CCM Classic Blog

What Is The "True Story" Behind Andrae Crouch's Landmark Album; "Don't Give Up" By Philip Mayabb


As fans, we LOVE our music!! Back in the day, I used to love the anticipation I felt when I knew that one of my favorite artists was scheduled to release (they call it "drop" now) a new album, I loved seeing the new recording at the local Christian bookstore (they're mostly a thing of the past now), and I was so excited that first time I put my copy of it on a turntable, or in an 8-track or cassette player.  That's what music was all about back then...but the music industry has always had a large business side attached to it that most of the fans know little to nothing about, and sadly, that side is where some odd things can occur, as is the case with our featured album on Vinyl Revival this week, I'll try to explain...

Every single CCM fan who's worth their salt knows who Andraé Crouchis, and if they don't, then something is definitely wrong.  If you read these blogs regularly, you know that it is my sincerely held belief that Andraé is one of the biggest legends in CCM history, for many different reasons, and I'm not going to rehash that with you this week.  However he is the artist that we are focusing on, because of an interesting fact about his 1981 classic LP "Don't Give Up," which we are listening to on Vinyl Revival this week.  That fact has to do with the business side of the Christian music industry, and the backstory behind this fantastic LP.  In 1968, a very young Andraé Crouch and his group The Disciples, signed with Light Records, a west coast Christian record label that had been founded by legendary music arranger / producer / artist Ralph Carmichael. Carmichael himself had a prestigious history in music, having worked with artists such as Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, and other pop legends in the early years of the 1960's, but his heart was rooted in the music of the church, and when he decided to form his own Christian record label, he became a MAJOR player in the development of what would become Contemporary Christian music in the 1970's.  

Over the years of its existence, Light Records made quite a name for itself within the industry.  The label became a really good "third string" backup to the two major Christian record conglomerates, Word Records and The Benson Company.  While Word and Benson were the two companies who drove the industry, Light quietly built an impressive roster of artists such as Andraé, The Archers, Sweet Comfort Band, The Winans, Barnabas, Rez Band, Dino, and many, many others - too numerous to name.  One of the label's biggest strengths was its diversity of styles...everything from Christian R&B to Metal, and for many years, Light thrived, almost in the background in the industry it had played a huge role in creating.  However in 1981, they did something that I find very interesting, in that two of the label's biggest artists would release their new albums on mainstream (or "secular" as we knew it then) record labels.  One of those is Andraé's album that we are featuring, and the other will hopefully be coming up soon on VR, and that is The Archer's iconic classic "Spreadin' Like Wildfire," (which incidentally happens to be my second all time favorite CCM album, but I'll get into that later, when we feature it on the show).

I've heard two different versions of this story, and I'll try to share them both with you, and let you decide or do your own research, story one goes like this...Andraé had originally recorded this album for Light Records.  Since he produced his own material and had control over every aspect of the music, he intentionally made the album with a mainstream feel to the music.  So far, this makes sense, because when The Disciples disbanded in late 1978, Andraé's next album, 1979's "I'll Be Thinking Of You," was heavily R&B influenced, and it sounded less like the pop laden work he had turned out with The Disciples.  Anyway, this version of the story says that Light Records then sold the project to Warner Bros., and they subsequently released "Don't Give Up."  As to why they would sell Andraé's album (and The Archers' too for that matter), I can't really say.  Most folks might think that it could have been an economically based decision, perhaps Light was hurting financially, or that the cost for those two projects might have been a bit too much for the label to bear.  I can tell you that whatever reason it was, "Don't Give Up" was not a cheap album to produce.  Andraé and co-producer Bill Maxwell hired out some of the finest, and probably most expensive, studio musicians in Los Angeles to play on this album, and the results were both phenomenal and award winning (we'll get to that momentarily).  For those music geeks like myself who study album credits religiously, some of the musicians on this album include David Paich and Steve Porcaro (the keyboard tandem from Toto), The Winans, Phil Keaggy, Greg Phillinganes,  Abraham Laboriel, Joe Sample, Dean Parks, and Hadley Hockensmith (who had been Andraé's guitarist with The Disciples).  For those of you who have no idea who these guys are, I can put it in simple terms...each one of the people I have mentioned here cost A LOT of money to bring in to the studio, and that's putting it mildly. When you begin to add up the cost of producing a record like this, you're talking mucho dinheiro here.  So story one ends with the theory that Light needed extra funds, for whatever reason, and so they sold "Don't Give Up" to Warner Bros.

Story two is a little different, but here it is...this version begins with Andraé himself reaching a decision that he was ready to take the message to the masses, and since he had already began stepping up his game (in regard to the quality of his production), he sought out a recording contract with Warner Bros, on his own, and signed with them for this album.  This theory could also make sense, because of several reasons, one of which is that Andraé personally knew and was friends with some major players in the R&B scene at the time, two of which were Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.  We do know that Andraé worked with Jackson, arranging several songs for him ("Man In The Mirror" was probably the biggest), and bringing in the choir from his church to actually sing on some of those same records.  If Andraé felt that his quality of work was head and shoulders above most other CCM artists at the time, he was justified in feeling that way, let's just be honest. With the exception of the two Imperials albums that had been produced by Michael Omartian, no other Christian music album could approach the level of quality that Andraé had began with "I'll Be Thinking Of You," so if (and only if) he felt that he was getting "too good" for a traditional Christian music record label (Light Records), he was probably right. Now for some fans, that might be a rather pious position to take, given that Christian music is supposed to be focused on ministry, but when you work that hard to differentiate your music and art from the rest of the crowd, there is a certain degree of pride when you reach that goal.  So story two basically says that Andraé himself wanted to release "Don't Give Up" on a mainstream label, to essentially reach more people with the message of Christ.

I wish I could say definitively which one of these two theories are correct...I really don't like to sound as it I am spreading gossip, especially when Andraé is no longer with us, and cannot tell us which of these two stories is the correct one (it would make for a heck of an interview, though).  What I can tell you is that whichever version of events is the truth, the end result was nothing short of a landmark LP.  "Don't Give Up" won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Gospel Album, and is a favorite of fans still today.  The lyrical content of some of the songs was a bit bolder than Andraé's Light Records releases had been...for instance, "Hollywood Scene" is about a young man from Georgia who moves to L.A., and ends up being a male prostitute just to survive, while "I'll Be Good To You Baby" is a lyric sang directly to innocent babies who were victims of abortion, so you can be certain that no Christian record label would have felt comfortable in 1981 releasing that kind of lyrical content, so that would play in to story number two here.  The rest of the album however, is material that Light Records would have released in a heartbeat, since most of it is vintage Andraé.  The album's title track has some super R&B vocals toward the very end, with a tight R&B groove to the music.  "Handwriting On The Wall," which is one of my personal favorites on the disc, still blows me away with the funk influenced intro and feel to the entire song, and the background vocals provided by The Winans on "Start All Over Again" is a thing of pure beauty  to my ears.  

Since I've already spent so much time telling you about the album's backstory, I'll leave it to you to listen to the album this week, to discover more about the music.  I will say that "Don't Give Up" is a one of a kind album, that sadly did not get the recognition it should have gotten commercially.  You know how the story always goes...when you try to make an effective crossover record as a Christian artist, you're already behind the eight ball.  Unless you alter your lyrics tremendously, there's a good chance that mainstream radio and its listeners will want little to nothing to do with you, and that was exactly what happened to Andraé Crouch.  While the Christian music fans loved the direction of "Don't Give Up," the secular market couldn't have cared less, because Andraé did not compromise the message.  The LP did not sell the way Warner Bros. (and more than likely Andraé too) had hoped for, and he was subsequently dropped from the label.  In 1982, Andraé was back on Light Records for the release of his next album, called "Finally," and the mainstream label experiment had come to an end.  Most sadly, in November of 1982, Andraé became a part of one of the saddest chapters in CCM history, when he was pulled over by the LAPD for driving erratically, and was found with a drug pipe in his pocket (which he would explain had belonged to another unsaved musician who had been using his car), and a mysterious powder like substance in the vehicle as well.  The substance would be explained as a "soup powder" by Andraé in an extensive interview with CCM Magazine, but once the story hit the news (and keep in mind there was no internet then), the damage to his career was devastating.  Even though all charges were eventaully dropped due to lack of hard evidence, the music industry that he had helped establish largely deserted Andraé Crouch. His 1984 album "No Time To Lose" was mostly ignored, and it would be another 10 years before fans would get an album of new music from one of the biggest legends in CCM history.  

In closing, let me say that I am happy as can be to share this album with you this week, because I love the music of Andraé Crouch, and always will.  I also view this album as a significant chapter in the story of both the artist and the industry.  While Andraé's crossover attempt may not have gone as planned, we all know that eventually Christian music would hit in the mainstream music world, and the rest is history.  So I sincerely hope that each of you will tune in to Vinyl Revival on CCM Classic this week, and enjoy one of the finest CCM albums of all time, Andraé Crouch's "Don't Give Up."

TRACKLIST

Side 1

1. Waiting For The Son

2. Don't Give Up

3. I Can't Keep It To Myself (featuring Howard Smith)

4. Hollywood Scene

Side 2

1. Handwriting On The Wall

2. I Love Walking With You

3. Save The People

4. I'll Be Good To You, Baby (A Message To The Silent Victims)

5. Start All Over Again



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