There are certain songs that not only embody a particular idea, but also capture for the listener the spirit of its time. So when most of us think of classic 70s disco-funk, our minds often drift to Curtis Mayfield, Sly & The Family Stone, Earth Wind & Fire, or similar artists. But my mind immediately goes first to this song, the blistering opener from his classic recording, This Is Another Day.
It’s a bit of stretch for me to call this a song from my era, since I was born the year this song was released and didn’t come to appreciate it until I was seven or eight. But given that my parents had the good sense to play edifying music around the house instead of songs like “Lady Marmalade” and “It’s Raining Men,” I learned how to groove and shimmy to this one instead.
And man, I’m glad they did.
Andrae Crouch, eight-time Grammy award-winning artist and gospel music pioneer
One of the things that I love about this song is the use of sonorous contrast. When the intro comes in, sounding all smooth and dangerous and Shaft-like (come on, you know I wasn’t sheltered my whole life), the whole groove is rooted in C# minor, and as all of the wah-wah guitars and percolating percussion and cascading horns come to a crescendo, the melody kicks in – not in its relative major of E, but up a whole step to F# major.
What results (for those of you turned off by the music theory geek speak) is a sense of unexpected discovery that underscores the title. In the middle of a furious musical maelstrom, the melody lands softly onto a pleasant musical bed, like a baby sleeping soundly in the eye of a hurricane. And as the melody winds its way through the chord progression, the musical cues lend a sense of depth and pathos by reinforcing its meaning.
When Andrae and his singers echoed the words of Isaiah 26:3 – You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You – it wasn’t just a pleasant sentiment to be displayed on someone’s desk or refrigerator door. They were fiercely proclaiming Jesus’ promise to supernaturally uphold his children in the midst of life-threatening storms.
So for me as an adult, “Perfect Peace” is no longer just an exercise in nostalgia or an instructive in how to craft a funky tune, though it surely works as both. For me, it’s a reminder to trust God and don an essential piece of His full armor, one that allows me to walk freely in His plans, despite my fear of the unknown. I can put on my headphones and, for at least a few minutes, relax, knowing that God’s got this whole future thing on lock.
So break out your afro wigs and your platform shoes, and then crank up your speakers this classic gospel throwback. You can get it on Amazon MP3 here, and don’t forget to check out this incredible Norwegian cover here.
Hezekiah Walker & The Love Fellowship Crusade Choir
“Christ Did It All”
Live From Atlanta At Morehouse College, Verity (1994)
So here’s a fun little experiment. Go to any black-owned barbershop, predominantly black church, or inner-city parachurch organization. Head into the office, conference room, or other common gathering place. Then play this song. And count how many people stop whatever they’re doing, and say, “THIS IS MY JAM!!”
(I’m guessing the over/under here is five.)
Now, for as long as there have been black people filling churches and singing in choirs, there have always been uptempo songs that make people move, jump, and clap. But this one always comes to mind for me when I think about about classic choir jams, and I think some of the following attributes combine to make this song and recording excellent.
First, there are two complementary, essential pieces – the choir enunciates its consonants well, and the mics are properly placed to pick them up. It might seem like a little thing, but without proper enunciation and mic placement, “Christ did it all” sounds a lot more like “rice did it all” (which I suppose could be a great parody version for the US Rice Growers Association, although, if I were them, I would go with the brilliant standard in misheard lyrics, “We Bring the Sacks of Rice On Trays”)
Also, the excellent blowing of Kim Waters on alto saxophone. This might’ve been the first contemporary choir recording where the saxophone was so front-and-center, featured prominently in the B-section of the chorus. (It’s a shame that this was excluded from the video, but it’s there in the commercially recorded audio.)
But mostly what makes this song such a jam is the infectious energy of the choir. In a lot of today’s contemporary gospel, the choir is simply there in support of a lead singer (or in some cases, a worship leader shouting exhortation).
But here, the choir itself is the star – which is great, because such a group of people singing in such spirited praise with so repetitive a chorus creates a sense of critical mass, not unlike the gravitational pull of a singularity, which then creates a reverse-supernova effect, where everyone in immediate range gets sucked in and starts singing along. Even Christopher Hitchens, if he were in the building, would’ve gotten swept up and singing along, even if only ironically. This galvanizing effect is one of the reasons why so many unchurched liberal white people love seeing African-American choirs sing gospel music (after all, such a singularity is also known as a black hole… okay, this analogy has officially gone too far).
“Christ Did It All” is proof that songs need not be wordy or full of lofty language in order to be theologically significant. Just like “Snakes On A Plane,” the whole point and concept of the song is embedded in the title. This is probably why so many black churches were able to have church services for so long without having printed hymnals or projected lyrics. You just stand up, watch, listen, and sing along. (Try doing that with “Lord When We Praise You with Glorious Music”… never gonna happen my friend.)
So while singing this song every service for a year might get old, and you might not want all of your songs at church to have this quality, it’s still true that songs like “Christ Did It All” can be an essential part of a churchgoer’s musical diet, because the lyrics are immediate, simple, and personal:
Christ did it all, all, all / Christ did it all, now I am free / Christ did it all, I’ve got the victory / And most of all, I have eternal life / Christ did it, He did it all
The vamp is driving, the band is kicking, it doesn’t change keys 47 times, and it’s only four minutes and twenty seconds. This makes “Christ Did It All,” a classic gospel throwback in my book. Just make sure, if you pull this one out at church, that you explain what “it” is.