It was a little more than a month ago we looked at Amy’s wildly popular and almost equally controversial Heart in Motion. Today, we look at the previous release, which is considered by many to be her best. Not only her personal best, but to some, it is considered the best contemporary Christian album of all time.
Lead Me On was released in June 1988, the same month that CCM Magazine had released its 10th-anniversary issue, which had included a reviewer’s list of the top 25 CCM albums of all time. Coming in at #1 was Larry Norman’s Bob Dylan/Rolling Stones/Van Morrison -esque “Jesus Music” magnum opus Only Visiting This Planet.
A decade later, in 1998, CCM decided to revisit the list. Nothing could possibly beat Larry Norman’s Planet, I thought. Nothing over the course of the past decade could hardly touch it.
Well, I was wrong.
That very Amy Grant album that had come out that very month ten years earlier had beaten it. I have to admit, I was shockingly disappointed when I found out. Sure, I could understand it being Amy’s personal best–maybe. But the greatest of all time? That drab album?
But now that I’m older, I get it.
The superb production from Brown Bannister, the gut-wrenchingly honest lyrics and maturity of the instrumentation–yes, a maturity in the instrumentation–makes this album stand out from among the rest.
Musically, the acoustic instruments had a rich yet southern flair (and it was a little daring to have been utilized so much on an album predominantly before it was cool), plus the tones of the electric instruments were warm and soft. And if you listen to the interviews on the 20th-anniversary edition of the album, you’ll hear how the sound and subtle yet important effects were recorded using organic rather than digital methods. Not to mention the musicianship was more sophisticated than her previous efforts.
This was certainly not the direction she seemed to have been heading, i.e. heavy-laden synth sounds, electric drums, and high-energy teenie-bop youth-group music. Instead (although teens still enjoyed this album), it was as if she was speaking to the adults–the very adults that had, as youth, matured right along with her since she began her career a decade or so earlier. It was as if this was a personal letter to her longtime audience, speaking of what she had personally experienced in life–the ups and downs; as well as her inner thoughts and struggles on deeply personal and spiritual matters. Thoughts and struggles we can all relate to.
Needless to say, some of the best songs of her career are on this album, including the tender album opener, “1974,” a remembrance of the year she was born again; the dramatic title cut “Lead Me On;” the nice, southern influenced, “Saved By Love;” and the sentimental album closer, “Say Once More.”
Perhaps I found it disappointing as a 13-year-old. I was into the high energy, catchy pop music and to-the-point lyrics back then. But now, a little more than 30 years later, I find the honesty of the lyrics and carefully crafted musical production of this album to be beautiful, artful, poetic and timeless. All of the elements that make a magnum opus.