“We were young . . . ” are the opening lines to Amy Grant’s album, “Lead Me On,” regarded by some as the best contemporary Christian album of all time. As the zither leads off into additional instrumentation, listeners are transported to a pivotal time in the singer’s youth where she encountered God in a fresh, new way. I was young, too, chasing God a few years after she found Him, but still experiencing a life-defining moment. The album and many of its songs in particular, “All Right,” the title song, “1974” and “Shadows” gave a voice to what this young, unpolished soul wanted to express.
“Lead Me On 1989” celebrates that watershed moment in Christian music and it’s hard for me not to become sentimental. The tour stop in Atlanta at the Omni was the first bona-fide ticketed Christian music concert I’d attended. Before that, I cut my concert teeth in that same arena with Cyndi Lauper and Madonna. “Lead Me On” was a far different, and I have to say, better show. Don’t get me wrong. Madonna’s “Who’s That Girl” tour was highly entertaining, but more theatrical than musical. Cyndi’s “True Colors” concert was special, too, but it also featured a guest appearance by the famous wrestler the Iron Sheik if that tells you anything.
The “Lead Me On” concert opened my eyes and ears to the incredible talents of the contemporary Christian music industry and all it had to offer. Michael W. Smith, who had also become a favorite by this time, opened the show with an electrifying version of “Lamu” before launching into “Secret Ambition.” My mind still goes back to this moment of him playing the keyboards and about a dozen white spotlights suddenly beaming down on him. There was also Donna McElroy, a backup singer for both acts, putting everything she had into the songs.
When Amy took the stage, she soared through the Christian rock anthems I’d come to love, like “Love of Another Kind,” “Angels” and “Wise Up”. But she also quietened things down with an acoustic set that included “El Shaddai,” “Friends” and “Say Once More.” Oddly enough, I remember my 17 year-old self becoming slightly offended when someone responded to the sweet, tender lyric of “. . . through the frailty of your Son….” with an arena-echoing “YEOW!!!” It was like James Brown had entered the Omni.
It was an incredible evening of music supporting the release of what would be solidified as my all-time favorite Amy Grant release. It wasn’t the most radio-friendly or popular. That, of course, would be the mainstream hit “Heart in Motion,” propelled by “Baby, Baby.” It was also a slight departure for the singer-songwriter. At the time, I watched as she told the hosts of “Good Morning America” that her pregnancy with Matt had taken her from the danceable tempo of “Straight Ahead” and “Unguarded” to more solemn reflection. Sitting in the library of my high school poring over the latest “Campus Life,” I also read that some considered it to be Amy’s least spiritual record, while others said it was the most. I’d tend to agree with the latter. With “Faithless Heart” and “What About the Love,” it addressed temptation and hypocrisy head on. Regardless of that critical dichotomy, it would later be named as the “Number One Christian Album of All Time” by “CCM Magazine.” Like me, the music had connected deeply in the hearts of many listeners.
“As the years go by, how I need to see, that’s still me . . .” The song is timeless and so is the message. Take us back to the moment where we first believed. Let us remember that younger, more earnest and optimistic version of ourselves. Nearly everything is completely different than it was back then, but here we are, still going strong.
There are many projects that offer a snapshot of a particular moment in life, but for me and probably for many others “Lead Me On 1989” is something special. It captures the energy and excitement of a golden era of contemporary Christian music, led by its trailblazing queen. We were young, and we were hooked.
“Lead Me On 1989” releases Friday on digital outlets and is also available in commemorative special edition packages.