Monday, March 18, 2013

The Christian Music I Grew Up With, Part 2

In my last blog on this subject, I covered the easy listening, "contemporary Christian" sound and the cheesy teen pop. Now on to the stuff that most of the people around my in my youth group actually listened to: the rock and the worship. Today is just the rock, because, turns out, I had a lot I wanted to say about these groups.

Rocking Out For Jesus

Really, all you need to know about the cool Christian groups in the early 2000s is that there were three main groups that EVERYBODY listened to. Everybody. I liked them all, but here they are in order from least favorite to favorite.

1. Newsboys. They were definitely pop rock rather than rock rock, but they were still significantly cooler than any of the other pop I listened to. And they were edgy, because they sang the Breakfast song, which mentioned hell by name, which you weren't supposed to do in Christian music.

The best, most interesting era of the band was when Steve Taylor was writing their lyrics. Sometimes they got a bit too "look what I can do with words!" but some of them were fantastic. Take Me To Your Leader and Shine get my vote for most entertaining lyrically. A couple of their more overtly rocky hits: the re-recording of God Is Not a Secret and Cup O' Tea; some of their poppier hits: Step Up to the Microphone and Entertaining Angels.

2. Audio Adrenaline. Their 1999 album "Underdog" is still, in my opinion, one of the best albums Christian music has ever, ever created. They sort of became the poster band for youth group missions trips. How could they not? They had songs about youth group van road trips, being willing to go wherever God sent you, and everyone needing God.

They also had a silly sense of humor, which led to songs like The Houseplant Song, about rock music being bad for you, and Big House, a goofy song about playing football in Heaven. Though it wasn't quite as silly, Get Down also became the classic youth trip option of "light-hearted songs to get the teens involved at the beginning of worship." (I went on one trip where we sang it every morning.)

They also ultimately wrote some really nice, mellow, serious pieces. I'm a fan particularly of Ocean Floor, Never Gonna Be As Big As Jesus, and Good Life.

3. dc Talk. Oh, where to begin with dc Talk?

The group consisted of Kevin Max Smith, Toby McKeehan, and Michael Tait. (They're in that order on the above album picture.) They started off as a rap group, putting out two albums that were just straight hip hop. Cheesy 1990s pop hip hop, but ya know, close enough. Toby was the rapper, and the other two sang the choruses. Their third album, "Free At Last," branched out a little bit, offering songs like Socially Acceptable and Say the Words that were primarily non-rap, along with songs like Luv is a Verb and Jesus Is Just Alright that sounded more like what they'd been doing already.

And then along came Jesus Freak in 1995.

They went full rock on that album, giving no warning that that was going to happen, but it turned out to be one of the best Christian albums ever, as well as giving us the actual song "Jesus Freak," which pretty much defined an entire generation of teens. The album dealt with topics like racism, hypocrisy and wanting to avoid it, and asking for forgiveness from people you've wronged. This album connected with Christian teens in a powerful way. I was only nine when it first came out, but its influence was still obvious by the time I reached high school.

dc Talk's final album, "Supernatural," was a pop rock album that wasn't quite as earth-shattering as their previous one, but it still had some great songs, like Consume Me, Into Jesus, and the title track.

The group went their own separate ways after that to pursue solo careers. Toby has had the most successful solo career, taking the name "tobyMac" and putting out lots of Christian hip hop, though he's been edging toward a poppier sound these days.

Kevin dropped his last name and goes by "Kevin Max," and he's had a ridiculously varied career, releasing:

Michael formed the band Tait and released two albums before going on hiatus (neither of which I really listened to).

And now... here's the fun part.

In 2009, Newsboys' lead singer, Peter Furler, left the band to focus on his family. They announced shortly afterward that Michael Tait would join the band as their new lead singer. The band has been moderately successful since Michael joined the band.

In 2006, Audio Adrenaline disbanded. Lead singer Mark Stuart stepped down due to vocal issues (they thought it was because of overuse, but Wikipedia informs me he actually has a disorder which causes his larynx to spasm. Huh). In 2012, six years after their hiatus, it was announced that Kevin Max would reform the band and take over as lead singer. Their first album together came out just last week (with Mark Stuart co-writing several songs), and I have not yet gotten a chance to listen to it, but I'm super excited.

Now we just have to find an awesome old Christian band for Toby to take over.

This blog is already ridiculously long, but I wanted to take a quick moment to give a shout out to the rock bands that I still liked (in varying degrees) but were not quite as essential in my Christian music upbringing. I'm looking at you, Relient K, Superchic[k], P.O.D., and Jars of Clay.

I've spoken a crapload. Now it's your turn to talk if you want. What were your favorite Christian rock groups? Do you feel the ones I've mentioned are overrated?


  1. Well, my Christian listening was several decades before this. My favorites in my early years were:

    Michael Kelly Blanchard: Quail

    Keith Green: For Him Who Has Ears To Hear and No Compromise were my favorites

    Honeytree: no particular album, I just loved her sound and heart

    2nd Chapter of Acts: Mansion Builder was my favorite

    Petra: Not of This World

    Amy Grant: All her early albums - I got less interested in her middle cross-over albums but she got interesting again in the later years

    Larry Norman: Only Visiting This Planet

    Bob Bennet: Matters of the Heart

    1. I remember most of these too! Amy Grant probably could have ended up in my previous blog except that the years I started listening to music was right when she was doing her least interesting stuff, heh.

  2. My cousin was the one who introduced me to Christian music. She was a fan of this band called One Bad Pig. They were kinda punk rocky, with the lead singer listed as "lead screamer". I soon discovered the Family Christian Store, and the tape area. You could listen to the tapes before buying even! So fun. I think I got into Altar Boys, Guardian, Bride, and some others after that.
    I did like some DC Talk older stuff, but it wasn't until Jesus Freak that I really liked them. Interesting to note, the video was done by the same guy who did Nine Inch Nails video for Closer. Audio Adrenaline opened for DC Talk on that tour, heh.
    I did fall into the youth group trap of only listening to Christian rock for a while, but have mostly fallen out of it. There are some modern guys I like, POD being the number one guys, heh. Also, Kevin Max tweeted back to me a few times and I like bragging about that.

    1. I never listened to the heavier stuff, but I'd heard of them enough to recognize Bride, for example.

      Yeah, I think when dc Talk did Jesus Freak, people started paying attention. Because, well, that record was amazing. Heh.

      Kevin Max retweeting my love for him that one time pretty much made my day :)