The story of contemporary Christian music could not be told without Petra. In fact, there is arguably no band or artist that did more to move rock and roll into the church mainstream. In the CCM world, Petra is a band with no equal. They sold millions of albums, had dozens of number one hits, and sold-out tours all over the world. Petra created music that will be remembered long after they are gone. We were and are fans. This is our attempt to honor their legacy by spotlighting what we believe are the Top Ten Petra Albums of all time.
A few disclaimers before we dive in. First, only three of our writers contributed to this top ten. That is very different from most of our top tens. Second, we did not do the typical voting system we use on our other top tens. We each ranked Petra’s albums and then we sorted out the top ten from there. It was an organic process and we truly feel we best captured all of our perspectives with the final product. Finally, this list was put together by the Lytle brothers. We have been listening to Petra since the early 80s and have probably spent more time listening to Petra and talking about their music than just about any other group out there. We’re weird like that.
Jekyll and Hyde (2003)
Petra needed this album. To be honest, if they had ended their run prior to Jekyll and Hyde, it would have been pretty sad. From God Fixation until Revival, nothing Petra did really made a mark. Fortunately, they went out on a high note, as Jekyll and Hyde rocks like they had rarely rocked before. This album kicks butt in all sorts of ways and it makes me so glad that a band that paved the way for so many others was able to finish out their run with an album that was worthy of their name. (Phill Lytle)
The Top Ten
10. Wake Up Call (1993)
I have a complicated relationship with Wake Up Call. I’ll admit, I was underwhelmed when it released. The cover photo promised blistering rock and roll, and outside of a few songs (“Underneath the Blood” and “Midnight Oil”) there really weren’t any hard rockers to be found. To make matters worse, the production seemed muted to me. The drums felt like they took a back seat this time around and the guitars weren’t as loud and crunchy as I had grown to love from Petra.
Over time, I realized that while Petra did throw their fans a curve-ball with this album, most of the changes worked, and I would contend, they gave us some of the best songs and musicianship of their entire catalog. Brown Bannister took over production for this album and his work, while a change of pace, was intricate and layered and add a wonderful level of depth to their sound. And the drums are amazing. I can’t believe I ever doubted Louie.
Bonus: “Just Reach Out” is one of the all-time great Petra songs and probably the best closing song of any Petra album. (Phill Lytle)
9. Not of this World (1983)
Not of the World is something of a mixed bag. On one hand, it has some truly great songs like “Grave Robber”, “God Pleaser”, and the title track. On the other hand, it too often sounds like a lesser version of its predecessor More Power to Ya. It also gave us the “classic” “Occupy”, one of Petra’s all-time worst songs. While the band did not break any new ground here the trio of amazing tracks mentioned earlier along with a few solid rockers are more than enough to make this a top 10 record. (Mike Lytle)
8. Back to the Street (1986)
Back to the Street has always felt like a transition for the band – a sort of “we are headed somewhere great but aren’t quite there yet” statement. Longtime lead singer, Greg X. Volz had departed to pursue a solo career. Longtime producer, Jonathan David Brown was replaced with the Elephante brothers. And perhaps even more importantly, the band returned to the studio as a full band to record the album. (The previous albums had seen session drummers or even programmed drums fill in for Louie Weaver for reasons that have never made sense to me.)
The result is an album that feels unsteady. It’s not bad by any means, but it lacks cohesion and confidence. For one, new lead singer, John Schlitt’s voice was raw – having not sung professionally for some time. Secondly, it’s clear that Bob Hartman needed time to figure out how to write for his new singer and the songs on Back to the Street were hit and miss in that regard. Even with all this upheaval and newness, the band still turned out some great songs including “Whole World”, “Thankful Heart”, “Fool’s Gold”, and “King’s Ransom.” Not bad for an album that was more of a preview of the greatness to come. (Phill Lytle)
7. Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out (1989)
Today’s radio waves seem to only carry Christian music that is banal and uninteresting. For better or worse, this worship music is the genre that dominates church music, Christian radio, and record sales today. And although you would never know it by listening to the radio, even Worship music has a history. Knowledgeable of that history, many people would point back to bands of the 90s, like Delirious, as the originators of the genre of modern worship music.
An all too easily forgotten part of that history is Petra’s 1989 album Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out. In many ways, this album laid the groundwork for so much of the Worship genre. While few of the songs are original, the style is distinctly Petra but with a twist. This twist is a sort of corporate worship feel that the album celebrates. From the heavy use of backing vocals, the use of call and response, to ending the album with live songs, the album was created for others to sing along. While this album has many memorable moments, I’ve always felt that the song “Take Me In” possessed a sort of magical ability to transport me to another time and place. (David Lytle)
6. Beat the System (1984)
I’m not sure the year I heard this album as I was 6 years old when it came out. I have pretty strong memories of hearing songs from it when I was very young – possibly that year or a year or two later. I was blown away. It was my first exposure to Petra as far as I can remember. I have fellow missionary kids John and Mark Inscoe to thank for that. I remember hearing “Voice in the Wind”, “It Is Finished”, and “Hollow Eyes” and wondering how music could sound this good. It was wildly different from anything I had ever heard and I fell in love with the band right then and there.
It’s still one of Petra’s strangest albums, with a stylistic left turn that no one could have predicted. I’m happy they did it even though it was a big departure from their sound. It showed they were willing to take chances and try new things. Plus, it introduced Petra fans to John Lawry and his impressive keyboard skills. It was also long-time lead singer, Greg X. Volz’s final studio album with the band. He went out on a high note in my opinion. (Phill Lytle)
5. This Means War! (1987)
John Schlitt joined the band as lead vocalist in 1986 for their album Back to the Street. He was a little rusty after being out of music for several years and it showed. They were also getting used to new producers in John and Dino Elefante. By 1987 with the release of This Means War! it was obvious the band had worked through all those growing pains. From the opening line of the title track, Schlitt’s vocals are clearly on another level. The production is tight and crisp all the way through.
In my opinion, this record ushered in the golden age for Petra that lasted for the next several years and cemented them as the most popular band in Christian music. Lyrically the theme of spiritual warfare runs throughout the album. This Means War! also gave us two all-time Petra classics in “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered” and “You Are My Rock.” (Mike Lytle)
4. Unseen Power (1991)
Making a follow up to your career-defining and best-selling record was always going to be tough. I am sure the band felt quite a bit of pressure to deliver on this album.
As you can see by our ranking we feel like they nailed it. They took a stab at gospel music with the memorable and very hummable “Who’s on the Lord’s Side”. They tackled anthem-like pop rock in “I Need to Hear From You” and “Hey World” and the results were outstanding. The only misstep on the entire record is the Motown influenced “Hand on My Heart” that mostly falls flat. Lyrically Bob Hartman was at his best tackling a host of issues like abortion, prayer, calling, evangelism, suicide, and faith to name a few. The music videos and behind the scenes documentary the band did for this record is also great. (Mike Lytle)
3. On Fire (1988)
This was Petra’s metal album. At least, it was the closest they got to making a metal album until Jekyll and Hyde some 15 years later. I was at the perfect age and the exact musical sensibility for this album when it came out.
It ROCKED! And it rocked my world. From the opening number, “All Fired Up” all the way to the final note on “Homeless Few”, the band is relentless. New bass player, Ronnie Cates joined the band for this album and his energy was clearly infections. The band took what they had started on This Means War and they turned it up to 11. (Phill Lytle)
2. More Power to Ya (1982)
In 1982, Petra was still establishing themselves, even as they were trying to establish the fledgling existence of Christian rock music. More than any other album, More Power To Ya put Petra on the map.
This is probably their most complete album from the Greg X. Volz years. It has several solid rock songs like “Stand Up”, “Second Wind”, and “Disciple”. More importantly, the album is loaded with classics like the title track and “Judas Kiss”. For my money, “Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows” is Petra at their best. Lyrically it is a cutting indictment on my own apathy as a church goer. Musically, it has it all–the folksy acoustic guitar that gives way to rock and roll and Greg X. Volz’ amazing vocal track. Even though it doesn’t get any better than “Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows,” “Road to Zion” demands to be mentioned. Its haunting vocals and acoustic guitar work provide a great balance to a truly great rock album. (David Lytle)
1. Beyond Belief (1990)
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 early July called Beyond Belief. I counted down the days for the release. I made up my own song called “Beyond Belief” in my head and guessed and what real song would be about. (Thankfully my song sounded nothing like the actual song!)
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. It was the first Petra album I ever owned. 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. (Cassettes wearing out was a HUGE concern back in the day, I promise). 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. It is definitely a product of its time, but for 1990 it was a nearly perfect rock album. The album was certified Gold and is still one the bestselling Christian albums of all time. (Mike Lytle)
That’s our list. The Top Ten Petra Albums of all time. The ten best albums in the legendary career of one of Christian music’s most famous and successful bands. What do you think? Did we get it right? What albums do you think belong in the top ten? Let us know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!
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