Ark Rock, pt. 2: The Flood Years
by Erik Helin
In the first installment of this series I introduced a brand of Christian contemporary music from the late 70s to the mid-80s which has been dubbed Ark Rock due to its sonic and personnel connection to yacht rock. I also showed some examples of the genre’s beginnings, which falls in line pretty closely with artists and songs that would typically be thought of as proto-yacht; songs that, were they released five years later would’ve featured instrumentation and arrangements consistent with the yacht rock sound. Ark Rock at Myrrh and Sparrow Records hit its stride in the 1980s, borrowing from and capitalizing on the sound pioneered by yacht rock artists. In this installment we’ll track the peak years of Ark Rock: The Flood years.
The Flood Years
Steve Camp - Start Believin’ - “Do They Have to Grow Up?” (1980)
By 1980 Ark Rock really hit its stride, ushering three solid years of smooth Christian contemporary pop. “Do They Have to Grow Up?” is a triumph of the genre. There aren’t any personnel of note, but by this point it’s clear that Ark Rock artists were copping a lot of the style and structure of yacht rock artists and reconstituting their sound to push their religious agenda.
Benny Hester - Nobody Knows Me Like You - “You Loved Me” (1981)
Benny Hester was actually the artist that hurled me down the rabbit hole of Ark Rock. A track from his 1972 album Benny… called “No The End Is Not Near” was featured on HBO’s Girls, and was subsequently shared with me by a friend of mine (shoutout to Carl). After poking around on his Discogs page I saw that he released a white guy pop album in 1981, and the album was produced by Michael Omartian (the only album of the era that he produced for another artist [besides his wife] on Myrrh) and featured Tommy Funderburk (the third guy from Airplay with Jay Graydon and David Foster). The track I selected, “You Loved Me” is about as yachty as Ark Rock gets: It’s got a solid groove (complete with an “I Keep Forgettin’” bassline), an interesting musical turn on the chorus, and a jazzy synth solo to tie it all together. When I heard this track I thought there had to be more out there.
Kenny Marks - Follow Him - “Lean On Him” (1982)
The world of Ark Rock exists as an almost Bizarro World to yacht rock. You have a Christopher Cross analog in Chris Christian, a Michael McDonald in Michael Omartian, and a Kenny Loggins in Kenny Marks. And he does the same thing! His 1982 album Follow Him is in the same vein as the more rocking side of yacht that Loggins represents. Unfortunately, Kenny Marks isn’t nearly as good of a singer. This track lacks personnel, but falls right in line with the rock yacht sound.
Per-Erik Hallin - Better Late Than Never - “Gospel Train” (1982)
When I was building this list, I started with a few extra songs and then pared down. But I couldn’t get rid of this track for a couple reasons: 1. It’s incredibly smooth and 2. This guy’s name (Per-Erik Hallin) is almost exactly my name (Erik Helin); it blew my mind. I’m not 100% sure the origins of this album: Per-Erik Hallin is a Swede, and the album was initially recorded and released in Sweden on the Royal Music label. One thing that Myrrh did more than a few times was pick artists from Europe and give them wider release abroad. Per-Erik’s album looks like it was released in Sweden, given a wider release in Europe by Myrrh and then finally ended up with a US release on Refuge Records.
This track lacks personnel, but man, it’s smooth. It’s got great interplay between the rhythm instruments (in spite of the weird-ass piano thing at the end) that was a hallmark of a lot of yacht rock. I kind of get Boz Scaggs vibes from Per-Erik, but obviously less polished and, you know, Christian.
Russ Taff - Walls of Glass - “Walls of Glass” & “Just Believe” (1983)
With Russ Taff’s Walls of Glass we come full circle on the interconnection between Ark Rock and yacht rock. This album features the most yacht rock personnel of any Myrrh release including Michael Omartian, Jeff “The Hammer” Porcaro, Michael Landau of Maxus, percussionist Lenny Castro, backup vocals by Bill Champlin, and production from Bill Schnee, an engineer on Gaucho. The title track falls firmly on the Hold The Line, and you can really hear Porcaro in the rhythm. The other track I selected from the album, “Just Believe”, comes in with a super strong groove anchored by an excellent e-piano riff. Again, as with the Chuck Girard track from earlier in this list, the addition of gospel vocals ups the urban cred of a lot of Ark Rock, and this track is no exception. If I were to pitch a Yacht or Nyacht of anything from this list to see if Ark Rock could even be considered yacht rock, I would start definitely with Russ Taff.
Russ Taff was a member of a band called The Imperials, who did prime Ark Rock, releasing a string of albums in the 70s and 80s that are all pretty epic, and feature a host of yacht personnel.
Steve Archer - Through His Eyes - “Unless God Builds Your House” (1983)
Another album produced by Chris Christian, Steve Archer’s Through His Eyes comes towards the end of the yacht era. The selected track, “Unless God Builds Your House” is super smooth, pure Ark Rock. Personnel of note here are (again) Michael Landau, as well as drummer John Robinson, who worked a lot with Quincy Jones in the early 80s.
In the third installment we’ll conclude with the end of the Ark Rock era: The mid 1980s.