Is it nods of approval or the truth that you want?"
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 movies.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Steve Taylor assembled a new band and released the triumphant album Goliath in 2014. Longtime fans and newcomers alike generally agree that it's his best work ever.
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-Frederick 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"
- Wow to the Deadness EP (2016) (With The Danielson Foil)
- 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.
- Armor-Piercing Question: At the end of "I Manipulate", his Take That! song against Bill Gothard's teachings fetishizing fathers' role as absolute authority figures in the home, the Gothard figure is flummoxed into silence by a question about the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son: if he loved him, why'd he let him go?
- Artist and the Band: He initially recorded with Some Band, a frequently changing group of backing musicians. The live album Limelight is the only one where they're outright billed as "Steve Taylor and Some Band". For the 2014 comeback album Goliath, his new all-star lineup was billed as Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil. This morphed again into Steve Taylor and the Danielson Foil when they recorded a collaboration with Daniel Smith.
- As the Good Book Says...: "Cash Cow" is largely a straight reference to the "Golden Calf" of Exodus 32, but one line is adapted from 1 Peter 5:8, way the heck at the other end of the Bible.
- Audience Participation Song: The verses in "We Don't Need No Color Code" are in call-and-response format, with live audiences echoing Steve. The student chorus of "Lifeboat" is sung by the audience in live performances.
- 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!")
- Bait-and-Switch Comparison: An unusually-worded example, but in "Cash Cow", he describes the Cash Cow as having "a face just like Robert Tilton, but without the horns." (After 2015, when performing the song live, Steve instead compares the Cow to Donald Trump.)
- Big Red Devil: The devil in "Drive, He Said" fits the stereotype to a T.Scratch! Dressed in redPointy tail and a horn-rimmed headAnd a widow's peak like Eddie Munster
- 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.
- Bo Diddley Beat: Forms the backbone of the call-and-response portions of "We Don't Need No Colour Code". "Guilty By Association" also makes use of a Bo Diddley beat.
- Celebrity Elegy: "Jim Morrison's Grave", naturally. Unlike in many songs of this type, however, Taylor does not romanticize the dead, but finds (and mourns) emptiness in the way he lived and died.
- Corrupt Politician:
"As I promised if elected this election day, with the help of God almighty, I'll do it my way!"
- "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.
- 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.
- Gratuitous Mariachi Band: His recording of "Winter Wonderland" uses one as a backup band.
- 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 moneyI had money and I needed more moneyI was filthy rich! All I wanted was love!...And a little more money!
- 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.
- Longest Song Goes Last:
- Squint ends with "Cash Cow (A Rock Opera in Three Small Acts)" (5:38).
- Goliath ends with "Comedian" (6:27).
- Lazy Bum: "Happy Go Lazy" is from the perspective of someone who has consciously embraced this lifestyle and just wants his significant other to leave him be.
- 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.
- Money Song: "Cash Cow (A Rock Opera In Three Small Acts)" is one of the finer examples to come out of The '80s, which is saying something.
- 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.
- One-Woman Wail: "Harder to Believe Than Not To" borrows the haunting "Vocalise" by Rachmaninoff for its opener.
- Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Inverted in "Easy Listening", in which the America of 2044 is undergoing a religious revival, much to the chagrin of the singer.
- 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 Me, Asmodeus!: Defied in "Drive, He Said". The Devil materializes in the back seat of Steve's car to talk business regarding his musical career. Steve escapes by slamming on the brakes (causing the Devil's horns to become lodged in one of the front seats) and abandoning the car.
- 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.
- Scatterbrained Senior: The Chagall Guevara track "The Wrong George" features a wrong-number call (captured by bandmate David Perkins's answering machine) from an elderly woman who struggles to understand that she's reached the wrong person.
- "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
- Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: The ethics professor in "Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel A Lot Better" promotes this outlook to his students, gleefully transforming young idealists into cynical hustlers who "live for the shortcut, like a citizen should".
- Singer-Songwriter: Steve Taylor is one himself, although he admits that he's better at the latter than the former.
- Take That, Critics!:
The golden Cash Cow had a body like the great cows of ancient EgyptAnd a face like the face of Robert Tilton (without the horns)
- 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:
Turn the radio onTo a down-home drawlHear the prophet JimmyWith a message for y'all(The album version changed the overt Jimmy Swaggart reference to the more subtle "a Brylcreem prophet".)
- Original lyric in "Guilty By Association" (heard on "Shark Sandwich" from the "Now the Truth Can Be Told" compilation):
- 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" are in 7/4 time.
- Verbal Backspace: In "Sock Heaven":We're gathered here to ask the Lord's blessingMaybe not His blessingMaybe we're not asking at all
- Waving Signs Around: "Bannerman" celebrates the guy who displays the JOHN 3:16 banner at football games.