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  CCM Top 100/Greatest Songs in Christian Music, Volume 1
Artist: Various Artists
Label: Creative Trust Workshop (2004)
Length: 25 Tracks (110:40 minutes)

OK, a committee got together to pick the 100 greatest CCM songs of all time. Since lists are purely subjective, these decisions will do exactly what they are supposed to do: cause people to take interest in the project, and debate the merits of the choices made.  I could be a contrarian and refuse to do that, but what fun would that be?

Disc One opens with “Awesome God” by Rich Mullins, a song he would be appalled to see here.  Still, it is undeniably his best known song, so we’ll give the committee a pass.  The next two songs, “Testify to Love” (Avalon), and “People Get Ready” (Crystal Lewis), do not make any top 25 list in my world.  Next case.

“Praise the Lord” (Imperials)? Yes.  “Consuming Fire” ­ Third Day? Not even their best song, let alone top 25 ever.  Amy Grant is next, with “Lead Me  On”.  Her best song on her best album, so it can stay.  “Where There is Faith” by 4Him? No.  No.  No.  Now we get on a good run of songs…

Twila Paris ­ “The Warrior is a Child”.  “In the Light” ­ Charlie Peacock. “We Are His Hands” by the vastly underrated White Heart.  Steven Curtis Chapman ­ “The Great Adventure”.  Petra ­ “More Power to Ya”.  No problems here, although it could be argued that Chapman has at least five songs more appropriate than this one.  And thank the Lord the committee had the sense to include a Petra song that features Greg X. Volz on vocals.  On to disc two…

“God of Wonders” from City on a Hill leads off, and belongs in just that spot.  Sandy Patty follows with “Love in Any Language”.  Hmmm.  No “We Shall Behold Him”?  No “Via Delorosa”?  Michael W. Smith’s crossover hit “Place in This World” is next.  Excuse me?  While I never, ever need to hear it again, “Friends” is the only selection by Smith that should be here.  “Stand” by Susan Ashton?  Sorry, if I don’t immediately recall a song, it doesn’t belong in the top 25.  “Rise Again” (Dallas Holm) ensues.  Keep it.

Jennifer Knapp comes in with “Undo Me”.  Honestly, is Knapp on anyone’s top 25 artists of all time?  A big miss on this one.  D.C. Talk’s “What If I Stumble?” is slotted next.  Um, committee? Ever hear a song called “Colored People”? “Jesus Freak?”  Wrong choice.

I promise, I’m almost done.  “Say the Name” by Margaret Becker is followed by BeBe and CeCe Winans’ “Heaven”.  Yes to the former, no to the latter. Leslie Phillips makes a rare appearance on a CCM disc with “Be the Strength of My Life”.  OK.  Point of Grace’s “The Great Divide”?  Not something I’d prefer, but it probably belongs.

Now to the remakes.   Across the Sky covers “When God Ran”, originally done by Benny Hester.  Warren Barfield adds “Oh Lord You’re Beautiful” by Keith Green.  Both tunes absolutely should be here, but why cover versions?  The originals stand up to this day, and should have been used. 

This is why lists are fun.  Music and sports, for those of us who like debate, are the two most enjoyable subjects about which to argue.  I look at this list, and wonder about the next 75 songs.  I certainly hope that Steve Taylor, Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Mylon LeFevre, and a plethora of others will be represented in volumes two through four.  If not, a similar rant may be forthcoming.  Until then…

Brian A. Smith
18 October 2004

Any CD with the word "greatest" in its title is bound to draw its share of both controversy and ire.  From greatest hits collections – which, as often as not, leave off one or more tracks that fans of the group or individual represented consider key – to efforts like the first volume of CCM Magazine's Top 100 Greatest Songs in Christian Music – which up the ante by including the work of multiple artists – the task of choosing a track list is seldom an easy one. 

Of course, the debate over what exactly constitutes a Christian song is ongoing.  While some contend that it is any song that includes a Biblically-informed world view, regardless of its subject, others feel that only songs which mention God specifically should be considered.  Adhering to the latter view, the compilers of the 100 Greatest Songs discs (each of the four CDs in the series will include 25 tracks) used a combination of radio airplay, album sales, industry leaders' opinions and web-based voting in order to make their selections.

"Praise the Lord" from The Imperials and Dallas Holm's signature Resurrection ballad, "Rise Again," point out the still-blossoming CCM genre's indebtedness to classic Gospel music during the '70s.  Leslie Phillips' 1984 ballad "Strength of My Life" and "Lead Me On" from Amy Grant's landmark 1988 album of the same name, by comparison, highlight Christian music's increasingly pop-oriented approach during the Reagan Era.

By the mid-'90s, Christian artists became regular visitors to the Billboard mainstream charts.  And rightly so, as songs like Jennifer Knapp's "Undo Me," Susan Ashton's "Stand" and Third Day's "Consuming Fire" stand as worthy additions to their respective folk-rock, country-pop and post-grunge canons.  In the same way, "Testify to Love" from Avalon and "Heaven" by Bebe and Cece Winans showed that Christian performers could hold their own in the dance-pop and contemporary gospel arenas as well.  And "God of Wonders," from the seminal City on a Hill Songs of Worship and Praise project, stands as an ideal flag bearer for the now ubiquitous modern worship movement.

The web-based voting scheme arguably slants the track listing in favor those who buy CCM Magazine – that is, mostly younger listeners.  And, indeed, only two songs on the compilation predate 1980, which is unfortunate given that so much of the groundwork for current-day Christian music was laid during the all-important 1970s.  On the flip side of that coin, "God of Wonders" is the only entry on the anthology that dates from 2000 or later, and that song is five years old.  Adding to its time-related woes, the collection isn't sequenced in chronological order, which would have been particularly nice for a project like this one which takes in nearly thirty years of music.

But, even as it jumps back and forth, timewise, and leaves out more than a few key tracks, artists and sub-genres (heavy metal and hip-hop being among the more obvious omissions) along the way, the songs that are included are of uniformly high caliber.  While those looking for a more thorough investigation of the earliest days of Christian music will do well to pick up the 2001 Late Great Jesus Movement double-disc set, the CCM 100 Greatest Songs set hits the high points well enough and serves as a good primer to contemporary Christian music, particularly for those not already familiar with the genre.

Bert Gangl   11/4/2004

CCM’s Top 100 Greatest Songs in Christian Music tackles the unenviable and impossible task of assembling a compilation of the best of Contemporary Christian Music.  Some more critical folks might boldly proclaim that there ARE NOT 100 “Greatest” songs in CCM that can be brought together.  Conversely, Christian Adult Contemporary (AC) and Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) fans will enjoy this package immensely (although disagreement over what constitutes a “Top 100” list will abound).

As for this me, I was pleasantly surprised by the compilation.  Being a rocker at heart, I was amazed at how many songs I enjoyed.   Of course, there are a few songs that send me scrambling for the fast forward button (Sandy Patty’s “Love in Any Language” comes to mind), but for the most part this seems to be a pretty solid anthology.  Emphasis seems to be placed on more recent material (a plus from a production/sonic standpoint, but a minus if this is truly meant to represent a top 100 of CCM).  Nobody is going to agree on a Top 100 anyway.  It is nice to hear some of the older tunes (like Dallas Holm’s “Rise Again” along with newer classics like “God of Wonders” from City on a Hill.

Big, major points are deducted for the inclusion of two covers of classic songs:  Across the Sky’s (a vocal duo I like!) tepid version of Benny Hester’s “When God Ran” and a nice-but-out-of-place version of Keith Green’s “Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful” by Warren Barfield.  An anthology truly representing the best of CCM needs to include original versions.

It should be noted that this double-disc compilation is Volume 1, and only contains the top 25 songs.  I’ll look forward to checking out Volume 2, 3 and 4.

DJ Barry 


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