The most recent issue of Worship Leader Magazine released their list of the top twenty most influential worship albums of the last twenty years. Many of the album-mentions include articles of reflection and appreciation written by other worship leaders and songwriters in the mainstream worship music industry. The list is interesting and worth some analysis.
The Top Twenty
1. Delirious, Cutting Edge 1 & 2 (1994)
2. Chris Tomlin, Arriving (2004)
3. Paul Baloche, A Greater Song (2006)
4. Israel Houghton, Live from Another Level (2004)
5. Vineyard, Change My Heart, O God (1996)
6. Hillsong United, United We Stand (2006)
7. Matt Redman, Facedown (2003)
8. Gungor, Beautiful Things (2010)
9. Andrae Crouch, Pray (1997)
10. Passion, Better is One Day (1999)
11. Hillsong, Shout to the Lord (1996)
12. David Crowder Band, A Collision (2005)
13. Donnie McClurkin, Donnie McClurkin (1996)
14. Various Artists, The Heart of Worship: Live 97 (1997)
15. Jesus Culture, We Cry Out (2007)
16. Vineyard UK, Hungry (1999)
17. Michael W. Smith, Worship (2001)
18. Misty Edwards, Eternity (2003)
19. Tommy Walker, Break Through: Live at Saddleback (2006)
20. Third Day, Offerings (2000)
- I totally agree with #1 and #2. Cutting Edge really is the most definable “moment” when the shift from “contemporary worship” to “modern worship” took place, and many, many songs from Arriving have become go-to tried and true anthems for the contemporary evangelical church (just check the CCLI stats). Arriving, furthermore, is Tomlin’s seminal album.
- I’m very surprised that, of all the albums Matt Redman has made, Facedown made the list. If we’re speaking of influence, isn’t it obvious that The Heart of Worship (with the popular song by the same title), The Friendship and the Fear (with “Better is One Day”), or Where Angels Fear to Tread (with “Blessed Be Your Name”) deserve to be featured? The explanation says, “Facedown [is] the epitome of his craft and anointing.” I respectfully disagree. The aforementioned albums have all had more influence (which is the criterion Worship Leader is using). Granted, they mention The Heart of Worship: Live 97 as marking the introduction of the “British Invasion” of Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, and Kevin Prosch. Nevertheless, if we’re talking about Redman’s work, at least four other albums have been more influential than Facedown. Finally, with respect to Redman, my opinion is that his last two albums (We Shall Not Be Shaken, 10,000 Reasons) are breaking through to more complex, thoughtful, theologically rich, biblically reflective, and historically informed material.
- Hillsong United’s United We Stand and Hillsong’s Shout to to the Lord rightly deserve to be in this list. Darlene Zschech’s infectious song put the Aussies on the map, and Hillsong U, for better or worse, brought teenage-ish arena worship to the mainstream.
- Likewise, the Vineyard albums deserve their place. Vineyard has had a strong influence on modern worship, perhaps not with music as much as ethos. Vineyard typifies third wave Pentecostalism, whose spirituality and worship ideologies have highly influenced evangelicalism, such that denominations not historically tied to charismatic Pentecostalism (many times unknowningly) apply Pentecostal thinking to their worship theology and practice.
- The David Crowder album that should be on this list is Illuminate, not A Collision. Illuminate was to Crowder what Arriving was for Tomlin. “O Praise Him” and “Open Skies” really were the worship-influence breakout for Crowder to move from semi-national cult-following to mainstream-imbibed KLOVE airplay. Furthermore, it’s very hard to classify the concept album A Collision as a worship album. Though two or three songs became congregational material, this album marked a decided shift in focus from producing worship songs to making their albums art pieces (which, in my opinion, they are).
- I’m not sure why Jesus Culture is on the list. They are too new to judge influence.
- I agree with Third Day’s Offerings taking a place. Here we had a major CCM band breaking relatively new ground by making a “worship album” of popular worship songs of the day. This had several effects: (1) other artists began doing it; (2) popular worship songs started receiving mainstream radio airplay; (3) the line between congregational songs and pop-radio hits became much more blurry at this point. This is all very significant.
- The verdict is not out on Gungor. Worship Leader points out a strong musical influence to shift instrumentation and style in a new direction. Gungor is intensely musical and very creative. I hope they do influence the mainstream more. But have they done so yet? Putting them at #8 seems, at best, a prophecy.
- Where is Brenton Brown?
For an exercise as broad-sweeping as this, consensus is hard, and I recognize that. Still, it appears to me that, while there is some validity to this list, either (a) it was hastily drawn together to meet a publishing deadline, (b) it was compiled through the grid of “the industry” which ended up using different criteria than “influence,” or (c) both a and b.
Because Worship Leader is wedded to the industry and the labels, they are only going to mention those albums which are connected to the industry. Therefore, a highly influential grass-roots worship album like Indelible Grace (2000) won’t make the list. Ironically the Indelible Grace movement has influenced the industry. Several mainstream-labeled bands have re-recorded their material, including Jars of Clay (Redemption Songs) and Caedmon’s Call (In the Company of Angels I and II). Now, no Indelible Grace song has made the upper eschelons of the CCLI charts, but influence is more than popularity among mainstream evangelical churches who report their stats to the mothership. The hymn revival among young modern worship leaders and small startup churches (alongside older established churches) continues to accellerate while the industry train chugs on.
But there is even more compelling evidence than this that this hymns movement is highly influential. In recent years, the industry has taken notice. For instance, PraiseCharts, the dominant online resource-provider for worship music and material is in the R&D phase of liturgies.com, dedicated to worship environments that embrace hymns and a more “liturgical” structure. Producers like John Hartley (Matt Redman, Leigh Nash) are interested in expanding the reach of mainstream-styled worship albums like Love Divine into the realm of hymnody. These folks, too, are in the midst of some R&D for websites and albums that will resource modern worship versions of hymns. CCM Magazine’s March 2005 issue featured the cover story, “Hymns: The New Modern Worship?” So influence must mean more than just megachurch airplay and CCLI stats.