From some of the feedback I have gotten to yesterday’s post, I suspect that I may have given the impression that I am utterly cynical about contemporary Christian music (CCM). Nothing could be further from the truth. While CCM has its fair share of musical pablum to offer, so does secular music. And while there is some brilliant secular music, so there is also in CCM. If I tried to list every CCM artist or song that I have enjoyed over the years, the list would be too long. But there have been some that have had some staying power for me personally—meaning, there was something about the music or the message that still has the power to move me over the long years.
The following list is by no means exhaustive. In fact, don’t be surprised if I come back later and add to it. These are just some of my highlights from the last 25 years or so, though I am excluding albums and artists from the “worship” category. That will have to be a separate post.
I don’t listen to CCM much anymore, but I do listen to Andrew Peterson. He is a poet who sings. In my opinion, he really sets the standard for songwriting. He combines music, lyric, and deep Christian faith like no one else. I became a fan about 11 years ago with his album “Carried Along.” His most recent offering is “Counting Stars,” and it is one of the best albums I have ever heard. Below are my favorite songs from each of those two albums.
Steven Curtis Chapman
From the late 80’s to early 90’s, Steven Curtis Chapman was by far my favorite CCM artist. The songs that he was writing then became the soundtrack for some of the most formative years of my Christian life. I love the music. It was a kind of pop rock with a dash of country mixed-in. What I appreciate most about his music, however, is that his lyrics were always explicitly Christ-centered. The list of songs that I love by Steven Curtis Chapman is as long as my arm. Picking a favorite is difficult, but I think if you pressed me, then “Miracle of Mercy” would be the one I’d choose. If I could write my autobiography in song, I couldn’t do it any better than “Miracle of Mercy.” Listen to the lyrics on this one.
The first time I heard a tape (yes, it was a cassette tape!) of Caedmon’s Call was around 1994. One of my friends had their demo. And from the first song, I knew I was hooked. In the early 90’s, Nashville had little room for acoustically-driven folk music. But that’s exactly what college students were listening to, and that’s exactly what Caedmon’s Call was producing. The music was the best CCM I’d ever heard, their lyrics had a literary quality to them, and their theological perspective was going in the same direction mine was during the mid to late 90’s. My favorite album by a mile is “40 Acres,” my favorite singer/songwriter in the group was Derek Webb, and my favorite song is “Table for Two.” Why? Because this song was about being single (like I was at the time) and trusting in the sovereignty of God.
Michael W. Smith
My church youth group performed a musical based on the music of Michael W. Smith, and I played the angel. I wore white pants, a white turtleneck, a halo, and some wings. I’m sure I was a ghastly site, but at the time I didn’t think much of it. I love his music, and singing it in youth group was about as normal as breathing.
I can recall nearly every lyric from every album that Michael W. Smith produced from about 1984 through about 1991. I think Smith was moving toward being a crossover artist from the 80’s through his 1991 album “Go West Young Man,” so the lyrics seemed to be less and less explicitly Christian through 1991. But after that date, it seems like his music went through a gospel revival. He became more clearly identified. Nevertheless, I love his music throughout and still do today.
A great deal of his music was aimed at Christian youth during the 80’s, and my favorite song is still “Old Enough To Know.” This song has 80’s written all over it.
DC Talk was the original Christian hip-hop group. Back in the 80’s, mainstream hip-hop was by and large just as vile lyrically as it is now. But DC Talk (“Decent Christian Talk”) was the Christian alternative, and they were great. When I was in high school, I thought it was coolest thing of all time when they appeared on Arsenio Hall. They really did have enormous crossover appeal, but I think their lyrics were too explicitly Christian for them to ever get there. They were graduates of Liberty Univiersity, and I think the culture warrior stamp was all over the song “Socially Acceptable.” Still love this song.
And by the way, if there are any young men out there wondering what kind of girl to marry, DC Talk has a tutorial for you in “That Kinda Girl.”
90’s Alternative CCM
Popular music in the late 20th century is divided into two eras: BG and AG (“before grunge” and “after grunge”). Nirvana’s album “Nevermind” marked the dawning of a new era in which alternative music became popular music. The hair bands that dominated the 80’s went the way of the Dodo, and the Nirvana, The Smashing Pumkins, and Stone Temple Pilots, et al. were all the rage.
In the early to mid-90’s, Nashville was producing nothing of this new sound. Zip, zero, nada. There was a record label out west, however, that was. It was called Tooth & Nail Records, and there were several groups that that I loved on that label: Starflyer 59, Sometime Someday, and MXPX, just to name a few. There were some outliers not associated with Tooth & Nail that I enjoyed as well: Sixpence None the Richer, Dakoda Motor Company, and Prayer Chain. I was a drummer in a band back then, and this is the stuff that we wanted to play. I don’t come back to this music as often as the others listed above, but it was all that I listened to for about five years during the mid to late 90’s. Here’s a couple of samples.
Sixpence None the Richer – “Field of Flowers”
I heart Andrew Peterson and Steven Curtis Chapman too. Also like some stuff by Smitty. My favorite album of his is actually _Freedom_, where he didn’t sing… LOL. 🙂
I first heard Andrew Peterson back in college (1997) and really liked him then but hadn’t heard much until I was given “Behold the Lamb,” his Christmas album. That CD has actually become one of my favorites of all time. I had to actually stop making fun of my wife for listening to Christmas music in September because I was listening to that year around. The way he writes those songs to point to Christ throughout the Old Testament really is impressive. Skillet is also one I grew to love.
Good stuff – I know he’s preaching instead of singing these days, but Steve Camp….I was only introduced to his music a few months ago, hearing “Mercy in the Wilderness” on the radio – that song has been a source of great comfort during some Hebrews-12-like scourgings. Did some digging and got the CD – some of it has the 80s/early 90s all over it but as a child of the 80s I can deal with that. More great, deep, rich, beautiful things from him on that CD and others. I recently was introduced to Andrew Petersen’s music (Dancing in the Minefields) and Love. It. My daughter danced with her father to Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Cinderella” at her wedding just this past May – not many dry eyes for that one. We sang Michael W. Smith’s “Friends” as our public high school class graduation song (1986) before it was politically incorrect to do so. Wonderful things here. Thank you for sharing them.
Yep. Good music. There’s lots of oldies but goodies in the CCM genre as well.
Also, don’t forget Steve Green… and Twila Paris… and 4Him, and Phillips, Craig & Dean. Oh yes, and Michael Card, and Fernando Ortega.
And I repeat: Don’t underestimate southern gospel.
OK, I have to admit, you reminded me of three bands in the CCM field that I actually do like quite a bit:
1) The Prayer Chain
2) Starflyer 59 (as mentioned in the other thread, a BLATANT My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain rip-off, but, if you steal from the best, you’re in good shape, I reckon)
3) Caedmon’s Call
Here’s a question for you, Denny…ever check out Bob Dylan’s gospel discs? The first two especially, are absolutely outstanding.
I think Denny’s got my comments set to “auto-mod,” even though I’m by far the most entertaining person to ever comment on this blog.
Mark Driscoll once said that Bob Dylan’s Christian period was like puberty.
Mark Driscoll must say a lot of funny things. I’ll take anything off of Saved or especially Slow Train Coming over 98% of anything that’s come out of Nashville. If you haven’t heard those two, they’re must hears. Not must read someone else say something abouts.
Oh, I believe you actually. I just thought that was a funny comment. Bob may be a great artist, but I have doubts as to the depth of his Christianity.
Nothing from Petra? I’m shocked! Petra was the first Christian rock I ever heard, and I still enjoy listening to them. Some great choices in the music you listed though. And some I haven’t heard that now I need to hear. Thanks for the list.
gospelgirl, Phillips, Craig & Dean.are false disciples. Good artists, but they deny the Trinity. Jesus only is their gospel. Sad. Okay to listen to them, but it’s good to know they need to be born again.
I haven’t researched their supposed Unitarianism in any great detail, because that sort of thing generally gets me nodding within a couple minutes… I’m willing in principle to take the word of other people who have done the research, but I probably won’t assume either way until and unless I have the inclination to wrap my brain around it myself. Meanwhile, I still enjoy their older material, though their most recent music is less interesting to me.
I know of a certain video made by a certain professor to MWS’ “Old Enough to Know.” That alone would set CCM back another decade.
Watch it now.
That’s a really nice Caedmon’s Call song by the way. I wish Derek would get back to writing nice stuff like that. Too bad he’s gone over the typical liberal/emergentist cliff like everyone else.
The late Keith Green
2nd Chapter of Acts
FWIIW, I have been in churches where the elders routinely filtered songs, both old and new, to ensure they were Scriptural. The ministry team would propose, but the elders had final approval. There are quite a few old songs that are not actually following Scripture either. We are to be discerning.
Ditto to Ken Temple’s list above!
And, of course, the incomparable Rich Mullins!!
Dylan’s gospel music is very good music. And I like his regular music as well. There’s this one really rocking LP by The Allies called ‘The River’ that I wish Christian Radio would play some tunes from. But the CCM radio stations I have are pop-culture to the max. Sad. We have classic Rock stations, but no Classic CCM stations. I pray our Lord would help me start a Classic CCM radio station. That would be a dream come true.
Oh….and Mark Heard!! Lord, what a loss it was when he passed away!
I’m pretty much right with you on this one, especially the love for Steven Curtis Chapman and Caedmon’s Call. I’d have also focused on Jars of Clay and Third Day, who were coming into their own while I was in High School. I still listen to these musicians’ albums quite a bit, even though most of what I listen to is not CCM music. Good post.
Thanks, Nathan. Great to hear from you, brother!
there are know commities in heaven there is no other opinion expressed in heaven except gods holy vindicated sovrigeon word . there is only one interpretation of the word of god and that is gods own interpretation . how does father do it its so simple watch here is the revelation of it GOD WHO THERE IS NONE OTHER NONE BESIDE NO OTHER GOD OR GODS , GOD INTERPRETS HIS OWN WORD BY BRINGING IT TO PASS THEN VINDICATING IT . THAT LETS US ALL OUT ALL DENOMONATIONS BANG GONE RIGHT THERE . god said let their be light there was light god spoke it then god brought it into existance and thats what hes always done . god interprets his own word by bringing it to pass . the church this baalamite ecuminical spirit headed by the false prophet the pope is of the wicked one get out of it . jesus is hes outside the church the word kncking trying to get in ladiocea blind thinks she interprets gods word and brigs it to pass . now they are all full of creeds and dogmas hybrid with gods word it wont mix thats death bread see the word full of leven mans ideas what the serpent feed eve levend brad . the church has no right to beleave what they want to from gods word