This is it. Today, we unveil the top five. The best of the best in the top 25 Christian albums since 1990.
Who made it? Who got left off? And what was it exactly that “wiggled around like marmalade jelly”?
You can see the entire top 25 countdown along with a Spotify playlist or you can look at the other groups of five and see why we chose each one:
- #6-10 – Caedmon’s Call, Audio Adrenaline, Sixpence None The Richer, NEEDTOBREATHE, MercyMe
- #11-15 – Third Day, Jennifer Knapp, Lecrae, Michael W. Smith, Relient K
- #16-20 – Andrew Peterson, Rich Mullins, P.O.D., Jon Foreman, Josh Garrels
- #21-25 – Tenth Avenue North, Casting Crowns, Veggie Tales, 4Him, Amy Grant
Let us know what you think about the top five or the entire list of the top 25 Christian albums of the last 25 years. Tweet about it using the hashtag #25in25.
The Top Five Albums
It was released when it I was a mere five years old, but Take Me to Your Leader’s classic Newsboys funk rock feel filled my ears for years. I’m pretty sure it wore out my Walkman at one point.
While Take Me to Your Leader did not garner as many number one hits as Step Up to the Microphone (my personal favorite album of theirs), it was an iconic 90s Christian music album, usually known for its title track, “Take Me to Your Leader,” and the unforgettable “Breakfast” song. I still think of Captain Crunch waving farewell when I see the cereal on the grocery store shelves and laugh, though the song is sorta depressing when you think about it.
The Newsboys have changed faces a few times over the years, but Peter Furler will always be the front man, and Duncan Philips still misses leg-day at the gym all these years.—CM
Without a major record label or any label at all, Switchfoot felt complete freedom in making their fourth studio album. They finished it in two weeks. Shortly thereafter, they had a major record deal and a hit record. Billboard recognized it as one of the top 200 albums of the decade.
“Gone” was a fun song that reached number one on Christian charts, but three breakout songs pushed this album to double platinum status. “This is Your Life” spent time on rock mainstream, and Christian charts. “Dare You to Move” won two Dove Awards and was listed as one of the top 100 tracks of the decade by Rhapsody. But it was “Meant to Live” that made listeners take notice. Inspired by a T.S. Eliot poem and a U2 song, while alluding to books from C.S. Lewis and John Steinbeck, it displayed depths of sound and lyrics.—AE
Steven Curtis Chapman (SCC for us fans) breaks boundaries lyrically and musically with Speechless. With this album going platinum and winning a Grammy and multiple Dove awards – should be your first inclination that SCC is on to something good. A record full of number one hits – the title track, Speechless, was written by (of course) Chapman and non other than Geoff Moore (like Geoff Moore and the Distance – CLASSIC.) Standing the test of time, Speechless still provides a life changing message, even after even 15 years.—LM
Drum loops, acoustic guitars, and harmonies. It sounds like such a simple formula for an album. And it’s not often albums can remain relevant across multiple decades. Yet two million units later, Jars of Clay’s self-titled album is one that is just as good today as it was 20 years ago.
Jars gave us something in 1995 that I don’t think we were ready for at the time. And looking back, the quartet from Greenville, Illinois, might say the same about themselves. Almost overnight, “Flood” was crossing over into alternative radio and the video was all over MTV. Jars rose to stardom that few Christian bands have ever reached and sold out arenas many CCM artists could only dream of.
But it was the music and the lyrics we fell in love with. And it wasn’t just the radio hits. Almost hidden right next to “Flood” in the track listing are the gems “Boy on a String” and “Worlds Apart.” Along with “Like a Child,” these songs represent what made this album so good to so many. The catchy hooks, lyrical word play, and name-dropping of Greek mythological characters made this album unforgettable.
While they’ve never quite recaptured the massive, lightning-in-a-bottle success they enjoyed with their self-titled album, the opening chords to “Love Song for a Savior” still will perk the ears of listeners—even if the song happens to be used as the background music for online dating commercials.—JH
Really. What else were you expecting here?
This album, released in 1995, achieved the highest first-week sales of any Christian album in history. Eventually reaching double platinum, the album combined pop and rock with hip-hop and rap, and played on secular stations (the true test of CCM album legitimacy), including MTV and VH1.
Serving as many Christian 90s kids’ first CD, Jesus Freak also featured many kids’ first memorized raps. Hits like “Colored People,” “What If I Stumble?,” “Between You and Me,” “In the Light,” and the title track, played on CCM stations for years, inspiring countless interpretive movement routines and skits. The real reason this album is top in our list is because we bet you can complete this sentence: “There was a man with a tat on his big fat belly…”—EH
You know you’ve done it. You know you’ve lip synced to “Jesus Freak.” But you probably haven’t recorded it and put it on YouTube for everyone to see. But our very own Lydia and Elizabeth did … and dropped the mic.
Just as a comparison, here is a vintage 90s performance of “Jesus Freak” by dcTalk at the 27th annual Dove Awards, where it won Song of the Year.
The selection committee
Zach Delph is on Twitter at @zeejaydee.
Aaron Earls blogs at TheWardrobeDoor.com and is on Twitter at @WardrobeDoor.
Jonathan Howe‘s blog at HoweOriginal.com is “on sabbatical” in 2014, but you can find him on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.
Elizabeth Hyndman tweets at @edhyndman and blogs at edhyndman.com.
Chris Martin is at MillennialEvangelical.com and on Twitter at @ChrisMartin17.
Keep up with Lydia McMillan at @lemcmillan and lydiahatespurple.com.
Casey Oliver is not on social media, but he is the head statistician for a research company.
Amy Whitfield tweets at @acwhit and is the director of communications at SEBTS.