It was early in the summer of 1973, and I had been sulking for a week. My two older brothers and an older sister had gone all the way from our home on Alabama’s Gulf Coast to Canada on our church’s youth mission trip. But I was too young. I was only in sixth grade, still three long years away from being able to join the Youth Choir and go on exciting trips to exotic places like Winnipeg, Manitoba.
But they were due to arrive home any minute, and so I hunched on the landing by the front door, waiting to see what they had brought me from their world travels. Eventually the front door opened and they came into the house, all smiles and stories. The air of adventure in distant lands swirled around them like magic dust, and I listened with rapt attention to their report of all the states through which they had passed on the bus, and what each one looked like. Then, finally, we got down to the business of presents.
With great pride in their choice, they presented me with an item that they had bought as they were taking a tour of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Minneapolis, Minnesota. What they handed me was an album. A record. A flat disc of grooved vinyl by a group I had never heard of.
I remember that the first thing I noticed about the album jacket was that it looked and felt pretty cool. It was mostly brown and tan, with artwork of a parchment sheet of music seemingly tacked to the front, and it was both textured and smooth at the same time. At the top, in big but soft seventies-style pseudo script, were two words: “Love Song.” The parchment sheet of music apparently represented the actual words and music to the title track. Then I flipped it over, and there, on the back, was a group picture of the members of the band. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. They had beards. And long hair! And one of them, I think it was Tommy Coomes, even had an afro, for crying out loud! Now, it wasn’t that those things were all that uncommon for young men in 1973, but I thought this was a Christian album.
Obviously, my curiosity was piqued. So I went into the living room, lifted the hinged top of the console stereo, slipped the album out of its sleeve and onto the spindle, flipped the feeding arm over to the middle, and started up the turntable. The record flapped down onto the spinning surface, and for the next thirty-seven minutes, I heard what I had never imagined could exist— real Christian lyrics set to rock music. This was the same kind of music that our parents let us listen to. (We were not allowed the hard stuff, although my brother, Gene, would occasionally sneak in with an album by Steppenwolf or Todd Rundgren.) These guys sounded like Bread! No, wait, the Eagles! Sometimes I even heard a little bit of Yes, America, and Seals and Croft!
That was it. My world changed forever. And so did many others.