to peruse the rock music selections, and I left the store with a copy of Love Gun, Kiss' latest effort.

I was entering a whole new world, a world where parents refused to enter and we didn't want them there anyway. I wasn't a teen yet, but I was on the fast track. And the 10 questions on my entrance exam concerned Plaster Casters and Love Guns, bass guitar players who were Almost Human and had Love For Sale, Hooligans and sixteen-year-old girls named Christine. I had just become a buck private in the Kiss Army.

Over the course of the next few years I discovered other bands. Queen informed me concerning the News of the World. AC/DC entered my life on a Highway To Hell and made a return trip Back In Black. Boston… Fleetwood Mac… REO Speedwagon…. My music choices were never the most popular ones out there. At a time when I was obsessed with getting attention and becoming popular, when it came to rock bands I gave no quarter. I liked what I liked. If you didn’t like it, you were the one missing out. Not me.

When I was 14 years old I went on my very first religious retreat. It was called a F.I.R.E. retreat, the meaning of the acronym escaping my memory at the moment, and it had its roots in the Marriage Encounter movement. Obviously kids and teens wouldn’t be attending Marriage Encounter retreats anytime soon, so this was a way of reaching out to them. I signed up for this retreat at my parents urging. I don’t know if I had good or bad feelings about it, but my parents had gone to the Marriage Encounter weekend the year prior and they were as giddy as a high school cheerleader who just got asked to the prom by the quarterback, so their enthusiasm spilled over and I decided to go. What the heck. Might even be able to pick up a girl there.

The weekend ended up being a pivotal moment in my spiritual life. There were two things about it in particular that have stuck in my mind to this day. One was a guy named Ted Thiry. I’ve written about him before. Ted, if you are out there, if you or somebody you know finds this blog by Googling your name, I want you to know that you had a big impact on me. Ted was the very first bonafide Jesus Freak that I ever met. He even had the look- 70’s style long hair and a Resurrection Band t-shirt. When we passed around notebooks yearbook-style at the end of the weekend to get everyone’s signature he wrote “Jesus Saves!” in big letters on mine. He was a walking, talking, living, breathing commercial for Jesus Christ. And that was attractive to me. His enthusiasm was contagious. I wanted to be around him. He wasn’t just talking about the Lord, he wasn’t spitting out catechism phrases by rote, it meant something to him.

The other part of the weekend that made an impression on me was the Saturday night Mass. After spending the better part of two days talking with each other encounter-group style, with laughter and tears and plenty of hugs, we shared the liturgy together. And I will swear to my dying day that the liturgy is most meaningful when you attend with people you’ve formed a bond with. It was certainly meaningful to me, perhaps the first time that I ever encountered the Mass as my own person as opposed to being an attachment of my parents. It was this experience that caused me to think about the claims of God the Son on my own, apart from the way I was raised.

Jesus Christ upended my life and I became a born-again Christian. Changes came, and one of those changes concerned my listening habits. I became increasingly uncomfortable with some of the lyrical content I was ingesting. It was never about making a judgment for someone else; it was never about spinning records backwards and hearing hidden messages; my tastes and interests were changing. I went to a Christian bookstore at a local mall and in the process of looking at Bibles and books, I found music. I wasn’t interested in an album of chant or sappy-sounding hymns, but in the midst of the churchy stuff I found a title by a band whose name I recognized. Resurrection Band. The album- Colours, their third. Ted Thiry liked this band. They had to be good.

And I was off to the races.

I’m no longer 18, I’m almost 45. My views on a lot of things have changed over time, but one thing has not- I really don’t care what people think about my music choices, I like what I like. And I like Christian music. I’m not a Christian music proselytizer; I don’t try to get people to substitute their stuff with sound-alike choices. You are all grown-ups, listen to what you want to listen to. I don’t care.

But as for me, I like Christian music. I don’t try to define what qualifies and what doesn’t. I make the decision for me.

So in the interest of reviving this blog and trying to exercise whatever writing skills I might have left, I am going to expound on my top 100 favorite Christian albums. My blog, my choices, my rules :) Your mileage may vary. If you aren’t particularly religious, that’s cool, read anyway. Thanks to the Internet there probably isn’t an album here you won’t be able to find for free. Not that I condone that sort of thing :)

As a quick preface, here are some of the albums that didn’t make the cut, numbers 101-125.

101 Fathom - Mortal

102 This Means War - Petra

103 Morning Like This - Sandi Patti

104 Songs From The Heart - Sandi Patti

105 The Last Temptation - Alice Cooper

106 Straight Ahead - Amy Grant

107 Commander Sozo and the Charge of the Light Brigage - DeGarmo and Key

108 D&K - DeGarmo and Key

109 Live Experience - Leon Patillo

110 Malcolm and Alwyn Live - Malcolm and Alwyn

111 Face The Music - Mylon LeFevre

112 Live and Learn - Paul Smith

113 On Fire - Petra

114 Pray - Rebecca St. James

115 Awaiting Your Reply - Resurrection Band

116 Hostage - Resurrection Band

117 Godspell - Various Artists

118 Soul Asylum - Ransom

119 Light Maneuvers - Servant

120 Come To The Quiet - John Michael Talbot

121 Heaven Calling - Halo

122 Blood - Red Sea

123 Boys and Girls Renounce The World - Undercover

124 The Violet Burning - Violet Burning

125 Save Me From Myself - Brian "Head" Welch

It’s hard to make lists like this. Man was it difficult to leave that Alice Cooper album out of the top 100. The Brian “Head” Welch album rocks hard.

Stay tune for number 100.