Recently, with the help of my online friends, I compiled a playlist of what many people consider to be some of the best songs in the history of Contemporary Christian Music. I now present it to you, free of charge. I’m sure there are some songs that should be added. Leave me a note in the comments section.
I’ve been listening to Christian music for a long time. I remember when the Newsboys were still the Newsboys, and not some weird mashup of dcTalk and random Australian guys. I remember Burlap to Cashmere, Earthsuit (featuring Paul Meany of MuteMath), and Stavesacre. I remember when Carman staged a Righteous Invasion of Truth (R.I.O.T.).
Here are the top five songs in the history of Christian Rock.
5. “Secret Ambition” by Michael W. Smith – Smitty holds a strange place in my heart. I get all conflicted inside when I think about Michael W. Smith. He is simulataneously awesome and cheesy, sort of like a Christian version of Billy Joel. He has written some fantastic songs, like “Secret Ambition”, and some horrendous songs, like “Friends”. “Secret Ambition” was the first song I ever truly loved. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny Smitty’s influence in the world of Christian Rock. Plus, nobody rocks a mullet and vest like Smitty.
4. “Chem 6a” by Switchfoot – I’m not a big fan of Switchfoot’s recent music, but I really liked them in their early days. They were one of the first Christian pop/punk bands. Bands like RelientK and Hawk Nelson simply followed in the footsteps of Switchfoot.
3. “Shine” by Newsboys – This is a tough one. The Newsboys formed sometime around 1913 and have been playing ever since. I have mixed feelings about the Newsboys. They really should have stopped playing when Peter Furler stopped being the lead singer. But they didn’t. Instead they drafted Michael Tait, formerly of dcTalk. Nevertheless, this is a great song from the best iteration of the Newsboys.
2. “Flood” by Jars of Clay – Jars of Clay are to Christian music what Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young were to rock. Their heavy acoustic sound combined with their ultra-tight harmonies were pretty awesome when they first broke into the Christian music scene. Every acoustic Christian artist should be compared to the original Jars of Clay.
1. “Jesus Freak” by dcTalk – If you have any argument with this being the number one song, then you obviously weren’t around when it released. This song dropped like a bombshell on the world of Christian music. For the first time there was a cool, edgy, moderately grungy band who were also Christians. People went out of their minds when this song first broke.
Okay, those are my top five. What would you include?
Ronnie Martin is/was a real life Christian rock star. He had/has (I’m not aware of the current status of these things) a label, a band, and music videos. He had all those things you thought you were going to have when you bought that guitar in high school. Now Ronnie is a worship leader/church planter/book author as well as a Christian artist. I wanted to ask Ronnie what it was like to be a Christian artist and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions.
What was the name of your band and what type of music did you do?
Joy Electric is the name I’ve recorded the majority of my records under. I’ve also done other side projects under the names The Brothers Martin, Ronald of Orange and my current project is entitled Said Fantasy, which I’m finishing a debut album for now.
Genre wise, most of these would fit under the electronic pop category. More specifically, my sound has been in using exclusively analog synthesizers to create both pop and experimental based music.
Did you win any important awards we should be aware of, such as a Dove Award, Grammy Award, or Nobel Prize?
I’ve been nominated for a Dove or two, but I decided a long time ago to turn down all those Grammy and Nobel Peace Prize awards that kept annoyingly coming in year after year. I decided to adopt phrases like “the work is my reward” instead.
What was the highlight of your career in the Christian music industry? What was the lowlight of your career?
You’re making it sound like I’m dead. The highlights are always the people, the performances and the interactions between artists. The lowlight is the Christian music industry as a whole and the total lack of gospel centeredness that it espouses in its marketing to the church. It’s a business, which is fine, but I’ve not seen very many artists make it through unscathed as the result. The low point was my ego and self focus, which The Lord had to strip away from me rather dramatically.
How did being in a Christian band effect you spiritually?
I think it was damaging in many ways. Many Christian artists are made to think that what they’re doing is in fact ministry, when the reality of it is that it’s simply moralistic entertainment. The latter isn’t necessarily bad, but it shouldn’t be confused with the former, which has the tendency for bands to think of themselves as pastoring the Christian youth of America, when in fact they are not. Christian music is a self consuming, celebrity based culture, and much like we’re seeing with the celebrity pastor phenom, there needs to be accountability and gospel awareness to guard against narcissism.
What are the differences between performing for a crowd and leading worship on a Sunday? Do you ever find yourself going back to rock star mode when you lead worship?
Depending on the type of church you’re at, there can either be enormous differences or very few! I believe aesthetics and style are what typically create concert experiences in church settings, but the heart of the worship leader is ultimately what drives the worship of the church.
Personally, the churches I’ve lead worship at have not made a spectacle out of it, and truthfully, singing “In Christ Alone” could never put me in “rock star mode” anyway. God has been gracious to me in this regard.
Now….when we talk about worship leaders who bow at the altar of Bono, never got a record deal, and play Hillsong United songs in front of thousands of church goers every week on multi-million dollar sound and light systems? That concerns me.
What are the strong points of the current Christian music scene? What are the weak points?
Because of the general decline of the music industry, the strong point is that there’s less of a distinction between artists in the Christian and general market, meaning that music can be better judged on artistic merit. The weak point is that the “Christian” industry suffers from as much of a lack of Christ as the general market. That’s not saying that there aren’t godly men and women in the industry….there are….but they’re working against the tide.
What advice would you give to a Christian who wants to make a living making music?
I would say….simply make the music you want to make and if The Lord blesses you with a career because of it, great. But remember that the gospel is seen more clearly through the artistic integrity of Christ minded artists than career minded ones.
What bands do you like to listen to?
Right now it’s the new Daft Punk album, which was recorded on analog tape at classic studios around the world. It’s an artistic statement for the times. I also love the classics like Kraftwerk.
Are you currently making any music? Can we listen to it somewhere?
I released a new Joy Electric album last fall called “Dwarf Mountain Alphabet”, which you can check out and buy at www.joyelectric.com.
My main emphasis these days is on a new church plant that I’m leading called Substance Church and some new book projects I have in the works.
Ronnie is also the co-author of the book Finding God In the Dark.
Here are some new tunes I’ve been enjoying lately. I’ve embedded a player for each album, or a song on each album, so RSS readers will need to click through the post to listen to the music.
West Coast Revival – “All That Thrills My Soul” – This is a new EP by my friends, Jonathan, Ryan, and Meghan Baird. I co-wrote the song “Behold Our God” with these awesome musicians.
The Gray Havens – “Where Eyes Don’t Go” – I first heard these guys on Tim Challies website. They’ve got a really cool sound. And you can download their album for free!
The Lumineers – “The Lumineers” – These guys are kind of like “Mumford and Sons” lite. I enjoy their folksy sound.
Chris Tomlin – “Burning Lights” – Gotta confess, I’m not a huge Chris Tomlin fan, but I have been enjoying this album.
Lights and Motion – “Reanimation” – If you need some good background music, this is your ticket.
2012 was a year full of good music. Here are my favorite listens from this past year. I’ve embedded one track from each album using Spotify, which you should use if you don’t already. (NOTE: I have not carefully combed through the lyrics of all the bands listed. I leave that up to you.)
Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal. Catchy melodies, not overly produced, nice harmonies, and just the right amount of build up in each song.
Bethel Music – The Loft Sessions. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of many worship albums because they all sound so similar. This one was refreshingly different.
Coldplay – Live 2012. I’ve always had a soft spot for Coldplay, and I really enjoy their live album. Because this is a live album, there are several F-Bombs not edited out.
The Shins – Port of Morrow. I really, really enjoyed this album.
Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself. Andrew Bird is one of those guys that you either love or hate. I really like him.
Wayfarer – The River. Another refreshingly different worship album.
Alright, those were my favorites. What about you?