Jump to content

Twenty Great Christian Rock Albums


Andy Whitman
 Share

Recommended Posts

See the 10 Great Christian Rock Songs thread for some context.

That thread has prompted some long-buried thoughts. I'll admit that the particular confluence of the words "great," "Christian," and "rock songs" is a problematic one for me . "Christian" music, almost by definition, tends to be driven by an agenda. That's not only true of Christian music, of course. It's true of Michael Moore films, and Steve Earle albums, and George W. Bush photo ops on aircraft carriers. But if your overriding concern is to get your message out, then it behooves you to make that message as clear and as attractive as possible. There's nothing wrong with that if that's your goal. You're trying to convince somebody to buy your product.

It just happens to make for lousy art. Good art is full of tension, complexity, and ambiguity. It recognizes that the world is not black and white, that it is in fact very messy, and that even when one is addressing issues of objective truth, the message is muddled and compromised by the messengers. It knows that there are at least two sides to every story, and sometimes as many as six billion sides. And hence my struggle with the words "great" and "Christian rock songs" being used in the same sentence. Propaganda serves its purpose. But nobody is ever going to mistake Bush's Axis of Evil speech or Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code as great literature, either. Oops, I take that back about Dan Brown. It's worse than I thought.

Nevertheless, I have encountered not only songs, but entire albums made by Christians that I would consider great, at least partly because the messengers display something that is almost always in short supply: humility. Well, except for Bono. I've listed twenty of them below, with no order implied other than alphabetical. A few of them come from the insular Contemporary Christian Music industry, proving that, incredibly, sometimes good can even come from "ministers with guitars." Many more of them come from folks who would identify themselves as Christians, but who are taking their chances out there in the bars and small clubs, just like everybody else. Each album deserves some commentary, and I'll try to get to that within the next few days. But for now, here's my list of Twenty Great Christian Rock Albums (and cut me some slack; "rock" is used pretty loosely in some of these selections).

  1. Adam Again
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 59
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

I don't know if you mean for these to be in any particular order, but man, you just made me go pull my Dig album back out, which I haven't listened to in years...

"You guys don't really know who you're dealing with."

"Oh yeah, and who exactly are we dealing with?"

"I'm the mother flippin' rhymenoceros."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest thom_jurek
I don't know if you mean for these to be in any particular order, but man, you just made me go pull my Dig album back out, which I haven't listened to in years...

Though few people have actually heard it, and the creator disowns it I would aso incvude Bob Seger's Brand New Morning from 1971. I can completely understand why he now regrets making it, but there was a moment of great need and and open door to Chrsit on that record that we've never seen from him again. CHeck out the title track and "SOng For Him," and the steady stream of references Christ In Railroad Days, and Maybe Today as well.

Andy's dead on with Slow Train Comin,' and I thik both Saved and Shot Of Love (along with the classic STREET LEGAL--one of the greatest lost and searchng albums everand he gets Jerry Wexler and Wexler gets him andf those backing vocalists are just killer)) all deserve reconsideration. Any of you old enough to see the tours for those records would have been blown away by the degree of musicanship on that stage. I have some of the boots--particularly Knoxville Grail that I got from a member of his band at the time. Amazing stuff.

Edited by thom_jurek
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What, no Phil Keaggy? ;)

I'd put the following on my list, if I were doing this:

Steve Scott: Lost Horizon

Scaterd Few: Sin Disease (well, maybe)

Something from Terry Taylor in one of his incarnations, maybe Horrendous Disc

Kaiser/Mansfield: Trimmed and Burnin'

Edited by mrmando

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good topic. I will second (or third) Dig. That is a great album. It Is What It Is (What It Is), Dig, Songwork, World Wide and River On Fire are all amazing. I'm actually partial to Perfecta though. It is darker, and sometimes that darkness overwhelms everything else, but it is just so powerful.

I can't believe that Delirious is getting some love. Mezzamorphis is a really good album. Beautiful Sun and It's OK really shine on that one.

I would add Common Children's Delicate Fade to any list like this. It is a 14 song journey that is at times loud and raging, and at other times quiet and hopeful. It is a wonderfully constructed album that is meant to be heard in a particular order. Stains of Time sets the stage by adjusting the listener's expectations of what the album will sound like. It is a simple guitar and cello piece with a haunting melody. It is produced by Steve Hindalong of The Choir fame. Marc Byrd the singer, guitarist and primary songwriter of Common Children has gone on to form the ambient rock group Hammock.

Edited by Phill Lytle

"The greatest meat of all. The meat of friendship and fatherhood."

The Blue Raft - Are you ready to ride?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't know if you mean for these to be in any particular order, but man, you just made me go pull my Dig album back out, which I haven't listened to in years...

Though few people have actually heard it, and the creator disowns it I would aso incvude Bob Seger's Brand New Morning from 1971. I can completely understand why he now regrets making it, but there was a moment of great need and and open door to Chrsit on that record that we've never seen from him again. CHeck out the title track and "SOng For Him," and the steady stream of references Christ In Railroad Days, and Maybe Today as well.

Andy's dead on with Slow Train Comin,' and I thik both Saved and Shot Of Love (along with the classic STREET LEGAL--one of the greatest lost and searchng albums everand he gets Jerry Wexler and Wexler gets him andf those backing vocalists are just killer)) all deserve reconsideration. Any of you old enough to see the tours for those records would have been blown away by the degree of musicanship on that stage. I have some of the boots--particularly Knoxville Grail that I got from a member of his band at the time. Amazing stuff.

I saw Dylan several times during the Slow Train Coming/Saved/Shot of Love years. They were indeed remarkable concerts, not only for the excellent musicianship, but for the ongoing firefights that took place between Dylan and his longtime fans. I recall a show in Akron where Dylan played nothing but his new gospel songs. The crowd booed. The crowd heckled. Dylan, being Dylan, said "Some of you people are going to hell and you don't even know it." Some loudmouth called out "Play something from the sixties!" Dylan took his time, glared out into the crowd, and played "Positively Fourth Street," which concludes:

I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes

You'd know what a drag it is to see you

Friendship evangelism it was not.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How about Steve Taylor's "I Predict 1990"? How about ANYTHING from Steve Taylor?

Were Taylor's albums good as albums?

I didn't know anything about him in his eighties heyday. Besides Squint, I have only Now The Truth Can Be Told. It seems to do a good job of summing up, but I wondered if I should be trolling ebay for long out-of-print stuff (that probably really deserve a proper remastering, if the sound on the early songs are any indication).

Squint on the other hand, I know and love. And even though I haven't pulled it out for a listen in years I still get a little overwhelmed with emotion when I think about "The Finish Line." That was a great, great song.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In high school, I was busy falling in love with Blonde on Blonde. Street Legal came out, I went to see Dylan. Most of what was going on went over my head. It took me years to figure out how good that album is. Slow Train and Saved were the albums that made my Dad a raving Dylan fan. The Slow Train era show was weird, confrontational even. It was a remarkable experience that took years for me to absorb.

Dylan wasn't attached to the recorded form, music is a living breathing thing played by people. Bob Dylan didn't care what I thought about him. I'm not sure I have ever seen someone more in charge of their craft. I am pretty sure that I have never seen anyone make a better statement about what an artist of faith and conviction can be.

The song Shot of Love still resonates for me today. I love love love his delivery.

I like Andy's list. It is great to see Tonio K and Peter Case mentioned.

.....I sound like way more of a foaing at the mouth Dylanist than I am.......but thats OK..........

Edited by mumbleypeg

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Plato

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Were Taylor's albums good as albums?

Actually, yeah, they were.

I didn't know anything about him in his eighties heyday. Besides Squint, I have only Now The Truth Can Be Told.

I Predict 1990 is his best work (I'd put "Jim Morrison's Grave" on that "top 10 Christian rock songs" list, and maybe "Innocence Lost" as well), and I even prefer Meltdown in all its preachiness to Squint.

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Were Taylor's albums good as albums?

Actually, yeah, they were.

I didn't know anything about him in his eighties heyday. Besides Squint, I have only Now The Truth Can Be Told.

I Predict 1990 is his best work (I'd put "Jim Morrison's Grave" on that "top 10 Christian rock songs" list, and maybe "Innocence Lost" as well), and I even prefer Meltdown in all its preachiness to Squint.

Yep. I almost wrote that Steve Taylor's music is the classic case of great songs surrounded by filler. Then I reviewed those albums and the individual tracks before I wrote that. You know what? There's some unevenness there. But there are far more great songs than filler.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yep. I almost wrote that Steve Taylor's music is the classic case of great songs surrounded by filler. Then I reviewed those albums and the individual tracks before I wrote that. You know what? There's some unevenness there. But there are far more great songs than filler.

There are several CCM rock artists who deserve some kind of lifetime achievement notice for great songs over the course of a career, even if they didn't consistently do great albums*. All three current members of the Lost Dogs, for example.

*I would argue that all three of those guys have at least one great album to their credit, and that TST has several, but I am hoping that even people who disagree with that will still agree with my other point.

Edited by mrmando

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But if your overriding concern is to get your message out, then it behooves you to make that message as clear and as attractive as possible. There's nothing wrong with that if that's your goal. You're trying to convince somebody to buy your product.

It just happens to make for lousy art. Good art is full of tension, complexity, and ambiguity.

Andy,

I have been pondering you definition of good art. Do you think this is a good definition for most Christian art for all time- or is this a modern or post-modern definition? I'm just trying to fit something like Michelangelo's Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, or Dante's Divine Comedy, or Mozart's Requiem into your idea. There may be some tension and complexity in these works but I don't know about the ambiguity. These examples , and I could think of hundreds more, seem to be unambiguous, straightforward interpretations of universal Christian concepts that are also profoundly moving works of art, not propaganda. It seems there is a lot less ambiguity in art until you get to the modern era. And when I think of many paintings of the Madonna and Child I don't even find tension or complexity just a faithful visualization of a Christian idea that is beautiful and moving. What is it about modern art that requires ambiguity??

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But if your overriding concern is to get your message out, then it behooves you to make that message as clear and as attractive as possible. There's nothing wrong with that if that's your goal. You're trying to convince somebody to buy your product.

It just happens to make for lousy art. Good art is full of tension, complexity, and ambiguity.

Andy,

I have been pondering you definition of good art. Do you think this is a good definition for most Christian art for all time- or is this a modern or post-modern definition? I'm just trying to fit something like Michelangelo's Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, or Dante's Divine Comedy, or Mozart's Requiem into your idea. There may be some tension and complexity in these works but I don't know about the ambiguity. These examples , and I could think of hundreds more, seem to be unambiguous, straightforward interpretations of universal Christian concepts that are also profoundly moving works of art, not propaganda. It seems there is a lot less ambiguity in art until you get to the modern era. And when I think of many paintings of the Madonna and Child I don't even find tension or complexity just a faithful visualization of a Christian idea that is beautiful and moving. What is it about modern art that requires ambiguity??

Jim, my comments are intended to reflect my views on popular music and singer/songwriters. I don't think it's a post-modern conception so much as it is an admittedly biased, opinionated take on what I want to listen to. There's nothing wrong with strictly representational visual art, visual art that is used for iconic/worship purposes, or, for that matter, liturgical music. I like a Mozart or Beethoven Mass as much as the next semi-informed musical philistine.

But I want to have very little to do with most overtly Christian contemporary music. There are exceptions, and I've listed some of them in the first posting in this thread. There are others as well. But in the singer/songwriter realm, voice is everything. And by voice I don't mean vocal qualities, I mean the unique perspective that a singer/songwriter (or any kind of writer) is able to bring to the proceedings. And if all you can bring to the proceedings is a sanitized, cliched musical version of a Hallmark Greeting Card, then I'll pass. And that's mostly what I hear in contemporary Christian music.

I am drawn to singer/songwriters who wrestle with real life. And real life, at least as I have experienced it, doesn't conform to nice, uplifting aphorisms or simplistic biblical choruses. Does the Bible inform my life? Sure it does. But so do battles with addictions, and besetting sins such as anger and cynicism, and a desire to follow Christ, and a realization that some days I really don't want to follow Christ at all, and that all I really want to follow is the path of least resistance, which amounts to comfort and hedonism in my case. Leave me alone, Jesus. I'm looking for singer/songwriters, regardless of their philosophical or religious convictions, who understand those kinds of conundrums. That's what I mean by tension, complexity and ambiguity. And I'm looking for people who express those things in song in unique ways.

Most singer/songwriters simply have nothing to say. The airwaves are filled with such mindless fodder. But there are people out there, including Christians, who are willing to bring their unique talents to bear on messy life. And I want to hear them and celebrate them. I don't want somebody singing about how their chains are gone and they've been set free -- unless it's really true. And I will confess that even then I'm unlikely to believe them, although I'm more likely to believe that they're in the process of being set free. I want somebody -- some Christian -- to sing to me about how they're dead to sin, and how the old man has been crucified with Christ, and yet they still drag the old man's sorry carcass around with them, and that it weighs them down. Because that's reality, at least for me. I don't think there's anything particularly post-modern about this. It's just a desire for creativity mixed with truth, a truth that is more than propositional truth, and that recognizes that even Christians still live in a fallen world, and that they are a part of the problem as well as part of the solution. Does that help frame the discussion?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Were Taylor's albums good as albums?

Actually, yeah, they were.

I didn't know anything about him in his eighties heyday. Besides Squint, I have only Now The Truth Can Be Told.

I Predict 1990 is his best work (I'd put "Jim Morrison's Grave" on that "top 10 Christian rock songs" list, and maybe "Innocence Lost" as well), and I even prefer Meltdown in all its preachiness to Squint.

Squint didn't do much for me, unfortunately. I think I Predict 1990 is definitely the crowing achievement, followed by the quirky, occasionally uneven albums that preceded it. Oh, and there was also that "Chagall Guevara" album that he did, which was pretty decent although maybe not enough to make the "20 Best" list.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Andy,

Thanks. That helps. I agree with you and I am drawn to singer/songwriters for the same reason. Your explanation reminded me of a description of sentimentality given by Jeremy Begbie that I copied off of some web site (sorry I didn't make note of the site):

In his second talk at the Wheaton Theology Conference on Theology and the Arts, Jeremy Begbie outlined three tenets of sentimentality in art. First, sentimental art misrepresents reality by evading or minimizing evil. Innocence is projected onto reality. Second, such images are emotionally self-indulgent, exercising emotion for the sake of emotion (see Kundera on "kitsch"), cocooning the viewer and making him unable to engage another's pain. Third, sentimental art avoids appropriate costly action. The sentimentalist wants emotion without the cost, but, by dealing only with generalities, he is forced to resort to banalities.

I think the problem with a lot of pop music, not just Christian, is not so much that it is unambiguous but that it is sentimental in the way Begbie defines it. There is a real tension in life between Good Friday and Easter and most of us live in Good Friday, trying to make sense out of whatever we and our loved ones suffer, longing and hoping for Easter.

Thanks for your clarification! - Jim

By the way, did you ever listen to a band named Lazarus? They put out a couple of albums in the early '70s. Their self titled album was one of my favorite Christian albums. The were on the Bearsville label and produced by Peter Yarrow and Phil Ramone.

Edited by Jim Janknegt
Link to comment
Share on other sites

In his second talk at the Wheaton Theology Conference on Theology and the Arts, Jeremy Begbie outlined three tenets of sentimentality in art. First, sentimental art misrepresents reality by evading or minimizing evil. Innocence is projected onto reality. Second, such images are emotionally self-indulgent, exercising emotion for the sake of emotion (see Kundera on "kitsch"), cocooning the viewer and making him unable to engage another's pain. Third, sentimental art avoids appropriate costly action. The sentimentalist wants emotion without the cost, but, by dealing only with generalities, he is forced to resort to banalities.

Side note: While I don't exactly disagree with any of this, it seems somewhat harsh to assume that sentimentality is necessarily bad. "Sentimentality" is a descriptive term, not first of all an evaluative one, and is not always used pejoratively (nor do I think it should be).

Put another way, I think there is sentimentality that is legitimate, or perhaps we might say judicious and appropriate, as opposed to unrestrained, dishonest, saccharine or other legitimately evaluative and pejorative terms.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I think of sentimentality I think of Thomas Kincaide. I couldn't tell you off the top of my head what the musical equivalent is.

I wonder if some artistic ambiguity in "classics" wasn't mitigated somewhat by the fact that many of the commissions came from sources which were not interested in ambiguity. If the source of your wealth and power is divine appointment there isn't much ambiguity to be had. As the enlightenment and humanism took hold in the west, monarchy and church power faded and ambiguity increased.

In general I would say my feelings about Christian artists are the same as poets that only write sonnets. They are locked into a form and it doesn't allow them much freedom as a result their language and poetry becomes enslaved to the tyranny form. There are some exceptional sonnet writers. (have you ever read TR Hummer?) The best use the form to advantage and show us new ways to use language.

If you aren't willing to express the full range of human emotion you have crippled yourself and your art. I have a hard time seeing anything of the sort in Michelangelo, Mozart or Beethoven. We are still studying these three because they are great artist. At their time they were not just good. They were defining what art is and can be.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Plato

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I think of sentimentality I think of Thomas Kincaide. I couldn't tell you off the top of my head what the musical equivalent is.

Butterfly Kisses by Bob Carlysle.

In case you were wondering, my name is spelled "Denes House," but it's pronounced "Throatwobbler Mangrove."
Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I think of sentimentality I think of Thomas Kincaide. I couldn't tell you off the top of my head what the musical equivalent is.

I wonder if some artistic ambiguity in "classics" wasn't mitigated somewhat by the fact that many of the commissions came from sources which were not interested in ambiguity. If the source of your wealth and power is divine appointment there isn't much ambiguity to be had. As the enlightenment and humanism took hold in the west, monarchy and church power faded and ambiguity increased.

Kincaide is a good example. I would include the paintings of Warner Sallman. And Barry Manilow.

I think you are right about the reasons for increased ambiguity in modern post-enlightenment art except in the one truly modern art form: advertising. You don't find much ambiguity there-Our product sizzles-Buy it and you will be a superior human being! Perhaps one needs to be a true believer to make art without ambiguity and we believe in consumption. We are ambivalent about religion and politics.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Any such list MUST have Mercury by The Prayer Chain.

Amen. And Shawl.

And along with that, The Violet Burning's self-titled album.

Any anything Marc Byrd has ever touched, including Glassbyrd, which utterly reeks of Christianity but comes across as a blessing and not a commercial. And now that Byrd is in The Choir, we should include whatever they release in the next 10 years on that list.

And speaking of which, where's Circle Slide on that list?

And here's a few more:

Soul Junk's 1955.

Aunt Betty's Ford Supersonic. Love it for the swearing factor.

Starflyer 59's She's The Queen.

L.S.U.'s Graceshaker.

Mike Knott's "acoustic" album, Strip Cycle.

And Mike Knott's Fluid.

And the 77s Sticks and Stones, as well as their Island release.

And where's Sixpence None the Richer on the list. Either their self-titled or The Fatherless and the Widow could make a list.

And Mad At the World's self-titled release was so much fun. I remember yelling for a tube solo when we saw them at C-stone years ago.

The problem with Steve Taylor is that his concerts were so much better than his recordings. I've seen him twenty times, met him a few times in a few different countries, spent my honeymoon with him (and he still probably wouldn't know me by name), and I have loved his stuff all my life. Ideally I Want to be a Clone would be the record that changed everything, however, to the test of time, only the first half of that record stands up. Maybe I Predict 1990 would be a better choice, but the raw energy of Clone was unstoppable.

And the Altar Boys... Who could forget the Altar Boys?! Gut Level Music.

In 3-D No Glasses Needed.

DA's Vox Humana and Darn Floor Big Bite.

Oh man, those were the days.

And what about Stryper and Messiah Prophet Band? Don't stop, Rock The Flock! Heh, just kidding about those two, although truth be told, I saw them both live.

Amen to Dig by the way. The distortion on "River on Fire" forever changed my approach to creating music.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Whoa. Just had this thought: Why is David Eugene Edwards not in this thread anywhere? Or does he not count as "Christian" rock? 16HP and Woven Hand are clearly faves round these parts.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Whoa. Just had this thought: Why is David Eugene Edwards not in this thread anywhere? Or does he not count as "Christian" rock? 16HP and Woven Hand are clearly faves round these parts.

good point. I submit Consider The Birds. Unlike the self-titled debut it offers very little in the way of reference points to the non-believing listener; yet musically is somewhat more accessible than the most recent Mosaic.

Incidentally, I finally got to see DEE in person just ten days ago, as Woven Hand are touring as a duo, guitar (and other stringed instruments) and drums. It was an amazingly fervent and impassioned (and loud) 90 minutes. Edwards seems to be in another place entirely as he performs (and I suppose often he actually is).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share


×
×
  • Create New...