Category Archives: Music


While working out at Planet Fitness tonight, I listened to my “Story Songs” playlist. Mostly country, with the occasional pop hit. We’re talkin’ “Night Chicago Died,” “One Tin Soldier,” “Something in Red,” “Online,” “She Couldn’t Change Me,” “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Austin”–37 songs, total.

But the one that always gets me is “Arlington,” by Trace Adkins. Particularly that line where his grandfather, also buried at Arlington, greets him:

It gave me a chill,
When he clicked his heels,
And saluted me.

As I sat there at the weight machine, it gave ME a chill.

That’s what happens when great subject matter meets great writing.

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Songs that Tell a Story

I love the song “The Ghost of Vicksburg,” by the Stone Coyotes. It’s a great story-telling song for Civil War buffs. While listening to it this weekend, I mused about other songs that tell a story–famous songs. Here are my ten favorite (only one per performer):

  • “Cats in the Cradle,” by Harry Chapin.
  • “A Boy Named Sue,” by Johnny Cash.
  • “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” by Gordon Lightfoot.
  • “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” by Vicki Lawrence.
  • “The 8th of November,” by Big & Rich.
  • “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” by Charlie Daniels.
  • “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown,” by Jim Croce.
  • “One Tin Soldier,” by the Original Caste.
  • “Smoke on the Water,” by Deep Purple.
  • “Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” by Ray Stevens.
  • “Billy Don’t be a Hero,” by Paper Lace.
  • “Convoy,” by CW McCall.

Okay, I’ve got to add a second song by Paper Lace, “The Night Chicago Died.” I heard that one a lot during my formative teen years in the 1970s. Along with over half of the other songs in the list–Harry Chapin, Jim Croce, Deep Purple, Original Caste, CW McCall, Gordon Lightfoot, and Vicki Lawrence. Amazing how songs from your high school years stay with you.

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Lent Without Latte

I’ve known Doris MacDonald since junior high, when we competed against each other in Bible quizzing out in California. Doris Au and her sister Margo (their formidable captain) attended the Glendale United Brethren Church in the LA area. I attended the UB church in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. I think Doris will acknowledge that we usually won.

Doris (left) and Sharon.

Doris (left) and Sharon.

Doris, and her husband, Alan, went on to spend several decades with Wycliffe Bible Translators. For many years now, Doris has been half of The Braeded Cord, a superb musical twosome in the DC area. Doris plays keyboard and violin, and sings.

Her compatriot, Sharon Dennis, once gave up lattes for lent, and she wrote a song about it, “Latte Blues.” It’s very good. You can watch it on Youtube. Then go to to order their albums.

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Are “Christian” Songs Born Again?


Jon Foreman, lead singer of the band Switchfoot, was asked if Switchfoot is a “Christian” band. He gave a fascinating response.

To be honest, this question grieves me because I feel that it represents a much bigger issue than simply a couple SF tunes. In true Socratic form, let me ask you a few questions: Does Lewis or Tolkien mention Christ in any of their fictional series? Are Bach’s sonata’s Christian? What is more Christ-like, feeding the poor, making furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or painting a sunset? There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds.

The view that a pastor is more ‘Christian’ than a girls volleyball coach is flawed and heretical. The stance that a worship leader is more spiritual than a janitor is condescending and flawed. These different callings and purposes further demonstrate God’s sovereignty.

Many songs are worthy of being written. Switchfoot will write some, Keith Green, Bach, and perhaps yourself have written others. Some of these songs are about redemption, others about the sunrise, others about nothing in particular: written for the simple joy of music.

None of these songs has been born again, and to that end there is no such thing as Christian music. No. Christ didn’t come and die for my songs, he came for me. Yes. My songs are a part of my life. But judging from scripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me.

I do have an obligation, however, a debt that cannot be settled by my lyrical decisions. My life will be judged by my obedience, not my ability to confine my lyrics to this box or that.

We all have a different calling; Switchfoot is trying to be obedient to who we are called to be. We’re not trying to be Audio A or U2 or POD or Bach: we’re trying to be Switchfoot. You see, a song that has the words: ‘Jesus Christ’ is no more or less ‘Christian’ than an instrumental piece. (I’ve heard lots of people say Jesus Christ and they weren’t talking about their redeemer.) You see, Jesus didn’t die for any of my tunes. So there is no hierarchy of life or songs or occupation only obedience. We have a call to take up our cross and follow. We can be sure that these roads will be different for all of us. Just as you have one body and every part has a different function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each of us belongs to all the others. Please be slow to judge ‘brothers’ who have a different calling.

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Review: Branson’s “Dancing Queen”


One of the new shows Pam and I saw in Branson last week was “Dancing Queen.” It was a high energy song-and-dance show featuring music from the 1970s. We liked it a lot. It was good from beginning to end.

The show was located at the King’s Castle Theater, which was previously the Branson Variety Theater, and before that the Bobby Vinton theater. In March 2012, the theater was heavily damaged when a tornado swept through Branson.

Probably a third, maybe up to a half, of the songs were from Abba. The four singers were modeled after Abba–two guys and two girls. The two girls (a blond and a brunette, of course) were the best female singers we heard all week in Branson. Very strong voices, and they blended pretty well to produce the Abba sound. But not nearly as well as Agnetha and Frida from the real Abba. (The photo above, by the way, shows an entirely different foursome, but it’s the only photo I could find).

The two guys, both of them Brits, were also members of the Twelve Irish Tenors show (from the same theater). They had a lot of personality, and interacted well with the audience. One guy, a blonde, was really fun to watch, because he could really dance–probably better than any of the guys in the dance troupe.

Speaking of which: accompanying the singers throughout was a troupe of dancers (either 10 or 12, I can’t remember). They added a lot. There were numerous costume changes.

Pam and I really liked “Dancing Queen.” We recognized all of the songs, and were pleased with the high calibre of singing. Too many times with some of the Abba songs, only one of the gals sang as a solo, and the song lost the unique Abba sound of two women’s voices blending (this was particularly noticeable on “SOS”). But the girls were individually such strong vocalists that I still greatly enjoyed the songs.

“Dancing Queen” is what I call a “manufactured” act. That is, someone came up with the concept, and then they auditioned people for the various parts. More and more shows in Branson are manufactured acts. As opposed to the family-centered shows–Presleys, Haygoods, Duttons, Brett Family, Hughes Brothers, Six. In 2011, we saw “Hooray for Hollywood,” another manufactured show held at the same theater as “Dancing Queen” (and also quite a good show). All of the shows at King’s Castle Theater are manufactured.

But we find that the manufactured shows lack soul. There is not the authentic God-country-family emphasis common in the family shows. Plus, the members change from year to year, whereas at the family shows, you’ll see the same people. We prefer the family shows, but I suspect the manufactured shows are the future in Branson.

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Review: Return to Pierce Arrow


Last week, Pam and I made a return visit to the Pierce Arrow theater in Branson. We saw the Pierce Arrow show in 2006, and found it slightly above average. Seven years down the road, we decided to give them another shot. They are a well-established show, and I expected improvement.

“Pierce Arrow” is actually the name of a men’s quartet. While the show revolves around the quartet, the show also includes a woman who does several songs, a lot of comedy, and a superb band. They had the best veterans tribute we saw in Branson (this time, at least).

The quartet itself is quite good, though not great. The high tenor, Luke Menard, was on American Idol in 2008; he joined Pierce Arrow in 2011. They did a nice mix of songs, including some good Gospel stuff (most of the members have strong roots in Christian music). The bass singer, Tim Storms, holds the Guinness record for having sung the lowest note on record (seven octaves below the piano). Storms joined Pierce Arrow in 2006, which is when we saw them (I remember him). The other three guys are all new since 2010. Sometimes Storms’ voice seemed SO low that it didn’t really fit with the quartet. But that’s quibbling.

The woman singer, Michelle Wait, was good, but in a very average sense. She never wowed.

My main gripe is with the comedian, Jarrett Dougherty, who consumed a good deal of the show. Sometimes he really had me laughing. But too often, I found him either annoying or offensive. He did a lot of wife jokes, which rarely set well with me, plus some anti-Democrat jokes which appealed to the FoxNews-watching crowd (which most definitely doesn’t include me). In one sketch his character was red-faced yelling at another character, and it ended in a face slap. I found both the yelling and face-slap very unsettling. And then there were a bunch of fart and butt-related jokes–I mean, a BUNCH. Cheap, cheap humor. I expected such fare from the Three Redneck Tenors, but it turns out the Tenors were too classy for that.

Purely on the basis of the comedian, I don’t recommend the Pierce Arrow show. He grated on both Pam and me. And the other stuff wasn’t good enough to offset it.

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Best Worship Song Ever…or Not

This is described on Youtube as the Best Worship Band Ever. A bit of facetiousness there. I can’t imagine trying this as Anchor, my church. We would get laughed right off the stage.

I’m sure this probably appealed greatly to that particular audience, wherever they are. But most places…not so much.

The comments on Youtube are hysterical. I hereby give you a selection of them:

  • Is this just the whitest thing on youtube, or is it possibly the whitest thing in the world?
  • My mind needs renewing after watching this video…that is all.
  • Somehow even the synth is out of key.
  • Who are these people? and why are they not famous! Like seriously!!!
  • Why do I feel like the guy in the middle would talk to me about 80’s pop bands before violently murdering me with an axe?
  • Anyone else thinking American Psycho?
  • Why does this remind me of that old SNL skit with the music teacher couple?
  • what a sweet young man and his wives.
  • This is….words fail me.
  • That’s like watching a train wreck.
  • Eat your heart out Usher, you’ll never have these kind of moves.
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Great Christmas Music You May Not Know About

Pam and I have been listening to gobs of Christmas music–last night as we put up our Christmas tree, and today as we’ve been cleaning the house and cooking in preparation for tonight’s worship team Christmas party. We have a 60-song playlist on an iPod Touch, and it’s been running continuously. Some favorites:

  • “A Tractors Christmas.” This is easily our favorite Christmas album. Really fun.
  • “Christmas,” by Rebecca St. James. I discovered this about 14 years ago, and never weary of it. James has the most creative takes on traditional songs (like “O Holy Night,” “What Child is This,” and “O Come Al Ye Faithful”).
  • “Run Run Rudolph.” This would be my favorite song. The playlist includes three versions–by The Tractors, Luke Bryan, and Sister Hazel (which I just discovered). You can really rock out with that song.

Other Christmas songs I highly recommend you download from iTunes:

  • “Christmas in America,” by Melissa Etheridge.
  • “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” by Josh Wilson with Mandisa. Also, the Little Big Town version.
  • “A New York Christmas,” by Rob Thomas.
  • “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” by the Smithereens.
  • “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” by Los Lonely Boys.
  • “Christmas Baby, Please Come Home,” by Bon Jovi.
  • “Little Drummer Boy,” by Aly & AJ.
  • The Mercy Me “Christmas Sessions” album.
  • “Away in a Manger,” by Billy Gilman (beautiful!).
  • “Silent Night,” by Taylor Swift.
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Return of “Billy, Don’t be a Hero”


Last night, while Pam and I were eating at MacAlister’s Deli, I heard the song, “Billy Don’t be a Hero.” It took me back to 1974 when this anti-war song hit Number 1. It was originally recorded by Paper Lace, where it topped the charts in England. But before Paper Lace could release it in the States, Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods covered it, and their version is what I remember. (The Paper Lace version stalled at 96 in the US.)

The song appeared during the latter years of the Vietnam War, when we were getting out. The mood in America was, “Let’s cut our losses. It’s not worth losing our sons in that no-account country.” Kind of like people are now thinking about Afghanistan.

The song ends on a note of despair. Billy’s fiance had been telling him, “Don’t be a hero. Keep your head down. Come back to me.” But in the midst of combat, he volunteers for a risky mission, and dies. The song ends:

I heard his fiancee got a letter
That told how Billy died that day.
The letter said that he was a hero.
She should be proud he died that way.
I heard she threw the letter away.

I was a junior in high school at the time. I loved that song; it told a good story and I could understand all the lyrics. (The same guy wrote “The Night Chicago Died,” another great story-song, and one which did become a US hit for Paper Lace). I can still remember all the lyrics. When I heard the song playing last night, it all came back to me. I was mentally singing along with it.

The song was probably written with the Civil War in mind. That’s how Paper Lace portrayed it on their album cover. Twice it refers to the men as “soldier blues,” and one line says, “I need a volunteer to ride up and bring us back some extra men.” Like, ride up in a Jeep? More likely ride up on a horse.

Yet, the song is anonymous enough to apply to any war. Especially unpopular wars. In “Star Trek: the Next Generation,” Tasha Y’ar’s death is described as an “empty” death, a death without real purpose, no heroics, no lasting meaning. That is how people had begun viewing Vietnam–an empty war, undeserving of American blood. Billy’s fiance seemingly viewed his death as empty (though I’m sure Billy, and his fellow soldiers, didn’t).

Are people beginning to view Afghanistan that way? Just another hopeless cause, like Vietnam?

I’ve been musing about that song’s reappearance. Pop music often reflects what’s happening in society. Is “Billy, Don’t be a Hero” being revived, because that’s how people feel about our two wars? We’ve been lauding our fallen as heroes, and they are. But will people begin telling their children and spouses and siblings, “Don’t be a hero. It’s not worth dying over there.”

Give it a couple more years, with weekly American deaths in Afghanistan and no progress worth mentioning. Then some opportunistic group could re-record “Billy Don’t be a Hero,” and they may just have a huge hit.

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Best Workout Songs

When I’m exercising at the Y, I’ve got headphones on. Either I’m listening to a TV feed, probably a news show, or I’m listening to my iPod Shuffle.

The Shuffle is fun, since you don’t know what song is coming next. I’ve got it filled with only five-star songs from my huge iTunes library. Some songs, when they come along, seem especially appropriate when I’m in workout mode. For me, we’re talking good ol’ rock and roll, garage bands, hard-driving stuff (preferably without a grunge edge).

Here are songs I especially like when I’m working out. I’d appreciate your recommendations.

Ain’t Comin’ Home (Silvertide)
American Pie (Slaughter)
The Ballad of Michael Valentine (The Killers)
Beast of Burden (Bette Midler)
Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Green Day)
By Your Side (Black Crowes)
The Day John Henry Died (Drive By Truckers)
Heroes (Wallflowers)
Super Colossal (Joe Satriani)
I Don’t Make Promises I Can’t Break (Shannon Curfman)
Levelland (James McMurtry)
Transcendental Blues (Steve Earle)
Lobo Town (James McMurtry)
Rockers Blues (Jack Falk Project)
Honky Tonk Woman (Rolling Stones)
Hot Legs (Rod Stewart)
It’s My Life (Bon Jovi)
River of Love (Paul Camilleri)
The Rising (Bruce Springsteen)
Real Mean Bottle (Bob Seger and Kid Rock)
Only Rock & Roll (Rolling Stones)
Old Time Rock & Roll (Bob Seger)
Nothin’ But a Good Time (Poison)
Movin’ On (Joe Satriani)
Longshot (John Fogerty)
Kit Kat Clock (Bottle Rockets)
My Sacrifice (Creed)
Special (Wilshire)
Sweet Mama (Les Respectables)
The Story (Brandi Carlile)
You Give Love a Bad Name (Bon Jovi)
Honky Tonk Woman (Travis Tritt – yes, he did a great version)
Keep Your Hands to Yourself (Georgia Sattelites)
Sweet Child of Mine (GNR)
Jealous Again (Black Crowes)

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