Lead Me On

As a balance for all our coverage of cool music this week, here's something about Amy Grant

Although there are certainly people reading this who won't consider this fact a positive thing at all, but I doubt I'd be writing for a living without the music of Amy Grant. This might be a little bit of a stretch, but the beginning of my career goes like this: wash out of the music business (Los Angeles is expensive!), do some writing for the music blog Idolator, write a post recalling my younger days as someone who listened to an absurd amount of Christian music, get a gig writing Christian music playlists for iTunes including one for Amy Grant, quit my crappy non-writing day job, and the rest is history.

I'm definitely not alone in being someone who grew up listening to Christian music, but generally people take one of two paths (there are exceptions, but there are always exceptions). One: Have three presets on your car radio, K-LOVE, Air-1 and Family Life Radio. Two: Try to forget that entire time ever happened. Even though I do occasionally make it to church on Sundays, I don't spend a lot of time looking for new Christian music to listen to these days, nor do I make my kids listen to it ever.

But I haven't entirely cast aside my nostalgic fandom for the few tapes I managed to find at Gospel Supplies during the era that attending a Southern Baptist church convinced me that I might burn in hell if I spent too much time listening to R.E.M. Some of those cassettes ended up getting recorded over using the clever "tape over the tabs" technique, clevering disguising a Happy Mondays album as something by the Christian punk joke band One Bad Pig. Others were cool enough to still be somewhat interesting like obscure college rock-ish stuff like Daniel Amos or the 77's.

But then there's Amy Grant, whose 1988 album Lead Me On is still one of my favorite albums ever.

While it's generally considered her best work, I have no idea whether Grant will play anything from that record during her show with the Tucson Symphony this Saturday night at the TCC Music Hall. She did a show with the San Diego Symphony last year and it focused more on her later material, which is a little unfortunate since the song "Baby Baby" probably doesn't need to be broadcast into the universe ever again, as delightful as the video might have been. But yet, I will still fight my somewhat solitary fight for Lead Me On to be recognized as the landmark that it was in pop music history.

Sure, there were Christian records that weren't simple minded and terrible before Lead Me On, but for a big Christian pop record to actually almost sound up-to-date was an accomplishment itself, especially for a genre (still) known for being five years behind the times. But what still largely holds up about the album is that she managed to write songs that didn't need to stoop to the sort of shallow meaningless platitudes that generally pop up when songwriters try to write songs about God. "What About the Love" is a little painful (although co-written by Janis Ian, oddly), but otherwise, the songs actually make sense, discussing the good and bad in life and the struggles to remain faithful in challenging times.

While there are Christian artists who have managed to escape the ghetto of the religious music industry where their faith is mentioned as an afterthought or aside in reviews, most of the "Hot Christian Songs" chart in Billboard is still filled with songs that could either be about your significant other or Jesus, depending on the pronouns or just the most banal crap possible taken from the sermon notes of Joel Osteen's weekly positive affirmation. A friend of mine is in a band that had a good amount of success in the Christian market and his band gets Facebook messages from people praying for their soul, just because none of the song titles of their latest record have the word "God" included. I'd like to think the situation improved from when I was a kid trying to be good by listening to that stuff, but it might be worse, because all the sane people ran for the hills.

But as long as I'm still listening to music, every few months I'll probably load up Lead Me On in whatever format we're accessing songs at that point and I'll be thankful that 12-year-old Dan Gibson had a chance to hear songs about faith that meant something among all the other nonsense.

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