The Forgotten History of Christian Rock: Part Four
- The Forgotten History of Christian Rock: Part One
- The Forgotten History of Christian Rock: Part Two
- The Forgotten History of Christian Rock: Part Three
- The Forgotten History of Christian Rock: Part Four
- The Forgotten History of Christian Rock: Part Five
Part Four: The Road Less Traveled
by Michael Lytle
The late 90’s to the early 2000’s
The late 1990s and early 2000s were a pivotal time in Christian rock and roll music. While it may not have been obvious or even a conscious choice there was a battle going on for where Christian music would go in the future. On one hand, some of the more creative and critically acclaimed artists like Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer, and Switchfoot were also the artists that were selling the most records. This was not necessarily true in the 1980s where critical acclaim and commercial success did not always seem to go hand in hand. The rise of independent record labels like Tooth and Nail/BEC and Five Minute Walk/Sarabellum propelled forward artists like Dimestore Prophets, Dryve, Starflyer 59, and Plankeye who were blazing their own trails and not simply following what was popular in secular music. These labels also were reaching a younger audience which the big names of the 80s were starting to struggle with.
At the same time, the rise of modern pop/worship music was starting to gain momentum. If Petra and their 1989 album Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out was the John Wycliffe of this new praise and worship music then Delirious? was its Martin Luther. (Under this analogy Hillsong would be Zwingli.) The boys from across the pond created the blueprint that is still being followed, for better or worse, to this day.
While we here at REO are certainly very much in favor of singing praises to and worshiping our creator, the focus from record labels and radio stations on “worship” music was not all positive. Lyrics that dealt with personal struggles, social issues, family dynamics, and life in general, were quickly jettisoned in favor of songs that addressed God directly. Again, singing songs to God is not a bad thing, but we lost something along the way when other types of songs were discarded. Today we rarely, if ever, hear songs like All Star United’s satirical La La Land, which took aim at the health, wealth, prosperity gospel movement. It is more difficult to find voices like Steve Hindalong of The Choir acknowledging the strain a cross-country move from Los Angeles to Nashville had put in his marriage in Never More True. We moved away from bands like Plankeye writing about their band breaking up and the uncertainty it created in Goodbye. Radio forgot artists like The Waiting, who drew inspiration from the opening paragraph of Melville’s Moby-Dick to write about the Old Testament wanderings of God’s chosen people in the song Israel.
If you go to a Christian bookstore or listen to Christian radio today it is easy to see who won the battle. Modern worship music dominates the landscape while the more creative artists are once again going underground and using alternative methods to get their message to the public. We will continue this discussion in part five of our series.
The goal of the following playlist is to highlight some of the artists that we feel raised the bar of creativity and originality for Christian rock and roll music during the late 1990s and early 2000s. We realize that many of these artists would have cringed at being labeled a “Christian band”. They would have preferred to be called a rock band that happened to be made up of people who were Christians. It may be hard to believe now, but this distinction really was a big deal to some during the time period covered in this article and playlist. While it might make for an interesting article at some point in time this is not that article. We tried to primarily highlight artists who either never got their due even at that time or who may have been popular then, but have fallen off the radar since. All songs on this playlist were released between 1994 and 2005. As always, there are other songs we would have included if they were available on Spotify. We have now put together four playlists for this series of articles. We expected the playlists that featured more recent music would be easier to put together than those featuring music from several decades ago. This was not really the case. Many great artists from the 1990s and early 2000s are not on Spotify. Some of our favorites that are missing include Dimestore Prophets, The Listening, Reflescent Tide, and Room Full of Walters.
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19 thoughts on “The Forgotten History of Christian Rock: Part Four”
Lots of great music for this time frame.
I feel like Joel Osteen heard All Star United’s “La La Land”, didn’t realize it was satire, and then based his entire ministry on it.
Thanks for the continued discussion on this topic. I’ll share a thought I had when I read the first post in the series: I agree with the sentiments in the first half of the 3rd paragraph and in the 4th paragraph, but I’d also argue that there is room on the spectrum between the Tomlins/Hillsongs and the Petras/Plankeyes. What may be broadly referred to as (or maybe used to be referred to as) CCM is separate from the Praise & Worship genre and the Rock genre (or maybe P&W is considered a subset of CCM). The way I view it, perhaps CCM is the space in between the two on the continuum (and I admit that’s the space in which I usually prefer to dwell), because it has more meaningful lyrics than P&W but the sound is generally closer to P&W than R&R. I also agree that much of what you hear on a typical Christian radio station is heavily flavored with P&W, and I weary of that for the reasons you state in the 3rd paragraph above. I would argue, though, that P&W is different from current artists like Casting Crowns, MercyMe, and Matthew West or previous groups like 4Him, Point of Grace, and Philips, Craig, and Dean (at least when they started) or even 2nd Chapter of Acts and Caedmon’s Call (and yes, I know I just totally put a date range on my music interests). I would also suggest that R&R is different from all of the groups I mentioned (or at least the majority of their work). So, I appreciate the discussion of alternatives to the predominant P&W flavor of the current scene, but, assuming I’ve read your comments correctly, I don’t want an entirely different genre of Christian music to get lost in the shuffle; I think there’s more choices than just either/or and just wanted to suggest a clarification. Thanks again for sharing this series.
Marcus, you wrote, “So, I appreciate the discussion of alternatives to the predominant P&W flavor of the current scene, but, assuming I’ve read your comments correctly, I don’t want an entirely different genre of Christian music to get lost in the shuffle; I think there’s more choices than just either/or and just wanted to suggest a clarification. Thanks again for sharing this series.”
There is a whole genre in the middle, as you say, that risks getting forgotten as well. We should do our best to remember those artists. But that was not our focus for this series. Our focus was on rock music – almost exclusively. And while there is probably more overlap than what we covered here, adequately covering all those groups and artists would have grown this series well beyond our time constraints or abilities.
What? No Skillet? I know we all enjoyed some Gasoline, Promise Blender, and Beautiful Robe down at Ennis Hall!
Good stuff fellas! Always enjoy everything I find on REO.
Skillet continues to be very successful and popular today. We tried to focus on bands that have been forgotten or pushed to the fringes.
I agree with the way Phill summed things up – due to the nature of what we were trying to do with this series we could not cover everybody or every style of music and keep these article at readable length or to only 5 parts.
Part 5 will cover current artists so stay tuned.
Very good. I can definitely appreciate trying to keep a manageable topic. Like I said, “assuming I’ve read your comments correctly”. Sounds like I didn’t do that as well as I could have. 🙂
Thanks for the clarification. Looking forward to Part 5.
Fun fact: Ben Folds played drums on “Not afraid.”
I have a YouTube Channel that’s devoted to tutorializing as many 90’s Christian Rock songs (MAINLY JARS OF CLAY lol) as possible! Here’s the channel link!
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I heart this series! Incredible playlist, btw!
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Wow… thanks for including my old band, Reflescent Tide, on the list. Our music is hard to find but not impossible.
We didn’t mind being called a Christian band, we did sign with a Christian label afterall, but for the most part we just wanted to be real and express our experiences and faith through our music.
– Jon-Paul LeClair
Drummer for Reflescent Tide
That is awesome. We weren’t able to find your music on Spotify to include in the playlist, which was a shame. Spring Catalog is one of the most underrated albums in the history of Christian rock. Every track is good and most are great. I still listen to it on a regular basis. The musicianship is fantastic and what’s better than that awesome guitar, jam session at the end of “Do You Really Care?”?
Wow! That’s quite the compliment! Yeah, Spring Catalog was a lost treasure. At that time the Christian music industry was in upheaval as that album was going to print. We were told that nearly 20k copies were “lost” and nothing could be done. We were also floated with either being shopped to the bigger players in hope of continuing or ride it out with Rugged Records. We eventually just folded as we were all holding down jobs and starting families – and with no real support from the label we just called it day.
That’s not fair. You guys deserved better.
Thanks for reading this and commenting Jon-Paul. Like Phill said, we were/are big fans of your music.