Let's get a little dark with Amy Grant
July 8, 2016 4:02 AM   Subscribe

Okay, so Amy Grant is a bit insecure on her first album 1977's Amy Grant, with the song I Know Better Now. Written by an angst-filled 17 year old who is couching her insecurity within her faith in Jesus, it's only one in a long line of songs Amy has written and/or recorded that show true struggle with being human in a difficult world.

Two years later, My Father's Eyes was released, and Amy was channeling Karen Carpenter (with a mild Jesus twist) with her song Always The Winner, a lament about being lonely while being popular.

And don't let the upbeat music of Don't Give Up On Me, from 1980's Never Alone fool you... This is a young woman (barely 20 years old) who is deeply insecure and feels she's failing all the time. Her faith is helping carry her through, but she's very aware of her shortcomings.

Amy truly comes into her own with her 1982 album Age To Age. A true classic of the "golden age of contemporary Christian music" (and damn fine music, really), it's actually Raining On The Inside that bares her soul. The entire album is full of yearning, but this one song.... Reaching out to comfort someone who is deeply troubled, couched (of course) in the comfortable cushion of Jesus' love... but its difficult to deny there is a pain at the core of this song.

Amy began her crossover from "Christian artist" to "mainstream musician" at this point, and 1984's Straight Ahead was her first album for A&M. Her insecurities about this transition were embodied in It's Not A Song, because until it tears you apart, it just isn't.

Amy truly emerged as a current, charting musical artist with 1985's Unguarded, which included two songs full of deep personal struggle -- Fight, which has so much 80s music goodness in a single track it's Kenny Loggins levels of mind-blowing (coupled with deep personal angst about living a Good Life), and Wise Up, an upbeat song which has Amy preaching to herself that maybe she's on the wrong track even while she wants to justify her bad choices.

The whole crossover artist thing really started to truly take off for Amy with 1988's Lead Me On. A great album from start to finish (truly!), there's a lot of her Jungian dark side at play on this release. Shadows confesses about her struggles with her dark side. Faithless Heart perhaps foreshadows her breakup with her first husband Gary Chapman and subsequent marriage to country music star Vince Gill. If These Walls Could Speak reflects on deep history and current personal failings. Really, all of Lead Me On is filled with a sense of loss, yearning for something else, and just a hint of renewal. [I think it's a brilliant album from start to finish. It's an astounding document of its time and is also timeless, and should be more widely recognized for its brilliance. ed. note] [If there's one song I want everyone who reads this post to listen to, If These Walls Could Speak would absolutely be that one song. ed. note, typed while wiping tears, so forgive any misspellings]

Amy's comet only continued to rise over the next few years, and 1990s release Heart In Motion would be an apex for her popular career. Her new, overwhelming success becomes to be a burden, and she all begins to collapse with the song Hats.

By the time 1994's House Of Love is released, Amy's meteoric rise in the mainstream public eye has faded, and she's struggling to retain it (or is she?)? She's left her first husband (to much SCANDAL) and has married Vince Gill, and seems to be settling in to her new life, despite the scorning eye of hardcore conservative Christian fans who were the core of her early fanbase. She releases House Of Love, perhaps 1994's most relentlessly positive album, but even with a cover of Joni Mitchell's unquestionably negavie-couched-in-the-comfort song Big Yellow Taxi, she still includes the not-really-dark-but-very-reflective Oh How The Years Go By. After all these years of angst and Jesus, Amy is starting to think about the context of her life.

But the backlash about her divorce and remarriage turns into a major religio-social backlash, and Amy is forced into confronting how she's alienated her base. Behind The Eyes (1997) could easily be included in its entirely in this playlist [and I do suggest it for listening as an album, because it's an amazing musical document], but I will only point out one dark song here: Missing You.

2003's Simple Things was a reemergence of Amy Grant as a song writer and original artist after many years playing it safe with albums of hymns and such. But she wasn't holding back. Eye To Eye is a song of searching for reconnection. And in a moment of darkness that might lead into light, Amy reflects on how I Don't Know Why.

Somewhere Down The Road was Amy's 2010 release, a lot of years away from original recording. But the title track Somewhere Down The Road makes it's obvious that she's still seeking what she was seeking so many years ago as a teenager. Reassurance and acceptance. As are we all.

Amy's most recent release came after the death of her mother, and How Mercy Looks From Here is a reflection of a musical star who has been active for nearly 40 years who is reflecting upon her lengthy career and life, a career that began before she even really knew what life was, and a life that has expanded well beyond what she thought it was when she was singing narrowly about Jesus so many decades ago. How Mercy Looks From Here -- Amy's darkness isn't as dark now as it was so many decades before.
posted by hippybear (56 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't know this was just what I needed today, but this is just what I needed today.
posted by grabbingsand at 4:17 AM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

(I even made a playlist.)
posted by grabbingsand at 4:27 AM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Amy Grant was my first favorite contemporary artist - I think Heart in Motion came out when I was eleven. Thank you for this.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 4:32 AM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

A nice echo of the post a while back that looked at the dark side of ABBA.
posted by edheil at 4:54 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

She was my first favourite artist too. I was 14 I think when Heart in Motion came out. That was my first concert too. I scrimped and saved to buy her earlier albums despite being so conflicted about listening to Christian music (was so not cool in my world). But "I'm gonna fly" and "all I ever have to be" helped so much. Basically I desperately wanted her to be my big sister.

Weirdly I never bought any of her albums after Heart in Motion.
posted by kitten magic at 4:56 AM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Wow, this is quite the post!
posted by Fig at 5:17 AM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I do get asked why I prefer Metafilter to something like Reddit.

It's for this reason.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 5:21 AM on July 8, 2016 [15 favorites]

I am having a wonderful evening playing all my favourites on YouTube. It's quite the religious education for the cat. Thank you so much for this post.
posted by kitten magic at 5:30 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by waxbanks at 6:18 AM on July 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

Holy cow, I didn't recognize the titles of any of these except Raining on the Inside, but when I clicked the links, the songs (and the album covers, oh boy!) brought me right back to my bedroom in the upper back corner of our house, stretched out by my boom box that I begged so hard for. Heart in Motion is the last album I recognize, but I must have had almost every album prior. Some even on cassette. Jeez.
posted by Liesl at 6:33 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recall reading about her and her husband donating to George W. Bush's campaign (in 2004, I believe), which suggests that she is partisan in the US Culture War, on the conservative side.
posted by acb at 6:34 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Apparently, she's a distant cousin.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:38 AM on July 8, 2016

(For what it's worth, I didn't know that - I just was interested to see if I could find that factoid myself and did a google search.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:48 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

My parents had a Christian-music-only rule when I was growing up, and Amy Grant was the one artist who overlapped between my parents' taste and the kinds of music I was interested in, so we listened to a LOT of Amy Grant in the car. I loved Lead Me On as a kid, and when Heart in Motion came out we played it nonstop in the car until one day my mom apologized but she just couldn't find the tape, it seemed to have gone missing.

When I was a little older and got really into the band the Innocence Mission I was delighted to learn that "Shadows" is a cover (lyrics partially rewritten) of an Innocence Mission song from their long-out-of-print debut EP: Shadows
posted by jessypie at 7:13 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I notice that you didn't mention Grant's song "Baby, Baby" in this post.
posted by orange swan at 7:16 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I notice that you didn't mention Grant's song "Baby, Baby" in this post.

Angie Jordan: I'm sorry, you want me to perform in this?!

Liz Lemon: Yeah. You're Amy Grant from the Baby Baby video. The one where the man likes her at the carnival.

Angie Jordan: That's some white nonsense.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 7:53 AM on July 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

I never knew there was an Amy Grant scandal and backlash. Huh.
posted by bongo_x at 8:19 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Back when I was a churchgoer, before I decided that really wasn't me, I listened to a lot of Amy Grant. I never felt like I was forced to. It was - and is - good music. I still enjoy it. It's songs of a normal person with common struggles and it's easy for people to relate to; I guess I while I was happy to see her make it on a bigger stage with her radio hits, I just didn't get the same reassurance off of the popular hits. Not that they were bad, but it wasn't the relatable feelings from before. I still have her music in my library. Sometimes it's good to have some "even if you're flawed on the inside, you're OK" music to listen to.
posted by azpenguin at 8:33 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nowadays I have more respect and compassion for her as a person/artist, but god I hated her so much when I was a teen because I could not escape her. Being tired of her songs, but restricted to Christian music, led me to start listening to 2nd Chapter of Acts, who were utterly loopy hippie-Christians but at least didn't make me feel like I was stuck inside a Clearasil commercial.
posted by emjaybee at 9:08 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Doesn't this belong in the currently active thread about whether Christian pop music is insufficiently dark?

Kidding! This is a great post, hippybear. Let me add a link to "Sex, Amy Grant and the Quest for the Righteous Fox", an old essay from The Wittenburg Door (which has changed hands since then) to give a window into some of the screwed-up and impossible expectations Grant faced in the Christian Contemporary Music industry. (And note this was written before she got divorced.)
It's about this: she used to be ours, and now she isn't. She used to be
Contemporary Christian subculture's fresh, untouched, pretty young secret.
Then she gave herself away. First to a man, then to the unwashed masses
over in Adult Contemporary.

And now years later, many of us still haven't forgiven her. We haven't
forgiven Amy for getting married, for daring to admit that she is a sexual
being, for bearing children (lest we forget, the most glaring result of
carnal relations). Most of all, we've never forgiven her for not choosing
posted by straight at 9:11 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, when Rich Mullins died in a car crash and left behind a rough demo tape of some of the best songs he'd ever written, several CCM artists got together in 1998 to record them as a tribute and Amy Grant contributed a performance head and shoulders above everyone else on the album's best song, Nothing is Beyond You.
posted by straight at 9:24 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

song: Amy Grant by Rae Spoon
posted by Theta States at 9:39 AM on July 8, 2016

Added bonus, for those who have never heard it, Baby Baby (7" Heart In Motion Mix). My friends and I used to call this the "Madonna Mix" of this song.

I'm glad to see the love for Amy Grant this post is getting. I've shed so much of my days as a hardcore Christian, but Amy Grant is someone I continue to follow across the decades. She continues to make music that I connect with, and I'd probably go see her again in concert (I saw her on four different tours during her heyday) if she were to come to this area again. Great musician, great music, great person.

Honestly, what I really want is to have a relaxed mimosa brunch with her, with a guitar nearby for her to grab if the mood strikes.
posted by hippybear at 9:42 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

The quote from The Door that straight posted reminded me that the song "Leave Amy Alone" by Lust Control is a thing that existed. "You're judging someone you don't even know/you'll find out on Judgment Day." I can't even find it to link to, though there's a 30-second sample on Amazon and the whole song is only 52 seconds. (It's from 1992 even though the Amazon link says 2006.)
posted by jessypie at 9:45 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd probably go see her again in concert if she were to come to this area again

Oh, I see she's coming to this area in November on a Christmas tour with Michael W Smith.

See, the thing is, I used to REALLY FUCKING LOVE MWS when I was deep in the Christian scene. After I was told to leave the church during part of my coming out process, I tried to keep loving MWS, but he's made such rabidly anti-gay statements over the years, I have a hard time even listening to the albums of his that are real solid classics, basically any of his albums up through 2000. I love his music, but I don't need any of that bigoted bullshit in my life. I own his first 8 albums on vinyl, cassette and CD, but his subsequent statements mean I basically don't listen to any of his music anymore. That makes me sad.
posted by hippybear at 9:56 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Baby Baby (7" Heart In Motion Mix)

Oh man, this is so 1991 I feel like I should try to have a girlfriend again.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:28 AM on July 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

Oh man, this is so 1991 I feel like I should try to have a girlfriend again.

Nah, that's not necessary. Besides, we have a date to go out dancing like procedurally-programmed dancing animated bears together sometime.
posted by hippybear at 10:32 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

So ... I guess nobody's gonna post the 2016 "Baby Baby" remake with Tori Kelly, so I'll do it.
posted by grabbingsand at 10:34 AM on July 8, 2016

For comparison's sake, here's Amy Grant at the 1992 Grammy's, introduced by Whoopi Goldberg.
posted by grabbingsand at 10:38 AM on July 8, 2016

The usual double-standard white evangelicals employ when seeking vicarious legitimacy through celebrity: the slightest vague reference to God from any popular white celebrity is fiercely embraced as affirmation that our sub-culture is Right About Everything and that others should be jealous of how cool we are by comparison to them...Celebrities celebrated for vague God-talk tend to retain evangelical admiration even after it becomes very clear that they don’t share anything like our evangelical understanding of God. But if they fully embrace that evangelical understanding, fully establishing themselves as, truly, One Of Us, then that admiration becomes conditional and they become subject to all the same litmus tests and catechisms that every other member of the tribe must endure — with the same consequences for any failure to maintain purity. Former members of the subculture, meanwhile, get no credit at all for any kind of God-talk, even explicit evangelicalese (e.g., Katy Perry).

If you want to be beloved by white evangelicals, then, your best bet is to never become one of them.

Fred Clark, slacktivist
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:55 AM on July 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

Amy Grant by the Young Fresh Fellows.
posted by whuppy at 11:00 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I discovered I was gay while watching Amy Grant's Christmas special in the mid '80s.

Not kidding even a little.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:05 AM on July 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

This is a great post, hippybear. Amy Grant does get short shrift but so much of her music shows a great deal of depth and self-reflection.

Back in my college days I worked part time at a Christian bookstore in Chicagoland and managed to land my roommate the same job. Off the clock we listened to early Genesis, ELO, ELP and Yes. While at work we played Daniel Amos, 77s, Charlie Peacock, Resurrection Band, that kind of alternative Christian rock stuff unless the boss was around, in which case we switched it to Amy Grant and a few other artists that we all liked or could at least endure.

I had no issue with living various musical lives, but the pressure must have gotten to my roommate, because he freaked out when Word Records released Unguarded and marketed it to the secular market. He refused to play it in the store, defaced one of the store's posters by crossing out "Unguarded" and replacing it with "Unguided", and explaining at length to any customer unlucky enough to buy the album from us how far Grant had fallen from grace. I was just glad that she was expanding her vision and musical boundaries. Back in our dorm room, we had moved on to Butthole Surfers and whatever WNUR-FM and WXRT-FM was dishing out. Strange days.
posted by vverse23 at 11:05 AM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

This is one of those posts that make me feel like I grew up on another planet. Such a well-crafted post and a clearly very fond picture painted of an artist who's had a long career and gained many fans, and I have never heard of her. I guess she didn't make it to the UK. Christian contemporary tends not to.

If you want to be beloved by white evangelicals, then, your best bet is to never become one of them.

Does this go some way to explaining why evangelicals love Trump?
posted by corvine at 11:52 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

(and now that I've gone and actually read the link I see it was in reference to just that. Don't mind me.)
posted by corvine at 11:55 AM on July 8, 2016

Man, a comparison of the American Evangelical response to Katy Perry vs. Donald Trump thinkpiece would probably be the flimsiest of click bait but I sure would click it hard.

And the slow shunning of Amy Grant by many who loved her was something I was going to comment on as "so weird and hard to explain unless you lived through it" so I'm glad it is coming up in our comments. The idea that it was happening for some back in 1985 is just wow though.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:08 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

The idea that it was happening for some back in 1985 is just wow though.

I remember when Straight Ahead was released and some of the kids in my church youth group were all "it's not Jesus-y enough". I was a bit oO about that reaction at the time, even though I was pretty high from mainlining Jesus myself at the time.
posted by hippybear at 2:11 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is a great post. I haven't heard Lead Me On in 25 years. Am listening now. Thanks!
posted by persona au gratin at 2:20 PM on July 8, 2016

I remember very clearly evangelicals looking askance at Amy Grant for doing "secular" music.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:22 PM on July 8, 2016

Rich Mullins died in a car crash? Did not know.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:23 PM on July 8, 2016

And I'm a huge Fred Clark fan. Hippybear: I did not know that about MWS. Very disappointing.

vverse: I too am from the Chicago burbs and was into the Xn scene at roughly the same time. Same musical tastes as you (off the clock), too. Small world!
posted by persona au gratin at 2:27 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Such a well-crafted post and a clearly very fond picture painted of an artist who's had a long career and gained many fans, and I have never heard of her.

You most likely have heard this song, which was arguably her biggest hit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:01 PM on July 8, 2016

And the slow shunning of Amy Grant by many who loved her was something I was going to comment on as "so weird and hard to explain unless you lived through it" so I'm glad it is coming up in our comments.

It's only weird and hard to explain if you try to explain it as a uniquely Christian (or generally religious) phenomenon, which it really isn't. In a more secular vein, look at how people reacted to Bob Dylan playing electric guitar, or the shitfit that aging grunge fans threw over Chris Cornell working on a project with Justin Timberlake.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 4:39 PM on July 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

But the Bob Dylan thing wasn't a slow shunning that happened across years and releases. It was a Moment, or a series of quickly-following Moments, and it was swift and sudden and while today it's recognized as one of Dylan's more astute and truly culture-changing moves, the Amy Grant shunning started with any album after Age To Age. There was a slow and gradual peeling away of support for her in Xian circles that increased with every release up to Heart In Motion when Baby Baby hit it big which was a truly big deal for her career-wise but which resulted in basically everyone who loved her early material for religious reasons completely letting her go.

It's been an odd things to watch across the decades. I still follow her closely (obviously), but I'm one of the few from those early days to still stick with her.
posted by hippybear at 4:52 PM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Louis Black just loves Amy Grant.

Unguarded is to this day my favorite Amy Grant album and gets regular rotation.

vverse23, I still ❤ the 77s. In a brighter timeline they got big and U2 was relegated to obscurity.
posted by djeo at 4:58 PM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

On second thought I'm going to semi-retract that gush about the 77s. The music is great but some of the lyrics (I'm thinking Your Pretty Baby in particular) are pretty goddamned gross.
posted by djeo at 5:28 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I lovehate the background singers saying "CHA!" In "Hats."

One of the things that always frustrated me about CCM is the shoddy production and/or cop-out songwriting. When Grant is performing a decent song it's pretty and even moving but even then everything sounds so plastic. I often wonder what would happen if Grant worked with a world-class producer like T-Bone Burnett or Joe Henry or Rick Rubin and used session musicians from outside the CCM bubble what might happen. What if Grant did something like this?

I think one song that belongs in the OP's list is definitely "How Can We See That Far," a song in which she is pretty boldly expressing her misgivings about her first marriage. When Lemonade came out, I thought of this song- though the genre requirements for CCM music mean Grant could never have expressed rage the way Beyoncé does on that album.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:10 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, if you like Amy Grant, you will probably love Sixpence None The Richer.
posted by Beholder at 8:05 PM on July 8, 2016

Sixpence None The Richer was produced by Christian music superman Steve Taylor, who probably deserves his own FPP if he hasn't had one yet, because his outlook on CCM and christianity in general was so far askew from the mainstream that he often ran into trouble with different religious groups.

Steve Taylor was also a part of Chagall Guevara, which is in itself an entire other FPP of varying popularity. His I Predict 1990 album is a regular part of my music rotation because it's just so fucking awesome. There might be an FPP happening soon about just that one album, really.
posted by hippybear at 8:43 PM on July 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

In the liner notes for the CD re-release of the Young Fresh Fellow's The Men Who Love Music, which has "Amy Grant" on it, the band said that they received a lovely note from Grant after the song started to get radio play, and they really liked her for it.

John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats has mentioned being a big Amy Grant fan more than once as well.
posted by mishaps at 8:53 PM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

On second thought I'm going to semi-retract that gush about the 77s. The music is great but some of the lyrics (I'm thinking Your Pretty Baby in particular) are pretty goddamned gross.

I'll say this about that song (which is pretty transparently pro-life): in the Christian music world at the time that was considered dark and edgy and trod ground that I don't think Amy Grant ever approached. The framing of this FPP is interesting because Amy Grant did indeed look into the abyss, but her personal abyss was contemplative and theological, and I can't really think of a single issues-related song that she wrote. Perhaps that contributed to her wider appeal.
posted by vverse23 at 8:56 PM on July 8, 2016

I once was hiking alone for 6 weeks. and I had exactly one cassette tape to listen to if I couldn't get a radio signal: Amy Grant.

Totally grew on me, even "Baby, baby".
posted by jb at 9:56 PM on July 8, 2016

And if you like Sixpence, you'll probably like Over the Rhine.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:48 AM on July 9, 2016

OMFG, hippybear. I grew up with CCM, and a sister who loved Amy Grant (and The Second Chapter of Acts) and so your amazing post just really kinda threw me for a loop, as did seeing other MeFites who knew the scene. Don't know why it surprised me, since my very first FPP here was about Daniel Amos, but it did throw me. Anyways, great stuff. (I also thought about Dylan's Christian phase just yesterday, when I saw him play at Forest Hills, since I now love him, but SAVED was the very first album of his I heard all the way through.)
posted by old_growler at 2:12 AM on July 9, 2016

I can't with Steve Taylor though. His early music is pretty judgemental and trots out all the popular prejudices against liberals so that he can mock them. (See "Bad Rap.") And he was blatantly homophobic/heterosexist in his music - see "Whatever Happened To Sin."

Even though in later years Taylor seems to have mellowed out from baldly participating in the culture wars, I've never run across anything from him that suggests he's had a change of heart. And since my father loved his music and played his albums nonstop, I can say that a great many of the inherited political ideas I carried around until I was in college originated with Taylor's music. That includes my own homophobia/heterosexism - I was in my early 20s before I ended up rejecting conservatism, Christianity, and homophobia. Taylor's music was propaganda in the purest sense of the word - it inculcated conservative dogma in me at an age (I was 10 when Taylor's first album came out) when I was deeply impressionable and had no voices countering his messages.

I hope he's evolved as a person and has grown out of his homophobia and Grover Norquist-style conservatism, and I'd welcome the news if he were ever to publicly renounce his early views. But til then: nah.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:37 AM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks, hippybear, this is great. Back in the 80s, when I was a weird misfit Catholic kid trying hard to be a good dog like they wanted, I had all of Amy's early albums on cassette. This explains why they resonated so much. From now on I pledge to own the fact that my first concert was Amy Grant, yeah that's right, actually I saw her on two different tours and don't regret it.
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:51 AM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

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