Michael W Smith's Big Surprise With i 2 (EYE); by Philip Mayabb
Welcome to another week of CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival, and this week, we are featuring a record that a LOT of people still love - we get plenty of reaction when we play the digital version on the air. I have wanted to play it for quite a while now, the only problem was I had to find a vinyl copy of it that wouldn't cost a small fortune to buy, but a few days ago, I found one on eBay, and so it's time to share it with you. We will be listening to Michael W. Smith's 1988 blockbuster album i 2 (EYE), this week, and this is an album that I really love, despite the fact that it took a while to grow on me.
In 1986, MWS released my all time FAVORITE album of his, The Big Picture. Smiity's third album was the breakthrough effort that fans and critics had been waiting for since his debut in 1983. Not to say that Michael W. Smith 2 is a bad album, because I love that one as well, but everybody was looking for Smitty to step up his game after the major success of Project. The Big Picture hit all of the checkmarks, great music, timely lyrics, and near flawless production, this album was as contemporary as it got in 1986. Picture was so good, that it captured Smitty's first Dove Award for Pop/Contemporary Album Of The Year, and like most everyone else, I was just waiting to see what he would do for an encore. Two years later we got the answer...a new album called i 2 (EYE), and I remember when I began listening to my first copy (a cassette, Lord forgive me), I was caught totally off guard, and rather disappointed. I was expecting more of the bombastic, in your face keyboard driven power pop that Michael had embraced on The Big Picture, but instead I got a more organic album, with fewer keyboards, mixed in a similar manner to another huge album of 1988, Amy Grant's Lead Me On.
I was crushed...I couldn't figure out why this keyboardist extraordinaire, and world class songwriter would abandon the sound that fans all over the world had come to know and love from his previous album, and so my cassette got put away for safe keeping, with the other recordings that I didn't play much. Then a little event took place that changed my perception of i 2 (EYE)...I saw Michael W. Smith live for the first time. In December of 1988, I was sitting in the orchestra pit at The Fox Theatre in St. Louis, to see Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Gary Chapman, as they all performed material from their new albums. After hearing the songs from i 2 (EYE) live, I decided to try my luck with the album again, and this time, I had a new appreciation for Smitty's newest recording. All of a sudden, my cassette found new life in my car, where I found myself cranking it up on a regular basis.
Once the shock of MWS going in a new musical direction wore off, I discovered what a lot of fans already knew...that this was not only not only an amazing album, but it embraced more mature lyrics, tailored to a an audience that was growing up. The biggest objective of Christian music has been to minister to people, and while The Big Picture did that, some of the ministry was hidden amongst all of the keyboards, and other instruments, while i 2 (EYE) centered more on Michael's voice, and what he was saying. Of course, by this point in time, most CCM artists had mostly abandoned mentioning the name of Jesus in the lyrics, embracing songs that would speak to unbelievers, without cramming religion down their throats. Now, there will always be a debate as to whether or not this stance became the biggest downfall of the Christian music industry, and I have my opinion on that, but we're not going to get into that discussion right now, but I will say that despite the lack of overtly religious lyrics (God is mentioned in two songs, Jesus isn't named at all), this album has several songs that definitely are Christ-centered, and most unbelievers would know that.
One of the most impressive things about this album is that it has seven singles that hit the CCM Magazine Adult Contemporary chart. All but four of this album's eleven tracks landed on the charts, and one of those (All You're Missin' Is A Heartache) was a #1 Christian Rock singles hit, meaning that only three of the songs on this album were not hit singles. Here is how those hits break down...
All You're Missin' Is A Heartache - #1 Christian Rock chart
Pray For Me - #1 Adult Contemporary chart
Hand Of Providence - #2 Adult Contemporary chart
I Miss The Way - #4 Adult Contemporary chart
Live And Learn - #7 Adult Contemporary chart
The Throne - #1 Adult Contemporary chart
On The Other Side - #2 Adult Contemporary chart
I Hear Leesha - #7 Adult Contemporary chart
When you look at numbers like this (and the numbers don't lie), it is not a surprise that this album sold over 500,000 copies, and earned Smitty his second RIAA Gold Album Award (Project was his first). What's even more amazing is that the album's final single I Hear Leesha hit the charts in 1990, nearly two years after the release of the album, and just before Michael's sixth album Go West Young Man was released. In short, I grossly underestimated how great this album was when I first bought it, and that's putting it mildly.
It's real simple here folks...this is one of the best CCM albums of the 80s, and the hits prove it. Michael W. Smith found lightning in a bottle with this record, and that is a big reason why folks are so enthusiastic every time we play this album on CCM Classic. With my purchase of the vinyl copy that you will be listening to this week on Vinyl Revival, I now own copies of each of the three formats that i 2 (EYE) is available in, and I am happy to say that I initially missed the boat on an amazing work of music. Finally, as a musician myself, I have to mention that one of the three songs that did not make the charts is an instrumental that I absolutely LOVE listening to in my car to this day. Positioned in the middle of side 2 of the record and cassette (track 9 for those with CDs), is an incredible piece of music called Ashton, which is actually the lead in to the chart topping hit The Throne. When I listen to this track, the volume gets turned up as loud as I can stand it, and stays turned up until it starts to fade. The song's Native American vibe gets my pulse pounding every time I listen to it, and I can tell you it is a great songs to use during a workout, so if you use your phone for your workout music, give this one a try, you won't be sorry.
In closing, I hope that each of you will be listening to this amazing album on Vinyl Revival this week. I know I've probably hyped it up quite a bit, maybe more than I should for a blog like this, but as I said earlier, it's difficult to argue against featuring a record with eight hit singles on it, that is something that few CCM albums have done. Behind the hits though, is a well balanced, well written, and well performed setlist that still holds up well, even after 32 years. While The Big Picture will always be my favorite Michael W. Smith album, I would submit that i 2 (EYE) may be his best. I know he has recorded albums that have sold more copies, but when all is said and done, history has been kind to this album for a reason...give i 2 (EYE) a listen this week, and you will definitely see why, it really is THAT good!
Side 1 -
1. Hand Of Providence
2. Secret Ambition
3. On The Other Side
4. All You're Missin' Is A Heartache (with Michael Sweet & Oz Fox)
5. I Miss The Way
1. Live And Learn
2. I Hear Leesha
3. Help You Find Your Way
4. Ashton (Instrumental)
5. The Throne
6. Pray For Me
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