Sweet Comfort Band - Cutting Edge

Essential Series – CCM Vol 1

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Here’s our first Essential Series Volume aimed at the CCM genre (Contemporary Christian Music).

Written by: gdmonline

ARTICLE: Essential Series, CCM Volume 1
YEAR: 2017


CCM is a popular category of music among followers of 80’s melodic rock, and I knew at dome point that we’d be writing an Essential Series Volume on it. It came with a message, and sometimes with a bible as in the case of Stryper.

Whether it actually helped convert wayward and aimless teens back then to the ways of the Lord is conjecture to the tenth degree (and not commandment I might add), but it certainly was a colourful era if short-lived and perhaps ill-conceived in some parts too.

You didn’t have to be a religious zealot to like some of the music. I didn’t care much for the message, even if my Dad was a Mormon for several years, in fact, it put me off the message even more.

For me, it was the melody rather than the message, that won me over on many occasions. The origins of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) springs from the 1970’s Jesus Rock movement, which was a mixture of straight-up rock bands delivering a message usually with a pastoral image, while other origins came from a folk-rock backdrop, either as smaller singer/songwriter artists to a larger assembly of singers and musicians.

The most famous being the Mormon based Mike Curb Congregation and the 2nd Chapter of Acts, which featured Matthew Ward. These were two examples of many assemblies playing across the hinterland of America during what I would call a carefree and naive outlook on lifestyle, one in which I grew up in and miss immensely.

I loved being bought up in a carefree and naive world back then, more so than the socially engineered BS society in which we live today.

Christian rock was also prevalent in other countries too, including England, Sweden, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Sweden was a stronghold for CCM, and there are many releases that came out during the 70’s and 80’s from our brothers in the North.

Back to CCM, and the turn of the late 70’s and into the early 80’s, Christian rock began taking a more sophisticated approach to deliver music to the masses. Bands like Petra, Resurrection Band and the Sweet Comfort Band began leading the way, Nashville soon becomes ground zero for all the larger CCM record labels of the time, give or take one or two based over in California such as Frontline.

We saw video and MTV starting to make inroads for Christian artists, and many took different tangents musically. Some went down the new wave/new romantic road, others went for the pure AOR path, while others continued a fusion of a country and folk hybrid.

Others of course went down the heavy metal path (they called it white metal), which seemed at the time like a musical conflict of interest, but with bands like Stryper, Bloodgood, Whitecross, Deliverance etc, this sub-genre became very popular during the mid 80’s.

CCM also had a wealth of male and female solo artists, many of them covered at GDM already. Some have proved to be long-standing and still perform to this day. Despite the sniggers from across the secular industry, CCM has proved to be quite robust and is still a multi-million dollar industry well into the second decade of the 21st century.

Which leads me to my selection of favourite CCM albums for this Essential Series volume. Most of these originate from the 80’s, and I make no excuses for that, as that was the era in which these artists were popular. The selections drop into various sub-genres, so it provides a good cross-section across the overall CCM genre. Let’s see what’s on my list of 10.

The Albums

Joshua – 1988 Intense Defense

An incredible album really, and deserving of inclusion within this first volume. Joshua had some great players in his team during the 80’s, which saw three albums released between 1983 and 1988. Admittedly, I don’t care for the man’s religious views or politics, having at one time being defriended by him on Facebook after I called Benjamin Netanyahu a terrorist, or words to that effect. As I wrote earlier, it’s all about the melodies, not the message.

Joshua – Reach Up

joshua "reach up" intense defense-1988

Sweet Comfort Band – 1982 Cutting Edge

The three albums by this band during the 1981-1984 period are superb examples of this genre. Of the three, ‘Cutting Edge’ is my pick of the bunch. Songs like ‘Changed Hearts’, Runnin’ To Win’ and ‘What Have You Got?’ still sound good today. The band did release an album in 2013, but unfortunately, sounds nothing like this gem. Oh, and what about those album covers? Wow!

Sweet Comfort Band – Changed Hearts

Sweet Comfort Band - Changed Hearts

Margaret Becker – 1987 Never For Nothing

This woman has an impressive pedigree, and an amazing voice. Originally from New York, she settled into Nashville life and by 1987, had this debut album out on the market. Despite amassing many albums over the years, this is the one I go back to often. Especially with the presence of Dann Huff on board.

Margaret Becker – Standing On Top Of The World

Standing On Top Of The World

Avion – 1983 Avion

Initially, I got a heck of a shock to find out this band were Australian, and from rural New South Wales to be exact. ‘Diamond Eyes’ was their first single, and was played often across Australian and New Zealand radio stations. When I acquired the album, it took me some time to register that they were a CCM band signed to a large ‘secular’ label. Their 1986 album ‘White Noise’ was pretty good too, though less rockier than this one.

Avion – Never Let Me Go

Avion - Never Let Me Go

Halo – 1990 Halo

I remember absolutely thrashing this album back in 1990, despite knowing very little about Scott Springer and Keith Mims and this band. From Alabama, the trio produced just two albums in their run on Pakaderm Records, and as you can expect with the Elefante production, this just smacks of high quality AOR and melodic rock. Apparently, Halo formed back in the early 80’s and as at the end of 2020, some of that material has resurfaced as an official reissue along with those two Pakaderm albums.

Halo – Good Feeling

Halo - Good Feeling

Mastedon – 1990 Lofcaudio

From the Pakaderm Studios came Mastedon, all thing elephantine from the brother Elefante; John and Dino. This was Mastedon’s second album, after the release of ‘It’s A Jungle Out There’ during 1989. We know John Elefante’s record as a solo artist and as a member of Kansas, but for me, this record is a highpoint in his career. Songs like ‘Life On The Line’, ‘It Is Done’ and ‘People Of This Time’ are all killer stuff.

Mastedon – Life On The Line

MASTEDON - Life On The Line

White Heart – 1992 Takes Of Wonder

I first cottoned onto CCM AOR legends White Heart back in 1989 with their ‘Freedom’ album. I was aware of their history, but steered clear of them until plucking the courage to take a shot, and what a revelation they were. I saw them live on their ‘Powerhouse’ during 1991 tour, and by then, Eskimos could’ve sold me ice and I would’ve been none the wiser. Over the years, I have debated the merits of White Heart’s discography. All their album contain gems, but I think 1992’s ‘Tales Of Wonder’ contains more than most. Tracks like ‘Raging Of The Moon’, ‘Say The Word’ and ‘Where The Thunder Roars’ are exceptional. It’s an album I enjoy, but then again, I listen to the others quite a bit too.

White Heart – Where The Thunder Roars

Track 06 "Where The Thunder Roars" - Album "Tales Of Wonder" - Artist "White Heart"

Iona – 1995 Journey Into The Morn

Despite a strong Celtic/Irish connection, Iona are in fact from England, Manchester in fact. However, their music is some of the most ethereal on the planet. They first came to my attention after I caught them on radio with the single ‘Treasure’ from their third album, 1993’s ‘Beyond These Shores’. With ‘Journey Into The Morn’, Iona delved deeper into rock territory, and there are some astounding arrangements to be found here. From the poppy ‘Irish Day’ to the ambient prog of ‘Encircling’, there’s a lot to like.

Iona – Encircling

Encircling | Iona - Journey Into The Morn

Idle Cure – 1986 Idle Cure

This Californian band were one of the prized assets on the Frontline label during the mid 80’s. They released several albums during their run, and this album featured Chuck King, who later joined Ken Tamplin in Shout. This is a short album by comparison, but contains some fantastic tunes, including the bombastic ‘Overdrive’.

Idle Cure – Breakaway

Idle Cure - Breakaway

Rick Cua – 1992 The Way Love Is

People will remember Rick Cua as a member of southern rock kings The Outlaws. He went solo with his debut release ‘Koo Aah’ back in 1982. He was signed with a Christian record label, and was regularly releasing albums during the 80’s. However, for me, his best came in 1992, with this album ‘The Way Love Is’. There are some incredible AOR tunes on here, and at the time it surprised me no end, because I didn’t think he was capable of such excellence. Take a listen to tracks like ‘Better Than I Ever’, ‘No Other Love’ and ‘Walk On Through The Fire’ for evidence. Essential Series contender indeed.

No Other Love

Rick Cua - No Other Love

In Summary

Like many of the other Volume 1 Essential Series articles I’ve written, there was enough to add a few more contenders to this list, such as Michael W Smith, Guardian, Stryper, Trace Balin and some rare stuff too. Enjoy what’s on offer here, and as always, add to the comments below on any of the selections.

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