by Adam Newton
Everyone has their musical guilty pleasures: even the most diehard music snobs, in their darkest moments, will confess to you their undying affection for some cheesy hair metal band, ‘60s folk singer, or some atrocious soul singer. The vast majority of these guilty pleasures are typically holdovers from the bygone days of youth, those halcyon days when we were allowed to like music just because it was popular, because our friends liked it, or just because we liked it. For me, this person was, is, and will always be Amy Grant, one of the most prolific, celebrated, honored, distinguished, and recognized singers in contemporary Christian music (CCM) circles. Nay, she defined CCM in the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, serving as the movement’s poster woman when people complained that CCM always sounded (at minimum) five years behind the musical curve.
But the result of these accolades and pioneering is that she also was the focal point for a seemingly perpetual swirl of controversy. Whether it was wearing a animal print jacket on her Unguarded album cover, singing “The Next Time I Fall” with Peter Cetera, making pop music from the masses on Heart In Motion, dancing in videos with people who weren’t her husband in the videos from Heart In Motion, divorcing Gary Chapman, or marrying Vince Gill within two years after the finalization of her divorce from Gary Chapman, Amy has faced a level of character assassination that would crush a lesser human. Thus, when you combine her thirty-year-long penchant for writing clean, smart pop music with decided folk and country influences with her intestinal fortitude in the face of her accusers and the result is a woman whose career I will unceasingly defend and champion.
But in the midst of all of that unnecessary drama stands her 1988 magnum opus, Lead Me On, an album so full of heart, depth, and spiritual strength that it stands not only as Amy’s best work, but most likely, the best album in CCM history. At a time when only Stryper and Petra appeared to be even remotely viable as cool music that your non-Christian friends might want to listen to, Amy’s work stood up and boldly proclaimed that Christians could write tough, gritty, raw albums full of hurt and hope, without having to rely upon safe musical patterns and shallow spiritual platitudes. From the opening strumming of “1974” to the closing synthesizer chords of “Say Once More,” this record serves as a master class for artists who want to proclaim their beliefs, but want to do so with an intense honesty and an appreciation for spiritual reality, since they know that the Christian life is full of both peaks and valleys. My personal favorite tracks are “Lead Me On,” with its clarion call to God that, despite life getting her down, Amy wants to be led into more of God, “Shadows,” where Amy joins the Apostle Paul in discussing humanity’s light and dark natures, and “All Right,” because no matter what may come, God can always make it all right.
Sure, other artists have joined her in branching out to the mainstream – I’m not sure that Underoath or Maylene and the Sons of Disaster would be playing the Vans Warped Tour every year if Amy hadn’t forged those paths – but there will only be one original trailblazer. Amy Grant is that artist and Lead Me On is that record.