Beating Grain

A thirty-three year old song popped up on my playlist yesterday. In the range of music I listen to, that’s about middle-aged. (I go as far back as Sinatra, who actually came up as I was writing this, and as far forward as last week.) This song’s pretty special, though, so I thought it was worth talking about.

Lots of things happened in 1985, but a couple of them were:

  1. A brand new radio station started broadcasting in DFW. It was also a brand new type of station: it was playing CCM, something called Contemporary Christian Music. Since it was the mid-80’s, there was a lot of Amy and Rich and Michael W. and SC2.
  2. Unrelated but around the same time, I decided I need to clean up what I was listening to. So I threw away my rock-and-roll collection and started hanging around Joshua’s and listening to cassettes for hours to try and find something that fit my musical tests (there wasn’t much).

In one of those sessions the following year, I came across an album by the name of One on One. It was a pretty rocking album, which was still unusual in the Christian world, but it was a rocking album with a message, which made it a rare thing indeed. I bought it almost immediately.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, listening to music was not a passive activity back in those days. You got an album home (an LP before LP’s were cool again), you listened to it two or three times through to get a feel for the music, you read along with the lyric insert (and when there wasn’t a lyric insert, you silently hurled three or four Shakespearean insults1 at the artist), and so forth.

And so it was with One on One. Except that when I got to the penultimate song, I went back and played it three or four times. And turned the receiver up a little more each time. And then wondered how much newer and bigger speakers would cost so I could turn it up some more. (I was playing the cassette of One on One in the car one time when my mother was with me, and “Threshing Floor” came on. She promptly went out and bought the album. I would not have been more shocked if she’d come home wearing a Hendrix t-shirt.)

Most of the songs on the album had been written by the artist, Steve Camp, or Steve and his main co-writer of the time, Rob Frazier. A couple of songs had brand-new artist Margaret Becker sharing co-credit. I knew all of those names. (Margaret was new, but she was a rocker at the time so I’d already heard her.) The lyrics on this song, though, were written by a man I’d never heard of. And wouldn’t hear of again, for the better part of a decade.

It would be another seven years, at another listening session at Joshua’s, before I found out that the guy who wrote the lyrics for “Threshing Floor” wasn’t a guy. As it turned out, Ashley Cleveland was a female who could out-rock 95% of the men in the building, and give the other 5% a pretty good scare.

Ashley has never recorded “Threshing Floor,” and more’s the pity. Her voice was tailor-made for it, and her husband would tear the guitar part up and come back for more. More than that, the lyrics are her story, and I think she should be the one to tell it. Little Black Sheep, Ashley’s memoir from a few years ago, offers some insight into her state of mind around the time she wrote these words, and give them added poignancy.

I said separate the truth from the lie on the temple site
And bring my risky secrets into the open
The vats are overflowing and the harvest is ripe
But the husk around my heart remains unbroken

It’s not Ashley, and it has a bit of an 80’s feel to it, but it’s still pretty fantastic. Enjoy.

  1. “Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch.” Henry IV has quite a collection of worthy insults.

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