Undercover is an American Christian punk band based in Fullerton, California, formed in the early 1980s by Joey "Ojo" Taylor and James "Gym" Nicholson. Through more than two decades and a few lineup changes, the band released eight studio albums and two live albums, and were pioneers in what would later be called Alternative music in the Christian world. The band was known for the spiritual growth shown in their music as their career progressed; CCM Magazine once called them "the band that grew up in public."
Undercover started as a second-generation Jesus movement based band, associated with Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and its Maranatha! Music record label.
"God Rules," the title track of the second album, is the song that set apart Undercover in the Christian music scene from the rest of the "beginning" bands.
While the band has seen several members come and go (and come again), Taylor has said on more than one occasion that the band decided sometime after 1994's Forum that "Undercover is Ojo, Gym, Sim, and Gary," emphasizing that any other lineup, if any, would in the future be called something else.
Undercover played two reunion shows in California in August 2005. In a message posted on the band's forum that month, Taylor wrote, "We are internally, as a band, trying to figure out where to go from here and what that might look like, given our life realities and burning desire to fulfill whatever musical calling we might have, too. We appreciate your prayers."
When Undercover released its first album in 1982, it was described by some as "Christian punk," characterized by high-energy anthems, rebellious themes, and short, three-chord songs. Mohawk hairstyles, tattoos, and torn jeans did little to convince people otherwise; nor did the next few albums, which contained punk versions of traditional hymns ("Holy Holy Holy"), shouted vocals ("God Rules"), and simplistic, direct lyrics ("Jesus is the Best"). The CCM Magazine review of their God Rules album claimed the band was New Wave rather than punk, as "the anarchy of punk is 180 degrees opposite of these boys."
1986's Branded took Undercover in a different direction with keyboard-laden melodies and darker, more introspective lyrics. In "Pilate", sung from the point of view of Pontius Pilate, the persona struggles with the guilt of having crucified Jesus, confessing, "I killed him, I killed him after all." Other song titles on this album were "Cry Myself to Sleep" and the prolific "Darkest Hour."
Branded marked a turning point for the band, as on future releases it would continue to explore aspects of Christian life not frequently addressed by the CCM musicians who were finding increasing acceptance on secular airwaves and with secular audiences. The next several albums each differed slightly in musical tone from the others, but the poetic, honest, introspective lyrics would be a constant throughout the rest of the band's career.
Devotion took the band in a more retrospective direction with lyrics more akin to poetry. Allowing the listener to design the theme. If you didn't know the back story to this band, you would not know they were "Christian Oriented" by this collective recording. The title track Devotion explores the feelings of Mary Magdalene and the guilt she overcame through the loving forgiveness as she "touched the bottom of his robe". Purple Flower is mainstream, meta-poetry surrounded by Wison's talented vocal stretch. Wonderful is the final realization and arguably passion-fused, more so then the title track. Devotion was the last album (in most listener's opinions) to contain and present the core of the 'Undercover' theme.
Ojo Taylor (also credited as Joey Taylor, O-Joe Taylor, and Turner Burn): bass, keyboards, occasional vocals,
Gym Nicholson (also credited as Jim Nicholson and Neel Down): guitars,
Sim Wilson: vocals,
Gary Dean Olson: drums/percussion,
Ric Alba: bass, vocals,
Danny Pavlis: drums, vocals,
Bill Walden: lead vocals, saxophone,
Dave Hackbarth: handclaps, vocals,
Rob Gallas: vocals,
Chuck Cummings: drums,
Dave Raven: drums