The Facebook group, “Jesus Music 1969-1989”, polled its members to submit lists of their favorite Christian albums within that date range. Lists of up to 100 albums were accepted, and over 850 individual albums were submitted. Twenty separate artists appeared in the albums comprising the Top Thirty albums of that list, and here they are. Purists may quibble over the exact order of the rankings, the other worthy albums not listed here, and the very definition of “Christian music.” Still, few will disagree that all these albums deserve serious attention from any fans of the genre.
Mark Heard – #29 Victims of The Age (1982): Poetry worthy of Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan graces every song from the pen of this singer/songwriter who left a brilliant legacy before his untimely death. The most quotable Christian singer this side of Rich Mullins. Listen for Leslie Phillips on BGVs.
Matthew Ward – #28 Toward Eternity (1979): Stepping away from his sisters in 2nd Chapter of Acts for a rock-oriented moment, Ward’s supple tenor was backed by a crack team of singers and players including legends like Keith Green, Phil Keaggy, and Ray Parker, Jr. Every song sounds like a potential hit in the style of Stevie Wonder or Elton John.
Sweet Comfort Band – #23 Perfect Timing (1984): John and Dino Elefante produced the final (for a while) album for Bryan Duncan, Randy Thomas, and company, setting aside SCB’s soul boogie origins for straight-on arena rock in the vein of the Elefante’s previous work with Kansas. Not the most typical SCB album, to be sure, but rockers like “Sing for the Melody” and ballad “You Led Me to Believe” justify the experiment.
Kerry Livgren – #20 Seeds of Change (1980) and #26 AD – Art of the State (1985): With “Seeds,” the former Kansas guitarist lined up vocalists from Ronnie James Dio to Mylon LeFevre to realize his vision of epic rock set to biblical themes. “State” showcases a stable band splintered from Kansas with dueling vocalists Warren Ham and Michael Gleason delivering a combo punch of tuneful pop with progressive rock elements.
Michael W. Smith – #17 I 2 eye (1988) and #22 The Big Picture (1986): Smitty followed up the NYC power-pop dynamo of “Picture” with the quieter, more acoustic “Eye.” Both albums cemented co-writer Wayne Kirkpatrick’s place as a fixture in the Christian scene, while fueling a “Which album is better?” debate that rages to this day in the fan community. But either way, we all win!
Leslie Phillips – #19 The Turning (1987): Super-producer T-Bone Burnett helmed the final Myrrh Records album for his future wife, delivering a Beatlesy collection worthy of Liverpool. Phillips achieved spooky effects by pitching her voice half an octave lower than the Quarterflash/Lauper squeak of her previous albums. This album predicted the rise of AAA radio in the 90s almost ten years ahead of time.
Daniel Amos – #16 ¡Alarma! (1981), #25 Horrendous Disc (1981), #27 Shotgun Angel (1977), and #30 Vox Humana (1984): Christian music’s most versatile band transitioned from Maranatha-style country-rock to classic rock to New Wave over the course of this quatert of albums. Terry Scott Taylor’s witty lyrics reward the careful listener with too many quotable lines to count. “Angel” includes a song-suite based on the book of Revelation.
The Choir – #15 Chase the Kangaroo (1988): Echoing, ambient guitar rock with thoughtful singer-songwriter lyrics delivered by Derri Daugherty’s sweetly dispassionate tenor. Includes “Clouds,” “Children of Time,” and Steve Hindalong’s acoustic tribute to life on the road, “Everybody in the Band.”
Resurrection Band – #13 Colours (1980) and #21 Awaiting Your Reply (1978): The trailblazers of heavy Christian music offered socially conscious songs drawn from Jefferson Airplane, Rush, The Who, and Led Zeppelin influences. If “Broken Promises” doesn’t give you chills, check to see if you have a pulse.
Keith Green – #12 For Him Who Has Ears To Hear (1977) and #14 No Compromise (1978): The first two albums from this piano-based prophet ran a near dead heat, simply because they are both that good, with unforgettable tunes and lyrics that challenge and haunt the conscience, delivered with a seemingly inexhaustible passion.
The 77’s – #10 The 77’s (1987): A perfect balance between pop and Smiths-influenced rock on a now-legendary set of songs including the anthemic “Do it For Love,” chilling “I Could Laugh,” and oft-covered “The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes, and the Pride of Life.” Their legacy would have been secure even if no further albums had followed, but happily that was not the case, as they continued in a more guitar-heavy vein to become one of the most critically acclaimed Christian bands of the 90’s.
Phil Keaggy – #9 Love Broke Thru (1976), #11 Phil Keaggy and Sunday’s Child (1988): The world’s greatest guitarist, caught twice in a late 70’s jazz/rock mode and once in a no-holds-barred Beatles homage. “Ph’lip Side” took advantage of the LP format to showcase one side of gorgeous and mellow acoustic guitar, and one side of scorching electric leads, with Keaggy’s clear McCartneyesque vocals soaring above. “Love” has Keaggy’s signature rock track “Time” and a medieval musical setting of C.S. Lewis’ poem “As the Ruin Falls.” “Sunday’s Child” includes guests Stonehill, Taff, and Rick Cua.
Russ Taff – #8 Russ Taff (1987): Backed by guitarist James Hollihan, Taff’s powerhouse howl propels pop masterpieces from ace songsmiths like Charlie Peacock, The Call, and Chris Eaton. Includes classics “I Still Believe” and “Walk Between the Lines.”
WhiteHeart – #7 Freedom (1989): Famed pop producer Brown Bannister coaxed a perfect rock performance out of this band’s most distinguished line-up. Vocalists Rick Florian, Mark Gershmehl, and Tommy Sims take full advantage of their different styles to cover hard rock, blues, ballads, and country without losing album cohesion.
Randy Stonehill – #6 Welcome to Paradise (1976): Norman’s protégé was all-killer, no-filler on this collection recalling The Eagles and James Taylor by turns. His angelic falsetto break and fingerstyle acoustic guitar rhythms draw the listener into songs about sin and redemption. Includes “Puppet Strings” and the satirical “Lung Cancer.”
Petra – #4 More Power to Ya (1982), #18 Beat the System (1984), and #24 Not of This World: “Power” and “World” blend late 70’s arena rock dashes of Styx, Boston, and Doobie Brothers, wedded to challenging lyrics replete with Scripture. “System,” a swan song for departing vocalist Greg X. Volz, adopts a New Wave rock approach with never-ending harmonies and hooks.
Amy Grant – #3 Lead Me On (1988): An acoustic turn for the queen of CCM yielded the U2-inflected title track and confessional country-pop ballads like “Saved by Love” and “Faithless Heart” along with superb covers of Janis Ian, Jimmy Webb, and The Innocence Mission.
Steve Taylor – #2 Meltdown (1984): Putting aside the rap/New Wave hybrid of his debut EP, the clown prince of Christian music still took no prisoners with his satirical high-energy pop/rock, skewering the absurdities of modern culture within and without the Church. Influences range from Devo and Bowie, to Springsteen and The Doors.
Larry Norman – #1 Only Visiting This Planet (1972) and #5 In Another Land (1976): Trenchant lyrics challenging the church and the world alike to follow Jesus better, in styles from Young/Dylan folk rock to Stonesy blues to ELO orchestral rock to Tin Pan Alley. Big budgets and brilliant production give these albums, two out of Norman’s classic 70’s trilogy, a musical depth that rewards repeat listening.