Randy Stonehill is “turning sixty,” no, wait, next March he will be 65! This will be another major milestone for the young man who wrote “Turning Thirty.” Randy Stonehill came along at just the right time for me in my musical appreciation. In 1976, I was 16 years old when I discovered Randy’s album, “Welcome to Paradise.” There was a lot of radio music that I loved, but even as I was greatly moved by bands like Chicago and Chilliwack, I found myself wondering what it was that music points toward. It felt like all that beauty must have a deeper meaning. The album, “Welcome to Paradise” (1976, Solid Rock Records) introduced me to that deeper meaning of music. It helped me to put music in its proper place. The album, originally produced on an LP record, had two sides: “Paradise Lost (sorrow and sadness...)” and “Paradise Regained (...turn into gladness).” Side one told the story of one who has lost his or her way and is running from God. Side two tells the story of finding that Jesus is the way, and describes the first few steps back on the road toward a Paradise in which there is companionship with God. Here was a creative rock musician who was not only making great music, but was pointing toward deeper truths.
Later in life I would learn the reality in the words of A.W. Tozer when he said, “Every true work of art praises God apart from the composer’s intentions, because it could not have been written without the gifts which God gave His creation.” However, at 16, I needed words that explicitly pointed to how music can praise God and tell the story of salvation. I also needed music that spoke to my soul. Certainly, some of the hymns and choruses of my childhood could do this, but “Uncle Rand,” as I began to call him, provided one of the best vehicles for understanding and praising Jesus.
The album is a masterpiece. Larry Norman spends many hours producing this album and the attention to detail shows. I now own the 2003 release of the album on compact disc and as I recently listened to the 10 songs plus two bonus tracks, I was still impressed by the production, engineering, arrangements, instrumentation, and string accompaniments. This 1976 album holds up against all others from that era and many from today as a marvelous work of art.
The 2003 release has a particular appeal for song-writers as the bonus tracks give an insight into how some of the songs came to be. There is a raw demo called “I’ve Got Good News For You” that is not quite ready for “primetime,” but shows the amazing vocal stylings of Uncle Rand and Larry Norman. (Make sure you listen to it with headphones to help separate out the two voices in the two track stereo creativity.) Also on this release is the recording of a session in which Randy and Larry write a song called “Heart Lock.” The genesis of genius is evident in this rough track.
I have so many favourite songs on this album that time will not permit an explanation of each. Allow me instead to direct your attention to just a few of them. “Keep Me Running” has a great guitar riff that reels me in long before I realize what the song is about. Next, the lyrics catch me asking questions about my own life and the ease with which I can find myself running from the one who gave me life.
Puppet Strings is a retelling of the ancient story of The Fall. Humankind has strayed far from the intention of a loving God and, although he is patient with his children, he has allowed them to go their own way and “stumble into night.” The darkness of that world is still very much evident today.
Perhaps the song that most sticks in my head after all of these years is the song called “Christmas Song For All Year ‘Round.” It is a simple retelling of the life of Jesus and how the incarnation intersects with both Christmas and Easter. I recently found myself quoting many of these lyrics in an advent sermon at Bow Valley Christian Church. They still ring loud and clear.
Randy Stonehill has become so much a part of my life and the life of my family that our youngest daughter was once under the impression that he actually was her uncle. So, to this larger than life man, whom I am happy to call Uncle Rand, I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Joyous Easter, and many more Happy Birthdays. May you keep on “Turning Thirty” even as the calendar years fly past.