PVC

June 18, 2007

Tammy Faye Bakker – Tammy Sings… You Can Make It!

Filed under: gospel,pop,vocal — norm. @ 8:34 pm

Tammy Sings... You Can Make It! front coverEverybody remembers Tammy Faye Bakker/Messner from something; the televangelism, the mascara-melting public weeping, The Surreal Life, and so on, but although you probably think something about her, most probably don’t think of her as a musician. There is a good reason for that. For proof, look no further than 1982’s Tammy Sings… You Can Make It!

Anyone who has heard Tammy Faye’s speaking voice (which is to say, anyone who has ever owned a television) would rightly wonder how in the world she was allowed to make a record as a singer. The answer, of course, is that this record was released by PTL Records—as in The PTL (Praise the Lord) Club, the televangelism organization that she and her then-husband/convicted felon/alleged rapist Jim Bakker founded and used to collect millions in donations before it all came crashing down in the late ’80’s. This record, however, comes from the Bakkers’ heyday in the early ’80’s, when people were still willing to give them loads of money in order to fund things like the building of a Christian theme park and apparently vanity recordings like this one.

Going in to this record, I had pretty low expectations for reasons which should be obvious. The first song is the title track, “You Can Make It”, although it noticeably is lacking the exclamation point of the album title. That sense of enthusiasm is not missing in the song itself, however, and I was initially surprised. Sure, it was bad, but not nearly as bad as I had expected, and I found myself giving some credit to the producer for how well it all worked. Tammy Faye is by no stretch a singer, but in this song, she passed for one, whereas I was expecting the train to wreck right out of the station.

Clip: “You Can Make It”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The song itself is obviously intended to set the hopeful, positive tone for the album, and it does so fairly well. Anyone approaching this record would be pretty naïve in expecting less than a dose of evangelism as heavy as Tammy Faye’s eyeliner, and that’s the case throughout, but I was surprised to find that throughout the opening song, all the mentions of any theological nature refer to “your God”—not just “God” or even “the God”, but “your God”. That seemed unusually progressive, as it left the door open for pretty much any deity to be applied; it’s your god, your choice. You could just as well choose the Christian god as, say, Cthulhu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, at least for the purposes of this song. The point isn’t who’s going to help you through your problems; the point is that you’re going to get through your problems, with the help of some unspecified being who is not you and you probably can’t see or hear in any physical sense.

The second song on the album is a country-fied little number called “In Walked Jesus”. Obviously at this point Tammy Faye has settled on a specific deity as the subject, so all the Pastafarians would probably stop listening at this point. It’s a fairly by-the-numbers ditty, although I did notice that through the magic—oops, excuse me, magic’s probably not welcome here—through the miracle of recording technology, it sounds as though on this one Tammy Faye’s singing harmony with herself. At least I’m assuming it’s her voice on both parts, as there’s no specific credit; it could be anyone. Perhaps in walked Jesus himself to the recording booth to lay down the harmony track. If so, His singing voice sounds exactly like Tammy Faye’s, but of course, He could do that if He wanted to—He’s Jesus.

The next track slows things down a bit with a country gospel song titled “Mercy Re-Wrote My Life”. This particular song seemed unremarkable to me until late in it when the band took it down to just bass, drums, and the “oohs” of the backup singers, and that familiar Tammy Faye nasal whine began to speak to us “people” directly, telling us how meaningful this song was, because not long ago, her “marriage was falling apart,” and she was making “terrible mistakes” until “Jesus came… and with His mercy re-wrote [her] life.” She finishes by saying, “I’m so thankful for what God has done for me and my family and for the way he’s put it all back together again.” Keep in mind that this is still a few years before she would find herself filing for divorce from her incarcerated husband Jim. Apparently mercy, as a writer, has a knack for ironic twists.

Clip: Mercy Re-Wrote My Life

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“Only God Can Make You Feel so Good” is the next song, an upbeat pop number. The lyrical content is about what you’d expect from the title; a series of strange admonitions about the vices of worldliness and assertions that, well, only God can make you feel so good. She never explains exactly how good “so good” is; although one would gather from the context that it is better than any of the things she mentions. Admittedly, though, she doesn’t mention any of the things that come to my mind as feeling pretty good. I’ll let you figure out what those are.

One thing that at this time was not making me feel very good was the direction this record was going. All my optimism had worn off, and it was pretty clear by this point that Tammy Faye didn’t have the vocal chops to hold up a whole album’s-worth of material. The relentless optimism which is the record’s theme was wearing on me as well, and although it’s clear that Tammy Faye gets her evangelistic style from the “Up with People” school of theology, it seems like she learned her vocal style from the “Cowardly Lion” school of singing. Not inasmuch as she has a timid voice; she certainly doesn’t, but in the sense that several times her shallow vowel pronunciation and jackhammer vibrato reminded me of Bert Lahr’s movie performance of “If I Was King of the Forest” from The Wizard of Oz.

The last track on side one is a gospel ballad, “God Is Not Through Blessing You”, that starts off seeming to pull from the Lionel Richie style. It’s a meditation on the book of Job, suggesting that one shouldn’t give up, since God will help you in the end as he did Job. Of course she doesn’t mention anything about the fact that Job pretty much just talks about how he wishes God would kill him and laments the fact that he was ever born the whole time. Also, when Job does get his reward in the end, he has a daughter named Keren-Happuch, which is Hebrew for “horn of eye cosmetics”, which might be a reason why Tammy Faye identifies with this particular book. Near the end of this song, there is another spoken-word interlude from Tammy Faye, after which the chorus changes to “God’s not through using you,” which to me seems an entirely more sinister sentiment.

The second side of this album continues in the same vein, only the songs progressively get more and more irritating until they border on unlistenable; I really had to make an effort to continue through it all. The styles continue in the same pop-country-gospel vein, with some bordering on the musical-theatre-esque like “Nobody” (main lyric: “There’s nobody–nobody–quite like you, Lord!”) and “Lord, Paint My Mind” (which I mentally subtitled “Because My Face is Full”) and the OK-I-get-it-already upbeat pop of “I Am Blessed” and “God Rides on Wings of Love”. If I wasn’t already sick of things by then, she finishes off the album with an over seven-minute-long medley of snippets of other songs, as if to say, “Just in case you thought nine shakily-sung incessantly upbeat songs about how God’s gonna fix everything were all we could come up with, here are several more that we could have added if we had the space!” By the end of it, I was beginning to feel like Job.

Looking at the cover, we have our standard family portrait of the Bakkers; it looks a bit as if it had been taken right out of the PTL club church directory. There are the smiling faces of Jim and Tammy Faye, posing proudly with they awkward-teen-phase daughter Tammy Sue (who would later go on to adopt her mother’s love for mascara) and their son Jay, his mischievous grin suggesting his future tattooed-punk preacher persona. Oh, and a parrot, for some reason.

It’s her album, but Tammy Faye almost seems subdued in this picture. She’s the headliner here, but there she is, down in the corner, behind some big gray thing. She’s not bigger-than-life; she’s going to let her family sell this album, not her fake eyelashes and large fe-mullet. See, the Bakkers, they’re not those faraway people on TV—they’re an average family, (with a parrot for some reason); casually but neatly dressed (wait, is that a gold chain peeking out of Jim’s shirt?), the typical, conservative folks just like you and your friends and neighbors (make sure you get that gigantic ring in the shot… and don’t forget the bracelet too).

Tammy Sings... You Can Make It! back coverThe back cover of the album is where Tammy steps into the spotlight. There she is, with two gigantic rings and a different bracelet, singing out those inspirational tunes in the studio, with the monitor headphone on upside down so as not to interfere with that stylish matching headband. Here executive producer Tammy Bakker (Tammy, what happened to the Faye? It’s nowhere to be found on this record) gives credit to all the people that helped create this album, and hence we find out that fellow televangelist Mike Murdock is responsible for writing all the songs, so she’s not the only one to blame. We’re quite sure he wrote all of them, because they took the trouble to credit “Murdoc/Win-Way Productions, Inc./ASCAP” on every single song, instead of, I don’t know, just putting it once at the bottom and saying “all songs by”. And then, Tammy Faye, ever the gracious one, proceeds to credit all the other musicians and contributors, although, noticeably, she didn’t credit God. I suppose that would have been redundant.

Of course, maybe she offered to give Him a credit line on the back of the album and he declined; I know I wouldn’t want to have my name associated with it.

[rating: 1.5]

3

Powered by WordPress