Recalling the Call: The 80s Most Underrated Rock and Roll Band

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Recalling the Call: The 80s Most Underrated Rock and Roll Band


Knoel C. Honn


Exotic Okie Productions

Publication Date:

June 4, 2021




534 pages


The Call, formed in California in the 1980s, holds a surprising place in discussions about Christianity and rock music. On the one hand, lead songwriter Michael Been wrote thought-provoking lyrics about following God. On the other hand, Been rarely gave a simple answer when asked about Christianity, and most of his songs explored spiritual mystery and struggles. The Call’s music was spiritual, but never “inspirational” for 1980s Christian radio. Like some of their more famous collaborators—U2’s Bono contributed to their song “What’s Happened to You” and Been contributed to Strong Hand of Love: A Tribute to Mark Heard—they were Christians who didn’t fit the Contemporary Christian Music scene.

Nine years after Been’s death, Knoel C. Honn interviews the remaining members and some of their collaborators (including Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr). Honn provides photographs of memorabilia and interesting files—like Been’s letter reprinting the Nicene Ceed to Christian radio stations asking for a statement of faith. Interviews cover the band’s full history, their feelings about faith, and their reunion concerts after Been’s death, with his son Michael Levon Been as lead singer. The book also reprints some interviews from the 1980s and includes thoughts from fans about the spiritual impact that The Call’s music had on them.

A band’s lead singer tends to define conversations about their work, particularly when that singer predeceased the rest of the band. Consequently, this book is partly an oral history of The Call, partly a tribute to Been. The stories portray Been as a complex man—a melancholy Christian too transparent to pretend he had no questions. The band comes across as equally complex—one band member observes that while they all call themselves Christians, they keep debating what that means. Given this refusal to avoid faith or to make faith sound easy, it’s perhaps not surprising that The Call was a cult favorite rather than a mainstream success. On that note, it’s telling that keyboardist Jim Goodwin mentions previously playing with Sparks (another cult favorite band with limited commercial success).

Since Recalling the Call communicates through interviews rather than a biographical overview, it feels scattershot at times. There’s plenty of primary source information, a chronology of Been’s life, and a chronology of the Band. However, bits and pieces of crucial biography information get skipped over because interviewees refer to things without clarifying the full story. For example, one interviewee mentions Been’s life after his divorce, but there’s no discussion about when the divorce happened. In a 1994 interview with John J. Thompson, Been mentioned his wife was an interim pastor for churches in crisis (commenting that there’s no lack of work), but not much else is known about her. Given her work would have given Been an up-close look at Christians struggling, and his penchant for talking more about his doubts than his convictions, it’s a shame their story doesn’t get told.

The oral history approach also means the book doesn’t capture how much Been intersected with other spiritual pilgrims. It mentions his collaborations with Paul Schrader (acting in the Schrader-scripted The Last Temptation of Christ, providing music for the Schrader-directed Light Sleeper). It never delves into how much Schrader (a Calvin College graduate who wandered from, then back to, organized religion) may have understood Been’s complex faith journey. There’s also no discussion about Been’s work with Heard, Bruce Cockburn, or T Bone Burnett—three other musicians who preferred mystery over spiritual platitudes. There’s potential here for something like Hammers and Nails, Matthew Dickerson’s biography of Heard, and it’s a bit frustrating that opportunity gets missed. Still, Honn collects many primary sources for whoever will write that book.

While The Call’s vision of faith never fit the Contemporary Christian Music label, this book shows their music had spiritual impacts their detractors wouldn’t have expected. While Honn speaks at the beginning about his own struggles with the church, and Been is quoted talking about his struggles, the final section contains anecdotes by several fans about becoming Christians after hearing The Call’s songs. The Call may never have been a conventional Christian rock band, and clearly never wanted to be. Still, their works clearly pointed people toward God.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

4 stars (2 stars for structure, 4 stars for content)

Suggested Audience:

Fans of The Call, of 1980s rock music, and of under-discussed Christian musicians. Particularly recommended alongside books about Bruce Cockburn (Rumours of Glory: A Memoir), Mark Heard (Hammers and Nails: The Life and Music of Mark Heard), and T Bone Burnett (T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit).

Christian Impact:

The book (perhaps deliberately) doesn’t discuss what every member of The Call definitely believes about Christianity. There are no statements of faith. No lists of their favorite Christian apologetics books. Whoever, the book shows each bandmate embraced some form of Christianity and was willing to discuss their spiritual questions together. Memories of Been (his struggles, his willingness to mentor others) gives an especially poignant picture of walking the winding road of faith. All these details make Recalling the Call a challenging, but refreshing look at seeking God.

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NOTE: ECLA readers who enjoy this book may also enjoy:

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making

Johnny Cash: Redemption of an American Icon

Recalling The Call: The 80's Most Underrated Rock 'N Roll Band!

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