CCM Classic Blog

The Storm is Here: Read all About It; by Philip Mayaab


This week on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival, we're featuring an album by a husband and wife duo that aren't known so much for their musical artistry, but for their creative prowess, and studio work.  That being said, they have turned out some pretty good albums as well, and this week we're going to enjoy one of them.  We're featuring Michael and Stormie Omartian's 1980 classic LP "The Builder" on Vinyl Revival, so let's get to the particulars. shall we?

You would almost have to have spent about 50 years under a rock to have never heard of the Omartians, because they are one of the most celebrated couples in CCM history, and in pop music too.  Michael Omartian's name has appeared on some HUGE records from the 70s on, and he has been awarded for his work as a record producer as well.  One of Michael's earliest credits in Christian music came on The Imperials 1971 classic album "Time To Get It Together."  He had been playing keyboards in Solid Rock, the group's touring band, and he wrote a song that has been associated with not only The Imperials, but the Jesus Music movement in general.  The song was called "Jesus Made Me Higher," and it is still considered one of the early signature songs in Jesus Music.  After his brief stint with The Imperials, Michael moved on to playing keyboards in the studios of Los Angeles, playing for some of the biggest names in the mainstream music industry.  His talents can be heard on albums by artists such as Loggins & Messina, Steely Dan, Player, The Four Tops and many others.

Despite having his finger on the pulse of the pop music industry in the 70s, Christian music was always Michael Omartian's first love.  While holding a position in the A&R department at ABC/Dunhill Records, he recorded one of the most loved albums of the Jesus Music era, 1974's "Dark Horse."  Despite being released on a mainstream record label, his first solo recording was a hit among fans of "Jesus Rock," setting the table for future endeavors.  The following year, he released the album "Adam Again" on Myrrh Records, which was distributed by Word Incorporated, out of Waco Texas, which put him on the radar of the company that would be an industry leader when the CCM era began a few years later.  In 1978, Myrrh released the album "Seasons Of The Soul," which was a joint effort between Michael and his wife Stormie.  They were an uber successful songwriting team, with Stormie providing lyrics, and Michael contributing the music.  1979 would be one of the most memorable years for the Omartians, especially Michael.  He would produce not one, but two groundbreaking albums - one Christian, one mainstream.  

On the mainstream side, he produced an album for an up and coming singer/songwriter/guitarist from Texas, and his name was Christopher Cross.  Released two days after Christmas 1979, the eponymous debut LP has sold 5,000,000 plus copies to date, and spawned 4 hit singles.  The collaboration with Cross would pay off big at the Grammy Awards in 1980.  He and Cross would win three awards (Record Of The Year, and Arrangement Of The Year for "Sailing," as well as album of the year), and incidentally Michael also was nominated for the album we are playing this week, The Builder, as well as Producer Of The Year for Christopher Cross.  On the Christian side, Michael's former employers, The Imperials came calling, and when all was said and done, the collaboration turned out what is (in my humble opinion), the finest Contemporary Christian album ever recorded, One More Song For You.  From those two projects, Michael Omartian was one of the most demand producers in the City Of Angels, and the list of successful albums and artists that he has produced is WAY too long to attempt here.  Some of the names you might be familiar with would include Debby Boone, Donna Summer, Peter Cetera, Amy Grant, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Loggins, Michael Bolton, Susan Ashton (shall we move on?), and that's just a small sampling.

As for Stormie, she has made quite a nice career of her own, not only as her husband's lyricist, but also as a mega successful author of over 50 books.  She is also an in demand motivational speaker,   and her book  "The Power Of A Praying Wife" has sold over 8,000,000 copies*.  There is no doubt (and no debate either) that Michael and Stormie Omartian are one of the most successful Christian couples of all time, but as I eluded to earlier, even though they are primarily known for other things, they have also recorded four albums together.  The album we are featuring this week is their second album, released in 1980 on Myrrh Records, the year after the couple wrote the majority of songs for The Imperials "One More Song For You."  Now there is an old saying that goes "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," and so the Omartians used the exact same crew of musicians and studio personnel that had performed on One More Song, adding a few extra guitarists for the solos.  The result is an album that is fun to listen to, by a pair of artists who are obviously well versed in what they are doing.  

I have bemoaned the fact that there are so few Christian Westcoast Pop albums in existence in previous blogs, because it is a style of music that I absolutely love.  While there is no set in stone definition of the genre itself, one of the best descriptions I've ever seen reads like this..." It was basically a fusion of the California soft rock sound, with some jazz elements thrown in."**    The pop music that was popular in the L.A. area in the  70s and 80s make up the bulk of what we now know as Westcoast Pop, however these days, it is often referred to as "Yacht Rock," (not a description I personally like, but I guess it works) but it is a distinct sound all its own.  The best way to describe "The Builder" is an album of Christian Westcoast Pop, which is one of the reasons I like this recording so much.  Given Michael's resume in the L.A. studios, it really is no wonder that the Omartians chose to utilize this sound, because it was very popular at the time this album was recorded.  Songs like "Charlie's Dream," "Dr. Jesus," and "The Only Thing Missing Is You" are prime examples of what Westcoast Pop sounds like.  The snappy beat of the music, combined with a complete horn section, make these songs like a breath of fresh air, and serve to show the difference between the Christian music made in the studios of California, and the sounds coming out of Nashville at the time.

While both Michael and Stormie share lead vocal duties on this album, the ballads are mostly Stormie's domain, and she delivers the vocals to perfection.  One of my favorite songs featuring her is "Half Past Three," but she also turns in equally impressive performances on the title track, and "Anything You Ask Of Me" as well.  Fans will notice the use of that Omartian style piano that was used on both Christopher Cross' debut album and One More Song For You on this recording too (again, if it works, don't mess with it), and there are the signature synthesizer tones that permeated the early Omartian produced works on here are well.  One of the neatest songs on the album is called "Big Time," and it opens and closes with a phone conversation between Michael and pop super producer Jay Graydon (who provided some of the guitar solos on the album), and it is rather prophetic, when you consider it was recorded in 1980, while the CCM industry was still in its infancy.  Some of the lyrics read "I won't talk about Jesus, that would be going too far, I know that they will see Him, in my guitar."  Only a few years later, Christian artists began purposely limiting (and in some cases, completely removing) direct references to the name of Jesus in their songs.  I was most intrigued the first time I listened to the track, and I would encourage you to pay close attention to it, as well as the final track on the album, which is called "End Times."  It too, is fairly prophetic, many years before its time.  A short piece of this song's lyrics read "Ignore the battered child, treat the guilty well while the innocent are shot"...we see evidence of this today, don't we?

All in all, "The Builder" is an album that I certainly enjoy listening to, and I am more than certain you will too this week, as we play it on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival.  It is no wonder that this album was nominated for a Grammy award, because it really is that good.  While Michael and Stormie Omartian's legacy will most likely be based on endeavors other than singing, the fact is that both of them were pretty good singers, and we all know that they have written some outstanding songs together during their lifetime.  So with that in mind, we invite you to enjoy this surprisingly good album, by a pair of CCM legends on Vinyl Revival this week.

TRACKLIST

Side 1 - 

1. Charlie's Dream

2. The Only Thing Missing Is You

3. The Builder

4. Mr. Trash Man

5. Anything You Ask Of Me

Side 2 - 

1. Dr. Jesus

2. Big Time

3. Half Past Three

4. End Times

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stormie_Omartian

**https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/favorite-west-coast-aor-albums.166286/



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Comments

J Mack commented on 19-Mar-2020 12:19 AM
Grateful for the Omartians. May their past and present work with secular recording artists bear much fruit for the salvation of souls. Great article.

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