It wasn’t really until the 1990s when Christian Music was hitting the Mainstream Charts and selling millions of copies. Yes there were a few charted albums or songs in the 1980’s or before, but in my opinion, Christian Music was starting to be accepted by the music community in the 1990s. “Accepted” may not be the best of terms, because even during this time, several people in the Christian community denounced artists for “selling out” or were “on their way to Hell” because they were on the Pop Charts, which seems unheard of now, because churches cover Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, and Mercy Me in their Praise Music on any Sunday Morning and they are on Billboard Charts.
The reason I mention this is because I decided to rank the Top Christian Albums, and most of mine choices came from the 1990s. In ranking these choices, I based it on a few qualifications: 1. The artist must be on a Christian Label (for example, someone may be a Christian, like Alice Cooper , The Oak Ridge Boys, or the last few W.A.S.P. CDs, but they are not on a Christian Label, ), 2. The choice is the full album throughout, not just having a few good songs (I like “Love, Liberty, Disco” by The Newsboys song, but not a fan of the whole album), 3. I am not using Greatest Hits, Live, or Movie Soundtracks, just full studio recordings 4. My personal preference, which may be based on music, or songwriting, or where I was personally when the album was released (not necessarily a major qualification, but hey, it’s my blog!!) Even though they are numbered, it does not mean that is the order. Any could be interchangeable.
Now, here are my picks for Best Christian Albums:
6. Guardian- “ Swing, Swang, Swung” ( 1994). This record was coming off one of the band’s popular albums, “Miracle Mile,” and had rotation on MTV at one time. The band toured with Styper and was known for their Metal and Hard Rock, until this album, which was a stripped down, acoustic album. Even though the album lost many die- hard fans, I enjoy this one the best of their CDs (I did not care for “Miracle Mile” or the later “Bottle Rocket.”) In the era where Unplugged Albums were starting to break in the mid to late 1990s, this is the Christian version of Unplugged. My favorites on the album are “See You in Heaven,” “Like The Sun,” which reminds me of The Beatles “Here Comes The Sun,” and “Come On Everyone.”
5. Steven Curtis Chapman “Speechless” (1999). It is hard to have a Christian list without probably the top selling Artists in the genre. Chapman, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith dominated the Christian market in the late 1980s-1990s, and all three are still recording. There are many choices in Chapman’s catalog, but I think Speechless is the most solid throughout the whole album (His “Heaven in the Real World” is my second favorite, but there are a few weak songs on it). “Speechless” was probably his best album, with 7 of the 13 tracks went to #1 on the Christian Charts, and won a Grammy. I got to see Chapman in concert in Akron, Ohio, on my Birthday for this tour in 1999, and it is one of my favorite concert memories ever. My favorites include “Fingerprints of God,” “The Invitation,” “Whatever” and “Dive.” I would choose this CD as the starting point in introducing someone to Chapman’s music, even more so than his “Great Adventure” album.
4. Rebecca St. James- “Transform” (2000). Even though many fans of St. James like her earlier albums “God” or “Pray,” this is her most solid work (Although her Self-Titled CD is just as solid as “Transform.”) This album has her signature song “Wait For Me,” which turned her into a spokeswoman and author for the female Christian voice. I enjoy the songs “Stand,” “Don’t Worry,” and the catchy “One,” which is similar to a Britney Spears type beat. This has the Pop and Ballad mix that flows through the album. I remember listening to this CD many times when I worked in Christian TV. Rebecca St. James became one of my top favorite Christian Artists, from her music, her books, her acting, and her concerts, which I saw her twice in 2004.
3. Michael W. Smith -“Go West Young Man” (1990). Even Non-Christian Music fans, and those that never stepped into a church, was jamming to this album, which feature the pop hit “Place In This World,” which made Smith into a Pop singer, due to it hitting #6 on the Pop Charts. Another song, “For You,” was popular, but did not chart on the Pop Charts. Even though there was backlash from the Christian Community in regards to his popularity, Smith’s album brought more people to his shows and to following his work (His “I Will Be Here For You”, co-written by Diane Warren on his next album, gave him another Pop Hit). Personally, I remember playing this album all the time, and even was allowed to play it in my High School Journalism class, where my writing partner and I for the Entertainment Section of our school paper would praise the album constantly. Songs like “Love Crusade,” “Emily,” and “How Long Will Be Too Long” are some of my favorites on the album. It was this album, and Amy Grant’s “Heart in Motion,” brought more masses to have a respect for Christian Pop Music.
2. Styper -“To Hell with the Devil” (1986). One of the first Christian Bands to ever to have their music video to have steady MTV rotation (at one time MTV showed music folks), Stryper was inescapable in the 1980s. With the Pop hit “Honestly” reaching on the Pop Charts, this album was popular and was seen in the record stores next to bands like Van Halen, Bon Jovi, and Poison. The band is still releasing great albums, and many choose earlier works like “Soldiers Under Command,” or “The Yellow and Black Attack,” over this album, but this is still my favorite. I was not a major fan of the band when they were popular, but I picked up ‘In God We Trust” (their next release after this one) in college when the band was split up, and went back into their works. Like Cinderella said “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Til It’s Gone,” I became more of a fan of the band when I was tired of the music coming out in the Grunge era. I think this album flows the best of their work, with “Calling On You,” “Holding On,” and “Free.” This album was released in 1986, and became the top selling Christian Hard Rock/Metal album of all time until 2001, when P.O.D. beat it. That should say something about this album.
1.Al Denson -“Be The One” ( 1990). This choice was not a tough one for me. There has not been a Christian Album that has made a bigger impact on my life than this one. A friend of mine took me to see the band Petra on their “Beyond Belief” tour in 1991 at the Akron Civic Theater. We were both blown away by the opening act (more than the headliners, who I was not impressed with at all), which was a guy and his keyboard. His name was Al Denson, and he had great songs, and kept the audience cheering the whole set. When the show was over, my friend ran to the merchandise table and had to buy this album. This album was also played a ton with my writing partner in high school journalism class, just like Michael W. Smith. Denson’s Title Song “Be The One” was sung at my first youth convention that I went to, played all through that weekend, was the song played when I became a Christian, and was the song I used to sing when auditioning for my first ever high school musical (my senior year, and I got the part). I still own the cassette tape of this album (and his others). Denson, years later, would be in my life when I worked in Christian Television when we played his TV Show. I have seen him in concert twice, in 1991, and again in 1998 when he played after a Pittsburgh Pirates game at Three Rivers Stadium, and own his books. The whole album flows with great Pop and Ballads, with songs like “Nothing Can Separate Us,” “Tested By Fire,” and “Never Out Of His Love.” It still amazes me that many people did not know of him in my circle of friends in the church at the time, and his still not as well known, even though he has 19 Top Ten and 11 #1 Hits in the Christian Charts, and was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame in 2009. His 1995 “Take Me To The Cross” is another solid album, but “Be The One” is still my favorite.
Regardless of your religious views, there is still some great Christian Music out there today. Artists like David Crowder, Chris Rice, Natalie Grant, and others are putting out music, along with established acts like The Oak Ridge Boys are putting out Gospel Records. Even though some may think my picks are dated, there are acts out there that are quality musicians. Maybe you will check out some of my picks. Feel free to contact me and give me your choices.