Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head:Read All About It; by Philip Mayaab
It was the type of story that Christian music fans could sink their teeth into...A well known mainstream music artist accepts Jesus as their savior, and begins singing Christian music. It has happened several times over the years, but in 1976, B.J. Thomas became one of the first major crossovers into the world of Contemporary Christian music.
After making a name for himself with hits like I Just Can't Stop Believing, Hooked On A Feeling, and the monster hit Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, B.J. became a household name on the American pop scene in the late 60s and early 70s, but by the middle of the decade, the hits were not coming as frequently, and subsequently he ended up being a drug addict, with a very expensive addiction. After speaking to his wife Gloria, and discovering that she had become a Christian, B.J. too gave his heart and life to Jesus, and decided to use his God given ability for the glory of the Lord, and so in 1976 he signed a contract with Word's contemporary label, Myrrh Records, and headed into the studio to record his first album of Christian material. The label paired him up with an up and coming producer by the name of Chris Christian, and the collaboration produced several Christian recordings for B.J., one of which is our Vinyl Revival feature this week, titled Home Where I Belong.
Of course, at this point in time, the Jesus Music era of the early 70s was winding down, and CCM was beginning to become more of an industry, which worked perfectly for B.J. Thomas. He came in with tons of experience from his many years as a pop singer, and that experience was put to good use by Chris Christian and the record label, and the results were outstanding. Musically, this album did not sound drastically different from his pop records, the arrangements that B.J. utilized in pop came over with him to the Christian world, so there were no real big musical surprises on Home, just the major difference in the lyrics...he was now singing for Jesus.
This LP would turn out three huge radio singles, Without A Doubt, with its radio friendly music and hook laden chorus, the slower tempo Storybook Realities, and the big one, the album's title song (which was written by CCM pioneer Pat Terry). All three were staples on the growing number of contemporary Christian radio stations in America, and that helped make the album a hit, and it also made B.J. Thomas one of the first big stars in the emerging CCM industry. In addition to being the producer, Chris Christian also wrote or co-wrote half of the album's ten tracks, while country writer Archie Jordan, who became known for writing several hits for singers such as Ronnie Milsap, contributed on three more songs himself. The recording engineer on the album was a young man named Brown Bannister, who has became just as big of a legend as his friend Chris is. Several of Nashville's best studio musicians and singers were brought in to complete the sound, and now even after all these years, this album still sounds good, and holds up surprisingly well. Though it doesn't take but a few seconds to realize when the album was recorded, it is still quite enjoyable to listen to, and B.J. certainly did not disappoint with the vocals. That soulful, captivating voice was front and center on all ten songs on Home, and when you listen, you begin to remember just how good his voice really was.
The public was ready for a story like B.J.'s, and the fact that he was proclaiming his new found faith in God made him a special type of star. People gobbled it up, and the album's popularity helped garner a pair of major awards, the Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance, and the Dove Award for (and I LOVE this one) Best Album By A Secular Artist. The Grammy was his first winner since 1969, when Raindrops captured B.J.'s first award. This would not be his last winner in the Christian music category...he would win Best Inspirational Performance at the Grammys for an amazing six straight years, from 1977 to 1983. he would only win one more Dove, which came in 1982 once again for Best Album By A Secular Artist, for Amazing Grace.
The Christian music industry was very good to B.J. Thomas, but some fans did not appreciate the fact the he was playing both sides, and continuing to release mainstream music while he was recording Christian songs. The year after Home Where I Belong was released, MCA Records issued not one but two pop albums by B.J., which turned out some surprisingly successful hits. Don't Worry Baby (1977) and Everybody Loves A Rain Song (1978) both reached #2 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts, and Still The Lovin' Is Fun reached #8 on the same chart in 1977 as well, meaning B.J. Thomas was having a successful chart career in both CCM and pop at the same time. That did not sit well with some Christian fans, and eventually B.J. would decide to stick to Christian music. From 1978 to 1980, he recorded two more albums for Myrrh, after which he went over to MCA's new Christian label, Songbird, releasing two albums for them. He returned to Myrrh in 1981, but to satisfy the contract obligations with MCA, he would record two country albums, which finally pushed some fans over the edge. Although he recorded some really good albums for Myrrh in 1981 and 1982, the fans had moved on, and by 1983, B.J. had grown disenchanted with CCM, although he did release a few more Christian albums along the way.
It's sad to look back now, and consider how the Christian music industry mishandled B.J. Thomas. When he came aboard at Myrrh, the new emerging CCM scene did not really have any superstars, and he was the ideal artist to promote... a pop singer who had accepted Christ, and been delivered from drug addiction. It was the perfect storm, and he became one of the most recognizable faces in a new style of music. Truth be told, years worth of experience in the music industry probably allowed B.J. to see what was going on, which could not have helped his desire to sing Christian music. In a recent conversation on Facebook with a young lady (and I cannot find the post, or I would give her name to thank her), she said that she spoke to B.J. not too many years ago, and she quoted him as saying that he does not consider himself a believer anymore, which is heartbreaking beyond belief. Sadly, the Christian music industry has had that effect on more than one performer, others like Leslie Phillips and the Oak Ridge Boys come to mind, but it make me feel good to be able to share albums like Home Where I Belong with you, because albums like this bring back fond memories for me, even if the artist doesn't count himself as a Christian anymore.
Albums like this one are the exact reason I started listening to CCM, and a big of why I still love the classics today. The music of today just cannot hold a candle to the music of my youth. Maybe I'm just old, but I miss the songs that told stories, and the songs that ministered to those who needed it most. Now days, all you hear on traditional radio is praise and worship music, which I have no beef with, but it is a crying shame that you can no longer hear lyrics like
They say that Heaven's pretty,
And living here is too,
But if they said that I would have to choose between the two,
I'd go home...going home where I belong
when you turn on Christian radio. That's the kind of reason why we play albums like this one, so that we never forget how good early CCM really was, so join us this week, and let's all go Home Where I Belong...
Side One -
1. Without A Doubt (B.J. Thomas & Chris Christian)
2. You Were There To Catch Me (Chris Christian & Archie Jordan)
3. Storybook Realities (Gloria Thomas & Archie Jordan)
4. Common Ground (Chris Christian & Archie Jordan)
5. Down Isn't So bad (Chris Christian)
Side Two -
1. Home Where I Belong (Pat Terry)
2. Starving Sinner, Sleeping Sain (Chris Christian)
3. Shine On (Mike Hudson)
4. I Wanna Be Ready (Garland Craft & Aaron Brown)
5. Hallelujah (Shannon Smith)
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