Radio Hymns #5: Jesus is Just Alright

doobie-brothers_toulouse-street.jpg Sunday morning once again brings a series installment, this time from my new-ish series, Hymns from the Radio Dial

In 1955, Art Reynolds’ grandmother bought an old upright piano for $5 from the local church, spent $200 having it fixed up, and had it delivered to the family home — all with a sense of urgency. The piano was made of shiny blond wood that reflected the sunlight coming through the window which faced it. Art would see his reflection tell himself that one day he would be a songwriter and singer. He began writing music at the age of 10.

His grandmother would take him to local churches and traveling revival meetings for prayer to cure severe asthma attacks. He saw A.A. Allen, Reverend Ike, Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggert’s old campground revival meetings. These revival meetings and church services spawned Art’s love for gospel music.

Radio Hymns #4: By the Rivers of Babylon

boney_m_-_rivers_of_babylon_1978_single In our now time-honoured Sunday tradition, we turn to music. This week in my new series Hymns from the Radio Dial, we get political with a call for social justice from Psalm 137. It is most likely that we all remember Rivers of Babylon as a late-70s song by German disco group Boney M. In fact, the song was written and recorded in 1972 by Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of The Melodians (1965-73), a Jamaican group in Kingston, the birthplace of reggae.

“Rivers of Babylon” was recorded for reggae record producer Leslie Kong (Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley) and became an anthem of the Rastafarian movement which, among other religious convictions, rejects western society as entirely corrupt, referring to it as “Babylon”, which is considered to have been in rebellion against “Earth’s Rightful Ruler” since the days of the King Nimrod. Rastas avow that “Zion” (to them Africa, especially Ethiopia) is a land promised to them.

Radio Hymns #3: 40 (How Long)

u2-40-single.jpg Following on their first two albums dealing with adolescence (Boy) and spirituality (October), U2’s third studio album turned political in 1983 with War. Besides the album title, songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day” issue their comment on the world at the time, when Bono said, “War seemed to be the motif for 1982. Everywhere you looked, from the Falklands to the Middle East and South Africa, there was war. By calling the album War we’re giving people a slap in the face and at the same time getting away from the cozy image a lot of people have of U2.”

Radio Hymns #2: Lord is it Mine

breakfastinamerica.jpg When Roger Hodgson departed Supertramp in 1983, someone commented that the remaining group was reduced to being just “Tramp”. It was the end of an era for the band after releasing a number of very successful albums. Among them was the classic 1979 release, Breakfast in America. The album included four hit singles (“The Logical Song”, “Goodbye Stranger”, “Take the Long Way Home” and the title cut, “Breakfast in America”).

Hodgson was known for writing songs with spiritual or philosophical themes. Though the songwriting credit on Supertramp’s songs was commonly given jointly to Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, though they wrote alone. They had different styles, and the one who actually wrote the song sings the vocal on it. The two composers have different styles, and in the case of this week’s addition to my new series, Hymns from the Radio Dial, it is Hodgson’s voice we hear singing the lyrics to “Lord, is it Mine.”

Radio Hymns #1: The Lord’s Prayer

srjanetmeade.jpg Following last week’s series introduction, Streams of White Light into Darkened Corners, We open the series in 1974 where Larry Norman’s introduction left off, and from the opposite angle. We begin our series of Hymns from the Radio Dial with a decidedly non-secular song that hit big on the pop charts. In some ways, perhaps this was the acme of the trend that Larry Norman described. In a significant way though, it was a milestone in the formation of what came to be called “contemporary Christian music,” something of which Norman himself was a pioneer. His introduction (last week) sets the stage onto which this particular song emerged.

Streams of White Light into Darkened Corners

streamswhitelight_norman.jpg I have in my record collection (yes, kids, it’s made of vinyl, and it plays on a turntable without any forward-backward interference so as to produce music instead of senseless garbled noises, thank you very much) a 1974 collector’s album by Larry Norman called Streams of White Light into Darkened Corners. I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath to find out just what I might possibly replace my long-running Sunday hymn series with, and this is it. And I’m really looking forward to digging into it… after this week’s series introduction. Oddly enough, I had the idea for the series a couple of months back, and sat down to list some 50+ songs that fit the bill, and titled my list “Hymns from the Byways.” Then a few weeks later, I was thumbing through my record collection to find something nostalgic and landed on this forgotten LP. The idea is this — convinced that secular:sacred is most likely a false dichotomy, I’m compiling a list of songs which are (a) “Christian”-oriented but scored on the pop charts or (b) spiritual songs recorded by “secular” artists. I’m looking at that crossover space where we find spiritual truth on the radio. “Hymns from the Radio”? Not sure yet what to call the series, but don’t touch that dial.

Hymns of My Youth #105: Will the Circle Be Unbroken

ada-habershon.jpg This will be the penultimate entry in my series Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth. This week’s feature has been called the greatest country song ever written, and illustrates how the refreshing of old hymns can create a new “standard” song for a new generation of worshippers — and, in fact, for several generations which follow them. In 1907, Ada R. Ha­ber­shon wrote the lyrics to “Will the circle be unbroken”, with music contributed by Charles H. Ga­br­iel. Her version of the hymn lyrics follow, and if you’re like me, you’ve possibly heard them before, at least not that you recall… though they do have a strange familiarity. A review of the refrain makes me think I’ve heard this version before, and a reading of the verses fills out a slightly stronger sense of the Christian hope that undergirds both versions. The overwhelming sense of (particularly the familiar) hymn is almost more akin to sentimentality than faith, but it touches the universal theme of loss, to which we can all relate on some level. The original version in particular remembers the times of youth before the loss of family members and other saints occurred.

Hymns of My Youth #104: I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

Sadhu-Sundar-Singh.jpg Today for our series Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth we turn to a familiar hymn, or song. It is one that is well-known in most Christian circles, but until I looked it up for this feature, I did not know who had written it. Its lyrics are simple and evoke an image of gospel crusades and altar calls… an image that is starting to call up mixed emotions for some of us. I find new insight into the lyrics by reviewing the life of its author.

Sadhu Sundar Singh was born September 3, 1889 into an important landowning Sikh family in Patiala State in northern India. Sundar Singh’s mother took him week by week to sit at the feet of a Sadhu, an ascetic holy man, who lived in the jungle some miles away, but also sent him to a Christian high school where he could learn English.