THE STORY BEHIND THE SONG "THE ONLY ONE" BY CAEDMON'S CALL
By John Hillman
Caedmon, a medieval English monk, set new standards in church music. In the same vein, Caedmon's Call, a talented group of college-age musicians taking his name and mission, exploded on the Christian music scene in 1990s. Following the strength of their five number-one singles, the seven Texas troubadours have set their sights on new standards and achieved another top hit with "The Only One."
As with many success stories, the band's origins trace to humble circumstances. In 1991, Cliff Young and Aaron Tate often gathered in their Texas Christian University dorm rooms to jam and compose lyrics.
A year later, Young returned to his native Houston and persuaded Tate to journey southeastward with him. One Sunday morning, the former TCU Horned Frog hooked up with 16-year-old Danielle Glenn, his future wife, and Todd Bragg to perform the special music at Second Baptist Church where his father Ed Young served as pastor.
Bragg joined the group only because he served as percussionist for Second Baptist's orchestra. The impromptu combo performed the Rich Mullins number, "Hope to Carry On."
"It was just me, my guitar, Danielle and another girl singing, Todd playing tambourine, and another guy beating his head against a conga or something," Young told Rob Berman in a 1995 interview. "I ended up popping a string and having to sing the entire song a cappella."
From that inauspicious debut, Caedmon's Call jelled as a musical force. Tate performed several times with the band but dropped out because his heart leaned toward songwriting rather than appearing on stage.
To fill the vacancy, he contacted Derek Webb, a high school friend, and convinced him to join the group as a guitarist and vocalist. Although Tate continued to supply most of the band's material, Webb also contributed songs such as "Just Don't Want Coffee" and "Thankful," a 2000 Dove nominee for Modern Rock/Alternative Song of the Year.
The band derived its name from Caedmon, a seventh century English monk whom God called to sing. After initially refusing, Caedmon finally opened his mouth and sang beautiful verses unknown to anyone.
"Three of us were in three different English classes and within the same week we all heard the story of Caedmon," Danielle Young (who married Cliff in 1997) told Aaron Brinely in 1998. "He was known as having an incredible ability to write poetry and sing songs. The legend is that he was instrumental in translating the Bible from written Latin to spoken English, and it was done through his songs."
The college scene provided the group a perfect venue for its folk-rock Christian sound. Campuses across the South and Southwest soon reverberated with the seven-member band composed of guitarists Young and Webb, vocalist Danielle, drummer Bragg, bassist Aric Nitzberg, keyboardist Randy Holsapple, and percussionist Garett Buell.
"At our first college concert we drew a crowd of about 150," Young says on the group's jamsline.com biography. "The crowd just sat and stared at us for the entire show. When it was all over the response was overwhelming, they stayed, came up to the stage and talked with us about how the music had touched them."
Acceptance and success on the campus circuit prompted production of two independent CDs, My Calm//Your Storm in 1994 and Just Don't Want Coffee in 1995. Because of pressing fan demand, the band remastered and re-released its initial album, My Calm//Your Storm, in 1996. That year, Musician Magazine recognized the ensemble's potential and named Caedmon's Call one of the nation's top 50 unsigned groups.
But the combo with its roots in Houston's Second Baptist Church reflected long and hard before inking with a national label. Doubts and misgivings lingered about Caedmon's Call's role and audience in the Christian music scene.
"It's more that the Christian music industry tends to use the music to reach people, rather than Christians who make music," Bragg told Rob Berman. "But we felt like we're musicians, and the Lord has given us these talents so we want to play, that's what were called to do."
The group eventually signed with Warner Alliance, leading to the release of its self-titled CD in March 1997. Caedmon's Call received critical acclaim, shooting to the top of the charts and selling more than 250,000 copies.
But despite the album's success culminating in a 1998 Dove Award for Modern Rock/Alternative Album of the Year, the band underwent emotional, financial, and artistic trauma. The ensemble not only lost connection with its fan base, it also experienced monetary difficulties due to overbooking and mismanagement.
"In our independent days, we were playing to 1,000-1,200 college students who knew every lyric to every one of our songs," Cliff told Laura Harris of CCM Magazine. "But at these shows, we were singing in front of about 200 junior high students who were expecting dc Talk. We just couldn't deliver that because that's not who we are."
The problems eventually resolved, and a new contract with Essential Records paved the way for the group's second national album, 40 Acres, issued in April 1999. The recording brought another round of favorable reviews and established Caedmon's Call as one of Christian music's top acoustical acts.
Following the release of 40 Acres, the band took a well-deserved and much-needed respite. Danielle gave birth to the couple's first child, Rachel, in December 1999, and shortly afterward, the Texans reassembled for their next project, Long Line of Leavers released in October 2000.
The band changed its style slightly and added two new members, bassist Jeff Miller and 17-year-old keyboardist Josh Moore. Expanding its musical horizons, Caedmon's Call infused the new CD with elements of pop, 1940's jazz, and Brazilian percussion. The new sound not only thrilled diehard folk/rock fans, it also delivered an infusion of freshness to untouched audiences.
Dave Urbanski of CCM Magazine called each song, "depth-filled (and) worthy of study and meditation."ChristianityToday.com agreed, announcing the album is "chock-full of great musicianship and smart songwriting."
Aaron Tate's composition, "The Only One," provided the album's title and first single release. The opening cut, which sheds light on the mystery of God's unconditional love, debuted in the Christian top 50 and had climbed to number 27 by October's end.
The song's opening lines read, "I come from a long line of leavers, out of the garden with an apple in their hands. "According to Tate, Caedmon's Call primary artistic force, "This song is about my fear of being left, and about the mysterious staying power of unconditional love. There are few things more profound than to be completely known and still completely loved."
The chorus echoes these thoughts with the opening phrase, "You're the only one who knows my secrets. "It concludes by proclaiming a Christian's timeless faith that transcends understanding with the lines, "Still you're the only one who never leaves, and I wake up to this mystery."
Billboard called Tate's creation a, "potent leap for the seven-member band." But Sean Heriott of Detroit's WMUZ summed it best. According to the Motor City DJ, "Like all of the songs on Long Line of Leavers, the lyrics to "The Only One" are honest, down-to earth, and help us take a hard look at the need to really trust God. 'The Only One' sounds great on the air, and Caedmon's Call still has a lot to say."