Review Summary: I don't want this modern religion, no no....
“Ministry: That is the purpose for my life and the reason I travel, to minister and reach out to help someone find a richer, fuller life in Christ. It is by the request of many people that this album has been released and by faith I’m trusting it will help in leading people into a deeper spiritual life.
- Ken Snyder
The legend of Ken Snyder has been well documented over the past week or two, indeed you could say a kind of "Ken-mania" has overtaken the interwebs in certain circles. To reflect, amongst the dozens of worst album art of all time lists and books that have been made on the subject one mans face has always been present. That man is Ken Snyder.
Seeing the cover of his 1976 LP By Request Only
for the first time generally elicits a certain kind of reaction in a person. From the tacky font that displays the word Ken, it's generic title By Request Only
, and the mugshot of the guy sporting a most corny moptop and handlebar moustache combination staring serenely out into the distance whilst his twin sits facing outward smiling wearing the most dead relic of 70's fashion (the Safari suit), Ken Snyder's By Request Only
features the kind of camp artwork that could only have come out of it's era.
It's worth a chuckle, at worst a cringe. On close analysis, it's probably not half as hilariously awful as some of the other skeletons in the closet of album art history, but it has still made itself a legend amongst collectors of fringe music who questioned for years whether it actually exists and more importantly: where can they find a copy? Thus Ken became a legend, and due to the work of a cult internet fanbase someone managed to track down the man himself alive and well in the bible belt of America. Flattered that people wanted to hear his music, and being a good sport about its reputation he sold off at least one of the remaining copies he owned to a private collector. Inevitably By Request Only
found itself on the internet, spreading through torrent sites and blogs like wildfire causing a sort of mass hysteria amongst those almost worryingly enthusiastic about Ken's goofy mug. Had a miracle occurred? Possibly. Many appeared overjoyed that they were finally going to hear By Request Only
, certainly a lost musical work of its day. The question is, was it worth it?
If you consider yourself a listener of high taste and distinction, of course not. Even though nobody was expecting Ken to deliver the goods here By Request Only
is utter ***e, there is a reason these sort of LP's with bad album art came and went in the 70's to be forgotten never to be remembered again. They aren't very good. It's very rare that a critic comes across an obscure vinyl LP rummaging through a garage sale and finds a lost masterpiece, revising history to include this release as something essential, influential and important. By Request Only
is a by the numbers gospel album, and everybody knows if it isn't sung by a black man its usually cack.
He Loves Me So
sets the scene, with it's corny piano intro and strings we are introduced to the voice of Ken for the first time. His delivery is not that bad, somewhat pleasing if a little "dad singing karaoke again" in quality sometimes. Lyrical topics are predictably concerned with religion, such as the chorus here ("He loves me so/yes he loves me so/He left his home in glory/to bring redemption story/and now i'm gonna sing in glory/just because he loves me so
"). I Heard Footsteps
is actually a decent enough single, with lush strings and piano as Ken sings ("I heard footsteps walking in the shadows/And a hand reached down to tell me He was there
"). Even though the song is still camp as all hell it manages to be well written and one of the best cuts on display. Rise And Be Healed
, the Holy Spirit Flow Thru Me, Come Holy Spirit
medley, Love Beyond Compare
, Walk With Me
, hell almost the entire remainder of the album just feels like a shallow retreading of this song. Sometimes lyrical snippets stand out, sometimes they don't, but since all the songs are about Jesus anyway it doesn't really matter. Either way the arrangements generally range to mediocre to respectable, but still not great.
has the distinction of being the most popular song off the album, and there is a reason for this. It kinda rocks. Modern Religion
is still incredibly lame however, with it's flat funk bass, guitar and piano Ken sings about the state of religion in his day. I suppose it his delivery that makes it, looking at the album cover you could easily imagine the guy looking at you could have been responsible for penning lyrics like this ("I don't want this modern religion/I can't feel this modern religion/It ain't real this modern religion/And I don't want this modern religion, any more
"). Ken seems to have witnessed something unsettling in the faith of his day, people increasingly full of double standards ("When you go to church on Sunday, you let them know who you are/As soon as the service is over, you head for the nearest bar
") and the hatred and contempt man still seems to feel for another despite having witnessed the beauty of God ("You say you love your savior/You love him more then before/Now, how can you love your savior/And still hate your brother next door?
"). It's pretty good, but don't get me started on the pop-rock extravaganza of I Want to Live My Life for Jesus
. It's even better.
By Request Only
is not always as horrifyingly awful as the cover might suggest, whilst some moments are indeed chuckleworthy, cringeworthy and well, as flat out bad as Ken's hair-do there a number of strong moments of songwriting peppered throughout. Ken can't really sing that well, and the arrangements mostly have a distinct elevator music style quality to them but in the hands of someone much more musically talented this album could have been elevated well over what it is. The legend of Ken Snyder, his album and the quest to find it will always live in the hearts of those who understand (not everybody will, however By Request Only
transcends such petty criticisms) and for those listening to it for the first time expecting it to be hilariously awful well, they won't be disappointed.