Don't Wait For The Movie: Why Not and What Movie? By Philip Mayaab
It is very interesting to me how some people respond to change...there are those who embrace it, those who simply loathe it, and those who tolerate it. Change can be tough, no matter what it is that's doing the changing, and while there are situations where change has created disastrous results (remember New Coke?), change can sometimes be a very positive, and in some cases, a needed thing. Such is the case with our band and album this week on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival.
I still remember very vividly walking into the Christian bookstore at Springfield, MO's Battlefield Mall in late 1985, on a routine stop to check out the new LPs and cassettes that had came out recently (after all, the internet was not around back then), and receiving the shock of my life, when I read an open letter written and signed by the members of WhiteHeart, explaining to the fans that the band had been blindsided by the activities of lead vocalist Scott Douglas, and how he had been arrested for illegal sexual activities with underage girls. Even at the tender age of 18, I knew that none of the artists I listened to on a regular basis were perfect, but this just blew me away, mostly because I really liked WhiteHeart, and had particularly enjoyed the two albums they had recorded with Douglas at the helm (Vital Signs and Hotline). It was such a shame, because the guy had such a tremendous voice, and seemed a perfect fit when he had been hired to replace Steve Green. It was impossible not to feel sorry for the other members of WhiteHeart after reading the letter, but they promised that they would find a way to soldier on, which was very encouraging, because a less dedicated bunch of guys would have packed up, and called it quits, after being associated with someone who had committed such a heinous crime.
Now we fast forward a few months to the early months of 1986, and without the internet to keep us up to date on the band's activities, the fans waited to see what WhiteHeart would do. The good news was that they kept their promise to their fans, they found a new lead singer, signed with a new record label, and released a brand new album, with a new heavier sound, and a refocused mission for Christ. They hired a former roadie named Rick Florian to replace Scott Douglas, and Chris McHugh had been brought in to replace founding drummer David Huff when he departed the band the year before, and the result was a leaner, meaner version of WhiteHeart, with a new album called Don't Wait For The Movie, which is the album you will be hearing on Vinyl Revival this week. WhiteHeart had released three outstanding albums for Chris Christian's Home Sweet Home records, and had stayed with the moniker that had been attached to them, which was the Christian version of Toto, which I always felt was a pretty accurate assessment. The members started working together in the early 80s, as members of the backup band for the Bill Gaither Trio, and with the exception of David Huff, every founding member of the band had appeared on the BGT's 1981 album Live Across America. For those first three albums, the band combined a sound which featured mostly pop music, along with some heavier tunes, that could showcase the musical abilities of the musicians, especially those of founding guitarist Dann Huff. As is the case with most bands, change is inevitable, and it started fairly quickly with WhiteHeart. Lead singer Steve Green decided that Christian rock really wasn't his cup of tea, and he became the first member to leave, replaced by Scott Douglas. The second lineup of the band would record two albums together, before the first of the two Huff brothers, Dann would leave. It's interesting to note that in the credits for Hotline, Gordon Kennedy is listed as the band's new guitarist, and he is also pictured with the band in the photos, however if you listen very closely, you will figure out rather quickly that Dann Huff provided most of the guitar work on the album, but I digress.
So the lineup for the new WhiteHeart included three founding members, keyboardist Mark Gersmehl, keyboardist/guitarist Billy Smiley, and bassist Gary Lunn, new axeman Kennedy, new drummer Chris McHugh, and new lead vocalist Florian (Rick spelled his name the traditional way on this album, he hadn't started changing it yet), and this lineup of six members took WhiteHeart to another level. giving the band the rock makeover they needed. Don't Wait For The Movie proved that the band had the chops to rock and roll, something which they mostly hinted at with their first three albums. Having migrated from Home Sweet Home records to Sparrow, the band was allowed the freedom to play the music the way they wanted to, which was a major component in the heavier sound of Movie. From the opening notes of Read The Book (Don't Wait For The Movie), the listener is aware that this album is not like the previous three that WhiteHeart had released. Musically, the band had added extra muscles, and they flexed those muscles to perfection on their new album.
They also added a lot of attitude to their lyrics as well, striving to move beyond the generic platitudes and clichés that were so prevalent within the Christian Rock community. In an interview with CCM Magazine about the new album and direction of the band, Billy Smiley explained it like this...
It has given the group a real awareness of that what we do as artists up on stage has eternal value. This has given a lot more seriousness to what we do. We've learned a lot about being accountable and being right with God. We're aware that every minute we're on stage because it's Him through us. Just being a rock group and going out and singing and jamming and being on the edge musically doesn't cut it for us anymore.*
So with this album, WhiteHeart began to focus its efforts on ministering to their fans, in a more meaningful way, and they did just that with songs like the aforementioned titled track, Holy Ground, which deals with the topic of Christians with low self esteem, and Beat Of A Different Drum, with lyrics that encourage Christians to tune into the voice of God, and follow incessantly. No Apology tells fans to worship God in a manner that is loud and proud, and Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Christian may be one of the best songs ever aimed at those who have one foot in the world, and one in the church, with a line that says I really think you do believe, yet you use religion to deceive. So it is plain to see and hear that the experience with Scott Douglas had strengthened the resolve of the band, not just to talk and sing about being a Christian, but to live it around the clock.
The experience with Douglas also influenced two of the album's hit singles, those being How Many Times (Seventy Times Seven), and Fly Eagle Fly. Writers always say that they like to write about life experiences, and with these two songs, and especially with the former, it is plain to see that the lyrics came from the earth shaking events that had befallen the band in 1985. How Many Times addresses the subject of forgiveness, which was something that everybody had to deal with in regard to their former lead singer. Mark Gersmehl, who wrote the song by himself, put his thoughts and feelings into the lyrics, and it is still a song that is very timely for the Christian of today, because forgiveness is one of those things that we all have to show from time to time. In the case of Fly Eagle Fly, the subject of wounded faith is the central theme, and how God will strengthen His children when it is needed. These two songs struck a chord with the fans as well, because both of them hit number one on the CCM Magazine singles chart, and the album's third single, Maybe Today, hit number three, so this album was well represented on the radio in 1986.
The band added a pair of songs to prove that they still knew how to have some fun, amongst all the seriousness of the album. Let The Children Play, which leads of side two of the album, is a really cool instrumental piece, and was also a first on a WhiteHeart studio LP, my only problem with the track is that is too short, clocking in at just under two minutes long. It is still a cool track, and I believe you'll enjoy hearing it. The other fun track on the album is called Convertibles, which probably could have been written and/or recorded by a mainstream band, because it is a cool summertime, top down, radio turned up type of song, in which the band proclaims God made convertibles. Again, it's a lot of fun to listen to, and it proves that Christians can be Godly and still have a good time. King George is a song that deals with the birth of the United States, and how we built our country in the name of religious freedom, but to listen to this song now, the lyrics are so much more powerful than they were 33 years ago, when the album was released. One of the most telling lyrics of the song says The right is there to make a choice, we can speak with our own voice, we can say but we don't dare, and all our schools don't have a prayer. When you think about where we are in America, or anywhere else for that matter, lyrics like that are still very real today.
I have to be honest here, when this album was first released, I didn't like it as much as the band's first three albums. The first three seemed to be a lot tighter musically than Movie, and I was initially disappointed in this album, from a sonic standpoint, at least. Over the years however, this album has grown on me, and I really do enjoy listening to it these days. I think part of this album's charm is when you consider what had happened to WhiteHeart just months before the release of Don't Wait For The Movie, you can see what the band, and in particular the guys who wrote the songs, were going for. They had a lot of emotions to deal with, and probably felt as if they had something to prove as a band, and as musicians. As far as the personnel went, founding bassist Gary Lunn left after this album was released, and was replaced with fan favorite Tommy Sims. Over the years, WhiteHeart saw more than its share of changes within the membership of the band, but one thing is for certain, they ultimately kept the promise that they made to the fans in the letter that they had sent to Christian retailers in late 1985 - they picked up the pieces, and became a much stronger musical entity as a result of the tragedy they were forced into. For those who are wondering, Scott Douglas was tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison on charges of statutory rape. He served his time, and was released in the 90s, but has had some run ins with the law in the years since. Of course, WhiteHeart became one of Christian Rock's most iconic bands, thanks to albums like Freedom, Power House, and Tales Of Wonder, but their transformation into that iconic status began with Don't Wait For The Movie, which we are happy to feature on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival this week. We hope you are able to listen to the entire LP with us, as we remember that change can be a good thing...
Side 1 -
1. Read The Book (Don't Wait For The Movie)
2. Holy Ground
3. Beat Of A Different Drum
4. Fly Eagle Fly
Side 2 -
1. Let The Children Play (Instrumental)
2. King George
3. No Apology
4. Maybe Today
5. Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Christian
6. How Many Times (Seventy Time Seven)
* WhiteHeart: Broken Strings - CCM Magazine September, 1986
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