Worship Music's "Good Old Days": Featuring Vineyard Music, Delirious?, Revival Generation & Darrell Evans

This article is part of an ongoing series called Worship in Full Spectrumto find truths within the paradoxes of the Church's worship and its worship music.

Here now is a brief history of the Golden Age of Worship Music (according to me). 

My previous article discussed my tendency to forever want to get back to the "good old days" of worship. I recounted my journey from Pentecostalism to Anglicanism (or Spirit-filled spontaneity to structured liturgy) and how I am forever caught in the tension between the two. 

This article will focus more specifically on the music of my "good old days" and the next article will eventually list out a number of potential other "good old days" for people in other traditions. Musically speaking, within the church the list of golden ages "when we did music right" grows long. The previous article warned of the dangers of sentimentality in worship and this article as well as the next will continue in that spirit even as they revels in nostalgia.

For those of us immersed in church life we all have a set of songs that feel like our own, songs that formed us and came to define us. The problem is, "our songs" can become a detraction from the worship of God when our first reaction is to hate "their songs" because they are not like "our songs" or were not written at the same time. My hope is to begin unpacking some of these tendencies within myself, while also pointing to those tendencies in others, those groups who have another set of "our songs" which they hold dear. And by the way, I am well aware my "Golden Age" is often derided as an age of self-focused decadence and insipid musicality by those from more "traditional" forms of Church music. So be it. It is my Golden Age and I am sticking with it.

The best way I can describe the "good old days" of worship music for me was that I was part of a sub-culture that was obsessed with Indie or Alternative worship music. In this way the music we sang in our youth group mirrored the "secular" music being produced at that time. Back in the 90's there were lots of bands and artists that as a listener you had to seek out. You had to "find" them through a friend or a zine or someone older than you that had more connections than you. I assume discovering new music for kids is similar today but there is one key difference: back then we did not have the internet. We were relying on radio stations, record stores, magazines, and television to tell us what to listen to. If we did not like what those avenues had to offer or we were curious if there was more music out there than we knew about, we had limited resources of discovery. For me, I believe I did not have consistent internet access until 1997.

What this meant for our music tastes was that as youth group kids we always felt like we were on the verge of an incredible musical discovery. We were hungry for the next great worship song or album. "What would they come out with next?" was our constant plea and cry. From what I recall, this obsession began with the Vineyard Church's Winds of Worship albums. This was music that felt like it was coming from another place. This was music that felt like it was written and recorded during times of true "revival". This was anointed music, the epitome of "Spirit-filled" worship.  Listening back to the songs now they mostly sound pretty tame and conventionally "adult contemporary" in style, but to us it felt like a musical revolution. It felt like we were joining in the song of Heaven. 

I think for me Winds of Worship Volume 3 was the most formative early album, containing songs like "Sweet Wind" and "We Will Dance", both written by David Ruis. Notice on the album cover the utterly awful graphic design but the little clue at the bottom as to what we could expect from the music: first, it was live from Toronto, where a known revival had been taking place at the Toronto Airport Vineyard and then it says "live: extended play," meaning the songs were going to be long. I am not sure how overtly Pentecostal to get with my language, but this album is thick with God's presence. You can even hear people doing some "holy laughter" in the background. For a little peak into the history of the album you can go here: http://www.worship.co.za/pages/ww-03r.asp "Sweet Wind" was my favorite worship song for a while as a kid:

The album also contained other "contemporary" now-classics such as "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord", "Shout to the Lord" (the Kevin Prosch one, not the Darlene Zschech one), and "Refiner's Fire" by Brian Doerksen (both Prosch and Doerksen were icons of the Vineyard worship movement). Looking back I can see that my church sang at least a few songs from the first seven Winds of Worship albums. Think of that. From 1994-1998 we ate up the songs on those albums. Vineyard and Winds of Worship pretty much dictated the songs my congregation sang. And please note: we were not forced into it! We loved these songs. We couldn't not sing them. Along with this, you have to realize this music felt completely "authentic" and "unmanufactured" to us. It felt like the people's song, and you could hear that through the recording itself. Sure, the format was similar to the Rockstar Worship Leader people make fun of nowadays, but if you listen close the songs are passionately congregational. People were singing their heart's out to these songs and making them their personal prayers. It felt like with each album we had been let in on a series of special moments where these people had met with God. As listeners and worshippers it felt like we had been let in on the cutting edge of something new and thus we ourselves felt special. 

If you want to see the track listing of all the Winds of Worship albums, as well as an awesomely 90's-tastic website, visit here: http://www.worship.co.za/ww/ww-01.asp. It says it was last updated in 1999 and I believe them.

And yet most of the Vineyard music felt a bit too safe for us, if still completely anointed (if you think I am being coy or ironic, that interpretation is on you.) At the same as all of this was going on many of us in youth group culture were seeking out other alternate forms of Christian music, which led us to various folk and rock acts that emerged from non-traditional music scenes. These were bands that were not part of the CCM Nashville record company machine—at least they weren't yet... I am thinking of bands that began as grassroots, word-of-mouth artists like Third Day, Caedmon's Call, and Sixpence None The Richer—yes, these now mainstream CCM bands had grassroots beginnings. And then there was a whole slew of "independent" labels such as Tooth & Nail, 5 Minute Walk, and Squint which gave us a firehose of bands to choose from.  

It was around this time (say somewhere in 1997-98) that many of us began get word of a coming British Invasion of worship music. I was fortunate enough to have a local Christian radio station that featured a Sunday night show that played alternative or youth oriented Christian music. I was also fortunate enough to have youth group leaders and worship leaders that seemed to always be a few steps ahead of everyone else. One of those people was Andy King, who was both a DJ at the radio station and one of our youth leaders. 

What I am going to say next will sound like naive over-the-top hyperbole for anyone who could not care less about 90's youth group culture or contemporary worship music, but here it goes: for us, when the worship band Delirious?, Matt Redman, and the Revival Generation CD's made it over to America, it was as exciting as The Beatles' "invasion" of America in 1964. As powerful and life-changing as the Vineyard albums were, the music coming out of Britain seemed all the more desperate for God to move. I should also mention that at this time Winds of Worship Volume 12 came out, which featured "Come, Now is the Time to Worship" and "All Who Are Thirsty". Then, a year or so later the Hungry album came out, which featured "Breathe", "Your Name is Holy", and "Jesus Be the Center". Both albums were recorded in London, which is to say the British wing of Vineyard music kept up with the overall exporting of worship music coming out of the island.

The amount of songs I could list that came out of England which Utterly Changed My Life would be too many. Instead, I will attempt to list the musical moments when it felt as if the winds of worship had shifted in another direction.

Delirious?, the five guys from Littlehampton (most notably Martin Smith and Stu G), gave us a set of amazing songs in the Cutting Edge collections, but for many the game changer was their live album Live and in the Can, which, if you were fortunate enough to get an early version of, came in an actual can. For me the musical highlights were "Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?" and the "spontaneous" "There is a Light".

Suffice to say, every single song Delirious? put out in those early days was special to me. Yes, they wrote some now much maligned songs, such as "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever" and "Happy Song" (the latter of which even Delirious doesn't like any longer) and yes, they might just have ruined worship music for the next few decades as now almost everyone wants to be a Worship Rock Star, but they captured a moment in time and gave us some great songs (none of which anybody really sings in churches anymore, sadly enough). In many ways Delirious? reached the peak of worship influence with the song "History Maker" off their King of Fools album. How much more epic can you get than with a song like this?

Soon though I/we became hungry for more. This is where the Revival Generation albums came in. These albums contained a mixture of up and coming (mostly) British worship leaders. The banner waving song from the initial Revival Generation album was "We Want To See Jesus Lifted High".

Can you believe this song? What an utter cheese fest. And yet we really, really loved this song. Again, please remember that it felt special to us. We were singing a song that praised Christ and lifted our nation up in prayer. Song's like "We Want to See" signaled the advent of the "youth group song", that is, songs specifically tailored for tweens and teenagers to sing. "We Want to See" in particular felt like it was dangling too dangerously close to the border between a sincere heartfelt praise song or a deliberately manufactured song meant to jerk on people's emotions. Looking back it would seem to fall in the latter category, but I still don't know. This song brings up fond memories for me. At least one "youth group song" almost became obligatory on future worship records. Go back and listen to David Crowder Band's and Matt Redman's albums and try to figure out the stand out "YGS". Speaking of Matt Redman...

Far and away my favorite modern worship leader, both his songs and his way of leading is Matt Redman. I have had a number of critical things to say about Redman over the years (for example, Why I've Never Sung Matt Redman's '10,000 Reasons' At My Church5 Pieces of Advice For Matt Redman & The Multiverse of a Worship Song) but that is only because I love his work so much. The compilation album Let Your Glory Fall features a number of tracks recorded during one of the annual Soul Survivor festivals. These huge worship gatherings and festivals were becoming quite popular in England and I made sure to scoop up a number of live recordings when I went to England in the year 2000. Here are two of the highlight tracks for me from Revival Generation: Let Your Glory Fall: "The Eyes of My Heart" by Redman and "Beautiful Savior" by Stuart Townend of "In Christ Alone" fame.

The list of songs goes on and on. There are so many that are dear to me. This was my golden age. I know every song on Redman's first three American released albums and can play most of them on guitar, half of them from memory. I collected his rare tracks like some kind of Bob Dylan aficionado. In Redman I found my guy. This was my music. He was helping me sing the song of my heart to God. In my opinion, his best album was and still is The Father's Song.

There was a worship explosion going on during these years. I could list out the many other artists and ministries that continued recording spontaneous moments of worship such as Morning Star Ministries or Jason Upton, I could discuss Passion, the U.S. worship conference and movement that birthed many a worship leader star, or I could list how highly influential the Enter the Worship Circle albums were, but to close I instead want to focus on two other highly influential worship projects.

The first is another Vineyard project called The Burn Service. This was the first album to be released under Vineyard's youth label. It was the first worship album other than something from Delirious? that felt tailored to us as youth group kids. I never actually owned it myself, but I remember how big of a deal it was when this song started getting sung at church:

Good stuff, I know. The point of this kind of song was not theological depth, but unhindered devotion to God (with a rock beat). I have moved on from songs like this, but I still can understand their place within the Church's worship (I would have trouble singing this with a straight face today though). These are the types of songs written to bring about revival, even though at the end of the day they seem pretty forced to me now. To me The Burn Service signaled a shift to youth oriented music, which culminated in the now monolithic Hillsong United (may they forever reign).

Finally, an artist who's work never seemed forced to me was Darrell Evans, whose Freedom album made a huge impact on me. Evans is mostly known for his somewhat throwaway youth groupy tunes "Freedom", "Trading My Sorrows", and "So Good To Me", but I don't think this is where he excelled. Evans (who is definitely still making music today) has a proclivity for the epic anthem. The greatest of these is the 9 minutes plus "I Am In Love With You", which definitely fits into the much maligned ooey-gooey "Jesus is my boyfriend" genre (especially in the chorus), but also loosely resembles a Psalm (as in the verses). Pretty much though it is simply an incredible song, featuring the virtuosic Lincoln Brewster on guitar (who later ruined EVERYTHING by trying to be a worship music rock star himself). 

So there you have it. This was my worship music Golden Age. 1994 to maybe 2004. The first few Chris Tomlin and David Crowder Band albums had a big impact on me as well, so you could even extend those years until 2008, but for me the last great album of my era was Matt Redman's Facedown. That is kind of where I feel like "my" era ended. The songs of this time period simply are Better. Their lyrics are superior, the melodies are stronger, and there is more of an anointing on them, right?

And herein lies the danger of clinging too closely "our" music.

The first time I felt like worship music was passing me by was when "Everyday" by Hillsong United became a Thing. I remember thinking "Really? This song?" I was at the tail end of high school and there was a new set of worship band kids coming up through my youth group. It seemed like everyone wanted to sing this song all of the time. I did not exactly hate it, but it was pretty blah to me. In the years that followed I led the song in youth group settings numerous times and even came to enjoy it now and then. But then a year later another Hillsong United track started getting sung, one called "Best Friend". This time around I was not merely saying "Really?" This time I felt as if something was deeply wrong. Everyone was just as passionate about this song as with "Everyday". They had somehow come to drink the worship music Koolaid. It seemed like we had crossed another worship music threshold, into some kind of blatant vapid, anti-intellectual, anti-theological commercialism. This was not a song I was indifferent about, this was a song that needed to be taken out behind church after service, quietly strangled, and then buried without anyone knowing.  

One might say these early extravagances let to such abomination-level nonsense as this and this.

I might have theological and musical justification for wanting to murder "Best Friend", but the real danger is hating a song merely because it is new or because you feel like it is not yours, as if the music is coming from a place foreign to you. This is how much of the modern worship written in the last decade sounds to me. I struggle to make it my own, to internalize it, to allow it to become my prayer to God. I have come to realize I am living in someone else's Golden Age. One day they will look back at their Good Old Days and lament about the time when they really knew how to write worship music, but for now, this is their time.

Here is the universal struggle: humbly realizing that everyone likes a particular kind of music or era of music more than all the others, and that not a single era or kind is better than any other. This requires humility and a willingness to listen from all age groups and this is no easy task.

Now, with that said, there is some scientific and aesthetic proof that the music of our culture is getting increasingly dumbed down, as this article points out: Science Proves: Pop Music Has Actually Gotten Worse, which is to say I see a real problem with the music of many many modern worship songs and there really is no point in comparing them to a solid time-approved hymn. I talk about this at length in this article: The Moment I Began to Lose Faith In Contemporary Worship Music. Even so, any musical knowledge we possess should not inhibit us from at least listening to and considering new music.

I cannot imagine what old-school Pentecostals thought of the insurgence of the new worship music of the early 90's. Perhaps they were the ones horrified and thought the anointing had left God's people. Whatever era we find ourselves in there will always be the difficult choice right in front of us to choose to praise God today. It is difficult because this is a heart matter, but often our surroundings and the things we love are directly connected to our hearts. 

Now, I go to a church where I pick all the music, so my job is easy. Of course I think I am picking superior music, as I am continually attempting to create my own Golden Age, even if on a small-scale, local level. I would have a much harder time if I were a normal worshipper though. That would be the real test for me and my worship of God during the weekly gathering.

This article was my Golden Age. My next article will focus on other people's Golden Ages, those eras and styles of the Church's song that are distinctively different from each other.

Previous Article: Chasing the Ghosts of Worship Past—a worship leader's lament 
Other Articles in the Worship in Full Spectrum Series
Will it Endure? The Search For a Canon of Contemporary Worship Music
I Don't Care If the Church Will Sing It In 2065
Worship in Full Spectrum: An Introduction
Hymnals = Vinyl: The Case For and Against Hymnals in Worship 

Confession: I Am An Irrelevant Worship Pastor
Worship Music Should Be Radically Contemporary
The Multiverse of a Worship Song: Matt Redman's "This Beating Heart"


Mrs. Ramsey said...

Fantastic article! I lived through this era as well and have so many fond memories of genuine worship- even so much so that I posted a couple of songs to FB and tagged friends from old youth ministry days to reminisce with. You did hit the nail on the head that we are living in someone else's "era" and that it must have been so difficult to live through the 90s with your "era" having passed. As a worship leader, it's so easy to pick within our "era" when doing song selection, because we think these songs have the most meaning or theological significance. This is exactly why, as worship leaders who get serious stage time and a large amount of theological influence with our congregations, it's important to have more than just a preference-based repertoire, but a desire to teach, lead and exclaim the gospel to all generations in attendance on any given Sunday. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

Alyssa M said...

For the record, I never did like "we want to see." But the rest of the article, yes.

PostConsumer Reports said...

Haha. Fair enough. Yes, the song didn't really last long. Everybody got sick of it soon.

PostConsumer Reports said...

Mrs. Ramsey, thanks for your thoughts! It sound like we've had similar experiences and have come to similar conclusions. Blessings.

lyka said...

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w i n n i e said...

Thanks for the indulgence of the old days!!! LOL
Your article put a smile on my face this morning!

I think music is such a beautiful thing to connect and unveil the yearning of one's heart. I'm sure it's doing just the same with the "present" generations lol

and to be honest, some of the present stuff has touched me in a deep way too. Being open to God makes music a catalyst to His work, including music, regardless of the "times," for God is timeless.