A half-century plus one year ago, despite its best efforts to avoid doing so the music industry released the two most essential albums in modern Christian music history: “Only Visiting This Planet” by Larry Norman, and the eponymous debut album by Love Song. In December 2022, the latter was re-released with new mixes by a host of top-flight studio talent, spearheaded by Whiteheart veteran Billy Smiley. It’s well worth a listen.
Whereas Norman was openly antagonistic toward the Christian music industry of his time and was intent on remaining in the regular music world but not of it, starting in 1970 Love Song ingrained itself into the church. The band formed in the late 1960s as an undirected spiritually-minded outfit, its members accepting Christ along the way. Still individually and collectively brand new in the faith, Love Song approached Calvary Chapel Santa Ana pastor Chuck Smith to ask if it could play at one of Smith’s services.
He said yes, and Love Song created what became known as “Jesus Music.” It was a genre rooted in the quieter side of pop, folk, and rock, heavily influenced by the nearby Laurel Canyon sound exemplified by the Eagles and Joni Mitchell. Lyrically, every song burst with joy over newly found faith, reassuring fellow believers while reaching out to the unsaved. This was a time when youthful evangelists believed Christ’s Second Coming was imminent by man’s time-measuring mechanisms. Thus, a heavy emphasis on personal salvation, the sooner the better, permeated everyone’s music and message.
So how does an album that sold an unheard-of (at the time for Christian music) 300,000 copies hold up? Surprisingly well. The remixes definitely help. However, no amount of studio wizardry can disguise inept songs or performances, and Love Song was anything but inept.
A factor playing into the album’s wonderful freshness is that when originally recorded, the band rejected adding artificial sweeteners: no strings, horns, or fade-outs. The recordings were duplicates of how the band played its songs live. This removes a considerable portion of what often severely dates the 1970s’, or any past decade’s, recordings. Certainly, the album is unmistakably a product of its time. However, it is not an exercise in sheer nostalgia, lacking the necessary depth for current listening.
Although the album was blatantly Christian, the United Artists label initially released it without knowing how to market it to Christians. However, there was an unexpected benefit to this initial arrangement, as despite its brevity, “A Love Song” became a #1 hit … in the Philippines.
Love Song made one more studio album in 1974 before disbanding. Its members, most noticeably Chuck Girard, went on to successful Christian music and ministerial careers. A band documentary is in the works.
In their time, Love Song impacted Christianity in ways that are impossible to overstate. It showed you could simultaneously play rock and praise the Lord. Forever memorialized in the revival that blazed through Orange County, California, in the early 1970s, Love Song’s eponymous debut album remains a cherished memory that now has been given a fresh coat of aural paint for young and old alike.
Welcome back indeed, old friend.
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