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  WOW #1s:31 Of The Greatest Christian Music Hits Ever 
Artist: Various Artists 
Label: Provident
The easiest thing to do with WOW #1s would be to dismiss it as another volley in the compilation series that collects (Caucasian) Christian radio smashes for consumption by folks who want a plethora of hits in one place and newbies to contemporary Christian subculture. On more cuts than not, it's exactly the music that aesthetically vanguard magazines such as this one tend to avoid.

Since this tenth anniversary WOW installment announces itself as chock full of #1 hits, however, it's a draw to chart fiends such as myself. Since it's billed as an album full of chart-toppers, already it disappoints from the start.

Packaging and publicity materials reveal NOTHING about which charts in what trade publications these songs topped. Some knowledge of the vagaries of Christian radio's narrow-casting and bleeding of singles from format to format leads us to a few reasonable conclusions. Among them...

Whichever chart dc talk's "Jesus Freak" topped can't be the same one crowned by Michael English's "In Christ Alone;" the latter goes from the controversy of having been made a mighty anthem by an confessed adulterer to being covered by one-time (and future?) Backstreet Boy Brian Littrell as a preview of his solo album.
If either of these songs were #1s anywhere, the data was either lost on the WOW compilers, or, they topped no charts at all! If memory serves, God's Property's righteous funk workout "Stomp!" led Billboard''s mainstream R&B list in mid-'97. Not that the liner notes say so. In a Christian radio universe possessed with seemingly deathly fear of mixing soul music made by actual African-Americans into its pop/contemporary hits format could the same chart accommodate both God's Property and Jennifer Knapp's earnestly grooving folk-rock on "Undo Me?" Yes, but it probably has to do something with the former's only album going triple-platinum and music directors' desire to not have playlists that don't look like a National Alliance meeting. On the adult-contemporary and inspirational charts, Nicole C. Mullen had to revert from her Janet Jackson poses on her first two long-players to earthy, soul gospel-informed pop to score with "Redeemer" (and finally make decent records, truthfully). 

Short memory affects #1s' choices, too. CCM' Magazine's charts for Christian radio, from which presumably many or all of the listed #1 positions were taken, began in 1978. Only two songs predating the 1990s made it here. There's no disputing either the powerful imagery of Amy Grant's "Lead Me On" nor the  unshakable melody of Rich Mullins' "Awesome God, " both from 1988. That's all you're getting before the last decade of the 20th century rolls in with Michael W. Smith's "Place In This World." That Smitty song wasn't even a #1, if the notes are to be believed.

The notes themselves illuminate more than missed chart peaks. In his blurb about "He's My Son," Mark Schultz tells of how the cancer-stricken boy about whom he wrote his general market adult contemporary crossover survived the disease his father wished he could bear for him.  On a lighter note, Jars of Clay's Dan Haseltine shares how his band came up with the muddy and oh so minor key hip "Flood" on a cool, sunny day. Rebecca St. James notes how "God" sums up her continuing passion for-that's right-God. Not to mention her Jones for Alanis Morissette-styled angst at the time, yes?

Ultimately, like any given volume of its secular counterpart, NOW That's What I Call Music, this round of WOW  mixes and matches tunes beyond strict formatic boundaries. The jumble presents a consistently and slickly listenable, if highly edited, history of hooky God-pop from the past 17 years. Only because we know the limitations and peculiarities of the radio from which it sprung does it sound slightly schizoid. 
Jamie Lee Rake 4/22/2005


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