Since releasing their self-titled album in 1974, Petra have sold over ten million albums, won four Grammy Awards (they were nominated for fourteen), won ten Dove Awards, and cemented themselves as one of the founding fathers of modern Christian rock music. Armed with an ever revolving line up of musicians, primary songwriter and guitarist Bob Hartman has been the one constant. With the exception of a nine year period when he did not tour (he still wrote and played on the albums), Hartman has been the driving force behind one of Christian music’s most successful groups. Although fans occasionally take sides, Petra was able to consistently deliver solid albums with both Greg X. Volz and John Schlitt on vocals. Even now, after semi-retiring, they continue to be one of the most influential voices in Christian music. In this brief post, I will attempt to give my personal rankings for each of their twenty-four albums.
#24 – Double Take (2000)
Even though it won a Grammy, this is probably the worst album in Petra’s storied career. It was an attempt to reintroduce several of their classic tunes to a new audience. The semi-acoustic approach is not what causes the album to fail, it’s the fact that the original melodies are completely scrapped and the songs become completely unrecognizable. Honestly, they sound like bad cover versions with John Schlitt singing. The two new originals (The Longing and Breathe In) are decent songs but aren’t enough to salvage this one. Interestingly enough, this was the last album they released before Hartman came back on board full time. This is the only Petra album that I just can’t listen to.
#23 – Revival (2001)
After the dismal Double Take, Petra could only go up. Hartman came back on board and Inpop Records (Peter Furler’s label) released Petra’s third praise album. This is the only Petra album to consist entirely of cover songs. The choices are hit-and-miss and the performances lack the intensity of Petra’s first (and ground-breaking) praise album, but the album is listenable. There are no definitive moments here and it comes across as just one more praise album in a flooded market.
#22 – God Fixation (1998)
This is the first album released during Bob Hartman’s sabbatical from the road. Even though he didn’t tour, he still contributed as songwriter and guitarist during the making of the album. It takes a decidedly modern feel (for 1998) and doesn’t feature any stand out tracks. St. Augustine’s Pears is probably my favorite in spite of the confusing title. Musically, the album is all over the place and lacks any real consistency. Still, there are some good songs here and I occasionally pull it out for nostalgia’s sake.
#21 – Washes Whiter Than (1979)
Petra’s third album came after the band suffered its first real shake up. All of the founding members (save Hartman) left and he was given the task of reinventing Petra for the first time. Vocalist Greg X. Volz, who had done guest vocals on the previous album, returned as the primary singer. Rob Frazier joined as songwriter and vocalist but only stuck around for this album. This isn’t a bad album but is more mellow than the first two. It did help them get on Christian radio. There are some real gems here. Taste And See, which is a funky, horn-infused number, is probably my favorite.
#20 – Back To The Rock Live (2011)
This is nothing more than the tracks from Back To The Rock recorded live. It is a solid album but honestly, it really wasn’t necessary. It’s still deserves to be ranked here because of the quality of the performance. It’s a flawless set but does benefit from pre-recorded backing tracks. Had it contained more tracks or more new tunes, it may have been higher in the rankings.
#19 – Unseen Power (1991)
Another Grammy-winning album, this one is much more deserving that others. It does feature some musical detours that seemed odd for them at the time, including the Smokey Robinson influenced Hand On My Heart. It does contain one of my favorite songs from the John Schlitt era, Hey World. Other tracks, like Dance, remained in their live set for years.
#18 – Come And Join Us (1977)
Greg X. Volz comes aboard for a few songs on Petra’s second album, including their stellar version of Argent’s God Gave Rock And Roll To You. Production is one notch above the debut but it has fewer stand out tracks. I still like to play this one from time to time just to hear the Argent cover and the title track. Where Can I Go and Without You I Would Surely Die are fine examples of early Jesus Rock.
#17 – Petra (1974)
I may be in the minority, but I really do like Petra’s first album. It is odd hearing songs without Volz and Schlitt on vocals, but the musicianship more than makes up for it. This is when Petra were still a dual guitar rock band with southern rock and country influences. The humorous Lucas McGraw is still a fan song to listen to. The lyrics are simple and cliché in places but the guitars rock so hard that I really don’t care.
#16 – Farewell (2005)
This one was supposedly Petra’s last album and was recorded live during the Jekyll & Hyde tour. It contains a decent mix of songs (including a couple of medleys) that highlights Petra’s multi-decade career. The highlight is the return of Greg X. Volz on a couple of songs, including their massive hit Grave Robber. The album is stripped down and features some of their finest playing.
#15 – Captured In Time & Space (1986)
The live album that closed out the original Greg X. Volz era. It was recorded on the Beat The System tour and features much of that album. Volz’s vocals are in top form but the music suffers from too many electronic drums and synths. The mini-sermons between songs are inspiring and the worship sections feel sincere.
#14 – No Doubt (1995)
This is the best of the albums Petra released during Hartman’s hiatus. It feels a lot like Collective Soul or any number of mid-Nineties rockers. I wasn’t a huge fan of this album at the time of its release but it has grown on me over the ears. Enter In and No Doubt are two of Petra’s finest songs.
#13 – Back To The Rock (2010)
Billed as Classic Petra, this is a reunion of the Beat The System line up. It contains re-recorded versions of classic Petra songs along with two new tracks (Back To The Rock and Too Big To Fail). Most of the new versions are sonically better than the originals. Unlike the miserable Double Take, this one sticks to the original songs with only slight modifications, mostly in the guitar and keyboard solos.
#12 – Wake Up Call (1993)
Petra took a break from John and Dino Elefante and let legendary producer Brown Bannister take the helm for this one. It was less edgy than previous albums and definitely took aim at Christian radio. Just Reach Out is the stand out track on the album but Underneath The Blood and Sleeping Giant (both written by then bassist, Ronnie Cates) are solid tunes as well.
#11 – On Fire! (1988)
The third album featuring John Schlitt on vocals continues the melodic hard rock begun on Back To The Street. The opening three tracks may be the finest musical sequence on a Petra album since More Power To Ya. Stand In The Gap is probably my favorite song from the album.
#10 – Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus (1997)
Not as crunchy as their first praise album, this one probably has the best songs. There are more synths and drum loops than I like (especially on a Petra album) but Schlitt’s voice is in top form. This one also has the distinction of having a song featuring Schlitt, John Elefante (who once sang for Kansas), and Lou Gramm (former vocalist of Foreigner) all singing together. That alone ranks this one in the top ten.
#9 – Jekyll & Hyde (2005)
After spending nearly ten years making watered-down rock music, Petra promised a return to their rock roots. This album kept that promise. It also marked the departure of long time drummer Louie Weaver. Former Newsboy Peter Furler played drums, produced, and co-wrote some of the songs. It is a chunky slab of modern hard rock but still retains a hint of Petra’s classic sound. My biggest (and only) disappointment is the absence of guitar solos. There is a version of this with the lyrics sung in Spanish.
#8 – Not Of This World (1983)
This is the final album featuring John Slick on keyboards. Petra have sometimes said that it is the musical sequel to More Power To Ya and I can see why. The production isn’t as crisp and the guitars sound way too processed but there isn’t a bad song on here. It also contains my absolute favorite Petra tune, Grave Robber.
#7 – Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out (1989)
This was the first modern praise album I heard and it blew me away. It had hard rocking guitars and pounding drums and sounded like nothing that I had heard in church. Some say it is the forerunner to the modern praise and worship movement. It contains original worship songs along with covers of popular songs from that era. There is also a Spanish language version of this one.
#6 – Never Say Die (1981)
The Coloring Song was Petra’s first big radio hit and it starts the album off on a mellow note. The acoustic vibe doesn’t last long and the next three songs (including the excellent Angel Of Light) really kick it into gear. The anti-suicide song, For Annie, is still a tear-jerker all these years later. This was the beginning of Petra finding its voice and delivering the goods for the next decade.
#5 – Beat The System (1985)
If there is anything to complain about it is the digital and over processed production. Other than the sterile (almost mechanical) performance, this is an incredible album. The lyrics are convincing and Volz’s voice has never been finer. It (along with the live album that followed) marked the last time Volz sang on a Petra album until the guest spot on 2005’s Farewell.
#4 – This Means War! (1987)
Schlitt’s second album doesn’t suffer from the production issues of his debut and it also benefits from having some Hartman’s strongest songs. This album is filled with anthems that all contribute to the spritual warfare theme. This is where John and Dino Elefante got their Petra sound perfected.
#3 – Back To The Street (1986)
This album has some of my favorite Petra songs on it. Honestly, it would be #2 were it not for the lacklaster production. Drums sound like drums machines and there doesn’t appear to be any real bass guitar on it at all. The guitars are synthesized (continuing the sonic palatte of Beat The System) and lack any bite. However, the songs are great. This is the blueprint for what Petra would be for the next decade. I would love to hear this one re-recorded.
#2 – Beyond Belief (1990)
When it comes to Schlitt era Petra, it doesn’t get any better than this. The Elefante brothers finally nailed down the sound they were looking for and the band gelled like it hadn’t done since the early Eighties. There was actually a movie produced along with this album that contained concept videos woven around the story of a young man experiencing a crisis of faith. I never grow tired of this album.
#1 – More Power To Ya (1982)
Not only is this Petra’s best album, it is probably the best Christian rock album of all time. Not only is the production full and the songs powerful, there really does seem to be something else in the mix. I don’t use words like “anointed” very often but that is probably the best word I can come up with. This really does feel like God reached down and touched the band in a special way while they were writing and recording it. This is one of my favorite albums of all times, regardless of genre. It truly is a classic.