Welcome back! If the response to Part One is an indicator, there are a lot of people interested in this topic. Based on how popular our Forgotten History of Christian Rock series has been over the years, we were optimistic about this series. With that said, we are still a little blown away by how many people have read Part One and how much positive feedback we have received. As we said in the previous installment, this is our Top 100 Christian Rock Albums of all time, so it is based on our criteria and tastes. If you want a refresher on how we came up with the list, go read the intro in Part One.
Before we dive into the next 25 albums in the Top 100, we want to add a few more disclaimers. For those who are wondering, the blurbs were written by our 10 voters, plus we got help from a few other friends on albums they were particularly passionate about. That does not mean that the person who wrote the blurb selected that particular album for that specific ranking. It just means the person who writes the blurb is typically one of the biggest fans of that album. The higher an album is ranked on our list, the more likely multiple people were very big fans so the blurb writer could have been any one of our voters.
Finally, we have had some minor pushback on the title of the series. Some have felt the title is not accurate as we are not covering music prior to 1980. That is a fair criticism and an issue we debated quite a bit. You spoke and we listened. We’ve tweaked the title of the series to better reflect our list. This will now be called The Top 100 Christian Rock Albums (1980-2019).
That’s all the intro we need for today’s installment. Let’s get to the list!
75. Vigilantes of Love – Audible Sigh (2000)
There are two versions of this album and both are incredible. Vigilantes of Love frequently had trouble with their record companies and this album is exhibit A. Regardless, Bill Mallonee wrote some of his best songs and produced an album that best reflected what he set out to do artistically. Bill tapped more into his country side and even teamed up with Buddy and Julie Miller and Emmylou Harris, to make an album dwelling on the terms of love and loss and the pain of missing those you love. This may be the best album in the “Americana” genre. (David Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Now as the Train Pulls Away, She Walks on Roses, Resplendent, Nothing Like a Train, Solar System
74. DeGarmo & Key – Commander Sozo and the Charge of the Light Brigade (1985)
The Christian rock scene got off the ground a few years before DeGarmo & Key made their appearance, but the story of Christian rock cannot be told without them. Commander Sozo was their 7th studio album and once again proved the band was not content to sit back on their previous accomplishments. Leaving behind the influences of the 70s they dove headfirst into the synth-driven sounds of the mid-80s. It might have felt like an abrupt change of direction, but they made it work. Sozo also gave us their most well-known song- “Destined to Win.” DeGarmo & Key were trailblazers and they were rightly inducted into the Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 2011. (Phill Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Competition, Casual Christian, Activate, Destined to Win
73. Tourniquet – Vanishing Lessons (1994)
This list would be incomplete without at least one album from the quintessential Christian metal band, Tourniquet. There are several great Tourniquet albums from which to choose. I, myself, voted for at least four, and I certainly wasn’t the only Tourniquet fan among the voters.
Vanishing Lessons is probably the most polarizing album among fans. It is the transition album from the more progressive and thrashy Tourniquet to the more melodic and accessible Tourniquet, complete with a new lead singer and a new style of vocals. As is often the case, this transition album was unpopular with many of the hard-core fans.
However, Vanishing Lessons ushered in a whole new set of fans, myself included. A couple of the tracks (“My Promise” and “Twilight”) even got played on my local Christian radio station, which was absolutely unheard of for a metal band. This album is the best starting point for any new fan. It’s got something for everyone (even a harpsichord and drum duet, if that happens to be your thing). (Nathan Patton)
Essential tracks: Bearing Gruesome Cargo, Drowning Machine, Vanishing Lessons, Acid Head
72. Phil Keaggy – Find Me In These Fields (1990)
Released in the Summer between my high school graduation and first semester at Bible College, this will always be my favorite Phil Keaggy album, slightly above Way Back Home’s more acoustic reminiscence. After the love letter to The Beatles that was 1988’s Sunday’s Child, Keaggy must have felt the need to rock, as “Strong Tower” bursts with Hendrix/Clapton-tinged lead work, as always in that fluid style that just “sounds like” Phil to this day. Interspersed with abbreviated acoustic and electric instrumentals, Find Me In These Fields boasts not only a level of studio talent bordering on the ridiculous but is an easy introduction to the Keaggy initiate.
Side note: Three years later I was working for an alternative monthly newspaper based out of Marietta, GA who had rented the bottom floor of a venue during GMA week as an anti-corporate art/music space. I was taking money at the door, and Phil (who was playing a showcase upstairs) walked up and said “Hi, I’m playing upstairs, these people are with me. Do I need to pay for them?” That humility still sticks in my mind. “Name of the Lord (run now) is a strong tower.” (Randall Jones)
Essential Tracks: Strong Tower, Calling You, Be In My Heart
71. Joshua – Intense Defense (1988)
Intense Defense is (to me at least) essentially perfect, even notoriously garnering praise from the editor of HM Magazine at its time of release for being “probably the best AOR melodic metal album in the universe.” Rob Rock’s vocals and Joshua Perahia’s guitar work meld together exceptionally well, and it’s a shame that this is the only album they were able to do together. Thankfully, the one album we did get was produced by Dieter Dierks of Scorpions fame. Most of these songs could have unquestionably been played on mainstream rock radio, and as such, it made picking “essential tracks” quite difficult. Intense has become one of my go-to albums for afternoon drives with the windows down and the music cranked loud. (Daniel Speer)
Essential Tracks: Reach Up, I’ve Been Waiting, Living On The Edge
70. House of Heroes – The End Is Not the End (2008)
A concept album about World War II? Well, here we are. The album begins with an upbeat song about a man who could face anything “If” the girl he loves would just love him back. “In the Valley of the Dying Sun” details a soldier in the war who must kill a man to avoid being killed himself. This song builds to a choir, a hardcore breakdown, and allusions to Jacob and Esau. In “Baby’s a Red” our narrator opines on falling in love with a lovely communist lady despite their differences in politics. House of Heroes manages to take a niche concept and turn it into something universal. Who can’t relate to losing someone they love or falling in love with the wrong person? This album is a sometimes macabre meditation on God working through all things. (Katy Fry)
Essential Tracks: In the Valley of the Dying Sun, By Your Side, Code Name: Raven, Field of Daggers
69. The Waiting (1997)
The Waiting is a great pop/rock record with smart lyrics and catchy songs. There is not a weak song on the entire album. Brothers Brad (vocals) and Todd (guitars) Olsen handled the writing for the more radio-friendly songs while bass player Clark Leake penned the more oddball deep cuts. All four band members contributed to their classic “Hands in the Air” which dealt with surrendering our own desires and submitting to the will of the Father. There is plenty of variety on this record for all fans of good music. It speaks volumes about how good this band was that this isn’t even their best album. Spoiler Alert!! (Michael Lytle)
Essential Tracks – Hands in the Air, Beautiful Blood, Never Dim, My Pride
68. Poor Old Lu – Sin (1994)
The Seattle music scene in the early ’90s was birthing the genres of grunge (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains) and emo (Sunny Day Real Estate). Living comfortably among these groundbreaking bands was Poor Old Lu. Unique among the often criticized world of copycat CCM, POL simply sounded different than everyone – a melting pot of grunge and funk with transparent and raw lyrics. POL’s sophomore album, Sin, is the heaviest and arguably the best of their short career. Each member of the 4 piece band adds something unique to the experience, and the collaborative effort pays off in an album full of songs that remain enjoyable and relevant over 25 years later. (Daniel Kinnaird)
Essential Tracks: Bones are Breaking, My World Falls Down, Hope for Always, Where Were All of You, and Sickly
(Editor’s Note: Daniel Kinnaird did not vote on this list, but we appreciate his input regarding Poor Old Lu.)
67. Mylon and Broken Heart – Big World (1989)
Mylon LeFevre is likely best known for writing the hit Gospel song, “Without Him”, which was recorded by a number of well-known artists, including Elvis Presley. LeFevre wrote that song when he was 17 years old. After he achieved fame, he lost his way for a time but found Christ at a 2nd Chapter of Acts concert. He spent the few decades firmly entrenched in the world of Christian Rock. He formed the band Broken Heart in the early 80s and they released ten albums, with Big World being their most complete. Mylon and Broken Heart were never the most original band in the industry, but they were talented musicians and wrote inspiring and catchy songs, and where their music lacked the inventiveness of some other bands, Mylon’s voice was as original and distinct as anyone. (Phill Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Big World, Love Comes Down, Falling in Love, Face to Face
66. Holy Soldier (1990)
It was 1990. I was in college. I still remember the day. My brother handed me a cassette of Holy Soldier. To be honest, at first, I was not very impressed until I really listened to these songs and paid attention to the lyrics. This was an album young people could relate to. Songs about God’s unconditional love, sexual purity, and the harsh reality of abortion. The biggest draws for the album are Stephen Patrick’s haunting vocals, the incredible guitar riffs, and some amazing lead guitar. This quickly became one of my all-time favorite albums. It’s rare that you find an album without a bad song. This is one of those albums! (Mark Inscoe)
Essential Tracks: See No Evil, Stranger, The Pain Inside of Me
65. Audio Adrenaline – Some Kind of Zombie (1997)
While lyrics were never their strength, though they made huge strides in this area over the years, the guys from Audio A knew how to write a memorable tune. Some Kind of Zombie was a nice evolution from the 70s soaked jams of Bloom, adding in a dose of grunge and mid-90s hard rock. Mark Stuart had a voice made for this kind of music and the music is tight, focused, and full of great hooks. On the whole, Zombie is not quite as fun or timeless as its predecessor, but the album still works. (Phill Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Chevette, Some Kind of Zombie, Lighthouse, Original Species
64. The Call – Into the Woods (1987)
When most hear the name The Call, most can’t help but picture an oiled-up Tim Cappello’s ill-situated boardwalk-staged version of “I Still Believe (Great Design)” from The Lost Boys. You know you just did, as did I. What the tune did, though, aside from making Michael Been & co. a brief household name, was shine a light on the darker Into The Woods of the same year. Moving deeper into the Americana/Heartland sound the band would later embrace on Red Moon, the album found Been refusing to water down his faith to make it more palatable in “I Don’t Wanna”’, dropping a synonym for donkey in “In The River” that got the album tossed from the racks of many a Christian bookstore, and the longing/loss of “Memory”, resulting in one of the most gut-wrenching yet hopeful musical expressions of a man’s walk through the valley. “I don’t wanna lose this love I feel. I don’t wanna lose this fight tonight. I ain’t gonna.” (Randall Jones)
Essential Tracks: I Don’t Wanna, In the River, Into the Woods, Memory
63. John Mark McMillan – Economy (2012)
The sound that John Mark McMillan was able to harness for Economy is at once unique and at most, edgy. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it…the guitars have bite and grit, and the vocals have a slight doubling effect that keep you somewhat off balance. Although I enjoy all the songs on the album, “Who Is This” stands out as a gut punch straight from Psalm 24 about the ancient doors swinging open and the King of Glory coming through. (Daniel Speer)
Essential Tracks: Murdered Son, Who Is This, Economy
62. The Prayer Chain – Mercury (1995)
In 1995, Christian Rock was at an unprecedented level of popularity. This year saw Jars of Clay, D.C. Talk, Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, and Third Day all come to new levels of fame and commercial success. The post-grunge sound was now mainstream and youth group kids were buying the t-shirts. When it seemed the whole world was going in one direction, the Prayer Chain took a sharp left turn. They, the band that introduced distortion into Christian music, made the most creative, strangest, and least marketable album they could have made. Mercury is a masterpiece of avant-garde modern rock. I’ve often wondered what these guys were listening to when they made this album and if Radiohead was listening to Mercury when they made OK Computer. (David Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Waterdogs, Sky High, Mercury, Sun Stoned
61. Room Full of Walters – Sleepy-Head (1997)
College rock meets punk with a dose of Weezer. Sleepy-Head is a full-throttle rock album full of catchy riffs, harmonies teetering on discordance, and clever songwriting. While Room Full of Walters is probably best known for their controversial song, “Jeffrey Dahmer Went to Heaven” it would be unfair to only remember them for that courageous theological and artistic statement. It is rare to hear a band operating at full speed on their debut album, but that is what you get with Sleep-Head. (Phill Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Pete’s a Rocket Scientist, Jeffrey Dahmer Went to Heaven, Kingdom Come, Home
60. Shout – In Your Face (1989)
I first heard this album when I was in 9th grade, riding around Nashville with my brother and fellow missionary kids from Panama, John and Mark Inscoe. From the blistering opening number, “Borderline”, I was absolutely hooked. Ken Tamplin had great pipes and the guitar work on this album is loud, fast, and exquisitely precise. And frankly, it doesn’t get better than the guitar solo in “When the Love is Gone”.
Take a look at the cover artwork. Let those shiny pastels, all that long hair, and the crazy amount of ’80s rock craziness bounce around in your mind for a bit. More than likely, just from that image, you probably have a pretty good idea of how this album sounds. It might not be your thing, which is all well and good. But, if it is, take it out for a spin. You won’t regret it. (Phill Lytle)
Essential Tracks: When the Love is Gone, Waiting on You, Give Me An Answer, It’s All I Need
59. King’s X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1988)
Stepping back a bit, I’d first purchased Out Of The Silent Planet (King’s X’s debut) when it first came out, expecting the thrash/speed metal hybrid for which other Megaforce Records heavyweights Testament and Overkill were known. After being summarily floored and then lifted up by the “unlike anything I’d ever heard” passion and honesty of OOTSP, I had no idea what Gretchen Goes To Nebraska would bring. Not only a concept album, Gretchen found the “other” Texas trio exploring Beatles psychedelia and hard gospel alongside its patented and instantly recognizable harmonies ‘n’ heaviness. Not bad for Morgan Cryar’s former backup band. “I hear music, O Lord…” (Randall Jones)
Essential Tracks: Over My Head, The Difference (In the Garden of St. Anne’s-On-The-Hill), Pleiades, The Burning Down
58. Honey – Lost on You (1998)
I doubt many of our readers have heard of the band Honey, let alone their incredibly underrated worship album, Lost on You. That’s a shame. When I say this was their worship album, I’m afraid you might misunderstand what that means. Lost on You sounds nothing like modern praise and worship you hear on the radio and in your church. Produced by members of Jars of Clay and The Prayer Chain, Honey took a vastly different approach for the sound of the album, opting for something closer to ambient meets post-rock meets shoegaze. It’s a meditative collection of songs that work best in contemplative moments by employing an effective pairing of ethereal vocals and droning guitars. This isn’t an album you rock out to in your car. It’s an album you absorb while you quietly and patiently listen for that still, small voice. (Phill Lytle)
Essential Tracks: The First Vibration, When You Stay, Lost on You, My Heart Beats in This Time
57. The Listening (2005)
Around the turn of the century, legendary alternative rock band Radiohead decided to focus their efforts on deconstructing rock music. Critics and many fans loved this direction. Other fans wished they would return to the more straightforward sound of their first few albums. The Listening is what I believe Radiohead would have sounded like had they decided to keep writing killer melodies instead of being weird for the sake of being weird. The songs sneak up on you at first but soon enough they have worked their way into your brain and you are hooked. At that point, you can’t stop listening (no pun intended). (Michael Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Glory of the Feared, The Factory, Lovely Red Lights, Hosea in C Minor, In Your Eyes
56. Luxury (1999)
As Y2K was looming on the horizon and threatening to destroy the world’s computer networks, Seinfeld was ending an era of trivial comedy, and I was entering college; Luxury was destroying perfectly beautiful music. In doing so, they produced spectacular art. It was the right time for chaos, and I was in the right place for it. Luxury was an aggressive garage punk band always ready to give the middle finger to American materialism and obsession with sex.
In 1995, they were nearly killed in a car crash and struggled to get the early momentum back. While they never reached commercial success with their 1999 release, it is unquestionably their best. Unlike their previous work, it is polished where it needs to be and noisy when appropriate. (They were always good at being noisy.) The album hits on the band’s favorite themes–materialism in “Euphrates with Golden Hands” and the upside-down kingdom of Christ in “When Those That Are Not Do Become Those That Are.” Its greatest moments, however, are the ones that transcend. “Mincemeat” records a Job-like experience of suffering and coming out the other end with the voice of God central to the experience. “Robed in Light” is a beautiful celebration of the Christian hope. The world needs a lot more of Luxury’s defiant hope. (David Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Mincemeat, Robed in Light, To Conquer and Destroy, Euphrates with Golden Hands
55. Galactic Cowboys (1991)
The Galactic Cowboys self-titled album is undoubtedly, unarguably the greatest album of all genres of all time that begins with a mooing cow…
I can hear the whiners and complainers already. “But, but, but Galactic Cowboys is not a Christian band. They said so themselves.” True. However, they are Christians individually. They played Christian festivals. They toured with another band on this list. They contributed to a flaming Petra tribute album that was released on a Christian record label. So, that’s settled, and we can move on? Good.
It’s difficult to categorize Galactic Cowboys, which, I think, contributes both to their musical greatness and to their relative lack of popularity. I’ll take a stab and call it progressive thrash power metal with a bit of jazz, folk, flamenco, and whatnot thrown in for fun.
This debut, self-titled album was released in the same year, on the same label as Nirvana’s Nevermind, one of the best-selling (and most depressing) albums of all time. There are similarities between the two. Galactic Cowboys definitely has its gritty and, dare I say, grungy moments, but the musical quality is elevated, nuanced, and far more diverse. The lyrics of both albums explore some dark places and themes, but the Galactic Cowboys prove themselves capable of light-heartedness, even a bit of goofiness, and most importantly hope. I’ll not attempt to explain why one was far more successful than the other, but I weep at what could have been if the musical trends of the ’90s had been guided by the Galactic Cowboys rather than Nirvana.
While not a true concept album, Galactic Cowboys has that feel to it, especially with the loose medley of “Kill Floor”, “Pump up the Space Suit”, “Ranch on Mars Reprise”, and “Speak to Me.” There’s also a commentary on current events with “Kaptain Krude’s” reference to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Rather than sounding nearly 30 years old, Galactic Cowboys sounds more like a modern album that has influences from several musical eras and genres. “Galactic Cowboys never age.” (Nathan Patton)
Essential Tracks: I’m Not Amused, Someone for Everyone, Kill Floor/Pump up the Space Suit/Ranch on Mars Reprise/Speak to Me
54. Thrice – To Be Everywhere is To Be Nowhere (2016)
I came across To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere at a pivotal time in my life, while my three-year-old daughter was suffering in an extended stay in the hospital due to bacterial meningitis. This is an album that unapologetically pulls no punches and stares difficulty and disillusionment in the face. I have felt the same long-term emotional “wind” that you pick up when you listen to the opener “Hurricane”, and I have understood the same underlying defiant, hopeful grit that “The Long Defeat” is written around (an idea that Tolkien wrote about). While this made 54 on our group list, it was my personal number two album. (Daniel Speer)
Essential Tracks: Hurricane, The Long Defeat, Black Honey
53. Newsboys – Going Public (1994)
The Newsboys have had a long successful career. The quality of their musical output has varied as widely as the band members themselves. In the minds of our voters Going Public was the band at their best. Steve Taylor produced the record and co-wrote many of the songs. The band was tight and focused and this album has one of their biggest hits, “Shine.” (Michael Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Shine, Spirit Thing, Elle G., When You Called My Name
52. Dime Store Prophets – Love is Against the Grain (1995)
This was the first release from a band whose career was much too short. Dime Store Prophets did everything well, except for, apparently, marketing. The vocals are emotionally stirring, the lyrics challenge listeners to consider social issues deeply, the guitar is raw and aggressive. While it is one of the finest examples of mid-nineties post-grunge rock and roll, the band was at its best when it slowed down. With every bit of the emotional power of the Counting Crows, this album will make you cry. (David Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Hitler’s Girlfriend, Love is Against the Grain, Baby’s Got a New Dress, Daddy’s Gun
51. Plankeye – The One and Only (1997)
The One and Only is something of a transition album for Plankeye. They were moving away from the punk-pop origins of their early records and into a more melodic, alternative rock direction. This album brought them many new fans as they were able to tour with CCM heavyweights like The Newsboys and Third Day.
At the same time, some of their long time supporters felt they had sold out and abandoned their roots. For our voters, the only thing that mattered was the strength of the songs on the record and the band did not disappoint. Guitarist Eric Balmer and bass player Luis Garcia handled most of the songwriting responsibilities. Emotional, melodic numbers like “One or the Other”, “Fall Down”, and “Let’s Try Again Tomorrow” fit nicely alongside the more punk-influenced tracks like “Playground” and “Landmarks”. This was also the final album for original vocalist Scott Silletta and original drummer Adam Ferry. (Michael Lytle)
Essential Tracks – One or the Other, Let’s Try Again Tomorrow, How Much I Don’t Know, Fall Down
And so ends Part Two. Again, we are beyond thrilled with the response to this series, so thank you. We realize our list of the top Christian rock albums will not be a perfect match for anyone, but we hope that it will serve to create conversation, discussion, and countless hours of listening to some pretty great music. Part Three is on track to publish next week so be on the lookout for that.
- The Top 100 Christian Rock Albums (1980-2019): Part Five - December 30, 2020
- The Top 100 Christian Rock Albums (1980-2019): Part Four - December 16, 2020
- The Top 100 Christian Rock Albums (1980-2019): Part Three - December 9, 2020