10 Best CCM Albums You’ve Never Heard of

10 CCM albums you missed

As we first started discussing what would become our #25in25 list, we could count on our co-worker Bob Smietana informing us “young whippersnappers” that we were missing out.

So, we asked Bob to give us his own list. Here are five albums since 1990 and five bonus older albums.

5 Christian records you should have listened to over the last 25 years

Satellite Sky – Mark Heard

This was the final album from Heard, released not along after his death at age 41 in 1992. A remarkable songwriter and musician, Heard suffered a heart attack in his final concert, kept playing, and then died later at a hospital. His songs are haunting and filled with joy at the same time, with fabulous grooves.

His friend Buddy Miller summed up Heard’s work this way in a Christianity Today tribute: “… every word he sang and wrote rang true and sounded as if he knew it could be his last.”


Arise – William McDowell

I first heard a congregation sing McDowell’s “I Won’t Go Back” at The Church of the Living God, little-known African American congregation on Nashville’s East Side. The song stuck with me ever since and is enough to land this record on my list.


Songs from Bright Avenue – Bob Bennett

As an middle aged, bearded white guy who plays guitar, I’ve got a soft-spot in my heart for records by—you guess it—middle aged, bearded white guys who play guitar. Bob Bennett’s self-produced Songs from Bright Avenue is one of my favorites – from the clever satire of “Our Co-Dependent Love” to the bittersweet longings of divorced Dad in “Here on Bright Avenue.” Then there’s “Angels Around Your Bed,” which might be one of the best lullabies ever written, hands down.

Bennett’s 1985 record Non-Fiction is a classic and his 1983 record Matters Of The Heart won album of the year – but unfortunately they’re a bit too old for this list.


Joy in the Journey – Michael Card

This greatest hits collection is a bit of a cheat. Really wanted to include Card’s 1985 recording, Scandalon, which is awesome but too old. (Many thanks to my old friend Tracy Danz, now a bigwig at Zondervan, for recommending that I buy the cassette version when it first came out.)

Scandalon was re-released on CD in 2009 and is well worth picking up—as is this collection of songs that weave catchy tunes with theological insight.


Men and Angels Say – Ashley Cleveland

Almost nobody sings as well as Ashley Cleveland, in my book. This collection of bluesy, classic rock version of hymns is one of my favorites and well worth a listen. Cleveland, who’s struggled with addiction in the past, has said these old hymns were a lifeline for her, and she sings like someone who knows they’ve been saved from death.


5 older Christian albums you shouldn’t miss.

Non-Fiction – Bob Bennett

From the opening jazz riffs of “Savior of the World” to the fade out chorus of “Still Rolls the Stone,” this is the best contemporary Christian record ever. Skillful musicianship, catchy melodies, great vocals and lyrics that will stick with you for decades. What else could you want?


Only Visiting This Planet – Larry Norman

Without songs like “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music” and “The Great American Novel,” there would be no contemporary Christian music today. Larry Norman was imperfect and flawed as a person, but was a genius as singer and songwriter. His other albums, So Long Ago the Garden and In Another Land are also classics.


Welcome to Paradise – Randy Stonehill

Stonehill and Norman were like the Lennon and McCartney of early Christian rock. They co-wrote songs, played on each other’s albums, and made great music together – but their creative partnership and friendship didn’t last in the real world.

They mixed great melodies and riffs with social commentary – on topics from out of control capitalism (“The Winner”) to the dangers of smoking (“Lung Cancer”)—along with songs that inspire the soul. Great stuff.


Put Your Hand in the Hand – Ocean

This debut record from a Canadian gospel band includes one of the first great crossover hits of Christian music: “Put Your Hand in the Hand.” The song peaked at number 2 on the Billboard top 100 and sold over a million copies, helping prove that rock musicians could make money singing about Jesus.


The Painter – John Michael Talbot and Terry Talbot

Recorded with the London Chamber Orchestra, this Advent theme CD is well worth a listen, with cuts like the “Advent Suite,” “Paint my Life” and “Wonderful Counselor.”


So who’s top 10 do you like better? This collection from Bob or the top albums from our #25in25:

  1. Almost There – MercyMe
  2. The Outsiders – NEEDTOBREATHE
  3. Sixpence None The Richer – Sixpence None The Richer
  4. Underdog – Audio Adrenaline
  5. Caedmon’s Call – Caedmon’s Call
  6. Take Me to Your Leader – Newsboys
  7. The Beautiful Letdown – Switchfoot
  8. Speechless – Steven Curtis Chapman
  9. Jars of Clay – Jars of Clay
  10. Jesus Freak – dcTalk

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.