Let’s rewind 20 years. It was 1996. Bill Clinton was President. Seinfeld was still on primetime television. Grunge was still a thing. John James was the lead singer of the Newsboys, Peter Furler played drums and still had hair, and Michael Tait was singing in a little band called dc Talk.
Also in 1996, the Newsboys dropped the album Take Me To Your Leader. Everyone who heard it agreed that it was out of this world (pun intended). But what made Take Me To Your Leader so special, and what continues to set it apart, is the value and meaning that it holds on more levels than you might have realized. That’s how it was for me.
I remember being in my early teens and walking into my local Christian bookstore and seeing the headphones free at the listening kiosk where there was a display for “The Newsboys’ new album Take Me To Your Leader!” I walked up and began listening to it, and as the first notes of “God Is Not A Secret” started playing, I started laughing.
I was laughing because it wasn’t what I expected. It was better. I was laughing because there was a spaceship on the cover. (I mean, who does that?) I was laughing because the lyrics were funny. The first track alone talked about being “dipped in bubonic plague” and, on later cuts, there were songs that were about running off to join the circus, Cap’N Crunch, belly dancers, evergreen incense, habanero sauce, and, yes, the ever-controversial “elephant dung” lyric. Yet, none of this really took me, or any of us CCM fans, by surprise because that’s exactly what we loved and still love about the Newsboys. They were funny, weird, and creative. And there was nothing else like them anywhere.
As I dove further into the album, I began to notice several things. First of all, songs such as “Breakfast,” “Cup O’ Tea” and the title track were as infectious as the aforementioned bubonic plague. I would walk around all day singing those songs without even realizing it. Second, when you watched the video for “Take Me To Your Leader” or saw them in concert on the Take Me To Your Leader tour, it was obvious the guys in the band were having fun. They dressed up in blue space suits, decorated the stage for their tour to look like the planet Mars, entered the stage riding space ships while the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey played over the speakers.
While some songs on Take Me To Your Leader were overtly Christian – “God is not a secret to be kept” – others like “Lost the Plot” held deeper lyrics that I only recently began to understand as an adult. As I listened again to that song, there was a lyric in it that wrecked me: “For a time we stuck with the shepherd, but you wouldn’t play Santa Claus.” In other words, sometimes as Christians we are happy to stick with Jesus when he gives us everything we want and all of the boxes of our life are checked. But the minute things start going downhill — someone we know disappoints us, we get hurt, or we don’t get something they want – like a spoiled child on Christmas morning, we lose the plot.
I believe that is the reason we are still talking about Take Me To Your Leader. It can still speak today to the same kid who first heard it in his local Christian bookstore for the first time, 20 years ago.
Much has changed for the Newsboys over the past 20 years. John James left the band before their next release, and Peter Furler stepped up to the microphone. They put out a disco album, a few worship albums and went through more lineup changes. In 2008, Michael Tait joined the band as the lead singer. And though the Newsboys have changed quite a bit from the six-piece band of guys in blue space suits, there is one thing that hasn’t changed: they still want to take you to their leader.