Read About The Champion Guess Who? By Philip Mayaab

There are many mainstream musical acts who are identified by their first name, people like Madonna, Prince, and others.  In the Christian market, there are some who go by one name only, but not very many, however we are featuring one on Vinyl Revival this week, who has needed only one name to guide a successful career all the way to Gospel Music Association Hall Of Fame, his name is Carman.

Everybody knows who Carman Licciardello's hard not to.  After releasing a small indie LP called God's Not Finished With Me, he was signed to contact by Priority Records, the new Christian division of the CBS Records conglomerate.  After making his presence felt on the national scene with a self titled 1982 album (which was later re-issued and titled Some-O-Dat), Carman followed up with a fantastic live LP called Sunday's On The Way in 1983.  Priority would go bankrupt not long afterward, when CBS decided the Christian music market wasn't the money maker they had expected, and that left all of the label's artists, including Carman, out of a recording contract.  His two CBS albums had performed well enough that Myrrh Records, the top CCM label in the world at the time, decided to sign Carman to a contract.  The label put him in the studio with producer Keith Thomas, and they turned out the album Comin' On Strong in 1984.  Myrrh was able to promote the album properly to Christian radio and fans, and voila, Carman was on his way.

When the time came to record the follow up, Carman once again teamed up with Thomas, and they produced what is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest albums in Carman's catalog, which just happens to be the album we will be enjoying on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival this week, and the album is called The Champion. Released in 1985, Champion was quite a bit edgier than Comin' On Strong had been, both musically and lyrically, and even though Carman had already built a reputation on his story-based songs, this album's title track took that reputation to new highs.  This record would be huge, and would not only make Carman a household name, but this album actually helped launch the career of another popular artist from the 80s, and we'll get to that shortly.  Anyone who knows much about Carman will tell you that even though he is known for his entertaining stage shows and concerts, ministry is the core of his existence. Carman is not shy about his desire to present the gospel of Christ, even if it is in a different sort of way than most other musical ministries, and The Champion has got a ministerial presence from start to finish.  From the hard hitting lyrics in the album's opening track Prepare To Die, to the final notes of the title song, this album is ministry 101, pure and simple.  Each one of the 8 songs (9 if you have the cassette or CD, more on that shortly as well) will speak to your heart, and minister to just about any place in life a person could be.

A quick note here, Keith Thomas was really beginning to come into his own as a record producer with this album.  He was getting enough experience in the control room to develop a style that would not only make him the most in-demand record producer in Christian music, but would take him into the mainstream market as well in the future, producing giant pop hits for Amy Grant, Selena, and Vanessa Williams, among others.  His skill is on full display on The Champion, and Carman was able to use those production skills to turn out one of the 80s best LPs.  It all has to start somewhere, and in this case, it starts with the aforementioned Prepare To Die.  This is one of those songs that gets right in your face during the first verse, and stays there until the last notes of music fade, some 5 minutes and 20 seconds later. Starting with the story of David and Goliath, and progressing to the modern Christian life, Carman takes the listener through the battle of faith, and will have you feeling ten feet tall in that faith by the end of the song.  Listening to the opening verse almost makes you feel as if you are there on the battlefield, as a young man prepares to square off against a giant. You feel the weight of the words PREPARE TO DIE as Carman sings them, and then feel your faith stir and rise up, as we're reminded I come against you in the name of the God of Israel.  It is a superb song, and in a perfect position as the leadoff song on this album. Abundance Of Rain speaks to those who are feeling dry in their walk with God, as they pray for spiritual revival, and is backed with a synth driven musical track that just keeps bouncing around in your head as you listen.  Revive Us, Oh Lord was a song that Carman co-wrote with Steve Camp, and stays on the revival theme, with lyrics that almost any Christian can relate to at some point in life.  In a day and time when God's children can become sidetracked by the cares of life, this song asks God to revive His children in a mighty way, even when their faith has grown cold.  The song is one of my favorites on the album, and fits the musical motif of both writers, in fact Steve Camp would also record the song two years later on his album After God's Own Heart.  The album's fourth track called A Little Bit More Conviction is one of those songs with lyrics that tell it like it is, how saints of God should not be engaging in the activities of the world.  As a teenager growing up in a hardcore Pentecostal home and church, this particular song was one that I could say Amen to from start to finish.  Lyrics like these would probably not go over well in today's Christian society, although they should be common knowledge, but that's a debate for another time and place. Side one closes with It Happened To Me, a ballad that testifies to the change that a relationship with Jesus Christ makes in the heart of believer, and it is an updated, mid 80s version of 2nd Corinthians 5:17, which reads Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (KJV)  

Side two on the vinyl version of The Champion has but three tracks, the first of which is The Destination Is There.  Keeping the edgy, hard hitting lyrics going, this song talks about the dilemma one faces when they are given a desire by God to do something that no one else has even done, but no particular place to carry it out. One of my favorite lines in this song comes from the chorus, and says God wouldn't put it in your spirit if it wasn't going nowhere, and of course we all know that whoever God calls, He equips!  The second song on side two is the one that helped launch the singing career of yet another beloved CCM artist, a young lady who sang with Carman, on a song called Fear Not My Child.  Her name was Kim Boyce, and after being a top ten finalist just two years earlier in the Miss America pageant (the one that Vanessa Williams won), she was trying to start a career in Christian music.  She had met Carman, and became friends with him, and he decided to bring her into the studio to sing on this particular track.  Of course we all know what happened...after she did such a superb job singing on Carman's record, Myrrh offered Kim a contract of her own, and the rest was history.  Getting back to our album, I must say that despite the fact that the title song was the most memorable, and popular track on the record, Fear Not is the song that I still choose as my personal favorite song on The Champion.  Many has been the time, over the last 34 years, that I have taken this album out, just to listen to this one has ministered to me in powerful way.  It describes the place that I, and probably many other Christians, have found ourselves in at various times, and yet, our Heavenly Father still says fear not, my child...I'm with you always.  What a message!!

And now, we come to the coup de grace of the album...the title track.  What we can I say about The Champion that has not been said somewhere before?  This song was the song that made Carman a star, plain and simple.  An 8 minute plus, blow by blow (no pun intended) contemporary account of Easter weekend, told only as Carman Licciardello can. Mostly a recitation, with a small amount of vocal work at the end, The Champion puts the listeners ringside, as the Lord Jesus squares off against the prince of darkness, Satan himself.  Set as a boxing match, the battle for the soul of man is laid out from the entrance of the two combatants, to the fight, to the knockout of Jesus, and finally...that feeling as your inside jumps up and down, as we hear the Father begin to countdown BACKWARDS!!  The first time I listened to this song, as an 18 year old, I jumped up out of my seat when HE HAS WON is declared, and my heart still stirs every time I hear it, because He has won, and because of that, you and I can have eternal life, and a home in Heaven that has been prepared for each and every one of us, isn't that something to get excited about?  If not, there is something wrong somewhere!!  Though you and I may face, and do face trials in our everyday lives, He is STILL the champion, He still lives, and His victory will NEVER be taken away, and that means that even though burdened we are, we can be victorious in Him...PRAISE HIS NAME!!

This is quite an album, and sometimes I forget exactly how good it really is until I get it out, and listen to it.  There is something on here for just about any believer of any age...if you are reading this, I encourage you to listen to this iconic LP this week on Vinyl Revival, or if you don't have the time to catch it when we play it, find a way to listen to it, because it will minister to you, I promise.  It is so sad that we live in a day and age when ministering to the saints, and those who need it has been replaced with people spending all their energies on trying to minister to God himself, and I believe that the Christian music industry as a whole has lost its way.  Jesus Himself declared they who are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick (Matt. 9:12, KJV) so He is calling His children to minister to a sick world, and to sick Christians, who are weak in the faith, but you hear very little of that in today's modern Christian music.  We need more albums like The Champion to speak to those who are sick, and lift up the hands of weary saints who are fighting the enemy.  

In closing, I mentioned that the cassette and CD versions of this album contained an extra song that was not included on the vinyl edition.  It's called Love Can and I wish that the label had included it on side two of the LP, but in the day when record companies were putting bonus songs on cassettes and CDs to entice buyers to purchase them, it was left off, so what we have done is to include the bonus song from the CD after the vinyl is finished...that way we can enjoy the complete piece of work that is Carman's finest (again, in my opinion) of all time. Now he did a remake of the title track during the 90s, but I will tell you now, it does not come anywhere near matching the original, and I for one am tickled pink to let each of you hear that original recording as part of the album that bares its name.  So please enjoy Carman's album The Champion this week on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival.


Side 1 - 

1. Prepare To Die

2. Abundance Of Rain

3. Revive Us, Oh Lord

4. A Little Bit More Conviction

5. It Happened To Me

Side 2 - 

1. The Destination Is There

2. Fear Not, My Child (featuring Kim Boyce)

3. The Champion 


Love Can

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