Founded in 1983, the Orange County, California-based band Stryper was best known for their yellow and black spandex outfit, glam rock image and, most of all, for their ministry as a Christian band in the heavy metal/hard rock music scene. The name Stryper is an acronym for Salvation Through Redemption Yielding Peace, Encouragement & Righteousness. The band members took the name from Isaiah 53:5 which says “…by His (Jesus Christ) stripes we are healed.”
Stryper originally began as Roxx Regime, which was originally a secular band. Guitarist C.C. DeVille, who later went on to achieve fame and fortune as a member of Poison, was once a member of Roxx Regime. After founding brothers Michael (guitars, lead vocals) and Robert Sweet (drums) rededicated their lives to Christ, they joined forces with guitarist Oz Fox (a.k.a. Richard Martinez) and bassist Timothy Gaines to become a Christian band. Fox had worked with several local bands as a guitar tech, and Gaines had played as a member of Stormer, a band which had headlined club shows on the Los Angeles circuit.
After Roxx Regime became a Christian band, they rewrote the songs from the band’s demo tape to reflect their faith. They were soon signed by Enigma Records. The record company liked the band and their music, but suggested they change their name. With that, Roxx Regime became Stryper. During the 1980’s, the band saw three albums reach gold certification (sales of 500,000 or more units): “The Yellow & Black Attack” (1984), “Soldiers Under Command” (1985) and “In God We Trust” (1988). They also had one platinum album (sales of one million units or more): “To Hell with the Devil” (1986).
In 1990, the band members changed their look, ditching their spandex and stage makeup and growing beards. They also changed their sound, exchanging polished pop metal for rougher-around-the-edges hard rock. They released “Against the Law,” which featured a different lyrical approach than their previous albums. The Christian themes were still there, but they were less obvious than before, drawing criticism from Christians and non-Christians alike who claimed the band had sold out and abandoned their faith. After the release of a “best of” album – “Can’t Stop the Rock: The Stryper Collection” (1991) – Michael Sweet left the band to go solo. The remaining members of the band disbanded a year later.
At the beginning of 2003, as Michael Sweet was in the process of writing for a solo album, he was contacted by Hollywood Records about releasing an album to commemorate the band’s twentieth anniversary. Sweet reunited with his brother Robert as well as with Oz Fox and Tim Gaines. In addition to recording two new songs, the band also picked out many of their favorite tracks from the past and remastered them. The result was “Seven: The Best of Stryper.” Stryper went on a brief tour which resulted in the live album “7 Weeks Live in America,” which was released in the spring of 2004.
In 2005, after an amicable split with Timothy Gaines, the members of Stryper welcomed a new bassist, Tracy Ferrie, who had worked with Michael Sweet as a member of his touring band. They then went into the studio to begin recording their first studio album in fifteen years. “Reborn” was released at the end of the summer of 2005. The album featured a mix of old and new sounds. The band had kept up with the musical times, but still retained elements of the old Stryper sound. MSNBC called “Reborn” one of the best albums of 2005.
Here is a list of my top ten songs by Stryper:
1. “Reach Out” (1985). A great example of what can happen when bone-crunching metal is mixed with four-part harmonies. The lyrics decalre that when one reaches out to Christ, He will reach to them as well: “I reached out/You reach out/He’ll reach out today.”
2. “Soldiers Under Command” (1985). The “Soldiers Under Command” album was a great mix of mid-80’s Euro-metal with poppy sounds and great vocal harmonies. The title track highlights the Euro-metal aspect of the album. The lyrics take on a spiritual warfare theme:
“Are you a solider under God’s command?
Help fight the good fight. Join up while you can!
The battle that’s waging is fought so easily.
Through Him without sin, there is victory.”
3. “Loud n’ Clear” (1984). The opening track from their debut album features bone-crunching metal and blistering guitar leads. The lyrics deliver the initial statement of the band members’ faith and their mission as a Christian band. The music and the lyrics make the title of this song ever appropriate.
“The hair is long, and the screams are loud n’ clear.
The clothes are tight, earrings dangling from their ears.
No matter how we look, we’ll always praise His name.
And if you believe, you’ve got to do the same.”
4. “The Way” (1986). Written by guitarist Oz Fox, this song has a great guitar riff that reminds me of Iron Maiden. “The Way” is one of the major highlights of Stryper’s live show.
5. “Together as One” (1985). This Styx-ish ballad is about Christians liveing together under God’s love. But the lyrics are open enough that some have interpreted it as a regular love song. Many couple, both Christian and non-Christian, had this song sung at their weddings during the mid-late 1980’s.
6. “Free” (1986). The second video to make the Dial-MTV countdown, continually battling for the top spot with videos by Poison and Bon Jovi. This was also their first video to reach number one on the countdown.
7. “Calling on You” (1986). Their first video to reach the Dial-MTV countdown, peaking at number two.
8. “When Did I See You Cry?” (2005). This song looks at an individual who could be a homeless or a drug addict, and declares God’s love for these people. It brings to mind Jesus statement that “as you have done unto even the least of these, you have done it unto me.”
“When did I see You cry, o Lord?
When were You all alone?
When did I see You so far away,
so far away from home?”
9. “Honestly” (1986). This ballad was Stryper’s biggest radio hit. The video reached Number One on the Dial-MTV countdown.
10. “10, 000 Years” (2005). A Stryperized version of the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.” One of my favorite tracks from “Reborn.”
Here’s a honorable mention list of five more songs:
1. “Surrender” (1985)
2. “To Hell with the Devil” (1986)
3. “I.G.W.T.” (2005 – reworked version of “In God We Trust” recorded for the “Reborn” album)
4. “Always There for You” (1988)
5. “You Know What to Do” (1984)