I wanted to punish Jeff Giles for buying me the new Barbra Streisand CD, so I bought him Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s Music Is Better Than Words. Unfortunately, Jeff actually thought it was passable vocal pop (and the tracks I subsequently heard confirmed it). But when I heard that baseball player-turned-broadcaster Tim McCarver had released an album of standards, I suspected that would finally teach his dark heart a lesson.
I was thrilled on Monday morning when I saw Jeff tweet his disapproval about it. It was the second-best $10 I ever spent on a member of his family. While I fully expected him to retaliate, I didn’t expect my joy to last only about half an hour, when I received an e-mail saying that Jeff had something in his Dropbox for me.
All Because Of You, the 1984 Contemporary Christian album by Lisa Whelchel, then in the middle of her run as the snooty preppy Blair on the sitcom The Facts Of Life.
After I priced flights to New Hampshire so that I could murder the bearded fucker the shock wore off, I questioned whether or not I actually had to listen, because he had been saving it for the right moment, and therefore it wasn’t purchased specifically for me. Jeff’s response was simple, “A gift is a gift.”
I hate him like poison. Yes, I have my next move planned out, but I will wait for the right moment. Maybe in the middle of Mellowmas when his spirit is at his weakest.
So I did some research, beginning and ending at Wikipedia. Apparently, All Because Of You was nominated for a “Best Inspirational Performance” Grammy in 1985, losing out to Donna Summer. And hey, it’s got jazz great John Patitucci on bass! I figured there had at least been some care and thought (re: dollars) behind it, which is more than I would have expected.
My admittedly limited experience with CCM has taught me that, from a production standpoint, it tends to be about five years behind whatever is passing for adult contemporary at the time. So I was surprised to discover that, musically, All Because Of You, is pretty solid mid-80s synth pop. The programming is by Rhett Lawrence, who has since had a very successful career as a writer/arranger/producer, most famously with Mariah Carey on her debut single, “Vision Of Love.” The basic track to “Shelter,” for example, reminded me a little of Shannon’s “Let The Music Play.” If this had been a secular record, it’s possible that it could have held its own on the Top 40.
But that’s only if you remove the vocals. Given that Whelchel had gotten her start as a Mouseketeer in the New Mickey Mouse Club, I assumed that the Disney Factory had given her sufficient vocal training to pull off a pop album. Instead, we get a thin voice that frequently gets swallowed up in the arrangements no matter how high in the mix it is.
And then there are the lyrics, which mostly fall into two categories, I-Love-Jesus or Jesus-Loves-Me (although apparently not enough to give her a better sense of pitch). The main exceptions are “Cover Me, Lord,” a declaration of humility before God that I almost found moving, and “Good Girl,” an eye-rolling morality tale with dreadful vocals about a Daddy’s Little Girl who succumbs to high school peer pressure (she reads Seventeen and gets stopped for speeding! “Fallen Angel,” it ain’t). But I would be remiss if I didn’t come up with less appropriate lyrics for “Just Obey” and “He Sings Me To Sleep,” and spend most of “How High, How Deep, How Wide” wondering if it was about Jeff’s mom.
That said, I feel a bit bad picking on this album. I may be a heathen, but I can respect a genuine and earnest expression of one’s faith, no matter how clumsy it may sound. This wasn’t a crass cash-in. If it was then she could have made a lot more money with a pop album. Whelchel obviously felt enough of an obligation to be a role model for teenage girls. A look at her website shows that she’s been a devout Christian since she was 10. And if, as a result, she never had the personal problems that befalls so many child stars, that’s commendable. Call her the anti-Dana Plato. Besides, it only goes to prove what everybody knew back then anyway, that Jo was cooler.