We have written about Petra quite a bit on this site. Whether it’s looking at how their lyrics have impacted us or examining their place in the history of Christian music. We even ranked their top 10 albums and discussed where their albums fit on our Top 100 list.
While their first album was released in 1974, 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the band as they formed on a college campus in 1972. Bob Hartman (bandleader, lead guitarist, primary songwriter, and occasionally, reluctant lead vocalist) wanted to reach young people with the gospel and the saw music as a way to do just that. While the 70s were tough for the band they really hit their stride in the early ’80s with Greg X. Volz as their full-time lead singer. Petra went on to be the highest-selling Christian band of the ’80s and the third highest-selling Christian artist of any genre, behind only Amy Grant and Sandi Patty.
John Schlitt took over vocal duties in 1986 and took the band to a whole new level peaking in 1990 with the release of Beyond Belief which went on to be the best-selling album of their career. When musical styles changed in the 90s the band struggled to adjust and stay relevant. Their final studio album, Jekyll and Hyde, came in 2003. It was embraced by most of their fans as a return to form. Since that time different incarnations of the band have reformed to tour and release several live albums
We have said it before on this site that Petra is the most important band in the history of Christian music. We feel their longevity and popularity help bolster this claim. It also doesn’t hurt that they were pioneers in the CCM world and a big influence on many artists that rose to prominence later. For all these reasons we felt it was appropriate to honor the band’s 50th anniversary by ranking their top 50 songs of all time.
Five long-time fans got together to contribute to this list. We each ranked our top 50 songs from the band’s catalog. Fifty songs may seem like a lot, but with 20 studio albums to the band’s name we had a lot to choose from so narrowing it down to 50 songs was not always easy. The individual lists were compiled into one master list to come up with our final rankings.
What follows is our countdown along with a Spotify playlist featuring each song on our list. Instead of writing a review for each song we decided it would be more interesting to mix things up. We may do a mini-review, tell a personal story related to the song, some trivia about the song itself, or we may just share some of the lyrics that have meant a lot to us over the years.
In all Petra recorded just under 200 songs in their career. As a group, we nominated 97 different songs on our five lists. What follows are the 50 songs that received the most and the highest votes. We hope you enjoy the list and please feel free to comment below and tell us if we missed anything.
The Top 50
50. Angel of Light (1981). While their three albums from the 70s were hit and miss, with the release of Never Say Die in 1981 Petra announced that they were becoming a force to be reckoned with. “Angel of Light” is the best rocker from that album.
49. How Long (2001). One of the highlights of Revival – Petra Praise 3. John Schlitt’s range is the true star of the song.
48. Back to the Street (1986) “It’s so easy to stay untangled from everyone else’s life. Don’t get involved with strangers, don’t get involved with strife. It’s so easy to save your own life, resting on what you’ve done. But Jesus would leave the ninety-nine to try and save the one.”
47. Prayer (1990). This is the most simple song on Beyond Belief, but it still packs an emotional punch. Heartfelt and sincere.
46. Love (1990) This ballad was the second most played song on Christian radio in 1990 and one of the biggest radio hits of their career.
45. Second Wind (1982) – I have a childhood memory attached to this song and WWE-style wrestling with my brothers. My brother and I wore towels on our backs as a “cape”, ran into the “ring”, and fought our fierce oldest brother. We called ourselves the “capers” and our theme song/intro music was “Second Wind.” It reminded our diminutive bodies to never give up. We were idiot children.
44. God Gave Rock n Roll to You (1977 and 1984). Petra did not write this song although Bob Hartman did write some new verses to give it a spiritual dimension. They recorded two versions of it one in 1977 and one in 1984. Both versions received votes so we included both on our playlist.
43. Thankful Heart (1986). I always felt this song was written by Bob Hartman specifically for John Schlitt to sing. I can’t help but believe it was exactly what Schlitt was feeling when God turned his life around.
42. Think on These Things (1995). I never really connected with No Doubt the album, at least not as I did with the previous half-dozen albums, but this song is the exception. It feels like vintage Petra – great melody, strong musicianship, and Scripture-saturated lyrics.
41. Get on Your Knees and Fight Like a Man (1987). As a kid, I had a low-quality cassette copied from the original. My brothers and I thought the title of this song was “Get on Your Knees and Fly Like a Bird.” I’m glad Petra came up with a better name!
40. More Power To Ya (1982). As far as I know, this is the only Petra song covered by country music superstar Tim McGraw.
39. Ready, Willing, and Able (1991). Petra at their anthemic best. Louie’s pounding drums take center stage here. This song is never not fun to rock out to.
38. First Love (1988). I love the expansive, almost orchestral sound here.
37. Stand in the Gap (1988). Petra touched on the theme of prayer often. It was obviously something they felt strongly about. In my opinion “Stand in the Gap” is the strongest “prayer” song in their catalog.
36. The Coloring Song (1981). Petra’s first big hit. Creative lyrics and haunting harmonies.
35. Witch Hunt (1984). Definitely the weirdest and probably the silliest song in the band’s history. In some ways, I’m surprised it made our list, but the lyrics are some of the strongest that Hartman ever penned so maybe it is not so surprising it landed a spot after all.
34. Whole World (1986) – Possibly the best intro/outro music the band ever performed. Plus, they use a version of that intro/outro to segue way into the guitar solo, so they clearly realized how awesome it was. Everything about this song is mid-80s arena rock perfection.
33. Song of Moses (1997). From the opening notes of this song, it was obvious that Petra Praise 2 was going to be a much different album than the first Petra Praise album. The laid-back vibe of this song, and really this entire album, was a bright spot for the band.
32. Not of This World (1983). – The title song of the album. This one perfectly captures the space theme they were going for in their album covers. It expresses the biblical admonition to live as aliens in this world in a creative and compelling way. On a total side note, the Galactic Cowboys hard rock cover kicks tail!
31. Godpleaser (1983). This one made my personal top 10. I am disappointed my fellow voters did not feel quite as strongly as I did, but I am still glad it made our final list. Excellent lyrics and a rock-solid guitar grove. What else could you ask for?
30. Road to Zion (1982). “Sometimes it’s good to look back down, we’ve come so far, we’ve gained such ground. But joy is not in where we’ve been, joy is whose waiting at the end.”
29. Salvation Belongs to Our God (1989). Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out had a lot of great songs. This one takes a back seat to none of them.
28. Destiny (1991) – How do you follow up Beyond Belief, one of the greatest rock albums of all time? I’m sure the band asked themselves that question many times. Unseen Power had an almost impossible task ahead of itself but somehow pulls it off. It’s not as good as its predecessor but it’s close enough that we won’t quibble over the differences. “Destiny”, the opening track to Unseen Power sets the tone perfectly. Its propulsive beat, aggressive guitar tone, and hallmark John Schlitt vocals leave no doubt that Petra was still firing on all cylinders.
27. Sleeping Giant (1993). Even if you don’t like Petra. Even if you are not a fan of John Schlitt’s vocals. I challenge you to skip ahead to the 2:45 mark of this song. Turn up the volume and listen for the next 45 seconds or so. You will not regret it this decision. If you want to make a donation to thank us you are more than welcome to do so but don’t feel like you are under any obligation.
26. Armed and Dangerous (1990) – Petra went through a season where Bob Hartman fell in love with war metaphors for the Christian life. Ephesians 6 loomed large in his conscience. This number is a fast one that makes you want to do battle with Satan by reading the Bible and praying. This song’s enthusiasm is a stellar way to open Petra’s most popular album.
25. Fool’s Gold (1986) “The wisdom of the cross is easy to receive, but only foolishness to them that don’t believe. They may say that I’m a fool for the cross that I proclaim, but the gold that I must seek won’t be found in earthly fame.”
24. Hollow Eyes (1984). This may have been the first Petra song I heard. Even as a young child the lyrics dealing with starvation and food shortages in Africa served as a shock to my system and made me realize how blessed I was.
23. Hey World (1991). “Down the corridor of life, in between our death and birth. We may start to lose our way in the search to find our worth. Our value comes in the fact we live, life is a gift only God can give.”
22. The Battle Belongs to the Lord (1989). The first Petra Praise album released in 1989 is one of Petra’s most popular releases. Musically the album is all over the place as the band tried several different styles to bring praise and worship music to a younger audience. In the minds of our voters, this song best accomplished what Petra set out to do with that album.
21. Beat the System (1984). There is just something hauntingly captivating about the keyboard in this song. By this time in Petra’s history, Greg X. Volz’s vocals were the band’s sound. They sound fantastic in this song. The musical style of this album, however, was a departure. It features prominently the keyboard magic of John Lawry and less of Bob Hartman’s guitar. The song echoes the “techy” sound of the mid-1980s that would be on full display throughout the album.
20. Dance (1991). This song makes me dance and if you know me at all, you know that is a rare thing. Plus, hearing Jamie Roe’s (Guardian) background vocals is an added bonus.
19. This Means War (1987). In the minds of many fans, the release of This Means War in 1987 marks the beginning of Petra’s peak years. Record sales were the highest during this era and they played the largest venues of their career as a band. As we have mentioned before John Schlitt’s vocals are on another level on this album and from the opening drums on this song fans knew they were in for something special.
18. All Fired Up (1988). Petra brought in Ronny Cates as their new bass player for this album. He was fifteen years younger than the rest of the band and his youthful energy rubbed off on everyone else. That energy is felt on this opening track and it doesn’t let up.
17. Just Reach Out (1993). This is one of the rare Petra songs that was not written by Bob Hartman. It’s a mid-tempo number that builds to a spectacular final chorus, where it sounds like an entire choir joins in. The song is amazing but what really puts it over the top as one of their best songs is the epilogue – the closing minute or so. There is no need for this section as the song could have easily ended with John Schlitt’s incredible final note, but I’m so glad the band and producer Brown Bannister decided to give it to us.
16. He Came, He Saw, He Conquered (1987). This song is a sprint. It starts off with a bang and it never lets up. It’s been one of my favorite Easter songs for the majority of my life. I enjoy all sorts of Easter-themed songs but often, they can be pretty mild or subdued. This song is an anthem, a victory cry. It gets my blood flowing every time I hear it.
15. Hit You Where You Live (1988). Let’s face it, a lot of music from the ’80s has not aged well. This song is very “80s rock’ in its sound and presentation, but somehow it’s much “cooler” than a lot of stuff from that decade. Not sure if it’s the opening drums and guitar, the random scream after the first verse and chorus, or something else. When I wanted to introduce Petra to my kids this is the song I picked.
14. It is Finished (1984). The manly backing vocals and the ominous outro set the mood for the listener to imagine the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. “It is Finished” captures this moment emotionally and theologically as much as any ’80s keyboard-driven rocker is able to do. As a child weaned on Petra, I am not sure if I can currently imagine the crucifixion for very long without hearing Greg X. Volz’s voice.
13. Seen and Not Heard (1990). “Conviction, in the way we live. Conviction, not a narrative. Actions speak a little louder than words.”
12. Jekyll and Hyde (2003). I didn’t think Petra had it in them. The band seemed to be struggling to find their sound in the late 90s. They were a band on a slow decline. Then they released Jekyll and Hyde as their final record and it was the best they had sounded in a decade. It is the loudest and most aggressive album of their career. Several songs are great, but the title track stands out. All five of our voters had it in their personal top fifty.
11. You are My Rock (1987). This is my favorite Petra song of all time. I wrote about it here for Rambling Ever On a few years ago. I’m not sure what else to say. Everything about this song works for me. The music is not as straightforward as many of their other rock songs. The chorus has this incredible lead vocal, background vocal blend. The lyrics are as good as Hartman ever wrote. I love every second of it.
The Top Ten
10. Counsel of the Holy (1988). There is no doubt Petra loved the Word of God; their songs are saturated with Scripture. “Counsel of the Holy” is their ode to the most important book ever written.
9. Mine Field (1988). I love starting a song with a primal scream. And the song keeps that level of intensity throughout its four minutes and twenty-eight seconds. Add to that, “Mine Field” has awesome keyboard and guitar solos. In 1988, this was everything I wanted or needed.
8. Judas Kiss (1982). After the backmasking intro, the opening guitar riff is probably the most iconic rock n’ roll moment in Petra’s catalog. The lyrics ask difficult questions about how our sins break the heart of our savior. While the words are intimate and powerful, it’s the guitar that makes this song a classic.
7. Creed (1990). This isn’t the only song that sets all or parts of the apostle’s creed to music, but for my money, it is the best. I love the haunting organ that kicks the song off.
6. Voice in the Wind (1984). This is the song. Beat the System was the first Petra album I heard. I was very young when I heard it, probably only six years old. I was immediately hooked. And while I loved the whole album, “Voice in the Wind” was the song that hit me the hardest. There is an eerie, though not unsettling, vibe to the song that I responded to. Greg X. Volz’s vocals carry this song, as they carry the album.
5. Adonai (1984). I listened to a lot of Petra in preparation for voting on my top 50 songs. I wanted to make sure the songs were fresh in my mind. As I worked on coming up with my final list one song kept creeping up my rankings. I have always liked “Adonai”, but I realized it was even better than I remembered. I ended up ranking it 21 on my list and I wondered if any of the other voters would rank it as high as I did. To my surprise, each of my fellow voters had it in their top 20 and a couple had it in their top 10!
4. I Am On the Rock (1990). For a few years, this was my favorite Petra song. Aggressive, crunchy guitar front and center during the verses, and octave busting rock vocals in the chorus. Beyond Belief is such a confident album and every song, every note reflects that. Peak Petra.
3. Grave Robber (1983). My dad wasn’t too comfortable with the idea of Christian rock music. More than any other song “Grave Robber” won him over. The lyrics are poetic and powerful. The music is another example of the acoustic, folk-driven sound that Petra featured on many of the ballads in the early ’80s. It’s a truly great song that stands the test of time.
2. Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows (1982). If we were to reduce Petra down to its essence, this song may be the result. Their career was about taking the gospel from the church and to the people. Lyrically, the song chastises the church for attempting to be a fortress against sin rather than a hospital for sinners. Musically, it hooks us with an acoustic “churchy” first verse before it builds to an upbeat rocker. The music perfectly complements the lyrics and both tell you much about the heart of this band.
1. Beyond Belief (1990). This song did not receive a single first-place vote, but all five of our voters had “Beyond Belief” in their top 5. It was the number one song on this list by a wide margin. We’ve written about this before, but the guitar intro to this song is one of the best things you will ever hear. While the song itself is amazing, the vocal harmonies that close out the song take it to another level. This album, and specifically this song, was Petra at their best.
If it was not obvious before, it should be now. Petra means a lot to us. Between the five voters who put this together, we have probably spent years listening to Petra’s music. In every way possible, their music has shaped and affected us. We hope you enjoy our list, even if you disagree with some of it. If you feel so inclined, we would love to see what your Top Fifty looks like. Post it in the comments so we can compare. Thanks for reading!