The 1990s were a tumultuous decade for music in general. The EMFs and Jesus Joneses of the world yielded to the Poisons and the Motley Crues, which in turn gave way to the Nirvanas and Pearl Jams, which begat the Alanis Morisettes and Sheryl Crows. And then music was ruined forever.
But somewhere along the way, someone remembered that Christians existed. And what’s more, these Christians had children! What better way to
cash in spread the gospel than to find a new type of wholesome, devout music that would please children and parents alike and sound ALMOST as good as the secular bands of the same style? Certainly these children of the mid-nineties were no longer listening to Michael W. Smith and Greg X. Volz and Steven C. Chapman in droves like they used to in the wondrous 1980s. A friend may be a friend forever, Mr. Smith, but money talks, and last time I checked Richard Marx wasn’t on the radio in 1996, so we don’t really need you anymore. Have fun getting blond highlights and making fifty-year-old prudes weep with joy. Story of his life, you know: searching for a reason, roaming through the night to find a place in this world.
In about 1994-1997 with the advent of bands like Green Day, The Offspring, Rancid, No Doubt and Reel Big Fish, the newest incarnation of punk rock in the mainstream changed the way music was looked at, marketed, and created, and the powers that be
ruined WCW in the Christian Music industry certainly took notice of the current trends. I have it on good authority that the paradigm shift from “keyboard pop”/”keyboard classic rock” to faux-“alternative”/faux-“punk” took place in the following manner:
Setting: A high-rise office in Manhattan, 1995. Seated behind a massive mahogany desk and backlit by a floor-to-ceiling window sits a CHRISTIAN RECORD COMPANY BIGWIG.
1995 Christian Record Company Bigwig: What’s this you say? This “Green Day” band is selling millions of records playing bar chords and singing about masturbation and marijuana leafs?
/strokes handlebar moustache in contemplation
/puffs on cigar
/checks time by removing pocketwatch from waistcoat
/picks up telephone
/(telephone is made of solid gold and precious gemstones)
1995 Christian Record Company Bigwig (into receiver): Anderson! We need to cash in on this “alternative music” whatsis that’s all the rage! What’s that? You say we have a band called “Skillet” and they have long hair? Perfect! We’ll slap a giant sticker on it and say it sounds like that “Near-Vanna” band. What else? A band called Black Cherry Soda? Do they use distortion? Some? All right then, we’ll call them a “punk” band.
So that’s basically how it went down. The “major” Christian labels would have bands creating really terrible alternative music and tried to market that to the kids with the REALLY strict parents. For everyone else, there was Tooth & Nail.
Basically, Tooth & Nail was the label that actually knew what punk and alternative bands actually sounded like, so they went after/created the bands that were the best of the bunch but still squeaky-clean/Christian. So the music was, in most cases, almost as good as the secular bands, but if they were terrible at least they sounded close enough to the genre they were supposed to be emulating, as opposed to the bands in the Christian bookstores from the major labels that sounded like the Soup Dragons and the sign next to the CD said “Recommended If You Like Rancid!” Nineteen dollars plz.
So you had the “major labels” churning out pure shit and saying “wtf is a punk rock”, you had T&N saying, “Well we know your parents/church/creepy teenage conscience won’t let you listen to the secular music that appeals to you, so here’s something reasonably comparable,” and then there were a million independent labels that put out pretty terrible stuff, then went promptly out of business and all their decent bands got snatched up by Tooth & Nail. It’s really pretty hilarious. Honestly, I can think of at least ten different times that a label went out of business and their only good band or two had signed to T&N before the company even announced they were shutting down. Keep in mind that when I say “company” it was usually a husband-and-wife team or some born-again 32-year-old “signing” bands at a Carl’s Jr. and running all operations out of a one-bedroom apartment. The labels really had a lot of “We’re gonna make it, maaaaaann” attitude going on, too, right up until they looked at their bank statement or got too busy with their day job of being realtors or whatever. One of the labels had the following included on the booklet of every album they released:
bettie rocket creed:
All of us at Bettie Rocket Records believe we are here and in existence for one simple reason.
That is to serve God by creating relevant music and products for the surf, skate, and snowboard scene.
Our hope is that we will be able to create massive change in this world we live in.
Hope that worked out for you. Oh wait.
Under any other circumstances, we refuse to release product for any other reason.
The day we decide to sell off our beliefs, is the day Bettie Rocket dies and God lowers his head in great sorrow.
Uh, guys, don’t you think you might be playing yourselves up just a tad? I mean, I think God would be disappointed in some minor hypocrisy but I think he’s more concerned with stuff like genocide and famine. Causing them, I mean. Just kidding, God! How great thou art!
Bettie Rocket Records is all about a passion within us. This passion is not about sales or attendance rates but about God and life. In living this way, we believe we will find happiness in our own lives and in the lives around us.
All of us die and in the meantime a few of us decide to live!
The upshot of all of this is that the Christian Music industry was creating superstars out of bands that were in many cases not all that good, but they happened to play a popular style of music and occasionally drop the ol’ JC-bomb. Teens and young adults (and others) saw this and said hey, I like Jesus! I can play an instrument kinda! And set about attempting to be famous. I’m not saying that this doesn’t happen in the world of secular music. It happens all the time. The problem was that if you’re a secular band, it’s pretty tricky getting out of the garage, getting that first gig, getting to play with other good bands, getting people interested. If you aren’t good or aren’t writing music that people can enjoy or identify with, you’re not going to be around very long. But if you were a Christian band it really didn’t matter how God-awful (lol) you were, you were going to get to play lots and lots of shows. You were going to get to open for signed bands. You were going to have T-shirts, CDs and patches.
It seems that a big part of being a 90s Christian band was having a clever/humorous name.
Heh, I get it.
See now, The Harrison Four is actually a pretty clever name. But then you had things like
Who were originally called Frito Boat, but then fear of a possible lawsuit forced the clever change, which
I’m pretty sure no team of lawyers would ever possibly be able to see through. You diabolical
masterminds, Freeto Boat! How do you do it
Freeto Boat is part of the great Christian ska band tradition of having a really terrible name. The Insyderz, The Orange County Supertones, Nifty Tom Fifty, and I swear to God there were bands named Quarter Oi and The Multi-Tooters. THE MULTI-TOOTERS. That is like all the worst puns I could ever think of in one hyphenate.
At least Freeto Boat is the type of band name that you could never really embrace and be proud of.
On their second album, Freeto Boat would ditch ska altogether and become a serious punk band.
…Named Freeto Boat. Members of FB would eventually form a really good indie band years later called Fighting Jacks. They were on Tooth & Nail!
Freeto Boat also wins the award for worst-album-covers-to-albums-released ratio. Although
Haha Jesus Christ. LITERALLY
This is pretty awesome because as terrible as the album art is, at least it has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE TITLE OF THE ALBUM. LIKE AT ALL. You also have to love any CD that is forced to put the album title in quotation marks because the label decided to name the album after an extremely popular band at the time. FOR NO REASON. Seriously, the word “snapcase” does not appear in any lyrics, there is no song by that name on the album, and the packaging just has that Down Syndrome dog on it. I guess CD jewel cases kinda snap when you close them, but come on. This is like if My Chemical Romance called their first album “Foo Fighters.”
There is one CD-R that I have kept in my possession for almost ten years simply because for me in encapsulates everything that the mid-to-late 1990s in the Christian Music scene was all about. It’s a band that certainly no one here has ever heard of, and most likely the members of the band have forgotten by now that they were in it. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you…Route 49.
Samoa Joe takes offense to Calvin pissing on a Ford logo.
In case you couldn’t guess, Route 49 played a style of music known as “ska,” which in 2007’s America means unless you are in one of the dozen or so good ska bands that are still around, you are a fifteen-year-old band geek douchebag in a flatcap and suspenders and/or Hawaiian shirt and odds are there is at least one person who wants to kick your ass.
So we’ve got the “wacky” cover colored in MSPaint that features a one-armed Mongoloid giving what appears to be a side-wedgie to some snail-dog-human hybrid. Seriously, the longer you look at that thing’s face the more exponentially terrifying it becomes.
In keeping with the theme, the demo is also called “Life On the Road” when it would be more aptly titled I WILL WEDGIE YOUR EYEBALLS INTO CYLINDERS, but I will let it pass because it’s in keeping with the theme of their band’s name if nothing else. Let’s see what other imagery we can find on this offering by ska band Route 49!
ahahahaha holy shit
Yep, that’s a flying squirrel with a cape and army helmet holding a broken Flying V, all right. Life on the road!
The six-song EP kicks right off with a little ditty called “Hace Calor,” which, since it has no accent over the “e”, actually says “hayce calor”. This song has some pretty awesome lyrics, like
Shakin’ the dust of home off our feet
As we finally pull out and cruise down the street
Out of the rain and into the heat
And our minds are on all of the ladies we’ll meet
Ho ho! Risqué business from the ol’ R-49. Wait a minute, we’re talking about ladies here. Let me check something.
Very funny, mister. You put your grandfather’s hat back in the closet and wash up for supper. Look at these kids, they’re adorable.
The whole song is about taking a road trip, ostensibly about going on tour, or at least going to play a show. They also name-drop the Mad Caddies. At least, I think that’s who they’re talking about when they talk about a “Caddies show” unless they’re going to a car expo.
Okay look at these guys, there’s no way they were old enough to take a road trip that didn’t involve their parents.
Hey Tony, how’s it going?
Not too bad, got this cool new bucket hat, I think I’ll wear it tonight when we play.
Awesome, that’ll look really rad while I’m busy standing at an angle and being twelve years old.
So the second song is called “Big Wave Dave” which I guess explains this guy’s hat on the cover:
That whole “now do what Dave tells ya” bridge at the end sounds kinda familiar. Let’s check the liner notes real quick.
That’s nice of them to thank Rage Against the Machine, and no other bands that they, you know, actually played with and were friends with and ev
Wait a second here, Van Elderen? VanderPlas? SCHROTENBOER? This band is comprised of 1920s philanthropists!
Say here, VanderPlas, I’ll wager to the tune of ten thousand dollars that no Frenchman can ever defeat a Gypsy in a gentleman’s game of fisticuffs!
You’re on, Schrotenboer! We’ll gather the fellows at the Cocks and Hounds club at quarter of nine o’clock on Seventh April and my Gypsy savage will give your chosen Pierre a sound drubbing!
Big Wave Dave doesn’t have anything really WRONG with it, per se. It’s obvious the kids are decent at their instruments, and apart from the fact that no one in a ska band can really figure out how to tune their horns until they’re on a label, they’re by no means the worst band ever. But the cutesy lyrics, the tongue-in-cheek subject matter, and above all the way the singer says “Jesus Chriiiiiiiist” just makes you want to put a brick through a stained-glass window. I honestly have no idea whether the singer just listened to his vocals on the first pass and gave a half-smile and confident nod, or if they did like a hundred takes and this was the best they could do.
I can’t blame these kids for making bad music. The number of mediocre and shitty bands outnumber the good ones by a staggering amount. They certainly seem earnest, if nothing else. Christian ska just enabled the dorky awkward teens to wear goofy hats while they got the nerve to tell the girl they liked in their youth group that Jesus put her in his life for a reason. HAND HOLDIN’++
That’s why Route 49 is such a perfect example of what the unsigned Christian bands were at that time: a bunch of goofy, awkward guys who genuinely did believe in the teachings of the New Testament, weren’t the worst band ever, but were only able to stick around because they performed in an arena where as long as you said “God is pretty awesome you guys, am I right?” you could perform as long as you wanted until you touched a boob for the first time and then put your saxophone in the closet for the rest of your life.
Let’s see, what’s next in the pathetic mediocre Christian music pile?
Oh uh…nothing to see here, guys, may as well finish up this here article and then
aw you suck
Seriously though, THE MULTI-TOOTERS.