- The Top 100 Christian Rock Albums (1980-2019): Part One
- The Top 100 Christian Rock Albums (1980-2019): Part Two
- The Top 100 Christian Rock Albums (1980-2019): Part Three
- The Top 100 Christian Rock Albums (1980-2019): Part Four
- The Top 100 Christian Rock Albums (1980-2019): Part Five
In a memorable episode of King of the Hill, Hank Hill’s son Bobby gets involved with a Christian rock group. I won’t recap the entire episode, but there is a key scene where Hank confronts Bobby about his involvement with the band. In this scene, Hank delivers this classic (and hilarious) line to the lead singer/pastor – “Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock and roll worse?”
Unfortunately, many people both inside and outside the church would agree with Hank Hill’s assessment of Christian rock music. Sadly these critics are not entirely wrong. Much of what has been released under the broad heading of “Christian Rock” over the years is uninspired, copy-cat, second-rate, music.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. There has also been plenty of great rock and roll music made by Christians over the years and we have attempted to highlight some of it in this series of articles.
Thank you all so much for taking this journey with us. We know there will be disagreements with the list and that is great. Feel free to comment here on what we should have included, or what we ranked too low or too high. Before we get to the top 10 here is a recap of 100-11. Be sure to check out parts 1-4 of this series if you want to see our thoughts on each of these albums.
- Anberlin – Never Take Friendship Personal
- Mastedon – Lofcaudio
- The Call – Reconciled
- Dimestore Prophet – Fantastic Distraction
- Delirious? – King of Fools
- Sleeping Giant – Kingdom Days in an Evil Age
- Whitecross – Triumphant Return
- Whiteheart – Highlands
- The Violet Burning
- John Mark McMillan – Mercury and Lightning
- Bride – Show No Mercy
- Demon Hunter – War
- Emery – In Shallow Seas We Sail
- Switchfoot – Oh! Gravity.
- Stryper – Soldiers Under Command
- Nouveaux – And This is How I Feel
- Caedmon’s Call
- Relient K – Mmhmm
- Vigilantes of Love – Blister Soul
- Grammatrain – Flying
- The Brave – Battle Cries
- Small Town Poets
- Five Iron Frenzy – Upbeats and Beatdowns
- Steve Taylor – I Predict 1990
- Vigilantes of Love – Audible Sigh
- DeGarmo & Key – Commander Sozo and the Charge of the Light Brigade
- Tourniquet – Vanishing Lessons
- Phil Keaggy – Find me in These Fields
- Joshua – Intense Defense
- House of Heroes – The End is not the End
- The Waiting
- Poor Old Lu – Sin
- Mylon and Broken Heart – Big World
- Holy Soldier
- Audio Adrenaline – Some Kind of Zombie
- The Call – Into the Woods
- 63 John Mark McMillan – Economy
- The Prayer Chain – Mercury
- Room Full of Walters – Sleepyhead
- Shout – In Your Face
- King’s X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
- Honey – Lost on You
- The Listening
- Galactic Cowboys
- Thrice – To be Everywhere is to be Nowhere
- Newsboys – Going Public
- Dimestore Prophets – Love is Against the Grain
- Plankeye – The One and Only
- Anberlin – Cities
- Steve Taylor – Squint
- Shaded Red – Red Revolution
- DeGarmo & Key – The Pledge
- Guardian – Miracle Mile
- Future of Forestry – Awakened to the Sound
- Third Day – Conspiracy No. 5
- The Choir – Chase the Kangaroo
- Audio Adrenaline – Bloom
- All Star United
- The Supertones – Supertones Strike Back
- The 77s – Drowning with Land in Sight
- Sixpence None the Richer
- Adam Again – Perfecta
- Switchfoot – The Beautiful Letdown
- DC Talk – Free at Last
- The Supertones – The Adventures of the O.C. Supertones
- Petra – On Fire
- Bride – Drop
- Jars of Clay – Good Monsters
- Jars of Clay
- The Elms – The Chess Hotel
- The Waiting – Blue Belly Sky
- Switchfoot – Hello Hurricane
- Petra – More Power to Ya
- Whiteheart – Tales of Wonder
- Josh Garrels – Love & War & the Sea In Between
- Fleming and John – Delusions of Grandeur
- Plankeye – Relocation
- The Prayer Chain – Shawl
- Adam Again – Dig
- Chagall Guevara
- Uthanda – Believe
- Reflescent Tide – Spring Catalog
- John Mark McMillan – Borderland
- Stryper – To Hell with the Devil
- Dryve – Thrifty Mr. Kickstar
- DC Talk – Jesus Freak
- The Violet Burning – Demonstrates Plastic and Elastic
- NEEDTOBREATHE – Rivers in the Wasteland
Now let’s get to the top 10:
10. NEEDTOBREATHE – The Outsiders (2009)
The Bona Fides: 1 top 10 vote, 4 top 15 votes.
From the review I wrote earlier this year: “Musically and thematically, The Outsiders was a declaration that the band had no intention of fitting in, being labeled, or taking the easy road. Their music had never sounded this fresh, authentic, or natural. This was the music that had been flowing in their blood from the beginning; it only took three albums to get it out.”
Honestly, I don’t have much to add to what I’ve already written. This is a great album. Period. It’s not a pretty good album or even a very good album. It is a GREAT album and it cemented NEEDTOBREATHE’s place in the pantheon of some of the best Christian bands of all time. There is a confident maturity in every note, every line. When a band is operating at the peak of their artistic abilities, it is a beautiful thing to hear. The Outsiders is a perfect example of that. (Phill Lytle)
Essential Tracks: The Outsiders, Through Smoke, Stones Under Rushing Water, Something Beautiful, Let Us Love
9. Bride – Snakes in the Playground (1992)
The Bona Fides: 1 top 5 vote, 2 top 20, 4 top 25, 5 top 30, and 6 top 50 votes.
This is definitely the “loudest” album to land in our top 50, I am a bit surprised that it ended up as high as number 9, but six of our ten voters placed in on their list and with good reason. This record flat out rocks. Vocalist Dale Thompson (the best “screamer” in rock music history) led the way in this pounding sonic attack. The band was not afraid to tackle social issues. With prophetic clarity and urgency, they took on topics like abortion, gang violence, drug abuse, illegal immigration, and suicide. Two ballads brought a much-needed change of pace from the rest of the album. Bride had several excellent records (a couple of others even made our top 100 list) but this one is special and definitely the best place to start for anyone wanting to explore their sound. (Michael Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Rattlesnake, Would You Die for Me, I Miss the Rain, Psychedelic Super Jesus, Goodbye
8. Plankeye – Commonwealth (1996)
The Bona Fides: 2 top 10 votes, 3 top 15, 4 top 25, and 5 top 30 votes.
I hope you know and love this album! Plankeye wasn’t as well known as some other bands of their era but they recorded some of the best rock of the 90s. Commonwealth is too original to compare. You will hear distorted guitar elements as well as high soaring melodies. It’s a mix of hard-hitting rock tunes alongside reflective and resonant tracks. Scott Silletta’s scratchy voice is the perfect sound for both kinds of songs. They capture an intimate feeling with a production that almost seems live. Everything came together to make this one of our favorites. Commonwealth is timeless and at the same time distinctly 90s. Plankeye had solid albums before and after this. However, this is a band at its un-self-conscious pinnacle. (Brandon Atwood)
Essential Tracks: Whisper to Me, B.C., Push me Down (Veiled), Beautiful, Who Loves You More
7. NEEDTOBREATHE – The Reckoning (2011)
The Bona Fides: 1 top 5 vote, 2 top 10, 4 top 20, and 5 top 30 votes.
This is the band’s best album. Well, that’s my opinion but since I’m writing this blurb we are going to stick with that. It’s more mature, more confident, and more fully realized than any of their other albums. It’s a 14 song tour de force that 99% of bands could only dream of pulling off. It has all the signature NEEDTOBREATHE elements but it adds complexity and depth to every song, every arrangement, and every lyric. From the fiery opening number, “Oohs and Ahhs”, to the contemplative closer, “Learn to Love”, the band delivers an album with no cracks and no weaknesses. To my ears, the band clearly set out to create their masterpiece when they wrote and recorded The Reckoning. Regardless of the behind-the-scenes tensions the band has admitted to since the release of this album, the music is what matters most. And in The Reckoning’s case, the music is better than any fan had a right to expect. Which is saying something as their prior album, The Outsiders is a masterpiece as well. Somehow, NEEDTOBREATHE improved upon perfection.
It’s long been my contention that creating crowd-pleasing rock and roll that doesn’t pander is a much tougher task than most people realize. NEEDTOBREATHE do that and so much more and The Reckoning is the crowning jewel in their catalogue. (Phill Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Oohs and Ahs, White Fences, The Reckoning, Tyrant Kings, Devil’s Been Talkin’
6. Cush (2000)
The Bona Fides: 3 top 5 votes, 4 top 10 votes.
The band Cush is comprised of various members of other bands: The Prayer Chain, Honey, and Michael Knott’s LSU to name a few. The music is what matters so they never tell us who plays what. And that’s fine by me. The music works. It’s all ethereal vibes and effortless jam sessions. I find something new to enjoy every time I hear it.
I have always struggled with fully articulating what I love about this album. You either hear it or you don’t. It’s beautiful stuff to me, though. From the opening note, I am transported. Musically, this album defies easy labeling. It’s dreamy guitar-driven rock and roll, with just enough punch when needed. My abilities as a writer are not sufficient to do this album justice. I think the best thing I can do is to attempt to convey how I feel when I listen. There is an overwhelming sense of contentment that permeates everything. That’s not to downplay the rock elements of the album. Those are fantastic and work as well as anything else the band attempts, but as a whole, Cush creates a space of peace and contemplation. My soul is refreshed every time I spend time with this album. Does that sound a bit melodramatic? Fair enough, but that doesn’t make it any less true. (Phill Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Heaven Sent, Arching Heart, Shining Glory, Good Times, Angelica
5. The Choir – Speckled Bird (1994)
The Bona Fides: 1 top 5, 2 top 10, 4 top 20, and 6 top 30 votes.
Most Choir fans rank Circle Slide or maybe Chase the Kangaroo as their best album. While both of those are great, Speckled Bird will always be tops in my book. In 1993 the band independently released an 8 song record called Kissers and Killers. It was the loudest and most raw the band had ever sounded. They took 7 of those 8 songs, polished up the rougher edges, and added 5 new tracks to create the masterpiece that is Speckled Bird. The music combined the more grunge influenced sound they developed on Kissers and Killers with the dreamy, ethereal sound that they are known for from their other records. The lyrics were an honest look at the strain marriages can sometimes come under, while still maintaining hope that they could come out stronger on the other side. There have been many high points in the 35+ year history of this band, but this record stands above the rest for several of our voters and it deserves a top 5 spot on our list. (Michael Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Love Your Mind, Amazing, Yellow Skies, Never More True, Speckled Bird
4. Petra – Beyond Belief (1990)
The Bona Fides: 1 first place vote, 2 top 5, 4 top 10, and 5 top 15 votes.
Here is part of what I wrote for our top 10 Petra albums that REO published in 2019:
I did not grow up in the United States so finding and purchasing music, especially Christian music, was often difficult. I had become a Petra fan during the mid to late 80s and had borrowed a few of their albums from friends and copied them onto cassettes. The sound quality of those cassettes was often terrible, but it was all I had and I loved it. In 1990 my family traveled to the USA for a couple of months during the summer. We met up with some friends at the airport and I was informed that Petra was releasing a new album in late June/early July called Beyond Belief. I convinced my dad to take me to a Christian bookstore the week of July 4th and I paid my hard-earned $10 to purchase the Beyond Belief cassette. I listened to it nonstop. I let my brothers and friends borrow it, but with strict guidelines on how many times they could listen to it because I did not want the cassette to wear out. (I promise that cassettes wearing out was a HUGE concern back in the day). It wasn’t the first or last Petra record I ever heard, but it will always be my favorite.
The band is clicking on all cylinders for this album. The same lineup and the same producers had been together for several records at this point and it showed. The album was certified gold and is still one of the bestselling Christian albums of all time.
The only thing I will add to what I wrote last year is that the guitar intro to the song “Beyond Belief” is absolutely perfect. It is timeless and more than holds its own with any iconic guitar hook from any era. (Michael Lytle)
Essential Tracks – Beyond Belief, I Am on the Rock, Creed, Seen and Not Heard, Prayer
3. The Choir – Circle Slide (1990)
The Bona Fides: 2 first place votes, 3 top 5, 4 top 10, and 6 top 50 votes.
Although it could be argued that other of The Choir’s albums are better in terms of the individual songs, Circle Slide stands out as their thematic masterpiece. Dan’s swelling saxophone sirens, the calm tenor of Derri’s vocals, and the precise and downright classy drumming of Steve Hindalong all mesh together perfectly. Thematically, they step into some interesting areas, juxtaposing a track with children laughing up against a final song of restoration. This is a top-tier, artistic album of the kind of Christ-centered hope that the world needs to see. A few years ago, I was able to see them play the entire album live in its entirety. I didn’t know at the time that it would be a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. (Daniel Speer)
Essential Tracks: Circle Slide, Merciful Eyes, Tear for Tear/About Love, Sentimental Song, Blue Skies
2. Whiteheart – Freedom (1989)
The Bona Fides: 2 first place votes, 4 top 5 votes.
I’ve written well over 2,000 words about this album already for Rambling Ever On. I’m not sure what else I can say. Actually, that’s not true. I could talk about this album all day. Freedom is my album. It’s my go-to anytime I need encouragement, recharging, or just to enjoy some absolutely pitch-perfect rock and roll. I will go to my grave firmly believing this album is perfection. It is the collective masterpiece of six incredibly talented musicians and one amazing producer. It (along with Circle Slide) received more number-one votes than any other album on our list, which says something. If you enjoy late 80s rock, with a strong emphasis on melody, and a rhythm section you can feel in your bones, this is the album for you.
Find a group of Christian rock fans online. Pose the question, “What is the best Christian rock album of all time?” You will get a number of great responses. You’ll even get some repeats like Larry Norman’s Only Visiting This Planet. But, don’t be surprised if the album that gets mentioned most often is Whiteheart Freedom. It happens every time I see this question pop up. If you know, you know. And for those of us who know Freedom, there is no other album that can stand up to it. (Phill Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Sing Your Freedom, Let the Kingdom Come, Over Me, The River Will Flow, Invitation, Let It Go
1. Common Children – Delicate Fade (1997)
The Bona Fides: 4 top 5 votes, 5 top 15 votes, 6 total votes.
The album begins with a melancholy weight that transcends its era. It miraculously maintains this vibe throughout 15 beautiful songs. Common Children’s second release is certainly a product of its time (1997), but the emotions captured belong to all time. I think we are a bit shocked that this album conquered all others on this list. While this probably says something about the mean age of the contributors, it also speaks to the impact this record has had on our souls. I truly do mean souls. When I listen to this album, it is as if it skips my ears and intellect and passes straight to my inner being.
Some of the contributors to this list ran into Marc Byrd (singer, guitar, songwriter) at the 2000 Cornerstone Festival. I am sure that I was a pathetically annoying admirer. Marc was gracious and talked to us about the band and their music. (He also introduced us to Cush. Praise God for Marc!) Marc told us the story of Delicate Fade. It was an album born out of the pain of his first wife leaving him. It was a lament that occasionally waived into rage (listen to “Burn,” and “Pulse”). Overall, however, the album puts life in divine perspective, “The Eyes of God.” All our pains, plans, and joys are seen for what they are–small realities that an infinite God, scandalously, still cares about.
Aside from the band’s willingness to lay their soul bare, they also played some amazing music. I have no complaints about how the album begins, but the reality is that it gets better as it goes. Each song doing something more than we had previously heard. The magic crescendos with the acoustic love song “Drift” and the epic and ethereal “Blue Raft.” As “Blue Raft” floats you through the recklessness of life, you will know that you are listening to a truly great album. (David Lytle)
Essential Tracks: Stains of Time, Indiscreet, Drift, Blue Raft, Whisper, Pulse, Storm Boy, Delicate Fade
As we have stated repeatedly, we fully expect disagreement with our choices. Each of our voters disagrees with some of this list. Each of us has our personal Top 100. None of us agree on our rankings. This list is a result of ten very different people putting their musical tastes together to come up with as comprehensive a list as possible. We are confident we missed some great albums – we all have our blind spots. If one of your favorites didn’t make the final cut, please let us know so we can track it down and give it a spin. This is and has always been about the music. That has been our driving passion from day one – over six months ago. We truly hope that this list will be an inspiration. Seek out albums you don’t know. Go back and find some albums you haven’t heard in a long time. Simply put, listen to as much music as you can. Contrary to what Hank Hill believed, not all Christian rock made rock and roll worse. A lot of it elevated a musical genre, adding layers of spirituality, creativity, and spark. We hope you feel the same.
Finally, we created a Spotify playlist with songs from every album that was available. Unfortunately, a good number were not, which is disappointing. Still, there’s a ton of great music included and we hope you will enjoy it.
- 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