Top 10 Christian Albums (IMHO)

The other night I was driving home with my youngest son, Chandler and we started listening to some old music on my iPod. The memories flooded back and I started pondering what a Top 10 list look like if I compiled my favorite Christian albums. Over the last 4 days I’ve kicked this around in my head and was finally able to narrow the list down to 11 albums (which means I will have a tie at one spot. I just couldn’t eliminate any of these.

Before I dive in, let me say that this list covers a lot of years and a lot of different genres of Christian music. I’ve always had deep appreciation for all styles of music and this list will include a wide variety – but that’s just how I roll. This is all me and yes, it is totally subjective, but then again all of us are highly subjective when it comes to our musical tastes.

I can sense your anticipation. Let’s do it……Drumroll…….

10. The Archers (Celebrate Live) – 1980

Southern California’s Archers were a family group out of the Jesus Music era that became one of the most highly acclaimed bands of the early CCM period. Brothers Tim and Steve, along with their sister, Janis provided the vocals with a ridiculous band behind them. This was their only live record and it was stellar, boasting killer band arrangements and spot-on vocal harmonies. I had this on cassette tape and wore it out.

10. Switchfoot (The Beautiful Letdown) – 2003

Switchfoot has become one of my favorite bands of the 21st century. This album has it all. My favorite tracks are “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move.” “On Fire” blows me away as well. Some would argue that this isn’t a Christian album, but I beg to differ. These guys do a great job of conveying their faith in a manner that hit our culture square in the eyeballs.

9. Hillsong United (United We Stand) – 2006

It never ceases to amaze me how one church has impacted the way the church worships God across the globe. When this album came out, it was revolutionary for me in so many ways it would take a separate blog post to discuss it. There are so many good tracks on this album it beggars description, but the one that impacted me the most was “From the Inside Out.” There are at least 7 songs from this album that have become part of our repertoire at The Fountain.

8. The Hinsons (The Legacy Goes On) – 1986

I grew up listening to southern gospel and this family group was head and shoulders above everyone else in my book. There was no way I could compile a Top 10 list without at least one Hinson Album. I have every single album they ever produced in my vinyl collection and this one is my favorite. All 10 songs are amazing but the 2 standouts are “Soul Filling Station” and the number one hit, “Put Me Down.”

7. Hillsong (Shout to the Lord) – 1995

When I first started Pastoring in 1995 a friend who worked at a local Christian bookstore gave me a box of CDs and this one was inside. Up to this point, Integrity Hosanna music was dominating the worship landscape and quite frankly, it was getting stale. When I popped this CD in I was blown away. Instead of a handpicked worship leader with stock writers and studio musicians providing the arrangements, here was a local church from Australia using in house musicians and original material that they wrote. It was raw, but it was fresh. Shout to the Lord took the world by storm and it still one of the most used worship songs across the globe. Never gets old.

6. Steven Curtis Chapman (Speechless) – 1999

I’ve always been a Chapman fan. This album marked a shift in his career, as he started moving toward a more mainstream sound. “Speechless” went certified Platinum and gave Chapman 7 Number 1 songs, more than any of his albums before or since. The title track, the radio hit “Dive” and “Fingerprints of God” stand out as great tracks but my personal favorite is “Next Five Minutes.”

5. Amy Grant (Age to Age) – 1982

All right guys, don’t take my man card on this one. Every Christian teenage boy had a crush on Amy Grant in the 80’s, and I have to admit I used to listen to this album and just stare at her picture on the cover. (yeah it’s weird but….) Anyway, the album was a smash from top to bottom. I went to the concert for this album at Celebrity Theater in Phoenix and it was even better live than it was on the album. Michael W. Smith was her keyboard player at the time and we all know how his career turned out.

Age to Age skyrocketed Amy’s career and was the first solo Christian album to become certified gold and platinum. There isn’t a weak track on the album. From Rich Mullins’ masterpiece “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” to the popular ballad “El Shaddai” and the punchy “Fat Baby,” this album, produced by Brown Bannister won a Grammy in 1983 for Best Contemporary Gospel Performance and deservedly so.

4. Joe English Band (Press On) – 1983

Joe English was a drummer who played for Paul McCartney and Wings in the 1970’s. He came to faith in the late 70’s and formed a band that never reached popular acclaim, but I have to tell you, they were ridiculous. The mere fact that anyone can play drums and sing at the same time is impressive. I had the privilege of seeing them open for Servant at West High School in Phoenix, and they blew the headline act out of the water. His keyboard player was John Lawry who went on to play keys for Petra.

I had all of this bands cassettes but “Press On” was one I wore to the thread. I’ve looked around on Ebay for a CD and can’t find it. If I ever do, it’s going on my iPod. The opening track “Stop,” “Power of Prayer,” and “Let me Praise You Again” were my favorites along with the title track.

3. Petra (Beyond Belief) – 1990

The first time I saw Petra was on the Never Say Die tour in 1981 at East High School. They were a little known band at the time and there were only like 300 people at the concert but that’s when a southern gospel kid fell in love with Rock. I was a huge Greg Volz fan and when he left the group in the late 80’s I had a hard time latching on to their sound with John Schlitt as the lead singer, but “Beyond Belief” sold me on Schlitt and renewed my love for this amazing group.

“Beyond Belief”, produced by John and Dino Elefante, gave Petra its first Grammy and they even produced a mini-movie (which was a little cheesy) to go along with it. “I am on the Rock” and “Creed” are my favorite cuts, but the entire album is loaded with great arrangements to Bob Hartman’s impeccable lyrics.

2. Russ Taff (Medals) – 1985

Russ Taff is my favorite singer of all time. Period. No one is even close. He has arguably the most distinctive voice which possesses a sincerity and warmth that is unmatched, especially by his peers in that era of Christian music. Russ gained noteriety as lead singer for the Imperials from 1975-1981 and when his solo career launched, he was destined for greatness. Russ won a Grammy for his first solo album “Walls of Glass” in 1983 but I always thought “Medals” was far and away a better album. “Medals” lost out in the 1986 Grammy’s to Amy Grant’s “Unguarded.”

Produced by Jack Joseph Puig, “Medals” boasted slick guitar arrangements, backed by the electric drums and synth sounds that were popular in the mid-80’s. Russ’ vast range was on display throughout the album, especially on the ballad “I’m Not Alone,” the rock anthem “Not Gonna Bow” and the title song. “Silent Love,” “I’ve Come too Far” and “How Much it Hurts” are great songs. I got a chance to see Russ on the Medals Tour at Mesa Amphitheater my Senior Year of High School. To this day, it’s the best concert I’ve ever been to.

1. Imperials (Priority) – 1980

My southern gospel roots gave me a love for great vocal harmony. When someone turned me onto the Imperials, “Priority” was the first album I bought. I was so enamored by the intricate harmonies featured on this album, I started buying up all the albums featuring the vocal lineup of Russ Taff, David Will, Jim Murray and Armond Morales. The popularity of this group in that era was something I can’t even describe. I saw them live at least 5 times in the 80’s but to me, “Priority” was the pinnacle album for this group that they hadn’t matched before or since.

Produced by Michael Omartian, “Priority’s” songs and arranging mirrored the pop sound of Earth, Wind and Fire that was popular in that era. Nearly every song with the exception of the ballads “Pieces” and “I’d rather Believe in You” featured the soaring vocals of Russ Taff. The bookend songs of side 1 – “Trumpet of Jesus” and “Be Still my Soul” give us all we need to know about Russ’ versatility as a vocalist. My personal favorite on this album is “Any Good Time at All.” “Priority” won a Grammy in 1981.

There you have it. Thanks for reading.

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One Response to Top 10 Christian Albums (IMHO)

  1. Peter says:

    completely different view no better or worse just a view

    Jon, Bands I live Sound engineered for

    Amy Grant at around 14-16 with her personal acoustic guitar by herself. She knew her guitar and what it was strung with. Must have been 1975-6 Anointing expressed for someone so young. no one (few) in audience that night had see her live. First sound and lyric I heard about real personal experience. Worshipful and from the first note… Easy to mix relaxed pre-stage, “GREEN ROOM” with parents great people…she already understood stage presence. songs she wrote, were better then later ones she sang written by others. After that humm a year or so I went to her First Album release concert completely different I was soo disappointed and tragic to watch and listen to … Brown Banister and word records messed with her style, person, look, and pumped stage. She was visibly upset and not the girl/woman I’d met completed scripted Set. No musical innovation and even though a full band was playing with her, she used trax and the sound guy cross muted the band bringing up the trax. The bands live purpose was 15 sec intro’s and endings So saddening for her… ….I took her that album and used a razor blade removed the center paper from the vinyl record switched it with another mindless album and let a friend at the time put an album on the turntable ..took three songs for him to recognize that it was someone else… The simpler standard CGC of the day cords and God, Jesus, Moses lyrics. Word was using popular Secular producers, studio’s, for “the sound”. Every year after it was less of her and more of secular production. Completely ruined what and who she was as an artist. Larger audience gold, platinum, world, less anointing in my view till it was just mindless radio play, played live. I was very disappointed in the “Christian machine” A production machine she wanted off of. I nick named her music Amy Bland. during her last years, no one would touch her to produce her on her own, in my view for fear of word records. she made moves that the church threw her under the machine’s bus. She used a secular band at the last breath, in my view not to rebel but to have creative influence that eluded her since 78. Which eventually may have caused her fall.

    Michael Omartian, talented arranger and musician. Tried too hard live. stiff audience response. Cranial music for musicians, right notes in the correct places everyone has heard before.. then Original notes and scope, followed by more of the same, hard to keep looking to the stage… embarrassing for him..maybe he had a off night. Best in the studio.

    Larry Norman, in his own world, street ministry should have been it for him, just on street corner with swat team prayer partners.

    Randy Stonehill (California Jerk till mic was on)

    Keith Green understands early on , he had to have control with label to release anointing at live events. Which it did. Blunt but loving, first Christian to take that path, Did (punched board)two gigs, each was very different from each other. Connected with the unreached, privately discounted the Christian music radio scene that only believers listened heart, for lost, probably 20 years ahead of his time and desire to speak what he heard.

    Second Chapter, Anne Herring, Matthew Ward. They would work on harmonies warming up voices make changes to set and song structure on the fly without sheet music band would follow, great to mix for. Transparent with each other real people. Richard Souther was the keyboardist. Great Lead Guitarist Curt Bartlett who we ended up booking for a studio session work. In the analog 16 track studio I engineered at. In our studio he layed down a track, then replayed intonation perfect on second track. We then pan first take slightly left second slightly right. “Analog Doubling” Presently Curt is a Worship pastor now at a vineyard church in Kansas City.

    Sweet Comfort Band, vocals close mic’ed had to ride the gain. Familiar melody’s well thought out well played.

    Pat Boone, brought audio tracks with bumper script for me with specific que instructions. One stage wedge left of him had tracks second one right of him just his vocal. Repeated three times across stage so he could move to three locations to connect to audience. Every word he said was the same as every other place he sang as he stated. He followed it like a actor in a play. Did two shows for him. I asked about Bob Dylan “slow train coming” was just out….cause I heard he (Pat)was attempting to mentor (Dylan)after his conversion. He said that Dylan needed someone from Christian rock to help him stay from backsliding. Glad he tried to help with Bob oh well. Friendly and somewhat personal.

    {Phil Keggy, Single and with band} Talented he had secular people attend he always arranged for venue area churches to be part of post concert sharing. Insane playing could go anywhere with a melody musically. Jesus People church in an old theater downtown MLPS hard for the “church” to accept him they preferred light milk toast at the time. Live was even better then album more free improvising.

    Paul Clark, Just released theme album when I mixed, he had a really old 50’s Martian guitar in a battery case that maintained temp and humidity. Had a seal like a refrig. We had to book two airline seats, one for his guitars one for him. Best sounding mic’ed acoustic I mixed ever.

    John Michael Talbot (Before Monk) really great player 6 and 12 string different phrasing and turns. Open tuning Vocal thick rich. Musically he was a cross between Leo Kottke and Joni Michell of his day. Terry Talbot. Upset about brother becoming monk. Could sing and speak like it was just one person listening.

    Nancy Honeytree. Miss feelings, emotional, 70’s Cali girl from Indiana….best in small settings. Nervous till anointing showed up then amazing.

    People either didn’t know or care, but because I was working live and studio recordings of budding bands that occasionally bumped into the semi-big time. I was privy to behind the curtain. Word records was a division of Warner , Comingled Spirit with pagans. The worst of it, it effected the move of God in music through to present day. Musically a inch deep and nurtured. Maranatha label based out of Vineyard Keith Greens label Sparrow records owned by Billy Ray Hearn were great, anointed and every artist produced by them at the time were winners. This changed when Hearn sold label to EMI in 1992. Keith died, and the scene was controlled by secular people running “Christian labels” I knew a few owners of Christian books stores they were legally locked out of distributing music or other media all books other then bibles that was not part of the Christian machine owned by pagans. Impossible to produce your own work and have it sold in “normal channels of the pre-internet days” To me it was so obvious I was happy that God bypassed most of that much later with fellowship based worship music to be sung and played for His purposes.

    The whole thing start to finish is a study of talent and covering, one without the other is suspect. Treasure before swine. What God wants shouldn’t be commingled with pagans “for a larger audience” for any reason ever. My generation had influence on our culture, no one may know what greater effect was possible had we understood at the time what we could have done with that favor.

    One can certainly see why with a beautiful girl with vocal chops could be sucked into a vortex of compromised music and production. Her personal life being destroyed by professional compromise, long before expressed then her physical demise.

    What challenges does my sun setting generation white board for the gen in place and following…. ???

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