CCM Classic Blog

You May Love or Disdain Chris Christian; The fact is, He is a Legend in the CCM World With a Great Album in 1981: By Philip Mayaab

In 1981, the contemporary Christian music scene was starting to grow quite a bit, but it still was nothing like it would be within a few years.  There were no real big superstar artists yet, outside of the Imperials, and their stock was injured when Russ Taff left the group early in the year.  So artists were releasing some pretty good albums that might sell a decent amount of units, and that was pretty much the rule for the emerging CCM industry.  1981 was a pretty good year though for Chris Christian, the artist on this week's Vinyl Revival LP.  He had of course produced some of the biggest artists in the new industry, such as the aforementioned Imperials, The Boones, The Gaither Vocal Band, B.J. Thomas and many others.  He had released three solo albums of his own, and was generally regarded as one of the MAJOR players in CCM.  In 81 however, he would release a pair of albums, one of which was his self titled pop debut LP on Neil Bogart's Boardwalk Records.  Teaming up with former Player (Baby Come Back) keyboardist JC Crowley, Chris' first pop album now has a cult like following, and is regarded as one of the best Westcoast pop albums ever.  The album was not as successful as Chris would have liked, although the first of the album's four singles, "I Want You, I Need You" would actually rise to #37 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Chris did record a Christian album that year as well, and that's the album we're playing on Vinyl Revival this week.  My dad was never a CCM fan, but he liked this album, not so much for the music on the disc, but for the artwork on the album cover..."Just Sit Back" featured a photo of Chris on the front sporting a white button down shirt with airplanes on it, with a plane in flight next to his right bicep.  On the back of the jacket, Chris is looking confused, now wearing a white shirt with no planes at all on it.  Since he is not sitting in the photo, I don't know how the covers relate to the title, but my dad thought it was funny.  That is my most treasured memory of "Just Sit Back," since my dad is now enjoying eternal life with the Lord in Heaven, but the truth is that there is some really good music on this album, and some of it is similar in style to the music on Chris' pop album from the same year.

I had no idea what Westcoast music was when I first purchased this album at the tender age of 14, but I can now tell you that there are some textbook examples of the style on this album, most notably the leadoff track "Livin' For You."  (Let me just give a quick disclosure here...something happened to my vinyl copy of this album at some point in time, and so the first 90 seconds of the record has a terrible sounding blemish on it, my apologies for that, but it will not take away from your enjoyment of the song.) Anyway, for those folks who have read these blogs, and have heard me mention Westcoast CCM pop, and have maybe wondered what that style is all about, there are several tracks on this album that can and will define the sound for you. and we'll get into all of that in a moment.  "Livin'" was a pretty big hit for Chris on CCM radio and was the most logical track to open the record, since it set that pace and tone for the other 11 songs on the LP.  This album has a mix of several different tempos, styles, and speeds of song, which is always what you're looking for in an album, and while there are no memorable songs such as "Sail On" here, Chris did a really nice job of choosing a good balance of lyrics and music for this album. 

For starters, Chris wrote or co-wrote nine of the twelve songs on "Just Sit Back," which is something you would expect from a writer of his caliber.  Also not a surprise, Chris produced the album, and again, you would expect that from a man who is still known today for the legendary albums he produced (a side note, Chris did not produce his own pop album, a man named Bob Gaudio was brought in to produce, and the executive producer of the Boardwalk pop LP was a gentleman named Robert Kardashian...yes, that one!!). Even though Chris was solidly at the helm on "Just Sit Back," he did manage to bring in some big league help in the writing department.  Super writer Dwight Liles wrote one the three songs that Chris had no hand in, the song was called "Living Sacrifice," and it was also released by the Gaither Vocal Band on their debut that same year (Chris produced it). Another non C.C. song on the project was called "Light At The End Of The Darkness," and it was written by a guy named Larry Gatlin.  It had been recorded on the Imperials' Dove Award winning album "No Shortage" in 1975, but Chris put his personal spin on the song, with Gatlin singing background vocals on the track.

Other well known writers whose names appear in the credits of this album are Brown Bannister (co-wrote the title song), well known LA popmeister Tom Snow (co-wrote "Safe Inside Your Arms," a track which could have been written for the Boardwalk LP), Jamie Owens-Collins (co-wrote "Look How Far You've Come"), and the late great Andrae Crouch, who co-wrote and sang on "Nobody," which is one of my personal favorites from the LP.   The only other tune without Chris' name in the credits is "King Of Dreams," a fantastic ballad with an outstanding lead vocal.  The rest of the album is all Chris' writing, and as I previously stated, he came prepared with some pretty good material for this record. The album's title track is also in the Westcoast vein, although not quite as obvious as "Livin' For You," but it still stands out, and I do believe it was issued as a single for radio. The co-write with Jamie Owens-Collins was also a cover...she had recorded it a year earlier on her album "Straight Ahead," but again, Chris puts his stamp on the song, turning out a really good rendition of the tune.  The tune with Andrae is yet another of my personal favorites from this album, again it sports the Westcoast sound, but let's face it - when Andrae Crouch was involved with a song in any way, it was instantly made better, and he did not disappoint here.  The writing was outstanding, and the vocals turned in by Andrae and Chris just seem to fit together like your hand does with your favorite gloves on a cold day in January.  "Safe Inside Your Arms" probably should have been on the pop album, because it has the musical sound that defined Chris' pop project, but I am glad he decided to release it on this one instead.  In the ballad category, we've already talked about "Living Sacrifice," "Light At The End Of The Darkness," "King Of Dreams," and "Look How Far You've Come," so that leaves "I'm Your Servant" as the only ballad we haven't touched on, but it is every bit as good as the other slower songs, with lyrics that speak about  being committed to the Lord Jesus, top notch all the way. Chris did commit a couple of misses here, he seemingly tried to break into the Christian rock market with both "Love You Back," and "Spirit," but both of the songs fall flat when compared to the rest of the LP.  If memory serves me correctly, those are the only two songs in his catalog of recordings where he tried to make the sound heavier, but his voice really wasn't suited for rock and roll.  The last track on the record, which is called "New World" is a neat little acoustic song, that Chris did a fine job with, and it put sort of a nifty musical ribbon and bow on the project, to finish it up nicely.  

Again, this is probably not the first Chris Christian album that most CCM fans would think of when discussing his singing career, but it is a solid LP, and sort of landmark for Chris because it was the first album released on his own Home Sweet Home record label.  Over the years, artists like Steve Archer, Mark Heard, Glen Allen Green, and White Heart would call the label home, but it was Chris who issued the first record on the label, and this was it.  So all in all, I would say this record is definitely worth listening to, it brings back memories of a time when CCM was just starting to show solid growth, when the day of the superstar artist had not came to fruition just yet.  The songs were still pretty simple in nature, and the music was a nice alternative to what was being played on mainstream radio at the time.  So I hope you'll find the time to sit down, and enjoy some memories of Christian music was like in 1981, as we break out super producer Chris Christian's fourth solo album "Just Sit Back" on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival.

TRACKLIST

Side 1

1. Livin' For You (Chris Christian, Pete Castro, & Larry Owens)

2. Just Sit Back (Chris Christian & Brown Bannister)

3. Living Sacrifice (Dwight Lilies)

4. Nobody (Chris Christian & Andrae Crouch)

5. I'm Your Servant (Chris Christian)

6, Love You Back (Chris Christian)

Side 2

1. Look How Far You've Come (Chris Christian & Jamie Owens-Collins)

2. Light At The End Of The Darkness (Larry Gatlin)

3. Safe Inside Your Arms (Chris Christian & Tom Snow)

4. King Of Dreams (Doug Howell)

5. Spirit (Chris Christian)

6. New World (Chris Christian)



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Comments

Lisa commented on 19-Jul-2019 07:24 PM
Love your article. I just had to say that I love the song, "Love You Back". It's one of my favorites from "Just Sit Back". I hope you don't mind me putting a link to your article on my page, The Chris Christian Admiration Page on Facebook. Check it out sometime if you want too! Thanks for your article.

Lisa ;-)
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