The Yellow and Black Attack Heavy Metal Enters The Christian Music Space; by Philip Mayaab
Do you remember many events from 1984? Some of us probably remember election night in November of that year, when President Reagan not only won re-election, but captured the electoral vote from 49 of the 50 United States, the lone holdout being the home of Democratic nominee Walter Mondale (the president would joke later on when asked what he would like for a birthday present...well, Minnesota would be nice). Some of us remember the Miss America pageant from that year, when Vanessa Williams won the crown, only to have it taken from her after a photo scandal months later (Miss Florida that year was a young lady named Kim Boyce). You might remember these events, or many others, but if you are a Christian music fan, one of the biggest events of the year was the release of a six song EP by a new Christian heavy metal band that wore yellow and black spandex suits. The album started a controversy that went on for several years, and seemed to grow each time this band released a new album...their name was Stryper, and that little six song EP, rather appropriately titled The Yellow And Black Attack is our Vinyl Revival album (sort of) this week.
Heavy metal was not a new entity in 1984, but it had only started gaining in popularity over the past couple of years prior. In 1983, the L.A. band Quiet Riot scored a monster hit with their album Metal Health, and in the same year of 1984, Twisted Sister rocked their way onto the charts and top 40 radio with the album Stay Hungry. So it really should not have been a big surprise to any Christian rock fan when Michael and Robert Sweet, Oz Fox, and Tim Gaines showed up on the scene...it was bound to happen that a band that played metal music would sing about Jesus. The surprise however, came in the packaging of the band. The front cover of the original release (we'll get to the re-issue momentarily) showed what looked like the hand of God with four missiles (each containing the initials of one of the band members, as well as the number 777) pointing toward Earth. The album's title, and depiction of a missile strike (the cold war was still going on at the time), might have been a bit much for older Christians to deal with, and that was strike one. If that wasn't enough to put a burr in the saddles of traditional denominations, the photo on the back of the album might have sent some into a coronary. Here were four musicians from the L.A. club scene dressed in skin tight spandex, colored yellow and black no less, with mega long hair, and they had the audacity to claim to be a Christian band (strike two)!!!
Strike three was the music that was actually on the record (or cassette, take your pick), hard driving rock and roll that went way past the intensity of Christian rock titans such as Petra, White Heart, and Rez. These guys played SERIOUS rock and roll that could've matched up favorably with any mainstream metal band of the day. All those pieces put together made Stryper the bane of more traditionally minded saints, and also made them one of the best bands that Christian teenagers had ever heard. While Christian parents probably thought these guys were a trick of the enemy to draw their kids away from God, the kids thought THESE GUYS ROCK!! And rock they did, as this EP will prove this week. Right out of the gate, the lyrics were hair is long, and the screams are loud and clear, clothes are tight, earrings dangling from the ears... and from there, Stryper was on their way!
I should mention that even though they clearly were a Christian band (I love the first line in the special thanks column, which reads #1 Jesus Christ [The Boss Man]), Stryper was not really meant to be promoted to Christian fans or Christian radio, instead they wanted to take the gospel to the metalheads of the world, who were listening to the immoral, pathetic garbage lyrics that were being pumped out by people like Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, and the rest of the mainstream metal community. Let me just say this here...that was the one thing that most God-fearing Christians missed - these guys knew that the Christian kids didn't need a baseline message of Christ, because they knew all about Him. Instead, Stryper was pursuing the kids that had came to see them in the clubs of Los Angeles, who looked just like them. As much as I love this album, I will be the first to tell you that there are no deep theological messages here, no spiritual revelations like those that are chronicled throughout the Bible. This is the basic message of Jesus...that He loves you, He died for you, and His way is better than the devil's, which is the perfect way to reach those who may have never heard about our Lord and Savior. You can't try to shove the Gospel down the throats of those who know little to nothing about Jesus, instead you show them His love, and allow Him to draw them in to the kingdom. So Stryper was clearly onto something, presenting what the Bible calls the milk of the Word to kids who were spiritual babies, and for that, they should have been commended, instead of the scourging they ended up taking back then. Okay, I'm done preaching now, let's get back to the album...
Musically, this album sounds like nothing else that was released by a Christian rock band back then, it's that simple. The band was still fairly young, and their musicianship was not as tight or polished as it would eventually become, but the performances here are still really good. One of my personal favorite Stryper songs is Co'mon Rock, and even now, at the age of almost 52 years, I STILL must turn it up loud every time I listen to it in the car (my daughter says I'm embarrassing like that), come to think of it, I'll probably turn it up again as I listen to it this week!! As far as the other five tracks, every one of them are terrific, with outstanding guitar solos, provided by Michael and Oz, with hard, driving beats, provided by Robert (Power Drums) and Tim. This is the kind of album that CCM Classic was made to feature, because it brings back nostalgic memories for me, and for those of you who enjoyed Stryper in the 80s, I'm sure it will do the same for you. Of course, I have to mention that this album went out of print rather quickly, so if you wanted a copy, it was best to make tracks to a record store that sold it (a lot of Christian bookstores refused to sell it...what a shock), and pick up a copy. After the success of Stryper's sophomore album Soldiers Under Command, Enigma Records decided to re-issue the Yellow And Black Attack in 1986, adding two tracks that were not on the original release, and even offering a blue vinyl edition of the record, which I can gladly say I own a copy of. All that would have been really nice, except that the record company had the original album's six tracks remixed for the second coming, which to me took some of the charm and appeal of the 1984 original away, which is why we are playing that original version for you this week.
In closing, I will admit that I took a look at this original album when it came out, and thought not my cup of tea. I personally did not become a Stryper fan until I bought a vinyl copy of Soldiers Under Command, but once I became a fan, I was hooked. You talk about a situation? Try being a holiness Pentecostal teenager in the mid 80s listening to a band like Stryper...my mom, and to a lesser degree my dad, had a conniption! On the humorous side, my mom REALLY went after me with the King James when I came home with a To Hell With The Devil tour shirt, it was NOT pretty, let me tell you!! But to this day, I love the music of Stryper, although I tend to gravitate toward the first five albums more than the newer stuff (which is still pretty good, btw). The band is still going strong, still taking the message of Jesus and His love to world, which is EXACTLY what the Bible commands us to do as children of God. In my humble opinion, these metal missionaries deserve more recognition than they have received from their peers in Christian music, and they definitely should have already been voted into the GMA Hall Of Fame (don't get me started there) for the souls that they have seen born into the kingdom of God as a result of their ministry. I have no control over whether or not they will ever be enshrined in the Hall, but I do have control over them being played on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival, and so this week, we are giving these four guys their due, and saying a huge Thank You to Stryper...we're still enjoying the Yellow And Black Attack!
Side 1 -
1. Loud N Clear (Michael Sweet)
2. From Wrong To Right (Michael Sweet, Robert Sweet, Oz Fox)
3. You Know What To Do (Michael Sweet, Robert Sweet, Tim Gaines, Oz Fox)
Side 2 -
1. Co'mon Rock (Michael Sweet)
2. You Won't Be Lonely (Michael Sweet)
3. Loving You (Michael Sweet)
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