A hundred albums is a lot. But not enough. There are several albums that probably should have made this list but didn't. Here are some of them...
FARRELL & FARRELL
Farrell & Farrell (Newpax, 1978)
Bob and Jayne Farrell were around during Jesus Music's infancy, as a part of groups like Millennium and Dove. As a couple, they became a songwriting tour de force and reinvented themselves a couple of times during a musical career that spanned the better part of two decades. Farrell & Farrell was their debut as a husband-wife team. Musically eclectic, the album was released on the NewPax label. Earthmaker is one of the record's more memorable tracks, a song that used punchy rhythms and synthesizers to reinforce the message that we are to worship the earth's Creator, not the earth. Other standout tracks included the funky Lifesaver and a ballad called Homesick Soldier.
Fireworks (Myrrh, 1978)
In 1976 three young people sang together for the first time in a basement studio, recording a commercial jingle for producer Chris Christian. All three--Marty McCall, Gary Pigg, and Gwen Moore--were recent arrivals to Nashville with dreams of making it big in the music business. They were soon called back for more sessions, including Amy Grant's debut album, David Meece's I Just Call On You, and B.J. Thomas' Home Where I Belong. The following spring, Word Records was seeking a new vocal group for their roster, so Marty, Gary, and Gwen became Fireworks and the ensemble was signed by the label. Musicians Lanny Avery (on bass) and Chris Harris (on drums) helped turn the vocal group into a band. Their 1977 debut was piano-driven pop, heavy on vocal harmonies and at times dominated by McCall's impressive range and emotive voice (he studied medieval and renaissance music when he was younger). The group's rhythmic, pounding piano chords were somewhat reminiscent of Keith Green or the Second Chapter of Acts. Presence of the Lord is the most often remembered rocker from the self-titled album, while the ballad Don't Look Back is considered to be the record's standout track. Marty McCall was the group's principle songwriter. Fireworks was produced by Chris Christian and engineered by Brown Bannister.
Shatter the Darkness (Myrrh, 1979)
Shatter the Darkness (also produced by Christian) "showed remarkable improvement" and featured "a bigger sound" according to author and CCM historian Mark Allan Powell. Blogger David Lowman said it's "vastly superior to the debut release" and "ends up being the very best of the Fireworks releases." He called it creative and original. Kudos to whomever came up with the cover idea (making the album look like a giant pack of firecrackers).
After a move from Myrrh to MCA Songbird, Fireworks' sound shifted somewhat in a more electric and even new wave direction. After the group disbanded, McCall found success as one third of CCM's popular adult contemporary trio known as First Call.
The Cold Cathedral (F.E.L. Records, 1969)
John Fischer should be on this list.
Looking back over his discography, I guess the only reason he's not on the list is that I couldn't settle on any one album as standing head-and-shoulders above the others. But his place as a pioneer and his position as an elder statesman should be set in stone. He should at least receive some kind of 'lifetime achievement' award.
Have You Seen Jesus My Lord (Myrrh, 1970)
Fischer graduated from Wheaton College in 1969. His first two albums are historically significant and place him there at the founding of Jesus Music. It's been said that Fischer was a type of John the Baptist in that he "prepared the way" with records like The Cold Cathedral and Have You Seen Jesus, My Lord. They sounded a bit like The Kingston Trio or The New Christy Minstrels, and contained songs that youth groups would sing for many years in church basements and around campfires. Jesus Music historian Mark Allan Powell says that these two albums, while unbelievably tame by modern standards, were revolutionary for the time period.
Still Life (Light, 1974)
Naphtali (Light, 1976)
Johnny's Cafe (Myrrh, 1979)
Fischer continued to record (more sporadically) during the 80s and 90s. And he used his pen for something other than songwriting, authoring several books and writing a popular monthly column for CCM Magazine for many years. He's a little too far left for my liking, but his insight and candor have been highly valued by many people over the past four decades or so. His work as a columnist and author has been appreciated more, perhaps, than his music.
Forgiven (Newpax, 1977)
I probably allowed personal dislikes to cloud my judgement here. Never was a fan of Francisco's style or, frankly, his singing. And, thanks to some unwise oversharing via social media, his theological views are also a huge turn-off (it's suspected that his wife actually shares her views under his name...but if that's true, he doesn't put a stop to it so he's tarnished by it). In any event, Forgiven probably should've been included on this list on the strength of He's Alive if for no other reason. It was a monster song, one of the most popular easter/resurrection themed songs ever written.
Got To Tell Somebody (Newpax, 1979)
The title track on Gotta Tell Somebody was also a huge hit.
Gentle Faith (Maranatha, 1976)
If for no other reason, we all owe a debt of gratitude to Gentle Faith for introducing us to Darrell Mansfield.
Gentle Faith was a Christian country rock band, one of several such groups affiliated with Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California and the Maranatha! Music label. Originally called Jubal, they switched to Gentle Faith around 1975, while at a meeting at Calvary Chapel. There was another band going by the name Jubal's Last Band, and it was causing confusion. It was decided that Jubal's Last Band would become Daniel Amos, and Jubal would become Gentle Faith. Joining Darrell Mansfield were Don Gerber (acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin), Henry Cutrona (bass, lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Paul Angers (drums) and Steve Kara (electric guitar, bass, mandolin). Jesus Rock historian Ken Scott described Gentle Faith as "lots of good spirited, rural Jesus music in the classic Maranatha tradition." Their 1976 self-titled album had everything from gentle rock to banjo hoe-downers to blues. Particularly noteworthy was Jerusalem, a stirring ballad with a great electric guitar solo.
Glow in the Dark (Good News, 1976)
Chuck Girard's self-titled debut made our list, as did three Love Song albums...but, in hindsight, Chuck's solo material probably should've made the list more than just once. Girard cut his teeth in secular rock bands like the Hondells and Castells, drifted into drugs and the whole Southern California hippie subculture, then came to Jesus and became perhaps the most influential member of the classic Jesus Music band known as Love Song. When that band ended, Girard released a string of solo albums throughout the 70s and into the 80s. Glow in the Dark and Written on the Wind were decidedly more mellow than his first album.
Glow in the Dark benefited from performances by Leland Sklar (bass), Jon Linn (electric guitar), John Michael Talbot (acoustic guitar), and Al Perkins (steel guitar).
Former Love Song members Bob Wall, Jay Truax, and Denny Corell all sang backup vocals on the project. The soaring Callin' You is reminiscent of some of Love Song's best work, while the bluesy Something Supernatural was somewhat controversial. "Something Supernatural was the only blues based song in all my albums," wrote Chuck Girard on his website. "It was certainly one the first R-rated Christian lyrics, containing references to Playboy Magazine, alcohol, and other vices, as well as the line Try to get it on, a reference to sexual involvement." Glow in the Dark is also fondly remembered for a song called Old Dan Cotton.
Written on the Wind (Good News, 1977)
Written on the Wind was more of a concept album. "I wanted to create an album which reflected my message in a more artistic way," Girard says. "I had been writing some songs which had taken a look at some important events in the Bible, and reflected on them from an outside perspective: the agony and ecstasy it must have been to be the mother of Jesus, the Crucifixion and Resurrection of the Lord, the future as reported in the book of Revelations. Yet, there are moments on Written On The Wind that are simple 'slices of life' written from a Christian perspective, more so than as a tool of evangelism or a personal proclamation of devotion to the Lord. All of these songs seemed to mesh together to create quite a different album for me. So different in fact, that when the album was first released, sales were dramatically slow, and I thought that I had my first 'bomb' on my hands. But as time went on, I guess the buzz was good, as sales picked up. Eventually the album sold as well as my others."
Written on the Wind contained some sweeping, epic sounding arrangements, and was the first Chuck Girard album to feature Girard himself at the piano. "I am not the greatest player on earth," Chuck admits, "but I have a feel for my own songs that is unique. For that reason, I feel that this album is the most 'me' of any of my previous work." The Wittenburg Door magazine once selected the song Plain Ol Joe from Written on the Wind as "the greatest Christian rock song ever written." I wouldn't go that far...but it is a great song. The album wraps with a hauntingly beautiful track called The Warrior. Terry Clark is featured on electric piano on this song, a dramatic, almost symphonic look at the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Take It Easy (Good News, 1979)
Take It Easy hearkened back to Girard's debut in that it was more of a straight-ahead pop/rock album. Dean Parks and Jon Linn played guitar on Take It Easy; Terry Clark and Jay Truax again sang backing vocals, while Abraham Laboriel played bass and Jim Keltner played drums. The record featured Full Immersion Ocean Water Baptism by the Sea, a song that forever immortalized the famous Calvary Chapel baptisms where young people would come by the dozens to be baptized by Pastor Chuck Smith in the Pacific Ocean. Take It Easy also contains one of my personal favorite Chuck Girard songs, His Word Is Still His Promise, a song about relying on the Truth of God's Word as feelings come and go.
Chuck's primary focus eventually turned to worship, as he has released several worship albums and has conducted seminars and conferences on the topic. Long before Nashville and Christian radio discovered that worship music as a genre could be very profitable, men like Terry Clark and Chuck Girard were leading audiences all over the country and around the world in life-changing, intimate, authentic worship.
PHIL KEAGGY with GLASS HARP
Song in the Air (Star Song, 1977)
The "wall of sound power trio" known as Glass Harp was Phil Keaggy's "mainstream" vehicle prior to his solo career. It is a rock band formed in Youngstown, Ohio in 1968 consisting of Keaggy on guitar, John Sferra on drums and Daniel Pecchio on bass. I say 'is' instead of 'was' because they still play together from time to time, all these years later.
Glass Harp gigged in and around Ohio, finding work anywhere from school dances to clubs. They eventually gained a following in the thriving music scene of Northeast Ohio, alongside contemporaries such as The James Gang to packed houses during the volatile days surrounding the anti-war demonstrations at Kent State University.
After signing with the Decca label, their eponymous debut album (as well as the two subsequent studio albums) was recorded in Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios (which might be the source of the infamous Hendrix/Keaggy rumor that has never been confirmed yet refuses to die). Soon they were opening for the likes of Alice Cooper, Chicago, Yes, Traffic, and Grand Funk Railroad, among many others.
With Keaggy on stage, the band's live shows demonstrated their ability to stretch out and expand the boundaries of their compositions. They were one of the pioneers of what would later be known as the jam rock genre, with songs many times reaching over 30 minutes in length with extended solo passages and improvisation.
On August 6, 1972, Phil Keaggy played his final show with Glass Harp. Phil had become a Christian in 1970 and had written Christian-themed lyrics throughout his time in Glass Harp, causing tension within the band. Keaggy left and found an audience in the burgeoning Jesus music scene, and later achieved worldwide fame as both a songwriter and instrumentalist as it evolved into Contemporary Christian Music. Glass Harp temporarily disbanded on December 2, 1973.
Song in the Air is basically a collection of just the Christian-themed content from Glass Harp - an attempt by Star Song records to capitalize on Keaggy's popularity with Christian audiences in the late 70s. The record represents what historian Ken Scott calls "the Jesus music side of Glass Harp."
In January 1997, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened an exhibit called "My Town." Because the exhibit focused on Cleveland's rock and roll history, Glass Harp was invited to give a special performance and Q&A session at the Museum in April 1997. Currently, Glass Harp is represented in the Museum's ongoing "Cleveland Rocks" exhibit. They made a second appearance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, again featuring a performance and a Q&A moderated by Rock Hall curator James Henke. So Phil Keaggy is featured in an exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio...but as a member of Glass Harp, not for his prodigious solo career.
After numerous reunion concerts over the years, Glass Harp remains semi-active, performing one-off headlining shows and short tours. In an August 2012 interview, Keaggy said, "We've been lifelong friends. We really love each other as friends and brothers."
Good News (Maranatha, 1975)
Good News was an early Jesus Music group that never really broke through and made its mark, but contained more than its share of talent. Billy Batstone, Bob Carlisle, David Diggs, and Erick Nelson were all members of the group; Keith Green was also featured on the band's second and final album. The self-titled Good News album was recorded when a friend of David Diggs loaned the band $3,000 to cover recording costs. Cornerstone magazine called that record "one of the best products to come out of Maranatha! Music...a sophisticated blend of acoustic and harder rock elements, producing an excellent overall sound." The song Tear Down the Walls features a teenage Bob Carlisle on lead vocal and has been referred to as a "rock and roll classic" by one reviewer. The record's standout track is said to be a ballad called Picking Up the Pieces (which was also included on the album Maranatha Four (from 1974).
Amy Grant (Myrrh, 1977)
My Father's Eyes was a much better record and made our list, but an argument can be made for this album as well, due to its historical significance. After all, this is where it all started for the woman who went on the be CCM's Queen of Pop. Brown Bannister called Chris Christian and said, "You've got to hear this girl from my church youth group," or words to that effect. Christian is said to have signed on as Amy Grant's producer after hearing a demo played over the phone. Evie was already a big Christian music star, but she was primarily an inspirational artist who dipped her toe in Jesus Music now and then. Honeytree was dubbed "the First Lady of Jesus Music," but she was a hippie chick with limited appeal. Conditions were perfect for Grant to explode and take off in 1977. She was young, earnest, attractive, and became that Carol King-esque performer that had, to that point, gone missing from the CCM world. Really, there was no "CCM" world before Amy Grant. In hindsight, her teaming with Chris Christian basically gave Christian the opportunity he needed to create a new genre of music. It was a lot more pop than rock, contained a lot of "God as my girlfriend songs," and gave radio stations some music they could play without inciting a riot. For her part, Grant was scared to death. She was a kid when she made this record. She was reportedly so nervous she insisted on singing with the lights off. Although very calm and simple by today's standards, Amy Grant did yield several "hits," if you could call them that. Mountain Top, Beautiful Music, Old Man's Rubble and a cover of What a Difference You've Made (In My Life) were favorites from that album. Grant wrote or co-wrote seven songs on the album. The record's original cover has been panned and derided as "ugly" (which is incredibly rude). The photographic technique used did not present Amy in the most flattering light possible, but she was by no means "ugly." After Grant became a big star, this album was re-released with a new cover (deemed more suitable, I guess).
Unless you've been under a rock for forty years, you know that Amy Grant continued to grow in popularity as an artist, and exploded after a record called Age to Age in 1982. Unguarded (1985) cemented her status as CCM's reigning Pop Queen, while 1987's Lead Me On, a favorite of critics, is considered to be one of the all-time great recordings in the history of CCM. She also had a great deal of secular success with a record called Heart in Motion. She's been a lightning rod for controversy over the years (her divorce from Gary Chapman and all-too-quick marriage to country-artist-next-door Vince Gill alienated many fans, and her popularity with the so-called "LGBT community" is something that she seems to relish). However, she remains one of the darlings of CCM and Christian music's most successful export to the world-at-large...and it all started with this album by a shy youth group girl in 1977.
Covenant Woman (Sparrow, 1977)
Janny Grein was a soulful folk singer whose songs were grounded in the Word of God. She didn't grow up in a Christian home, but became a follower of Jesus after watching a broadcast of the movie King of Kings on television in the early 70s. Janny signed with Billy Ray Hearn's Sparrow Records; her first two albums are considered Jesus Music classics and showcase her voice (which is said to sound like a cross between Connie Francis, Janis Ian and Carol King). Covenant Woman was Janny's greatest triumph. CCM historian Mark Allan Powell writes, "The song Bread on the Water and the title track quickly became favorites among aging Jesus freaks who were ready for Grein's mature and sensitive style." Interestingly, Covenant Woman featured several veteran performers from Andrae Crouch & the Disciples, including Bili Thedford, James Felix, Bill Maxwell, and Harlan Rogers.
Janny's husband Bill was a photographer who contributed to several memorable Jesus Music record covers, such as Honeytree's Evergreen, Don Francisco's Forgiven, and Take Me Back by Andrae Crouch & the Disciples. A year long battle with cancer finally came to an end for Janny on August 4, 2011. Her husband Bill passed away following a stroke just 54 days later.
Danniebelle (Light, 1974)
Born October 6, 1938 in Pittsburgh, the fourth of eight children, Danniebelle learned to play piano at the age of three. She played for her home church and also sang with her sisters. After moving to San Francisco when she was 17 years old, she got married and had three children. In 1969 Danniebelle formed a group called The Danniebelles (catchy!) and gained a notable overseas following. But most of us met her (and fell in love with her) when she joined Andrae Crouch & the Disciples. Her crystal clear voice and anointed performances were extremely memorable on songs like Take Me Back, Tell Them, My Peace I Leave With You and Soon and Very Soon. Her solo career began with this self-titled album, which featured funky, big production numbers like Keep Holdin' On and Come On, Come On. Produced by Bill Maxwell, this record benefited from performances by some great studio musicians as well as several veterans of AC&D. Fletch Wiley, Andrae Crouch, Phyllis St. James, Hadley Hockensmith, Wilton Felder, Dean Parks, Harlan Rogers, Joe Sample, Ernie Watts and Sandra Crouch were among those lending a helping hand. All in all, she recorded eight solo albums and spent the better part of three decades ministering and traveling worldwide. Danniebelle suffered from multiple health issues and went Home on December 28, 2000.
"...Yes, there are some of us who have laid down our lives
But we all shall live again on the other side
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King..."
PAM MARK (HALL)
Flying (Aslan, 1975)
Pam Mark Hall is a Dove and Grammy nominated artist with two gold albums to her credit. It all began with this record on the small Aslan label in 1976. A friend and protege of John Fischer, she's too far left for my tastes. For example, the bio on her website makes sure to mention her commitment to so-called "social justice" and talks about how she was "influenced greatly" by the music and "social activism" of Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, and others. But her debut album is fondly remembered and contains performances from Fischer and Dan Collins. Hall would go on to record more synth-laden pop records in the 80s and wrote a song that was recorded by Amy Grant (The Now and the Not Yet). Her songs have been recorded by the likes of Debby Boone, First Call, The Imperials, Noel Paul Stookey, Russ Taff, Geoff Moore, Kathy Trocolli and Rob Frazier.
Fun Fact: At age 16, Pam toured nationally as a cast member of "Up With People," where she sang in a trio with actress-to-be Glenn Close.
EDWIN HAWKINS SINGERS
Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord (Pavillion, 1968)
This record is actually outside the time frame...but it should've been considered for inclusion on this list on the strength of one song: Oh Happy Day. Originally recorded by the Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1968, it became a mega-crossover hit in 1970, reaching No. 4 on the US Singles Chart, No. 1 in France, Germany and the Netherlands and No. 2 on both the UK singles chart and Irish Singles Chart. It has since become a gospel music standard, covered by numerous artists. My personal favorite rendition is the one I heard first - by the Imperials on their 1973 double live album.
WALTER HAWKINS and the LOVE CENTER CHOIR
Love Alive (Light, 1975)
Here's another Hawkins family album (this time by Edwin's brother Walter) that might've been considered based on the popular appeal of one song: Goin' Up Yonder. Walter's wife (and Andrae's ex-girlfriend) Tramaine does that song up right on this 1976 album from the Love Center Choir. "Lady Tramaine" certainly had a powerful set of pipes. They were put to excellent use on this album that remained on Billboard's music charts for over four years.
Mark Heard (Airborn, 1975)
This one should've been considered for inclusion, perhaps, due to historical significance alone.
On Turning to Dust (AB Records, 1978)It was Heard's debut solo album (originally released in 1975 and re-issued in 1978 on AB Records). Obvious similarities to James Taylor.
Through A Child's Eyes (Sparrow, 1976)
Described by one author as "one of contemporary Christian music's greatest natural resources," Annie Herring was an incredible talent. A passionate singer, prolific songwriter and powerful pianist, she was the driving force behind the 2nd Chapter of Acts. Historian Mark Allan Powell said that Herring was "the slugger who could belt a song out of the park every time she got up to bat." A Jesus Music classic, Herring's first solo album was helped along by performances from Mike Deasy, David Hungate, Michael Omartian, Leland Sklar, David Kemper, Lee Ritenour, Bili Thedford, Matthew Ward, and Stormie Omartian. Contains the classic songs Dance With You and Grinding Stone, which has been called an "absolute masterpiece." Herring would go on to record a string of solo projects but will always be remembered for her role with her siblings in the 2nd Chapter of Acts (which officialy came to an end in 1988).
Love Song for the Earth (Myrrh, 1976)
Little known to American audiences, Hewitt was a mainstay in the UK, writing and performing Jesus Music as early as 1973. Love Song for the Earth is considered a roots-rock classic. His style is described as folk-rock with an emphasis on harmonica and hand-clapping. Bryn Haworth contributed backing vocals, dobro, electric guitar, 12-string guitar, slide guitar, harp and mandolin. Oh yeah, he produced the album, too.
...didn't He shine! (Impact, 1973)
The popular and prolific Mr. Holm released twelve albums in the 1970s. The Dallas Holm & Praise Live album from 1977 made our list due, primarily, to the inclusion of one of the biggest Easter/Ressurrection themed songs in the history of Christian music - Rise Again. I guess the only thing that kept more Dallas Holm records off our list is the same dynamic that affected John Fischer's recorded catalog; i.e., a basic "everyman" quality to the recordings and the fact that no one album stands head and shoulders above the others.
DALLAS HOLM & PRAISE
Tell 'Em Again (Greentree, 1978)
That said, a case can be made for including Didn't He Shine, Peace Joy and Love, and Tell 'Em Again. Didn't He Shine was an important song; Love Peace and Joy contained the huge hit Jesus Got A Hold of My Life; and Tell 'Em Again (released with a backing group known as Praise) contained much-loved songs such as At My Worst (You Found Me), Here We Are, What Will You Do, and the title track.
The Way I Feel (Myrrh, 1974)
She has 4 albums on our list; arguments could be made for two more. The First Lady of Jesus Music has a special place in the hearts of Jesus freaks everywhere; The Way I Feel is one reason why. With Phil Keaggy along for the ride, Honeytree delivers an important collection of songs in the folk tradition. Heaven's Gonna Be A Blast and Hummer Bummer Bashmobile are two favorites from this album.
Me and My Old Guitar (Myrrh, 1977)
Me and My Old Guitar was a live record that includes some of Honeytree's greatest hits and a heapin' helping of her unpretentious, down-home between-songs banter. (But what were they thinking with that album cover?!) Interestingly, it was produced by Chris Christian. For more on all things Honeytree, click here, here, here and here.
Time to Get It Together (Impact, 1970)
We've already reviewed four albums by these guys, with one more to go. The fact that there were five more albums by them that could've legitimately made this list tells you two things:
1. They were a truly legendary group with an outsized presence in the 1970s
2. I LOVE The Imperials.
The vocal group, the franchise, the brand known as The Imperials won a slew of Doves and Grammys, recorded more albums than we can count, enjoyed tons of radio airplay, backed Elvis Presley live on stage, and served as a launching pad for numerous successful solo artists. They began in the early 60s and continue (in one configuration or another) even as I write this. But they arguably made the biggest impact in the decade of the 1970s. That's when they bridged the chasm between southern gospel and Jesus Music; that's when they integrated the group and became literal trendsetters on a number of fronts; and that's when they completed the transition from gospel quartet to pop vocal band to CCM royalty.
Time to Get It Together sounded cultural alarm bells when it was released in 1970. It contained contemporary folk versions of classic gospel songs and spirituals, as well as covers of "spiritually-aware" songs from the secular music world. It also contained covers of songs by Larry Norman and Michael Omartian, sending a message to those of us who grew up immersed in the southern gospel subculture that we were all entering a brave, new world together.
Follow the Man with the Music (Impact, 1974)
Follow The Man With The Music should have been on this list. I should've found a way to make room for it. If for no other reason, because Terry Blackwood has told me that it's his favorite Imperials album. Includes covers of Jesus Music songs by Danny Lee, Love Song and Kris Kristofferson. The cover of Jesus Got A Hold of My Life outdoes the original by Dallas Holm. And He's On His Way is one of the best Second Coming songs ever.
Sail On (Dayspring, 1977)
Sail On introduced Russ Taff to the world. Water Grave, Bread on the Water, Try Again, and the title track were all great songs, with Chris Christian producing.
Heed the Call (Dayspring, 1979)
Heed the Call, again with Chrs Christian at the helm, was a bit of a nod back toward the group's years as a gospel quartet. Novelty song Oh Buddha was a crowd-pleaser, while Praise the Lord became one of the group's all-time biggest songs.
For more on the illustrious history of this award-winning group, click here, here, here and
And now, back to your regularly scheduled countdown of
the 100 Greatest CCM Albums of the 1970s...