The Top 100 Christian Albums of the 1990s: 70-61

Welcome back, everyone.

You know, taking the time to actually jot down notes on why I chose these albums has given my nostalgia factor a jumpstart, and I've found myself looking many of them up on Spotify and YouTube. Turns out many of these albums are NOT on streaming sources, so if you want to get your own copy, you may need to track one down. I'm just glad I got through writing tonight's installment so that I could watch the new season of Better Call Saul

You know, like all the good little former Christian kids.

70. ALL STAR UNITED - All Star United
"The question isn't whether it's true; the question: is it working for you? Marshmallow skies and custardy pies, and nothing's too hard to do." I'm sorry, what? That was the first thought in my head when I heard the first 10 seconds of ASU's debut. Ian Eskelin shed his candy-pop outer shell for a candy-coated rock fest, and it kind of works. Really well, actually. Muscular rock combined with well-honed pop melodies and true-to-life lyrics that spoke directly to the things the youth of the day could relate to. Then again, we didn't need another Christian song called "Angels", or "Torn", or "Drive", but we got them on this anyway, and wouldn't you know it, they weren't all that bad. A fun time.

Bob Carlisle has become somewhat of a joke since the mid-'90s for that schmaltzfest of a wedding song called "Butterfly Kisses". But before he tainted his reign as a solo artist, he was the frontman for a great band that combined, rock, blues, soul, and gospel in a creative way. Man With a Mission was the most adult, most mature addition to Allies' catalog, as well as the last. It's all here -- the screaming rock vocals, the radio-ready ballads, the smoother-than-they-should-be harmonies. If "Feather in Your Cap" doesn't get your blood pumping, nothing will, but if "Heaven" doesn't bring you to the edge of tears, you're truly dead inside. It's the one song, above all, that I want sung at my funeral, but I also want to sing it at someone else's funeral.

I never liked Rich Mullins (*ducks*). You see, I didn't hear about him when I was in college, thinking it was cool that he played so many instruments, and liking his quirky anti-gospel-establishment attitude. I heard him for the first time when the single "Verge of a Miracle" dropped in the 1980s, and I hated that song. His voice didn't sound good on it, it was all whiny and struggling to stay in tune, even the melody was mediocre. I couldn't believe this guy had been given a recording contract. Then "Awesome God" came out and EEEEEEEVERYBODY couldn't stop singing it, while I was having a problem getting past that "puttin' on the ritz" line. Seriously. More corny than Stryper lyrics.


Years later, I picked up Liturgy at a pawn shop. It wasn't my first choice -- I had to get a 5th CD to get 5 for $15, and nothing else sounded good. I'm glad to report that I was very pleasantly surprised by what I heard, and my respect for Rich Mullins shot up exponentially. With this record, it sounded like he had finally been given the artistic license he had wanted for almost 10 years. The imagery evokes items that most people would relate to, and it finally sounded like his voice was matching the music he wrote. To this day, this record stands out as one of the most influential CCM records of all time. It's not my favorite, but I still pull it out at least once a year and just take it in. And yet . . . #68.

67. DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR - Fleming & John
Fleming McWilliams' voice is an acquired taste to some, and I totally get why. The classically trained vocalist her husband, John Mark Painter (Steve Taylor and The Perfect Foil), blasted onto my radar in a big way with their cover of Steve Taylor's "Harder to Believe Than Not To" from the I Predict a Clone tribute album (see #73 on this list), and when their debut arrived, I had to have it. Man, what a great shot of adrenaline mixed with gasoline mixed with a puma riding a dragon. It's not everyday you hear a woman sing out a beautiful full-throated soprano one minute, then raspy, soul-baring rock the next, and Fleming was awesome at it. "I'm Not Afraid" was even picked up as a single, and used by NBC for one of that season's promotional campaigns, but it was just the tip of the wedding cake. This was mid-'90s rock at its absolute best, and not an ounce of filler exists on this collection of tunes.

66. HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL - The Echoing Green
The only problem I have with Joey Belville is that he sounds like a slightly more manly version of the guy from Erasure. After hearing a couple tracks from a couple samplers, I was expecting electronica/pop, but the first track, "Fall.4", blasts in with a healthy does of guitars. Upon finding that Kevin 131 (aleixa) was at the production helm, it made total sense. Hope is a great combination of electronic music with healthy rock without either ever overshadowing the other, and it made me a fan. Joey B. and company would take different musical avenues with subsequent recordings, but this was a great, solid record that sits firmly in 1997. It's almost indicative of what was happening with music at the time (Madonna going electric, for example).

Speaking of fitting firmly inside the 1990s . . . DigHayZoose was the Christian music equivalent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and as with all clones, they had a shelf life. Luckily, they had this gem in their holster. I'm not sure I can do it justice by describing it here, but imagine alternative wrapped in a rock made of funk, jazz, and psychedelic rock, and you'd come close. Oh, and long hair and jean shorts. DHZ made their mark on the alternative scene with scorching numbers like "Secret", "Slatherage", and "Circle of Pain", but "Dancing in Concert with The Infinite" set the tone -- a massive worship song that didn't sound like ANY worship song up to that point. With that opening statement, DHZ had our attention (something that Rocketboy never could get, despite what they tried to tell you).

64. II - Saviour Machine
I saw Saviour Machine's Live in Deutschland CD in my local Christian bookstore, and I almost bought it based on the cover alone. But I didn't know what to expect. Then a few weeks later, someone at my church had this album with him, and I took a look at some of the lyrics. They were dark, but poetic and beautiful. When I asked him what kind of music it was, he said, "Gothic rock opera." "Gothic" sounded cool, but I wasn't sure on the "rock opera" part of it. 2 years later, I had heard great things about SM's Legend Part I, and I bought the only copy left at that same bookstore. Saviour Machine instantly became one of my favorite bands. Their second full-length release, II, cemented their place not only in my heart, but also in the realm of the music scene. The songs follow a type of narrative of a man living in a world that has completely rejected him, finding solace in nobody whatsoever.. Not man, not government, not institutionalized religion, and not religion's followers. Nobody, except Christ. A relentless, pounding, emotional ride, and not for the faint of heart.

63. FIRE AND LOVE - Guardian
For a while in the '90s, everything John & Dino Elefante touched turned to gold. Hot, liquid gold. (Then 1993 came along . . . but that's another story.) Guardian's sophomore effort was released on the Elefante brothers' label Pakaderm Records, and with the brothers at the production helm. These guys knew how to make a record sound great, but with Guardian, they didn't have to do much. Guardian fit right into that hair metal pocket like professionals -- every scream of Jamie Rowe's voice, every searing solo from Tony Palacios's guitar, and every backbeat provided by David Bach and Karl Ney on bass and drums filled in the gaps very nicely. When it was released, it was a powerhouse record that got the attention of even MTV. And even though it dawned just as alternative rock was starting to come out of the closet, the album still felt immediate, as though this sound was as timeless as the message. Drawing comparisons to Poison, this was metal that had an edge, but that you could also play for your mom, because she probably would have thought that Tony P. was hot.

To this day, I have no clue how I've remembered the name of this, Hot Pink Turtle's only album. One thing's for sure, the music was unique. This album was most definitely rock . . . but it had some metal undertones . . . and it was kind of alternative . . . whatever, it was pretty stinking awesome. And there wasn't much like it in the industry at the time. My only harp about the album was that it contained only 9 songs, which ISN'T A FULL ALBUM. I don't care what they did in the old days, Hippie Joe. Still, Phil and the guys made a set of songs that stuck with you, including multiple key and time signature changes, soaring vocal lines, and heavy, crunchy guitars that would keep you awake at night. Not in a scary way, though. If you can find one of the long lost copies of this album, do yourself a favor and check it out. It'll be well worth your time.

61. TRANSFORMATION - Eric Champion
This album could not have been more aptly titled. His 1994 release Vertical Reality moved him away from straight AC/Pop into "artist" territory with an album that sort of fit the idea of a concept record (not in the best way, but at least he tried). But on Transformation, Eric Champion shifted gears. Hard. We still had the electronics, but they were reduced to mostly Moog and other analog synths, with some sequencing thrown in for good measure.The guitars took center stage in various forms. Distorted, punk, post-punk, alternative, and a few songs with some cleaner, less aggressive sounds that still kept the vibe of the album in the right place. This was the first album where Champion not only sounded kind of cool, but also the most relaxed. Stands to reason, as he played several instruments on the record. But we got to see the fun, playful side of him, too, especially on the weirdest cover of an Amy Grant tune I think I've ever heard ("Every Heartbeat"). This was something different, something that made more sense to the generation that was coming of age in 1996, and the production values made it sound like it was coming out of a garage somewhere . . . which was actually a welcome development. It's not without its faults, but even the lyrics that might sound hokey coming from another musician don't sound as juvenile or unrefined on this album (a problem that would, unfortunately, resurface on Champion's next album, Natural).

I can't wait to get through the rest of this list. In the meantime, if you haven't heard any of these in a while, look them up. You won't be sorry.

There Is No Box.