Now, I mentioned awhile back, Christian Music. A lot of people do not know any bands beyond Stryper, Switchfoot and Amy Grant. There have been many controversies in Christian music over the years. Once, the Prayer Chain and the 77’s were facing protests for a tour that benefited the Pediatric AID’s foundation. Yes, there were people upset that they were trying to raise money to help kids. In the same time, artist Steve Camp was watching people walk out as he talked about the AID’s crisis facing our nation. So, here I present what I consider to be the top ten Christian music song controversies.
Hide the Beer, The Pastor’s Here by the Swirling Eddies: Now, controversy is nothing new to the Eddies. They produced a CD called Sacred Cows which performed popular Christian music tunes in…less than reverent styles. And example, a song called Big, Big House (originally by Audio Adrenaline) was performed with the vocal inflection of Droopy the Dog. But back in the early 90’s they released the Outdoor Elvis CD to confusion and excitement. In the controversial song they addressed the hypocrisy of “Sin Restrictions” on Christian campuses. It was (and is) extremely common to prohibit things like consumption of alcohol. The song wonders about rules against sins less obvious to the named eye. “The hate in your heart/You’re hiding it well/But the booze on your breath/Is easy to Smell” went the lyrics. But the real controversy came because they named colleges in the song(“Suspection’s the buzz/Down at Wheaton”). And at the end of the song, in an homage to the Beach Boys, they named off a ton of Christian Colleges, several of whom threatened law suits.
I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good by Steve Taylor: Taylor was often a lightning rod, because he was one of the first artists in Christian music to make sarcastic observations about culture. In the 90’s clinic bombings had been becoming more and more prevelant. Taylor opted to criticize the poor logic and general evil of clinic bombings in song. The problem is, most people didn’t get the joke. Some, not familiar with his work, thought Steve was endorsing the bombing of clinics. Others were upset by the tone of the song. It just was not well received.
Love Cocoon by the Vigilantes of Love: Ah yes. When it came to sex in the Christian music arena, all but two songs took the expected “Don’t Do It, True Love Waits!” Approach. Charlie Peacock’s Kiss Me Like a Woman and this little ditty. Both were controversial, although VOL’s Love Cocoon slid under the radar for years. Mainly because it was on an indie CD. It was a pro-sex within marriage song(As was the Charlie Peacock tune). VOL reworked it for their Slow Dark Train CD. And boy did people complain. It was the metaphors. “I’ll be your Gunslinger”, “I Wanna Look for your Fruits and put my hands on em” and “I want to uncover your swimmin’ hole and dive right in.” Not very subtle. Needless to say, some people were not keen on the idea of a song suggesting Christians like sex, even inside of marriage.
Fever by the Violet Burning: They went from well received to dangerous Christian icons in the span between two CDs. Their second album, Strength was a critical favorite. Then demos started to leak for their follow-up Lipstick and Dynamite. Right away the rumors started. Why? Because the song Fever contained the F-Bomb. At one point in the song, lead singer Michael Pritzl belts out, “Break your fuckin’ heart”. And this sent the Christian alternative music world aflutter. Some were excited by how “edgy” it was. Some had decided this meant the band walked away from God. Even the name of the CD was making people squirm. In the end, it was much ado about nothing. Pritzl thought about the fact that his young cousins listen to his CD, and he was not thrilled with the word being in the song. I ultimately cut the offending word (replacing it with distortion/feedback). The record label went a step further and renamed the CD The Violet Burning.
Rocket and A Bomb by the Aunt Bettys: Okay…technically, this is not a “Christian Rock Song”. The Aunt Bettys were always meant for the mainstream. But the band was made up of Christian Alt Rock royalty. Michael Knott, Brian Doidge and Chuck Cummings all played in various Christian rock bands. Michael had been part of the early Christian surf punk act Lifesavors, turning it into the L.S.U. (Lifesavers Underground). So, fans were shocked when they got the CD and it was full of songs about crazy vets with sex dolls, guys willing to mutilate themselves to get a lesbian to date them, crazy drunk chicks, suicidal girls and their imaginary friends, crazy girls who believed they were half alien and the Rolling Stones. But that wasn’t that “bad” part. But the song that really got the controversy howling was a little track called “Rocket and A Bomb”. The song seemed to be a lament about failed dreams and faith. Which was not the problem, in and of itself. It was the fact that the word “shit” appeared in the song. And not once…but about 30 times. Towards the end of the song, Knott just starts belting it out. This and the subject matter (which Knott tended to grab from the people he met living near the seedier parts of hollywood) caused the CD to lose it’s distribution to Christian stores, and really, forced Michael Knott to pursue the indie world of music.
Baby, Baby by Amy Grant: Amy had courted controversy before this song (and since). But this was the first major controversy. I worked in a Christian bookstore when the Heart In Motion CD came out. The ersponse was…over th top. But the song in question really did it. See, the song, according to the artist was all about her newborn child. How sweet. But it was one of those vague lyrics Christians hate (some Christians do not like lyrics that are not very simple and explicit). Songs that could be about God or a special someone were routinely criticized. This song could certainly be seen as being about a baby. And then the video came out on VH1 and MTV. Oh. My. Goodness. She was on TV, singing Baby, Baby to a grown man, and a hunky one at that. Fans were thrown into a tizzy. This lead to all sorts of rumors and arguments. Ignore the fact that it was a very tame video, even by the standards of the day. Ignore that it was a wholesome song no matter who she was singing it to. She’s in the video and it’s some guy who is not her husband (some Christians have a hard time with the “music videos are not real examples of the singer’s personal life” thing) and that is bad.
Pray Naked by the 77’s: Word Records deemed the title unsuitable for the CD (making this the second album by the 77’s to be titled “The 77’s” after 1986’s Island Records release). But to make matters worse, they blanked the song title out with a little bar on the back of the CD. Seriously. The song was about going before God without pretense and completely open…naked. Apparently, such a metaphor is too racy for the Christian buying public.
There She Goes by Sixpence None the Richer: Yeah, you were sick of it quick, weren’t you? Almost as much as you were sick of Kiss Me, the other big hit from these guys. This one got the controversy started when Christians discovered rumors about the meaning of the original track by the La’s. Rumors about the song included that it was really about drug abuse, which made for some unsavory implications for the band. Plus, there was concern about this whole idea that sweet Leigh Nash was singing a song called There SHE Goes. Shrug.
Forgone Conclusions by Pedro the Lion: Dave Bazan always skirted controversy…until the Control CD when he started to ruffle feathers in interviews. But this song really was the one that bugged some listeners. The song details a still small voice talking to a mouthy Christian who is witnessing. The still small voice begs the speaker to “Shut the Fuck Up!” And the speaker doesn’t heed the call, afterall, God wouldn’t talk that way. The controversy was pretty minimal, actually, as by this point, Bazan and Pedro the Lion has not really been a part of the CCM monster.
This last one is a cheat…
Human Sacrifice by Veangence Rising: As I said…this is a cheat. The band’s whole run was mired in controversy. People complained that the vocals could not be understood (incredibly strong musical work on the first two CDs though). It was loud. It was fast. It was thrash/death metal people. ROOOOOOWR!!!! And the CD cover was a gory close up of a crucified hand. What was bizarre was following the band’s history. At the start, Roger martinez (the lead vocalist) was a pastor for a California church community. After two CDs, the entire band quit amid squabbles, leaving Martinez to rebuild. So he did, for a couple more albums (which just were not as good) and then closed up shop. He resurfaced shortly after with an all knew Vengeance Rising. See, he had become a Satanist (Seriously). Talk about your shocks. He had released tapes of sermons back when he was a pastor, and now he was going to release a tape per sermon to counter all the damage he’d done as a Christian. Yes, he was a metal satanic missionary. Wild stuff.