While opinions vary as to what the worst album covers of all-time are, By Request Only invariably shows up on just about every top 10 list. To be honest I don’t really see why. Sure, it’s kind of cheesy and good for a cheap laugh — but is it really bad? I don’t think so, but I’m just one man. Regardless, I made it my mission to track down this album — issued only under the mysterious name “Ken” — and check it out.
So here’s what you need to know. Ken is actually Ken Snyder, and By Request Only is a fairly typical contemporary Christian music album from the mid ’70s. That is to say it’s basically traditional gospel infused with contemporary country and even a little bit of rhythm and blues. The first track, “He Loves Me So,” gives you a good idea of what you’re in for on the rest of the album. It’s pretty, bland, and completely harmless — kind of like the album cover itself, no?
The arrangements on most of By Request Only‘s 10 songs are fairly standard — Snyder — who very faintly evokes the sound of Glen Campbell — is the lone vocalist and is backed by a rhythm section of drums, bass guitar, and piano/organ. On a handful of songs we get treated to the surprise inclusion of a string section (on songs like “I Heard Footsteps” and “Walk With Me”). It adds a level or maudlin professionalism I wasn’t expecting, and it sounds nice enough.
Only once does Ken try to get a little down and dirty, and that’s on “Modern Religion.” It’s a halfway decent song that, much like the other nine, are largely undercut by Snyder’s mediocre singing. A lot of the songs on the album clock in at or under three minutes, but despite their brevity it’s really easy to get distracted while you’re listening. More than once a song ended and I hadn’t even realized it.
For that reason, I’m not sure there would be a point to including every song from the album here. But if you really, really have to hear the whole thing then it’s all up on YouTube.
Halfway through this record we’re treated to a medley of sorts, “Holy Spirit Flow Through Me / Come Holy Spirit.” It sounds like a typical vocal solo you’d hear in a Sunday service at your local Protestant church, but I point it out here because of Ken’s rather interesting pronunciations — “holy spiri”t as “holy spiruuuut” and “weakness” as “weaknuuuus” for example.
It would be really easy to take potshots at the lyrical content of this album, and I’m sure others already have. The fact that “Ha ha, he believes in Jesus!” jokes are incredibly lazy certainly doesn’t stop people from using them. But really, this all strikes me as a pretty earnest and sincere expression of religious faith, so who am I to knock that? Especially when there are those barely adequate vocals I think I mentioned before.
So what about the man behind the music? Well, years ago a group of internet sleuths attempted to track Ken down, using the Sheldon, Iowa address printed on the back of the album cover as a starting point. Turns out there is a Ken Snyder still living in Sheldon, and he’s a member of a church called the Parkview Assembly of God. Check the Church Directory link and you’ll find him.
If you’re a devotee of good old-fashioned country gospel, you may find something of value in By Request Only. Otherwise, this is an utterly unremarkable record that just so happens to have a ton of kitsch value. Let’s end things with the final track from Ken’s album, a mildly — and I do mean mildly — rousing number called “I Want to Live My Life for Jesus.” Ken, if you are in fact still out there — keep on believing’ and keep on singing!