This month we celebrate  Charlie Peacock’s 20th anniversary as a solo artist. "Lie Down in the Grass" (EXIT/A&M) served as his potent calling card those many years ago, leading  CCM Magazine to respond accordingly: “In this powerful solo debut … Charlie Peacock forays into musical territory until now unexplored by Christian musicians.” (June, 1984)

This adventurous approach would come to define Peacock’s career as both a recording artist and a producer. And make no mistake, his daring conviction enhanced his lyrics as well as his music. As one fan in Boise, Idaho, recently told CCM, “It was Charlie’s 1991 album "Love Life" (Sparrow) that changed my perspective on what Christian music should be about. I realized that Christian music should be relevant and honest concerning any topic, not just our relationship to our Savior.”

As a producer Peacock’s diverse resumé includes Switchfoot, Nichole Nordeman, 77s, Avalon, The Choir, Al Green, Twila Paris and Sarah Masen, among others. It’s no surprise he was first to be named the  Gospel Music Association’s “Producer of the Year” three times. To kick off our 20th anniversary tribute to Peacock, CCM Magazine has invited Douglas Kaine McKelvey to write a special salutatorial. McKelvey has been a fan since the beginning and eventually went on to become Peacock’s primary songwriting partner.

I don’t know what the name Charlie Peacock means to 18-year-olds today. But I know what it meant 20 years ago.

That was back when most of us hardcore Christian music aficionados knew only how to play defense. The bulk of our energy was expended in simply defending the music we listened to. As for penetrating and transforming the larger culture or creating artistry with any viability and relevance outside our own little backwaters, forget it. Those things weren’t even on the radar yet.

Then came the summer of 1984 and with it a new EXIT Records artist from Yuba City, Calif., named Charlie Peacock. He hadn’t been a Christian long enough to absorb the clichés or adopt the classic defensive posture. He was naïve enough to operate on the assumption that if you made enticing, invigorating, lyrical, imagistic, great art, people would connect.

Charlie’s jazz-influenced, new wave EXIT debut, "Lie Down in the Grass," was hip without desperately wanting to be. It was original. It was weighted toward the prow, leaning into the cultural conversation. Lyrically, it seemed to represent a faith that was worn very humanly, both in the secular marketplace and in the Christian subculture. People inside and outside the church found something that resonated with them.

The rest of us took a long look at this odd bird, scratched our heads and managed a profound, “Oh.” The old defensiveness suddenly looked a lot less defensible when viewed against this new paradigm of honest, cultural engagement. The next couple years saw Charlie sign a music publishing deal with CBS, record for labels A&M and Island, land a cut on the hit TV show “Fame” and write, tour and hobnob with ‘80s headliners such as the FIXX, Bourgeois Tagg, General Public, Let’s Active and Missing Persons. His early career was marked by the creation of art that was emotional, compelling and varied and by a conscious attempt to dismantle the barrier between artist and audience.

Following the critical success of his self-titled Island project, Charlie independently released the three-volume "West Coast Diaries" collections. It was a bold move. The "Diaries" were stripped down, barely produced, sometimes even incomplete recordings. But the unique relationship Charlie had cultivated with his fans allowed for that kind of intimacy. In fact, his fans had come to expect it. The inviting openness and confessional candor Charlie displayed onstage had become a magnet for young believers disenchanted by white-washed expressions of Christianity.