I originally sat down to compile a list of the ten best albums released by Christian artists but soon discovered that I could not whittle my list down to ten. I couldn’t even get it below fifteen so ten was completely out of the question. So I took a cue from my last list and decided to give you a list of ten albums that I own and love. I am not saying these are the “best” ever but they are significant to me and I believe that they are good enough to suggest to others. Some are going to be familiar (maybe even obvious) and that is okay. A few are actually out of print and one or two are actually quite difficult to find. This is all good stuff so if you’re curious about hearing the more obscure stuff…let me know.
Number Ten: Dakoda Motor Co. – Into The Son
I first heard this album on a friend’s Saturday morning radio show at NC Wesleyan college. His name was Derek and he played Christian music that did not get played on the few Christian radio station that existed at the time. I immediately fell in love with it. I am an East Coast guy but this album made me want to move to Southern California and take up surfing. Part punk, part surf rock, and part bubblegum pop, Into The Son is one of the catchiest albums I have ever heard. The lyrics aren’t straight forward praise and worship (with a couple of exceptions) but they are filled with spiritual insights that are sincere and refreshing. There has never been anything quite like this on Christian radio. I bought my CD copy used off of Amazon.com.
Number Nine: Imagine This – Imagine This
Derek also introduced me to this band. His show was called Waking The Dead (after a Michael Knott song) and he played two hours worth of stuff you couldn’t hear anywhere else. Imagine This sound like a cross between Roxette and Extreme. They blended keyboard pop and melodic guitar rock and threw in just a dash of funk from time to time. Had this album come out three years earlier there is a good chance it could have been a crossover hit. They were good musicians and understood how to write hooks. Although they sang about spiritual things they weren’t preachy and sometimes tackled social issues. They only released two albums and then vanished off the face of the planet. My cassette copy of this died years ago and I had to pick up a CD copy off of eBay.
Number Eight: Tourniquet – Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance
Although the birth of Christian Contemporary Music can be traced back to the Jesus Music of the late Sixties and early Seventies, it never really became popular until the early Eighties. Record labels soon discovered that they could put out a Christian “alternative” to whatever was popular and it would sell within the church crowd. The result was that Christian music was always a few years behind the times. With very few exceptions, Christian bands in the Eighties and Nineties were not much more that copycats. Tourniquet was one of those exceptions. Even though they came onto the thrash metal scene in the early Nineties (after it was starting to gain momentum), Tourniquet managed to create their own sound and actually outshone some of their secular counterparts. With technically complex musical compositions and bizarre medical terminology scattered throughout the lyrics, they stand out as one of the best thrash metal bands ever. This was their last album with original vocalist Guy Ritter and it marked the end of an era. They soon watered down their sound (can you say Metallica) and were never quite the same again. Theodicy On Trial may be the craziest metal song ever written.
Number Seven: Adam Again – Dig
Adam Again was an early Christian “alternative” rock back from California. Under the leadership of Gene Eugene (R.I.P.) they released several excellent albums but in my opinion, Dig is the highlight of their career. The vocals sound eerily like Michael Stipe in places and the music is on par with popular bands of the day like Pearl Jam. Adam Again weren’t quite as heavy musically but lyrically they had depth and tackled subjects uncommon to the CCM radio stuff of the day. Twenty-three years later this album still sounds fresh and relevant. It’s a shame that Adam Again didn’t receive widespread recognition and it’s a bigger shame that Gene Eugene is not longer with us. This one can be found on eBay and Amazon.com at a reasonable price.
Number Six: Grover Levy – Wrestling Angels
Grover Levy released two brilliant albums in the late Nineties and then disappeared from the music industry. He currently coaches high school basketball and as far as I know doesn’t write or perform music. I chose his second album because it is a collection of near perfect pop-rock songs that honestly address matters of faith. If You Want To Lead Me To Jesus and Tell Us What We Want To Hear tackle shallow faith and compromised lifestyles without coming across as judgmental or cynical. The songs have a slight Beatlesque feel in places and Levy’s voice is reminiscent of Phil Keaggy or The Rembrandts. Both of his albums were on iTunes the last time I checked.
Number Five: Ric Alba – Holes In The Floor Of Heaven
I’ll go ahead and tell you that this one is hard to find and that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Ric Alba was the bassist and one of the founding members of Altar Boys, who were a punky rock band who channeled The Ramones, U2, The Clash, and The Police. This album sounds nothing at all like those four bands and would come closer to Echo & The Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, The Cure or The Smiths. It’s spacey pop music with a dark side. Alba’s voice is haunting at times which only adds to the dream-like quality of these songs. Although it was released in 1991 it is more akin to music in a John Hughes film from the Eighties. I forget how much I paid for this one on eBay but it was more than $20.
Number Four: XL & Death Before Dishonor – Sodom And America
This was my jam (yes…I just said that) during my first attempt at Bible College in 1994. Once again, I have to give my buddy Derek credit for turning me on to this one. XL & DBD played high energy hard rock (bordering on thrash) with rap vocals. They were similar to Ice T’s Body Count in concept but were explicitly Christian. XL tackled tough subjects at a time when most Christians avoided them like the plague. Distrust of the government, hypocritical Christians, and racism are just a few of things he addressed in unforgiving manner. He definitely did not pull punches and although the style is somewhat dated this album still hits hard. I picked up my copy for $5 used on Amazon.com but it isn’t always easy to find.
Number Three: Under Midnight – Under Midnight
Thanks to Nine Inch Nails and a host of others, industrial music is not the underground thing that it once was but back in the early Nineties is still wasn’t mainstream. The surprise is that unlike many genres, Christians were making this type of music almost from the beginning. I own albums from a handful of Christian “industrial” artists but the debut from Under Midnight is the best of them all. It is dark and menacing but still offers hope when you take the time to listen to and decipher the lyrics. It gets major points for sampling Blade Runner in several places. Like Nine Inch Nails, Under Midnight were able to take dark and abrasive music and inject harmony and pop sensibility. This album is a classic in my opinion but can be difficult to find. I picked it up (along with their second album Void) for about $15.
Number Two: All Star United – All Star United
Of all the albums on this list, this one holds a very dear place in my heart. It was at an All Star United show that I met my good friend Phil Sabella and the seeds for my own band (Oldmangrady) were sown. All Star United were led by Ian Eskelin and played power-pop with Brit-pop influences. The songs are immediately hummable and make you want to pogo along. Lyrically, Eskelin turns a critical eye towards the Christian culture and skewers such things as the health and wealth gospel (La La Land) and Christian consumerism (Bright Red Carpet). He manages to be sarcastic and loving all at the same time. His marketing advice to Jesus (Smash Hit) clearly points out the misunderstanding that many Christians have concerning the one they supposedly follow. It’s not all criticism though, Eskelin also writes worshipful pop songs (Saviour Of My Universe) that balance out the slight cynicism of the rest of the album. This is one of my absolute favorite albums of all time.
Number One: The Swirling Eddies – Outdoor Elvis
I honestly don’t know where to begin with this one. The Swirling Eddies are a side project of Terry Taylor, who is the lead vocalist and primary songwriter for CCM legends Daniel Amos. Taylor has always incorporated diverse styles into all of his projects and this one is no different. The rest of the band is made up of musicians from other bands. At the time, all of the members used aliases and hid their true identities (somewhat) but it was obvious that Taylor was the driving force. Some of the lyrics are absurd and seemingly nonsensical until examined closely. Others are deliberately funny and are aimed directly at the Christian culture of the day. Mystery Babylon, which plays like a Fifties romantic ballad, may be the best song ever written about the book of Revelation. Another highlight is the one minute love song to Billy Graham. Yes…it is that kind of album. The only thing I can even compare it to is They Might Be Giants. My personal favorite moment is at the end of Hide The Beer, The Pastor’s Here when they start calling out the names of various Christian colleges and universities. Even though it came out five years earlier, this album may have been instrumental in me leaving Bible College after one year. This was the first time I heard sincere faith blended with humor, sarcasm, and biting cynicism. It was (and still is) beautiful.