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Magazine Presents 100 Greatest Songs In Christian Music
Author: Tori Taff and Various Authors
Publisher Integrity Publishers
Commemorating Christian market music's artistic and cultural legacy proves difficult for multiple reasons. The shifting ownership of label catalogs, the nigh total absence of any Christian oldies/gold radio format, and the rate at which albums-even those with sizeable airplay hits-go out of print adversely affect the way the scene (genre?) remembers itself.
_CCM Magazine_, the closest thing to a U.S. periodical of record for the contemporary Christian music for which it was named, has made previous strides at historical summation with books recounting 100 of its greatest albums and radio chart data (at least the latter needs an update badly). Its latest such offering, CCM Magazine Presents 100 Greatest Songs In Christian Music, attempts again to codify a Christian music cannon. The results? Mixed at best.
The book's dubiety doesn't necessarily lie in its song selection. Roughly the same criteria as those used for the albums book is used here, and though many of the selections enumerated seem fairly obvious, even fans of the most mainstream Christian music are likely to quibble with selection and position. Fine...quibble away.
Its real weaknesses lie in research and editing. A typical example of the tome's faultiness in those areas occurs with #76, P.O.D.'s "Alive." Though it's great to see recognition for such a relatively extreme band, and not their bigger hit from the same album ("Youth of the Nation"), it is certainly NOT from Payable On Death's second album. Satellite was the group's second album for Atlantic, but P.O.D.'s longplayers on Rescue-once easily available from any Christian bookshop that carries music as hard as theirs-paved the way for their major label breakthrough.
The slighting of indie efforts is not restricted to nu-metal. BeBe & CeCe Winans' "Heaven," at #45, merits inclusion at least as much for its influence on adult contemporary R&B as its crossover to majority Caucasian Christian radio. But, even though the siblings were Grammy-nominated for a song from it, their debut album was for PTL; it wasn't their self-titled album for Sparrow/Capitol, as cited with that distinction. Huh? Furthermore, the entry on "Heaven" neglected to mention that there was at least one other soul gospel crossover act to make the top 10 of Billboard's R&B single chart between Aretha Franklin and BeBe and CeCe ("Fall Down [Spirit of Love]" by Tramaine [Hawkins] in 1985).
An even greater head scratcher for its conflation of factual trivia and outright gaffery comes in all the way up at #9. It's fun to learn that the unique keyboard tone that makes the Newsboys' "Shine" shimmer so comes from a sound on a discontinued Korg instrument with a sound named for the Frippertronics guitar technique. Alas, that technique was innovated by not by a guitarist named Peter Fripper. Methinks the writer meant Robert Fripp, who is in King Crimson, as has been Adrian Belew, producer of Jars of Clay's #5 entry, "Flood." In turn, that song's side-page discographical information is transposed from this chart's champ, Ruch Mullins' "Awesome God." Oh, dear.
Elsewhere, as each list's entries thin from 4 to fewer pages, the singer can become more of the focus than the song. B.J. Thomas is more the subject than is his song at #88, "Home Where I Belong." Yes, his conversion story and general market fame likely figure into why the song landed on the list at all, but to say nothing of the song at all? Hmm...
Thomas's inclusion points to another fault of the book that's no fault of the assembled writers. If memory serves, the album Thomas's contribution derives from is long out of print. Same goes for several other songs here, including the higher charting of Larry Norman's two entries ("I Wish We'd All been Ready" at #13); I would love to stumble upon a clean copy of the Capitol issue of Norman's _Upon This Rock_ at a charity thrift shop and not pay an exorbitant collectors price, but I'm not holding my breath for a legitimate CD reissue, either. Its a shame more of us can't hear that and few other entries here.
And although Bill and Gloria Gaither have written and recorded songs that have found resonance in the contemporary Chrisian music community, not to mention many denominations' hymnals, haven't they been more associated with Southern gospel than CCM? The Gaithers get two songs on the list, but the couple still seems a step or two out of the same realm as most everyone else here (even Stryper, #70 with "To Hell With the Devil"). To be fair, Kirk Franklin & God's Property's "Stomp," #55, likely wouldn't have made CCM radio were it not for Franklin's phenomenal soul gospel and R&B success, and that song's general market pop crossover, too.
Lastly, it's a tad surprising to not see more songs from those 100 albums out of which CCM also made a book a few years ago. Few, if any, of the several full-length projects about which I contributed essays to the 100 albums book are represented here. Considering the differences in the way in which listeners hear albums and singles, this may be no surprise, even if that #1 album, Amy Grant's _Lead Me On_, has its titular track at #60. Grant also rates four other songs on the list, the most of anyone here.
All that said, almost every illustration's a vivid color photograph, and the history of Christian market music the book provides in its piecemeal, anecdotal fashion is plenty informative. The numerous sidebars throughout the book give name checks to artists whose work may not be vaunted as those who made the big 100, but who nonetheless deserve investigation by Christian music surface dwellers. Oddly enough, hip-hop acts other than dcTalk only made a list of endtimes-themed tunes, but by dint of his relationship with Newsboys, Steve Taylor merits his own list of 13 treasures. Others receiving sidebar salutes include Bruce Carroll, Vigilantes of Love, The 77s, Daniel Anos, Mark Heard, Patsy Moore, Bethany Dilllon, Bob Ayala, and Barry McGuire.
However well its book remembers hightlights of CCM's past, CCM's stature and the lofty goal of this book, a touch more on the details, especially noticeable to geeks such as yours truly (a reasonably prime demographic for such a work), would have made for an at least marginally more credible read.
Jamie Lee Rake 6/19/2006
Top 100 list are a bit dubious at best. They are only an opinion and everyone has one. Too bad, nobody asked for MY opinion. 8-)
This book is filled with stories about the 100 songs that CCM Magazines feels have impacted the Christian music industry over the past 30 years starting with Larry Norman, whom many credit with recording the first true Jesus music album, Only Visiting This Planet, back in 1972. His anthem, "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?," comes in at #75. Included are entries from every genre imaginable including pop, rock, Southern Gospel, inspirational, soul, and hip-hop. You'll find Jars of Clay, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, 2nd Chapter of Acts, First Call, POD, dc Talk and many other favorites here. Some you'll agree with and a few will have you scratching your head trying to figure out why it was included.
Along with the many stories about the artist and their songs are some interesting sidebars such as "Music to Wave Candles By," "Songs So Honest They're Scary," and " 15 Incredible Songs You May Never Have Heard Of" to mention a few. These lists gave the editors an opportunity to shout-out to a few of perhaps the most interesting artists, such as Bill Mallonnee and the Lost Dogs, who often are overlooked in Top 100s.
While I may take exception to many of the included songs and the omission of others, I'm sure the selection process was not an easy one. Long-time fans of CCM will want a copy of this book and new fans will find much music to add to their shopping list.
Shari Lloyd 6/19/2006