Thinking Out Loud

September 30, 2021

The Jesus Music: A Look at The Way We Were

Watching a movie about an aspect of 20th Century Christian history with which you were intimately involved is a daunting task. You never know how it’s going to impact you.

As I sat watching The Jesus Music (opening in theaters Friday) my first concern was that they would get the history right. Being involved in the early days of what is now called Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) often means hearing people getting the details wrong.

But such was not the case, in fact, they did their homework well, as they also did when it came to finding film clips, stills, and archived interviews. This is, overall, a high quality documentary.

My next takeaway was seeing people who were friends back in the day, people who, even now, might recognize me by name if I walked into a room. People with whom I corresponded.

To that end, I wasn’t prepared for the lump in my throat and the tears starting to form, especially during the first half hour of the film. Those early Jesus Music days were telling my story, and opening up associations from deep in the recesses of my memory.

Because of that, I wished they had spent more time on the period starting in the late ’60s and most of the 1970s. That was the true Jesus Music era and the rest of the film was more focused on the earlier days of CCM as it came to be.

It also helps if you know who is speaking onscreen. There were names in the bottom corner — often for too short a time — but no voice-over announcer to describe their relationship to the story. This is a nostalgia documentary for people like me. It’s also a story of the growth of Jesus Music in America; references to what was taking place in the UK — which were significant — were quite sparse.

While other reviewers will focus on the artists, for me it was the narratives from some of the behind-the-scenes people, such as John Styll from CCM Magazine, author John Thompson, or pastor Greg Laurie who had front row seats on the birth of Jesus Music. Those people, along with pioneers Tommy Coomes, Chuck Girard, and Glenn Kaiser made the movie for me, as did the very candid revelations from Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and the guys from DC Talk.

The filmmakers also highlighted the influence that Explo ’72 in Dallas had on the explosive proliferation of the music, and in particular, the wholehearted endorsement of Rev. Billy Graham; an endorsement given even as other evangelists, such as Jimmy Swaggart, were condemning the very notion of Christian rock.

In addition to following the trail from Jesus Music to CCM, the movie touched briefly on the path from CCM to Modern Worship.

There’s no denying that the Christian music industry is huge. The film suggested that the commercial influences that plagued CCM at its peak weren’t present so much in modern worship. Not sure I agree with that one; it’s just that today the dark side of the industry has less to do with unit sales of product and more with who holds copyrights.

In one scene concerning the profit-driven nature of the industry, it seemed that as the genre being profiled got more commercial, the movie itself got more commercial. In one 15-second moment, a series of album covers and audio bites of songs played in succession, and all that was missing was the 800-number to call and order the album from Time-Life.

The producers were not afraid to delve into controversy, but chose to leave on a high note, suggesting that the conditions are presently ideal for another Jesus People revolution. In many respects, I hope that is true, especially if it gets back to the basics outlined in the film’s first 30 minutes or so.

There was also an acknowledgement of the fact that, Andrae Crouch notwithstanding, the history of CCM up to the present moment is still somewhat racially segregated.

Co-produced by K-LOVE, there is an underlying radio focus. Speculation as to whether Larry Norman’s often gritty lyrics could get played on today’s family-friendly Christian stations becomes moot when you consider that in a world of indie-artists, Christian radio is no longer the primary means by which many Christian musicians reach an audience.

Again, this movie was well done. I am thankful for the opportunity to preview it, and they were indeed telling my story and telling it well.

I am also very grateful for the role that Jesus Music played in my life and where I am today is a direct product of the seeds planted by those artists all those years ago. 

Watch the trailer for The Jesus Music

March 26, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Football Cross at MontanaWestUSA(dot)com

We’re back with another mid-week link meeting! Here’s what your brothers and sisters from random parts of the big ‘C’ church were up to this week. Clicking any of the links below will take you to PARSE, the list’s benevolent patron.

Stay in touch with Paul Wilkinson during the week on Twitter.

Our closing cartoon is rather interesting, don’t you think? The artist is Jess MacCallum and you can click the image to see more.

Evolution Cartoon at JessMacCallum(dot)com

November 1, 2008

Michael W. Smith’s New Album – Worship Again, Again

Filed under: Christianity, music, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:05 pm

Perhaps they also considered, “Worship Once More;” or “Even More Worship Again.”   In many ways the departure from the title sequence is a healthy one, since it’s been a long time since Worship and Worship Again hit the streets.   On the other hand, on A New Hallelujah, there is no denying the trademark voice of MWS dominates everything he records, and while the addition of guests such as the African Children’s Choir and Israel Houghton add extra dimension to the recording, it’s the MWS vocals that are heard on this nearly one hour long live album.

With two experienced worship leaders listening to this together, the reactions started out quite different.  I was impressed with the mix; the way you could get a sense of being part of this live audience.   A guy I worked with once told me that in a worship service, the thing people should hear foremost is the sound of their own congregation worshiping.   Not the band.   Not the leader.  This achieved that, in part.   I liked the way the audience was mixed in.  I liked feeling like I was there.  I liked the fullness of the sound that only one of the top selling artists and producers in the genre can bring to the table.

Mrs. W., on the other hand, was struck by the sameness of all the cuts.   She pointed out the similar tempos; the similarity of the songs to other worship songs we knew, including some lyrics that seemed to originate in the earlier songs.   What’s that saying, ‘When you get older, everything reminds you of something else.’   Shouldn’t be the case in modern worship, though.  But mostly, she identified the places where the repetition of lyrics was in excess of anything either of us would do if we were leading worship.    It’s nice to be able to get into a vamp, or a groove, musically, as long as the audience — especially the CD audience — is able to travel with you and follow you into that place musically.   A couple of times we fast-forwarded, as I slowly had to concur with what she was observing.

Despite this, I would look forward to listening to this again.   The production is first rate and the mass-choir feel that’s brought to some of the songs with both Israel Houghton and the African kids is something you don’t get much of in modern worship, with the possible exception of Hillsongs.    I think the album also succeeds in its totality, therefore there’s no mention here of individual tracks; I think it needs to be viewed as a whole.

They did choose great songs, though; and I’d also suggest if you’re going to play this CD, play it loud.   I just wished they had covered more new ground in worship possibilities.

Me:  3 1/2 to 4 stars;  Mrs. W.: 3 stars.    Not that we should ‘rate’ someone else’s expression of worship to God, but then what’s a record review if there’s no bottom line on what you thought of it overall.

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