Many of you who visit this site do so because of the 1960’s and 1970’s music that’s offered either for download or for sale. Before the internet, however, the only way to experience the “Jesus Music” of this era was to dig through second hand shops and garage and estate sales for used vinyl (or cassettes and 8-tracks, if you were really desperate.) For those of us who thought we lived through the era and had the benefit of Christian radio, we thought we knew what was out there.
The Archivist, by Ken Scott, disabuses us of that last concept. Originally published in 1996 and printed in quantities worthy of many of the albums it reviews, the Fourth Edition turns to publishing on demand (a technique many of the artists would do well to emulate) to catalogue and review 3,200 different albums of Christian music from the era 1965-1980. It has become the reference of choice for those of us who are passionate about the Christian music of the era, and has formed the basis for music blogs such as The Ancient Star Song and Heavenly Grooves (not to mention the site one-way.org.)
The term “Christian music” needs a little clarification relative to this book. As Scott himself puts it, the “emphasis is on rock, folkrock, folk, progressive, hard rock, country rock, jazzrock, blues, psychedelic, garage, beat, r&b, funk and some of the more adventurous pop.” What he’s documenting was not only a major step forward in style for Christian music, but also some of the most aggressively evangelistic music that Christianity produced in the last century. Although the genesis of Scott’s work was to be a collector’s guide, it ends up being a kind of history of an era when, in the wake of the social changes of the 1960’s, Christianity rose to the occasion and altered the spiritual direction of a nation–and the world–for many years to come.
Scott, faithful to his collectors roots, is a detailed chronicler of his albums. He writes in a easy to read style, and his objective is primarily to describe rather than to grade (although many of the albums he reviews deserve to be panned.) He’s dealing with a broad spectrum of music, and that breadth includes style, artistic merit, musicianship, recording quality, graphic design (for the cover,) and theology. That last point is important, because, in addition to including some music that is very much on the edge of Biblical Christianity, he includes one genre that is frequently very Biblical but gets overlooked by outsiders: the treasure of Roman Catholic music, itself the result of tumultuous change induced by the Second Vatican Council.
The Archivist is packaged in “one of those generic covers” (a swat at his otherwise excellent review of the School Sisters of Notre Dame) and is densely packed with text in a two-column format. But this book is an achievement, the product of years of diligence and a love for the genre that is only now being appreciated by a wider audience. The Archivist is the definitive work on the subject it treats, and for those of us who are interested, it is indispensable.