Randy Stonehill’s first two albums were BORN TWICE (1971) and GET ME OUT OF HOLLYWOOD (1973). He followed these with what CCM magazine would name the thirteenth greatest album in Christian music history, WELCOME TO PARADISE (1976, Solid Rock). Larry Norman produced, while Andy Johns (The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin) was the main engineer. Norman is also credited with electric guitar, piano, and harmonies. Jon Linn also plays guitar.
A breezy pop song ‘King of Hearts’ starts things off. It went on to become one of Randy’s most loved songs ever. Here are the opening words: “All alone drifting wild/Like a ship that’s lost out in the ocean/Everyone’s a homeless child/And it’s not hard to understand/Why we need a Father’s hand/There’s a rainbow somewhere/You were born to be there/You’re just running in circles/Till you reach out your hand to the King of hearts.” ‘Keep me Runnin’ is a light rock number with a long instrumental break. The song puts the spiritual mentality of a pre-Christian into words: “Keep me runnin’ from the sins I can’t erase/Like an outlaw with a mask to hide his face/Once I was told that love could fly/Yeah but it’s been so long that I just don’t remember why/Keep me runnin’, keep me movin’/Keep me always on the go/Keep me makin’ sure my footprints never show.”
‘The Winner (High Card)’ is the story of a seemingly self-sufficient man: “It’s not easy to see me/I’m an influential man/And I never needed anyone/To build my promised land/So don’t tell me about Jesus/’Cause He’s just too hard to sell/And I never trust in strangers/That’s the first rule I learned well/I’m the winner and made it to the top/And I took it all just like I planned/I’m the man who holds the high card in his hand.” ‘Lung Cancer’ is a rocker. It is also an early example of Randy using humour to make a serious point, as he would do many times during his career: “When she had her first cigarette/A puff or two was all she could take/Now if she doesn’t have one in her hand all the time/You’ll notice it begin to shake/And even though she’s nonchalant/And acts as if her habit’s a joke/She won’t do too much laughing/When her life goes up in smoke/She’s been smoking that C-I-G-A-R-E-T-T-E/That cigarette’s got her on her knees/C-I-G-A-R-E-T-T-E/That darn tobacco won’t set her free/Oh run, suck baby suck/Suck on that cigarette/Go on and light up that fag and take a drag/It’s bound to snuff you yet.”
‘Puppet Strings’ is a masterful ballad that speaks of both Eden and Calvary: “We are all like foolish puppets who desiring to be kings/Now lie pitifully crippled after cutting our own strings/But God said ‘I’ll forgive you/I will face you Man to man/And win your love again’/Oh how could there be possibly a greater gift of love/Than dying for a friend?” ‘First Prayer’ yearns for purpose in this life: “I see people in a world of lies/Staring out through lonely eyes/Watching as the years go by/Knowing they’re living only to die/There must be something missing somewhere/So if You’re listening answer this prayer/’I will follow if You’ll lead me/Help me make a stand/If You’ll breathe new breath inside me/I’ll believe You can (2X)’”.
‘I’ve Got News For You’ is an adult rock song that urges us to quiet ourselves and turn our minds to things spiritual: “Can you look inside yourself and tell me/That your emptiness is just a state of mind/And you’ll feel better if you just keep busy/If you leave your feelings all behind?/I’ve got news for you, this is not a game/I’ve got news for you, are you listenin’?” ‘Song for Sarah’ is a pretty ballad that includes orchestration and tells of the greatest Love of all: “Sarah Someone loves you in a way I never could/He laid His life before you on a cross made out of wood/Oh and in His hour of anguish our dreams were given birth/I hope you finally realize/How much your love is worth.”
The mid-tempo ‘Christmas Song For All Year ‘Round’ shares the Gospel: “And I know that if Saint Nicholas was here he would agree/That Jesus gave the greatest gift of all to you and me/They led Him to the slaughter on a hill called Calvary/And mankind was forgiven when they nailed Him to the tree/But most of all the children, they’re the ones I hope will learn/That Jesus is our Savior and He’s going to return.” In 1987 Kenny Marks would cover ‘Good News’, a song of anticipation and celebration for believers: “Good news, well I feel alright/Good news, He’ll come like a thief in the night/Good news, He’s gonna take us in flight/When Jesus comes to bring us on home…/Good news, we’re gonna live forever/Good news, floating light as a feather/Good news, we can all be together/When Jesus comes to bring us on home.”
In later years this album would be released on CD with varying numbers of bonus tracks. Of note is a demo of a song called ‘Janet’, which seems to be an early version of what would become ‘Song for Sarah’. Here are a few of the lyrics: “Janet can I love you/Will you open up the door?/I know you heard that misused word a lot of times before/But I think that you need Someone/Who can firmly take your hand/And love you in a way that you can really understand.” ‘Let Me Do It’ is essentially Larry and Randy goofing off. Another bare bones acoustic track finds them working on an incomplete song called ‘Heart Lock’.
WELCOME TO PARADISE is a skillful, bona fide Contemporary Christian Music album. It is a must for Christian music historians. The songs ring as true today as they did in 1976. Fans of Rick Cua and Phil Keaggy will enjoy this album. It has a good mix of seeker-friendly, and Savior songs. I’m rating it 95.5%. For more info visit www.larrynorman.com and www.randystonehill.com.