The Lost Worship Song


Recently, I spent a good chunk of time looking for MP3s of old worship songs. My purpose wasn’t nefarious; I’m just looking to build the repertoire of the worship team at our church.

So I went skimming through some old (read: 8-10 years) worship song listings I had from my Vineyard church in California, stuff I played to much blessing for the congregation. Good songs. Tunes that got people worshiping. Music that blessed me as I played it.

My conclusion from intensive searching online for about a dozen of those  songs? They may as well have never existed. They’re just gone.

Out-of-print albums. Missing entirely from iTunes or any other site. No, no Pandora. No streams existing anywhere. I can’t even find a snippet in any form for my team to listen to, much less the particular arrangement I’d like to mimic.

That seems to me to be an enormous loss to the Christian community.

Sure, I might be able to find a copy of an old CD on eBay for $10, but I can’t afford that kind of dough to amass a stack of old CDs when I’m only after one song here and there.

Why is it that we still can’t get access to a lot of the backcatalog of some of the Christian recording companies who have all this music locked up? I complained about this before, but I find it even more amazing when genuine worship music, the kind church worship teams would play, goes MIA. I mean, if it was great 10 years ago, why would it not be great now? What’s wrong with rediscovering a classic for a new generation?

It seems to me that we’re gutting our own heritage by letting good music vanish into the ether.

I went looking for Cindy Rethmeier’s “Processional” and Kevin Prosch’s “(Even) So Come” and struck out everywhere I looked. An old Crystal Lewis version of the Prosch tune exists in video format on YouTube, and that may be what I have to go with, though the audio quality is poor and it’s hard to make out all the instrumentation. The Rethmeier tune, a lovely and anthemic song, is vapor.

Maybe this is a stupid beef. I don’t know.  In the past, you cut a track to an LP and good luck when that LP went out of print.

Still, I would think we could do better in preserving our heritage in music, especially since it is now so easy to store music digitally.

So how about cutting us worship teams a break when it comes to access to old worship songs? If the CDs are out of print, what’s the harm in putting a lower bitrate MP3 on the composer’s site so someone can at least hear how the song goes? And don’t even get me going about the lack of availability of some of this stuff on iTunes. I know I would definitely pay $1 to download some of these songs just so the people in the pews can be drawn into a soul-stirring worship experience through old music that stirred us once and can do so again.

The More Cowbell Award II


More Cowbell AwardYes, it’s another installment of Cerulean Sanctum’s “award that no one wants to win”—the More Cowbell Award!

This one deals with contemporary Christian music, so you know it’s going to be a doozy. I’m sure just about everyone reading this blog will agree that most modern Christian radio stations are deep wells filled with the music of mediocrity, but it was hard for me to believe what I was hearing on two of the stations in my local area (I listen for the one or two decent preachers they have on from time to time. None of the Christian music I like is ever played.) In the span of no more than fifteen minutes, I heard three instances of what wins my second award. Even I was caught off guard by this new CCM trend because I didn’t think it was possible to surpass a nadir.

And I still can’t scrub it out of my ears, so—

Our second More Cowbell Award goes to

Children’s Choirs in Adult Contemporary Christian Music

I don’t get it. What is the lure for adults singers to have children’s choirs backing them on what are essentially pop and rock tunes? One of the songs that sent me screaming into the night had the most inane backing, with little kids repeating ad nauseum, “I fall down and get back up.” If I were a kid singing that three hundred times over through the course of the song, I’d think I’d take a swing at the producer, or at least bite his ankle. Guessing the ages of the singers, it sounded to me that on that song not a single kid was past the concrete reasoning stage, leading me to believe that all of them were thinking, Grownups must be really clumsy.

Back in the Eighties and Nineties we had what I called “Sandi Patty (or is that “Sandi Patti” or “Sandy Patti” or…oh, never mind) Syndrome” where producers, especially on her albums, had to have four thousand cymbal crashes, a white pop choir, a black gospel choir, and a London Symphony Orchestra swell at song’s end, culminating in a sonic denouement I can best describe as “cataclysmic.” I developed a permanent tic after the Christian bookstore I worked for several years ago insisted on playing a loop of Patty/Patti’s album Morning Like This all day, every day for weeks. Now, some musical genius from the realms of 2005’s CCM is forcing real live human beings to endure the voices of cherubic children mouthing the words some Nashville-crossover songwriter thought would sound cute and/or serious coming out of the mouths of babes.

Give me a man or woman with a decent singing voice and a mastery of a guitar or piano, and just let them sing, fer cryin’ out loud! After all, it’s Christ-ianity, not Kitsch-ianity.

*For an in-depth explanation of the More Cowbell Award, please click here.

Where Are the Downloadable Classic CCM Tunes?


Okay, so I’m ripping some of my old CDs via iTunes and I’ve only got one question:

When is someone in the Christian music biz going to get wise and start opening up the old catalogs for digital access?

Sweet Comfort BandRecently, I looked back over some “ancient,” decaying cassette tapes and started looking online for some of those classic songs. I put about two dozen of those songs into The iTunes Store and not a single one came up. There are so many classic bands and tunes from the 1970s through mid-1990s that are simply not available by any means. And that’s a crime. We stand to lose a true library of Christian music from that era if someone doesn’t get wise to collecting it into some digital format.

Albrecht, Roley & MooreI can’t get MP3 versions of far too many songs. One of my favorite songs of all time is Mark Heard’s own version of “Strong Hand of Love,” but the only downloadable version out there is a pale copy  (sorry, Bruce) by Bruce Cockburn. Anyone remember Albrecht, Roley & Moore? I’d love to get a copy of their song “Holiday Son,” but where? One of my favorite albums ever was Terry Talbot’s A Time to Laugh, a Time to Sing which has incredible songs like “Lamplighter” and “Father, Break Me,” as well as the truly funny “Bibleland.” Sadly, my copy of that album melted in a hot car and the tape I’d made of it finally snapped a couple years later. I still get a chill when Russ Taff belts out, “I’m goin’ down to the river, gonna be buried alive…” on The Imperials classic “Water Grave.” No hope of finding any of those available for download off the Web.

Terry Talbot & Barry McGuireAnd sure, you can probably find a recent compilation that features Dallas Holm’s “Rise Again,” but what if you like his classic “Here We Are” better? Good luck! Tear up every time you hear Billy Sprague’s version of his great “How Could You Say No?” or “I Never Should Have Left You” by Sweet Comfort Band? Remember Prodigal and their rockin’ number “Just What I Need”? Wanna compare Jacob’s Trouble’s version of “Door Into Summer” with the original Monkees version? Well maybe that’s going a little far, but you get my point.

Anyone who owns the old catalogs from Word Music, Sparrow, Benson, Light, or any of those classic labels, I think you’ve got a market out there that is going untapped. I know that I would pay good money to get some of these albums and songs. Some never made it to CD, but certainly master tapes exist somewhere.

There’s no good reason, either, that so many Christian artists are not available on iTunes or one of the other services. Too many partial catalogs exist, too. I mentioned Mark Heard—iTunes only has about half his albums. What gives on the other half?

Everyone knows that the MPAA is none too happy about copyrighted music being downloaded through sharing software. It’s wrong and Christians should not be doing it. That said, I’m guessing that some of the songs I’ve mentioned in this post were probably available online at some point through the old Napster and others. We just need legal sources—the artists or labels— to offer them for sale. I would buy them in a second if they existed.

With so much tuneless teeny-bopper drivel on most Christian radio stations, wouldn’t it be great to have some of those old catalogs available? The music from the time I became a Christian is precious to me, but it is slowly decaying and being lost forever.

How do we go about making this happen? Artists, labels…anyone listening?

(For a list of most of those old CCM artists and their discography, check out this and this.)