What does it mean to package Christianity in a methodical manner so as to make it salient to as wide an audience as possible? What does Christianity lose when it becomes just one piece of a consumer transaction? These are questions that the brand managers of “cool Christianity” would do well to consider.
I’ve been pretty hard on contemporary Christian music on this blog, but let me just say this: it’s much better today than it was, say, ten or fifteen years ago. But who knows, maybe we’ll say the same thing about today’s music ten years from now. In any event, I thought it would be fun (in a self-flagellating sort of way) to revisit some of the kitschy horrors of Christian music’s past. These are the songs that dominated the “special music” circuit at evangelical churches everywhere back in the 90s. They are the ones we wish to forget, but also have a semi-fondness for (ironically, of course!). Here are my picks for the top ten kitschiest Christian songs of all time, with visual aids where available!
10) TIE: “This Means War!” and “Get on Your Knees and Fight Like a Man” – I couldn’t decide which cheesy Petra song to include, so I just picked these two (which might be the cheesiest). These songs may not be familiar to many, but as examples of deliciously awful 80s Christian metal, these gems more than represent. Thank you John Schlitt, for being the big-haired bad boy of CCM. You gotta love hellfire-and-brimstone lyrics like this: “Now it's all over down to the wire / Counting the days to your own lake of fire.”
9) “El Shaddai” – This 1982 classic, penned by Amy Grant and Michael Card, is as vintage CCM kitsch as you can get. The desperately somber, uber-melodic song features multi-lingual lyrics that lend it its patented sense of gravitas. This song also works very well when performed in sign language (preferably by a church’s “signers ministry”).
8) “Household of Faith” – There was a time in the 90s when this harmony-heavy Steve Green song was performed at every Baptist wedding within a six state area. But apparently people are still (remarkably) choosing this as a wedding song, as recently as 2007. And it looks like it’s still a favorite for Sunday night special music as well!
7) “Who’s In the House? (Kickin’ it for Christ)” – Ne’er was there a more disastrous attempt at white guy Christian rap than in this Carmen catastrophe from 1993. And the scary thing is there are still Christians getting jiggy to this song. See this horrifying clip from Jesus Camp. Oh, and for more painful laughs, here’s the official music video.
6) “Via Dolorosa” – Anyone who grew up in a Baptist church no doubt saw this Spanglish tearjerker performed by some unfortunate wannabe soprano once or twice as a “special music.” Props to the “first diva” of Christian music, Sandi “the Voice” Patty, for this gem!
5) “Behold the Lamb” – Subtlety is a rarity on this list, but it is absolutely nowhere to be found in this overblown wonder. Check out the video of David Phelps singing it. If there was a Christian version of American Idol, this would be performed every season.
4) “In the Presence of Jehovah” – This song is a great example of the popular “white church ladies trying to sing black” church music genre. Tons of opps for runs and trills, crazy vibrato and hand flailing. It’s also a great one for making the old ladies cry, and sometimes works well with a wind machine!
3) "People Need the Lord" – The most epic of all Steve Green songs! This tear-inducing evangelistic anthem is oft-used as background music during missionary montage videos. It also makes for a good duet, though be warned: his one is excruciating to watch!
2) "Thank You For Giving to the Lord" – This 1988 Ray Boltz weepie is the quintessential offertory anthem. Put some dynamo tenor in a suit up on stage and poof, the money will pour into the offering plates. This one definitely warrants a youtube viewing. Get those Kleenex ready!
1) “Love in Any Language” – This song beats them all. Just watch this fantastic video of (who else?) Sandi Patty leading a multi-ethnic chorus in a “we are the world”-type performance at some Gaither family event. I mean… what can be said?
BONUS! - “I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb”: I simply can’t resist mentioning this song—another Ray Boltz classic.