100. Prodigal

•January 7, 2013 • 13 Comments

PRODIGAL

In 1982 I was a Junior in High School and had a subscription to Campus Life Magazine. One day I saw an ad for a brand new band called Prodigal that sported a very cool cover, which was a take off on Escher’s famous painting.

But what was even better was that there was a pull out single for the band attached to the center of the magazine. These were all the rage during the 1970′s and often found included inside cereal boxes or even attached to the cardboard of those same cereal boxes. You had to take the very flimsy plastic disc, place it on top of a solid LP and then you could play the single.

That was the type of innovation that fans could expect from the band Prodigal during their short-lived three record existence. Their innovations also included being the first recipient of the Dove Award for “Video of the Year.” They were one of the few bands that continued to invest in the fledgling video marketing promotional support creating several videos per release.

And even for the album in question there was what is called a “stop groove” at the end of the side 2 and a “hidden bonus track” of sorts which contained a computer code for the old Commodore 64 computer. Using a cassette drive a person could get bonus information about the album along with photos and lyrics. This may have become common with the invent of compact discs, but this was totally revolutionary in 1984.

Prodigal was a progressive, influential band, the group’s sound ranged from radio-friendly pop to keyboard-driven new wave and bombastic rock. Prodigal was lead by keyboardist Loyd Boldman, whose large voice could fill stadiums, drummer Dave Workman (who also sang), guitarist Rick Fields (whose voice was shaky and stirring) and bassist Mike Wilson

They made three albums together as a band and all three of their album covers were spectacular. But it was the content, both musically and lyrically, that set Prodigal above their peers for the time. Where other artist bemoaned the struggles, pain and realities of life on this spinning globe, Prodigal placed themselves within that reality and expressed those struggles from one who is intimately aware and experienced with those struggles.

Where the first album stayed along the musical lines of Steely Dan and the Eagles, it was with “Electric Eye” the band became very current, and dare I say, cutting edge. Guitar driven rock and new wave synth pop merged to create a sound that was uniquely Prodigal while immediately familiar and memorable. Driving keyboard and bass that for some reason reminds me of the music from the “St. Elmo’s Fire” soundtrack. Also another unique feature is the use of three different lead singers with duties distributed according to musical style.

The content on “Electric Eye” is beautifully portrayed on the album cover shown above. We have surrounded ourselves with so much to entertain us and consume our time that the difference between reality and artificial are not just blurred but rather the artificial begins to be more “real.” Note how the actual lightning through the window is faded and bland while the same lightning shown on the television set is vibrant and exiting. This is expressed in different ways on the album along with a host of other topics that are both poignant and eternal.

“Scene of the Crime” is the first song on the album and starts with a police siren leading into an aggressive guitar and keyboard driven rock sound akin to Foreigner or even 38 Special. Lead singer Loyd Boldman’s bombastic baritone is both edgy and clean as needed with nods to Meatloaf for pure power. Man’s guilt is laid to bear within relationships and how we often leave others with wounds that never heal. But the murderous actions are not missed by the judge who sees all as this is pointed out. We can try to run from the pain and suffering we leave in our wake, but cannot escape a righteous judge. Boldman’s vocals at the end of the song place him amongst one the best unheralded rock voices in Christian music. You believe his words because you believe his passion and authenticity.

It was songs like that that set “Electric Eye” apart and why it was listed quite high on both of the previous blogs. The theme of sin, primarily the sin of an uncaring and uninvolved Church, was the center of this masterpiece.

“Just Like Real Life” may have been CCM’s most original and authentic “new wave” album if it also wasn’t one of its most original and authentic “rock” albums. merging the qualities of extremely well produced electroic sounds with a crunching and pulsing guitar throughout was virtually unheard of at the time.

The constant theme running through this great project was alienation and lack of authentic relationship. Long before the iPhone, tablets and Facebook created shorter distances between those far away and longer distances from those most closest to us, the world still suffered the same plight. We are longing for contact and yet move mountains between us out of fear and pride. Advancements in technology only serves to make the plight more obvious.

This would remain a trademark for the band. Authenticity was a rarity in the industry at the time and this band had it in spades. Loneliness and longing juxtaposed against hope and mercy permeate all three projects. There is never a point when the listener feels preached at, but rather the point of view always came across as the band was “in it” with their audience. Great music and culture write DW Dunphy put it this way: “I always believed Prodigal was always in the frame versus being the commentator outside of the frame. There were never airs about being the sanctified one shouting, “You need Jesus,” but a recognition that we’ve all sinned and come short of the glory of God, especially the forgiven.”

The band would share vocal duties and, through the years, I would find myself gravitating to one or the other vocal stylings depending on mood, time and place. They were completely different and all could have been lead singers of their own bands.

After some record company difficulties and the need to actually feed their families the band broke up in mid-80’s and only one solo album from Boldman was recorded. Workman and Fields would record with opthers, including some extensive work for their churches worship albums. Their placement would have been much higher with more of an output and that loss is a real loss to CCM! Many similar lists would make a grave mistake by not even having this great band listed, long forgotten by too many, and I am struggling with putting them this low on the list.

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CCM’s 100 Most Important Artists

•January 7, 2013 • 13 Comments

After the long labor of love with the Top 500 Albums in CCM History blog I decided to a bit of a different direction. I first considered the Top 100 Songs but gave up after the letter “H” and I was at over 11,000 songs to choose from. But the more I considered the next blog the more i came back to the artists themselves. Not only the bands, the singers, the songwriters and musicians, but those who moved from the spotlight to boardroom or production booth.

Here you will find well known names of best-selling acts, pioneers of Jesus Music, rock gods who broke down barriers and little known artists who dared stretch the boundaries of CCM. Most will be from the first three decades of CCM, as it would be unfair and much too difficult to consider the lasting impact of those who are currently gaining notoriety and carrying the torch.

But like the previous blogs there are rules…and there are those who break them (me). For someone to be considered on this list they must be an artists. That means songwriter, band member, musician. Though they may have made their greatest impact on the industry wearing a different hat, they must be known for their album releases as well. That means a major record company owner like Sparrow Record’s “Billy Ray Hearn” will not be included. Others like Peter York (who was a member of a Band Called David) would also not make the list (though very much deserving) because he was not known as an “artists” in the popular realm.

Paul Toberty, owner of the famed KYMS RADIO in Orange County, CA would also be a great one to include because of the station’s impact and barrier breaking. Pastor Jimmy Kempner started Frontline Records. Jim and Betty Willems bought the old Calvary Chapel and turned it into a monstrously influential store called Maranatha Village. John Styll, a one-time manager of Maranatha Village, went on to start CCM Magazine. Pastor Chuck Smith opened the church doors to Jesus Music bands and started the “worship music” phenomenon. The list could go on and on.

There is ONE EXCEPTION! His inclusion will be detailed when we reach the spot in the countdown. But for those who have followed my previous countdowns, having only one exception is actually pretty good. I will make no defense other than to say his role in making some of the greatest albums and shaping some of the most significant artists could not be ignored on this list.

Also, a band that contained several artists that went on to have solo careers or impacted the industry in other ways will be considered one artists. Groups like Sweet Comfort, DeGarmo & Key and Love Song will be considered a single artists and their members contributions will be considered within that single placement on the list.

I am sure there are plenty of people who will be left off. Fans of Sufjan Stevens can get it over with right now; he didn’t make the list. But if someone would like to make their own competitive list, it is a big internet.