Few celebrity deaths have meant anything to me, but this one stings. Carman Licidello (known to the Christian music community as simply Carman), was a powerhouse singer, most prominent in the late 80s and through the 90s, right when I was growing up.
There’s a video of me on my 2nd birthday, singing along (quite badly) to a Carman video that I loved. Holy cow, I just realized that was thirty years ago, almost thirty-one. Yet for those many years, even after Carman’s singing went on the backburner, his music remained a big part of my life. He taught me at a young age that Christian music doesn’t just have to be sweet and uplifting. It can be bold, powerful, and most importantly, founded on good music, not just good theology.
Last Tuesday, February 16th, 2021, Carman passed away from complications due to surgery (source).
I still listen to his music, still find strength in it. So in honor of the man whose music filled my youth and life, I’d like to remember my ten favorite songs of his.
Please note that this is my list and my opinion. Your list may vary. And I grew up with his older albums, so they have greater weight for me, and the new stuff won’t appear on this list, I’m sorry to say. Also, I’m focusing on original songs, so Carman’s worship music, while enjoyable, won’t appear here either. If you think there’s a song I missed, share it in the comments.
And if Carman’s music ever touched your life, please share that, too.
10. The Courtroom
How do you write a courtroom song? Mix in a Matlock-esque background score with plenty of horns and piano, that’s how.
One of Carman’s many story songs, but this time, he puts you, the listener, in the song, or more accurately, the defendant’s chair. You are on trial in God’s courtroom, a trial which will decide your eternal fate. And your accuser? Well, The Accuser, of course.
Satan rips into the defendant (you), laying bare every sin you’ve ever committed. And worse, God’s records confirm it all.
But…”On the other side of the courtroom…”
Then Jesus jumps up and says, now wait a minute, Judge!
Now I’ve got something to say!
I remind you that on the cross two thousand years ago,
I washed his sins away!
Satan jumps back in and says, “It’s written in the book! Check the book!” So God opens his record book again and finds it’s completely blank. The Devil is confused, so God says, “Maybe you meant this other book here,” and takes out the Lamb’s Book of Life.
It’s a simple metaphor, but a beautiful one.
9. Great God
My guess is that Carman heard “Awesome God” and said, “Hold my communion wine.”
God holds up the universe. God sustains the soul.
God exalts and God puts down. God is in control.
God’s glory is eternal. God is love and grace.
God knows all, sees all, is all. God is to be praised.
Now add an electric guitar riff and you’ve got the picture.
It’s a very simple song, just a declaration of God’s awesomeness. And sometimes, if you hit the drums hard enough, that’s all you need.
8. Never Be
So many of Carman’s songs are brash and stark, yet now and then, he still sang a gentle tune.
There will never be a time that he
Couldn’t mend each broken piece,
Never be a wounded soul he wouldn’t know.
There’ll never be a time that he
Would ever turn his back on me,
There’ll never be a life he can’t restore.
If I’m honest, I don’t remember much of this song off the top of my head, but boy oh boy do I remember that chorus. It’s sweet and touching, a loving reminder that Jesus is never unable or uninterested. His chief aim is restoration, of the heart, soul, and life.
I’ve nothing more to say, that chorus says it all.
7. No Monsters
You know what Carman was surprisingly good at? Giving kids nightmares.
Okay, it’s not Carman’s fault that, by pure coincidence, I always listened to this song as night as my family drove through the pitch-black backroads to our house, which passed by dilapidated barns and ghostly wilderness where no one can hear you scream. But he did open this track with a good minute of spooky sounds. And the music video of an axe murderer attacking a family in their car was not exactly kid friendly.
And yet, that was kind of the point.
“No Monsters” is not a gentle pat on the hand about how evil doesn’t exist. It does. This song is about how to fight it. In the grooviest way possible. No, seriously, that guitar riff is fun as heck.
Don’t want no monsters in my house tonight,
Don’t want no monsters in my house.
You won’t get the screamin’, you’re nothin’ but a demon,
It’s time for you to go now.
I am a temple of the Holy Ghost,
And I’m protected by the Lord of Hosts.
Get out, in the name of Jesus Christ,
cuz I don’t want no monsters in my house tonight!
I don’t think the sudden shift in music from horror tracks to bouncy guitar was a coincidence. Both verses begin with eerie instrumentals, leading into Carman telling of all the scary stuff he saw on TV that then haunted him in his bed. Yet when the chorus comes, it’s a drastic turn in tone, from fear to power. The music is no longer scary, it’s invigorating, which is the point. Evil exists, but you don’t have to give into fear, you can turn the tables on it by calling on Jesus.
I wish more Christian artists knew how to use music that way, not just lyrics.
6. A Witch’s Invitation
In his concert video of this album (a regular trait of Carman’s), Carman claimed this was a true story, whether to him or another he does not say. I’ve already talked about this song in another post, so I’ll be brief: this song scary, yo.
It’s the tale of a Christian man who meets a modern-day warlock, who brags about all the wondrous things he’s done through occult magic, then asks, “What can your God do to compete with this?” But the man turns the conversation around, saying the issue isn’t miracles, but the character of the one behind them.
He says Isaac’s soul is in danger, that the “friendly demons” who made him a great warlock will one day “crawl your spirit and victoriously drag your soul into Hell.”
And in the music video, that’s when 1980s-CGI-puppet-stop-motion nightmare fuel rises up out of the floor with an agonized scream, pulling this man into Hell and giving me nightmares from childhood all the way to, oh, I’ll let you know when they stop.
Jokes and brimstone aside, it’s a damn strong number (pun intended). He talks about how the power of the devil may be fun now, but it will end in misery. Meanwhile, the power of Jesus, while seemingly weak, brings life and freedom. Near the end, after the Christian warns Isaac that his “friends” will one day damn him, he says,
In that moment, which mantra, which incantation are you gonna chant
to tell them to leave you alone?
[…] My friend, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt what I would say:
“I am bought with the blood of Jesus, LET ME GO!”
The slamming organ in the background? Icing on the cake.
5. The Champion
If my information is right, this is the song that put Carman on the map. It’s one of his most beloved and iconic songs in part because it showcased his iconic style: story songs. From the very beginning of his career right until his final album, Carman was telling stories through music. This is perhaps his most famous.
In this track, Carman likens the Easter story to a boxing match, complete with a Rocky-style synth track. Very 1980s, and yet, shockingly powerful.
In a cosmic coliseum, the angels gather on one side of the arena, the demons on another. Then, “arrogantly prancing, hands held high,” Satan arrives, and Jesus appears “in resplendent glory.” God goes over the rules, then rings the bell.
The bell! The crowd! The fight was on!
And the Devil leapt in fury.
With all his evil tricks, he came undone.
The threw his jabs of hate and lust,
a stab of pride and envy.
But the hands that knew no sin blocked every one.
Forty days and nights they fought,
And Satan couldn’t touch him.
Now the final blow, saved for the final round.
Prophetically, Christ’s hands came down,
and Satan struck in vengeance.
The blow of death felled Jesus to the ground.
It’s the beauty and meter of poetry with the excitement of a fist fight. And after Satan fells Jesus, all gets quiet, and God starts the ten count, and…
Okay, let’s be honest, this song is old. The synth is dated, and Satan’s slithery, raspy voice is pretty silly. But you know what? This moment slays me. Go hear the track yourself, it’s one of the best builds of all time, as God says the ten-count…backwards. And suddenly Satan realizes it’s not a ten-count; it’s a drumroll. As Jesus rises to his feet, the synth track breaks for a choral eruption.
He has won! He has won!
He’s alive forevermore! He is risen, he is Lord!
Proclaim the news in every tongue,
through endless ages and beyond.
Let it be voiced from mountains loud and strong.
Captivity has been set free,
Salvation bought for you and me,
cuz Satan is defeated, and Jesus is the Champion!
I nearly laughed and cried just writing that. Carman has a way of shaking off the familiarity of Jesus and making me drop to my knees again.
3. Satan Bite the Dust
Okay, full disclosure, the child in me wrote this one.
It’s a cowboy standoff song. A flipping cowboy standoff song, written by a Christian. That’s the perfect blend of corny and RADICAL!
More accurately, it’s the tale of a gunslinger busting into a demon-operated saloon, kicking all the ass, and taking all the names, all while badmouthing the devil.
CARMAN: Every one of you unclean spirits, I’m runnin’ you out of town.
Depression, Strife, Disease, and Fear, your posse’s going down.
DEMON: Aw, the last tenderfoot to talk that big, we sent him home in a box.
CARMAN: But I know who I am through Jesus Christ, and I talk to demons like dogs.
SATAN: Boy, you gonna take me on and my unholy herd?
CARMAN: Not only take you on, but take you out by the Spirit and the Word.
One by one you’ll drop like flies under food and in the ground,
Because greater is He who is in me than the snake I’m staring down.
After smashing a bottle over Alcoholism’s head, punching Infirmity in the face, and whacking False Religion with his own guitar (I. Love. This. Song.), Carman shoots the Devil in the chest with two bullets called “The Word of My Testimony” and “The Blood,” a lift from Revelation 12:11. He even says “Bite the dust.”
And I kid you not, the Bonanza theme plays.
This song has always put a smile on my face. From the genuinely clever use of the cowboy mythos to the corny “Hi-ho Silver!” at the very end, from the smack-talk to Satan’s southern accent, it’s just plain fun.
Oh, and watch the music video. Bring popcorn.
3. I Promise
Did you know Carman wrote a love duet? Did you know it’s the most adorable thing ever?
HIM: I promise that I will love you.
HER: And I promise that I’ll love you, too.
BOTH: Here’s my heart, I give it away,
on this our wedding day.
It’s not very long or complicated, which makes it perfect for weddings. And it’s so gosh darn sweet.
It’s another glimpse into Carman’s gentler side, and the female counterpart adds a real richness to the track not often heard in Carman’s solo, male career. The tune is soft and lovely, it’s just wonderful, and much like the last song, it always puts a smile on my face.
2. This Blood
Right from the beginning, from that quick build into a choral chant, this one gives me chills. Another of Carman’s many story songs, this one is a brutal, vicious detailing of Jesus’s torture and crucifixion, long before Mel Gibson did it in film. It’s about how Jesus’s blood was spilled, and why. The first verse is probably the most chilling. It details Jesus being whipped, and then…
Then surprisingly, he turned his head, and though the words he used were few,
The soldier’s face turned pale, as he said, “This blood is for you.”
Jesus says the same thing to Simon, who gets blood on himself from carrying the cross. And he says it again when he cries, “Father God, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It is a song that churns both the stomach and the heart, an unflinching look at what happened at the cross, both in the physical world and the spiritual. And every time I listen to it, I’m staggered. And moved.
This blood can save the soul, heal the sick, mend the heart,
This blood can give you access to the very throne of God,
And it still can go the distance, through the pain to where you are,
This blood is for you, the blood of the Lamb.
1. Revival in the Land
Of all Carman’s story songs, this is my favorite.
Satan’s chief demon lieutenant runs to his master with disastrous news. At first, Satan asks for a status report in his realms of abortion clinics, television violence, drunk driving, suicides, runaways, and false religion. Carman wasn’t one to mince words, and it paints a picture of how powerful the Devil’s grasp has become. But then suddenly, explosions erupt all around. What’s going on?
Christians are on their knees in prayer.
DEMON: Sir, they are literal holy terrors! They bind us, cast us out!
Then they do those disgusting charismatic jigs.
They quote scriptures like the son of God, and sir, if you don’t intervene,
We all might wind up in a bunch of pigs!
I love that reference to Matthew 8:28-34. Prayer is mighty. It can turn back the work of the Evil One, not that most Christians would know that, in my experience. I’ve seen Christians pray for good things, for healing, for everything, but it’s rare for Christians to actually call on God, claim his promises, and rebuke evil plainly. We act like evil doesn’t exist, that it’s just the world fighting us. This song was meant to wake people up.
The demon goes on to say that the Christians are even praying for revival. This was off the heels of the big revival movements of the late 20th century, when Christians rediscovered their fervor and power in God. Sleepy Christians are the Devil’s favorite targets, but those whose spirits are roused and those who fill their lives with God’s might and love are evil’s greatest threat.
Satan lists all his battle tactics: coming in like a flood, forming weapons, filling their minds with lust and debauchery, but as the demon points out, the Bible has countermeasures for all these things. And then, we get to the last exchange, an absolute gem of a line that is both invigorating, and an epic mic drop.
SATAN: It’s time to launch my final, most vicious attack.
I’ll remind the saints of their past, how they were liars, cheaters, manipulators, and moochers!
DEMON: But sir, you know what’ll happen if you remind the saints of their past.
SATAN: And what is that?
DEMON: Sir, they’ll just remind you…of your future.
The battle is already won. Jesus defeated evil on the cross, and he will finish that defeat when he throws Satan and Death into Hell (Revelation 20:10). That thought alone should set our souls on fire.
And to help that along, Carman suddenly switches from story song to revival anthem, launching into a battle speech, complete with roaring sirens, then pivoting straight into an old-school revival tent tune, which is both powerful and fun as heck, before capping it off with another cheering cry set to blaring horns and screaming strings.
“From America to England, from Africa to Spain, from Mexico to China,
The Spirit of God is being poured out on all flesh,
And there is Revival in the Land!”
Revival is the Christian life cranked up to eleven. No wonder this song is such an atomic bomb of a track. Powerful, exciting, encouraging, warlike, it’s one of the most get-off-your-butt songs any Christian ever wrote.
Done and Past
It feels wrong not to include “Addicted to Jesus,” “All in Life,” “Now’s the Time,” “Sling, Bang, Boom,” or the gloriously cheesy “Resurrection Rap,” but this post has gone on long enough. Once again, I invite you to share your favorite Carman songs in the comments below. I’d love to meet more fans.
Looking back at my old post on Carman, I’m sad to say I never saw him live again, as I hoped to. I didn’t even know he had one last album out until doing research for this post. I wish I’d seized the chance when I had it.
But nothing can take the past from me. I loved growing up with his music. It shaped me in more ways than I can say, and I have so many happy memories attached to his works. And the beauty of the modern age is I can carry around Carman’s entire music collection in my pocket.
I didn’t know him personally. I’m sure we would have disagreed on many things. Yet I appreciate his trailblazing of Christian music, his staunch stance against evil, and all the joy he brought my young life. And even now.
Thanks for the memories, Carman. I look forward to meeting you on the other side.
Kingdoms come, and kingdoms go,
but through the Word of God I know,
when all in life is done and past,
only what’s done for Christ will last.
-Carman, “All in Life“