Some nostalgia

“Jesus Freak” by dc Talk was pretty much the  “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana) for the Christian music world. If you grew-up in an evangelical household in the ’90’s, you know how influential this song and album were. Most contemporary Christian music (CCM) before the mid-90’s was awful — cheap music, shallow lyrics — similar to much of mainstream rock before Nirvana broke through. “Jesus Freak,” title track to dc Talk’s fourth album (released Nov. 21, 1995), signaled a major shift in CCM. Other equally talented bands, with creative and meaningful lyrics, rose at the same time, finally giving Christians some CCM worth listening to and passing on to friends: notably, Jars of Clay’s self-titled debut (Oct. 24, 1995), Newsboys’ Take Me to Your Leader (Feb. 20, 1996), and Audio Adrenaline’s Bloom (Feb. 20, 1996). All of these bands would dominate CCM until the “praise & worship” phenomenon of this decade (David Crowder Band, Chris Tomlin, Hillsong United, to name a few). So, contrary to many expectations, CCM has actually shifted toward an even more exlipicit Christian sound and lyrics with the hymn-like quality of praise & worship; although many bands continue in the tradition of dc Talk, Jars of Clay, etc. (such as Jeremy Camp, Brooke Fraser, Needtobreathe, to name a few).

So, there’s a brief history of CCM. And now the song that inspired a generation (well, of evangelicals):



  1. similar to much of mainstream rock before Nirvana broke through

    I don’t know about that, Mr. Davis. Certainly this is true of the so-called hair bands (e.g., Motely Crue, Ratt), but Metallica and Iron Maiden were also mainstream and they weren’t shallow in any way. The lyrics of Iron Maiden, largely from bassist Steve Harris, are quite meaningful.

  2. Metallica and Iron Maiden are usually cited as examples of exceptions to the banality of mainstream rock in the ’80’s. U2, Tom Petty, and others can be cited as well. But, it’s all about exceptions versus generalities; hence, I said “much of,” not “all of.” The fact is that after 1991, you no longer heard anything even close to Poison or Ratt on modern rock radio. You heard Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and eventually Smashing Pumpkins, Live, Collective Soul, and so on — completely different (musically and lyrically) from what came before (thus, similar to what happened in CCM after 1995). A major shift occured, and it took a great song to initiate the shift at the mainstream level, with other great bands standing ready to accompany the shift.

    This was indeed the perfect song for the time:

    Smells Like Teen Spirit

    And note the vocal stylings, punk guitar, lack of elaborate solos, and, of course, the clothes — all departures from the rock that came before. Also, it is not surprising that this sound came from the underground, i.e., punk and metal worlds. A similar shift in mainstream rock would occur in the late nineties / early ’00’s with emo bands taking over (Taking Back Sunday, Dashboard Confessional, etc.). Emo, of course, originated in the punk underground, with bands that were tired of the “serious” and “philosophical” tone of grunge-inspired mainstream rock, so they wrote about girls breaking hearts and similar matters. Taking Back Sunday’s self-titled debut is undoubtedly the most influential album of this decade:

    Great Romances of the 20th Century

    Note the vocal stylings, punk guitar, singing rounds (overlapping vocals), etc.

  3. I should have also noted the feminine aspect of the emo shift — lyrics, high pitch voices, tight clothes, etc. — which served as a balance to the (perhaps) overly male aspect of the grunge shift.

  4. I agree that Nirvana marked a definitive shift in rock music, but I am not so sure it was a good one. Without question, there arose many good (not great) bands of the new genre, e.g., Soundgarden, Candlebox, Pearl Jam, etc., but none of them lasted. Further, and more importantly, none of them, and none now, can boast of the massive audiences that Metallica, Iron Maiden, Guns -n- Roses, or Ozzy commanded. The only two would be Pantera and Tool, with the former being seen as proudly carrying on the tradition of the old, and the latter being so unique that it cannot be said to have its origins in anything grunge or punk.

  5. You have completely offended my musical sensibilities! Shame on you.

    Just kidding. But I seriously cannot understand how Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains are not “great” bands, but merely “good.” Pearl Jam especially has very much lasted, commanding huge audiences (amphitheaters, etc.) whenever they’ve done a tour. No other band has had the audacity to release every single concert from one of their extensive international tours (the Binaural Tour in 2000). Soundgarden and Alice in Chains both retired in the mid-90’s and Cobain killed himself, so they can’t really be judged for not lasting long enough. Their music is still played on modern rock radio stations across the country, and their definitive albums are still judged by critics as among the greatest in rock history.

    Really, this is a pointless debate, since you are clearly a child of the 80’s and I’m a child of the 90’s. Alas, there can be no reconciliation.

    Oh, and Metallica has sucked for the better part of two decades now!

  6. lol!

    Yep. Those who grew up in different decades simply don’t understand each other. And clearly, Pearl Jam was a great band. I’m not sure they (or any of the other grunge bands) ever wanted to sell out gigantic shows like Metallica. PJ was much more at home in intimate settings. They never seemed to stray far from their Seattle roots. For PJ, Nirvana, Soundgarden, AIC, etc. it was never about money or fame. They actually seemed to despise it on occasion (now, certainly that was part of the grunge image). Comparing Metallica to Pearl Jam is like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges.

    PJ aligned themselves with the likes of Neil Young, and not with the likes of Ozzy/Metallica. The grunge bands were a decided shift away from 80s rock and a reach back to the “pure” rock of the 70s. I like to think that Nirvana and Pearl Jam’s purpose here on earth (given to us by God) was to make us forget that the 80s ever happened 🙂 Viva la Cobain!

    I’m with Kevin on this all important debate!


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