Music / Steve Taylor
"Are you sturdy enough to move to the front?
Is it nods of approval or the truth that you want?"
— Harder To Believe Than Not To
Steve Taylor is a Contemporary Christian musician and filmmaker who burst onto the (relatively dead at the time) Christian music scene in the early 1980s. At a time when Christian music had stagnated, Steve Taylor was a welcome breath of fresh air, utilizing musical styles that many in the church viewed as dangerous or even outright Satanic. Steve's career was characterized by several scuffles with televangelists and other figures in protestant Christianity, with Jimmy Swaggart going so far as to devote an entire chapter to Taylor in his book "Religious Rock & Roll: A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing" and Taylor taking multiple shots at hypocritical Christian figures in his lyrics.
Taylor's music is characterized by a broad, eclectic sound that samples from many genres and plays with many styles. Taylor was always eager to grow as a musician, and has repeatedly lamented how dated his work sounds due to all of the synthesizers (not to mention one truly awkward attempt at rap when the genre was still young.) His lyrical content is often snarky or outright sarcastic, which is still something of a rarity in Christian music. At the time his albums were released these lyrics often caused controversy, with more than one Christian book store pulling his albums off the shelves due to tracks like "I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good." Also, while all of his songs deal with an overtly religious theme, not all of them are explicitly "Jesus songs" with some of them merely expressing a religious Christian worldview or criticizing the foolishness and shortsightedness of modern society in a very rock-and-roll manner.
In the early nineties Steve and several other musicians formed a band called Chagall Guevara. Despite, in many ways, being a fairly visionary band for its time, the band did fairly poorly (although it has a small but dedicated fan base that persists to this day) and only released one album before breaking up. Steve lamented this history in the song "Sock Heaven."
Steve Taylor is also a video producer, and was the first explicitly Christian "act" to feature a music video on MTV. The videos for "Meltdown At Madame Tussaud's" and "Jim Morrison's Grave" in particular were well-received. After the release of "Squint," he produced a video compilation of several music videos for nearly every song on the album. Thereafter, he decided to pursue a career producing videos and movies instead of creating music under his own name, although he spent some time producing for Sixpence None The Richer
and (believe it or not) Chevelle
and worked closely with Newsboys
for awhile, even writing the lyrics for some of their best-known songs. He also wrote a song for one of the VeggieTales
His albums in chronological order and some of the more important or noteworthy songs on them are:
- I Want To Be A Clone (1983) "I Want To Be A Clone"
- Meltdown (1984) "Meltdown (At Madame Tussaud's)" "We Don't Need No Color Code" "Guilty By Association" "Baby Doe"
- On The Fritz (1985) "On The Fritz" "To Forgive" "Lifeboat" "Drive, He Said"
- Limelight (1986) (Live Album)
- I Predict 1990 (1987) "I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good" "Jim Morrison's Grave" "Harder To Believe Than Not To"
- Chagall Guevara (1991) (With Chagall Guevara) "Escher's World" "Violent Blue"
- Squint (1993) "The Lament Of Desmond R.G. Underwood-Fredrickson IV" "Smug" "Jesus Is For Losers" "The Finish Line" "Cash Cow (A Rock Opera In Three Small Acts)"
- Liver (1995) (Live Album)
- Goliath (2014) (With The Perfect Foil) "Only A Ride" "Standing In Line" "Goliath" "In Layers"
- Audience Participation Song: Both "We Don't Need No Color Code," which is best experienced live, and "Lifeboat"
- Album Title Drop: Occurs near the end of Squint on the track "The Finish Line" where it states: "Off in the distance, bloodied but wise, as you squint with the light of the truth in your eyes." It is significant that, when Steve started his own label, it was called Squint Records.
- Bad Humor Truck: The highly controversial "I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good" is about an ice cream truck driver who bombs abortion clinics because "if we run out of youngsters, I'll be out of a job." Contrary to some misunderstandings, Taylor does not support this point of view, and was intending to mock and vilify it ("Ain't nothing wrong with this country that a few plastic explosives won't cure!")
- Big Rock Ending: Live performances of "Guilty By Association" tend to end this way instead of petering out the way the song does on the album.
- Corrupt Politician:
- "Sympathy Vote" seems to be from the perspective of one.
- "It's a Personal Thing" follows a politician who nominally embraces religion early in his career to garner votes and then quickly abandons it once he's elected.
"As I promised if elected this election day, with the help of God almighty, I'll do it my way!"
- Disappeared Dad: Discussed in "Curses".
- Epic Instrumental Opener: Inverted by the last act of "Cash Cow", which is an instrumental rock number that sounds completely different than the rest of the track. it's the final track on Squint.
- Genre Roulette: Although often categorized as simply "Christian Rock" or "Contemporary Christian Music" Steve was big on exploring all sorts of different musical styles, from reggae to rap. As with any musician who is willing to experiment, the results could be mixed.
- Greatest Hits Album: The Best We Could Find (+3 That Never Escaped) in 1988 and Now The Truth Can Be Told in 1994.
- Grief Song: If you decide to listen to Meltdown, maybe keep some tissues on hand for "Baby Doe" at the end...
- Horrible History Metal: Complete with screaming and minor keys on "Over My Dead Body." It's still a more hopeful version than most examples, but being that the subject matter is a boy who was beaten to death for feeding prisoners behind the Iron Curtain...
- I Am the Band: Steve Taylor was usually accompanied by "Some Band," a group of musicians that could change its entire makeup from album to album or even show to show. There were a few regulars who stuck around longer than others, and conversely some songs have input from an artist who doesn't do anything else on the album.
- Nowadays he's accompanied by The Perfect Foil, which consists of Jimmy Abegg, John Mark Painter, and Peter Furler (former drummer and later lead singer of the Newsboys).
- I Was Young And I Needed The Money: Analyzed and ultimately refuted in "Cash Cow (A Rock Opera In Three Small Acts)"
I was young and I needed the money
I had money and I needed more money
I was filthy rich! All I wanted was love!
...And a little more money!
- The Jester: The protagonist of "Comedian" is one of these.
- Last Note Hilarity: "Guilty By Association" has the band just sort of give up at the end, with the bassist and horn player in particular joking around. "Am I In Sync?" has a similar bent.
- Long Title: Very much a staple of his work, but especially "The Lament Of Desmond R.G. Underwood-Fredrickson IV" which is often shortened to "The Lament" in conversation.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Several examples, mostly because of Steve's ability to take great joy in presenting serious issues tongue-in-cheek. "I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good" is probably the most prevalent example - some thought he was condoning the act of bombing abortion clinics, which got one of his tours canceled in the entire country of Australia.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Covers a very broad range of the spectrum, although generally sticks to the lower end. Goes as low as 1 with something like "Easy Listening" and ramps it all the way up to 7 with "The Moshing Floor." The albums before Squint rarely break 5, and the vast majority of his oeuvre is in the 2-3 range, however. Goliath, like Squint before it, is much harder than his previous works, due in no small part to guitarist Jimmy Abegg, whose style calls to mind Robert Fripp.
- Mondegreen: Due to the complex lyrical nature of songs like "Jung And The Restless" it's kind of inevitable.
- Money Song: "Cash Cow (A Rock Opera In Three Small Acts)" is one of the finer examples to come out of the eighties, which is saying something.
- Morality Ballad: Averted to a surprising degree for a Christian artist, but "Jenny" is an example. At least it's a very catchy song.
- Motor Mouth: A fairly minor version on the verses of "Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel A Lot Better." Also, the bridge of "Sympathy Vote" has some lightning-quick vocals. "The Moshing Floor" also contains several examples of this, as does "Underneath the Blood". Also shows up in songs he's written for other bands like Guardian's "This Old Man". Actually, a fair number of Taylor's songs fit this trope. It's one of his defining characteristics as a lyricist.
- New Sound Album: Squint all over, which was made after an extended break from his other albums and his experience with Chagall Guevara. No more synthesizers, a much harder sound and a few lengthier pieces.
- Goliath is an even bigger example, but that's inevitable given the twenty year break between it and the previous album. Goliath has fewer examples of Religion Rant Song than his earlier work, but is much more complex, both lyrically and in composition. Jimmy Abegg's guitar work also lends it a fairly unique sound.
- Overly Long Name: "The Lament of Desmond R.G. Underwood-Frederick IV". The character's name came after most of the song was written. Taylor basically pieced is together from whatever individual names rhymed best with the chorus lyrics.
- Piss-Take Rap: "Bad Rap (Who You Tryin' to Kid, Kid?)" The title hangs a huge lampshade on it.
- "Easy Listening" could be considered Piss Take Reggae.
- Playing the Heart Strings: The song "Harder To Believe Than Not To" is the best example, but a lot of I Predict 1990 has this in effect due to "Papa" John Creach playing a guest spot on the album.
- Protest Song: "We Don't Need No Color Code" is a protest song against the racist policies of several Christian colleges and explicitly Bob Jones University (and South Africa during Apartheid, which was still going on at the time.)
- Rock Opera: "Cash Cow (A Rock Opera In Three Small Acts)" claims to be one, although its claims are pretty dubious, since it clocks in at just five minutes and the entire story is contained within the song itself.
- Religion Rant Song: Many, including "On The Fritz," "It's A Personal Thing," "You've Been Bought," "I Manipulate," "We Don't Need No Color Code," "Guilty By Association," "Smug," "Easy Listening," "I Want To Be A Clone," and "Whatever Happened To Sin." This was, perhaps, Steve's most important and recurring line of work, and the album On The Fritz is composed of nearly half songs of this nature.
- "Jesus Is For Losers" deals with some of Taylor's own personal failings, and is a rare instance of this trope being used to make a serious point.
- "Smug" is a more subtle example. It's ostensibly a takedown of hypocrisy and self-righteousness in the Church, but Taylor says he was inspired to write the song while looking at himself in the mirror.
- The full title of the closing track of Taylor's "Now the Truth Can Be Told" compilation release was "Shark Sandwich (More Demos I Forgot To Erase)"note
- Singer Songwriter: Steve Taylor is one himself, although he admits that he's better at the latter than the former.
- Take That, Critics!:
- Several examples, particularly "Guilty By Association" and "On The Fritz." Perhaps the funniest is in the middle of "Cash Cow (A Rock Opera In Three Small Acts)" however:
The golden Cash Cow had a body like the great cows of ancient egypt
And a face like the face of Robert Tilton (without the horns)
- Original lyric in "Guilty By Association" (heard on "Shark Sandwich" from the "Now the Truth Can Be Told" compilation):
Turn the radio on
To a down-home drawl
Hear the prophet Jimmy
With a message for y'all
(The album version changed the overt Jimmy Swaggart reference to the more subtle "a brylcream prophet".)
- Teenage Death Songs: "Jenny" is of the Morality Ballad variety.
- Title Track: "Meltdown (At Madame Tussaud's)" off of Meltdown and "On The Fritz" off of On The Fritz. Also "Goliath" off of Goliath.
- Uncommon Time: The verses of "Double Negative," and many more examples from various songs on Goliath.
- While Rome Burns: Invoked in the chorus of "Smug"