May 30, 2020

My Favorite “Jesus Music” Group

Dana Angle, Bruce Herring, Alex MacDougall, John Wickham, Gary Arthur

Larry Norman, Love Song, Paul Clark, Lamb, Honeytree, John Fischer, Second Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, Maranatha! — these and other names may or may not be familiar to you. They were some of the pioneers in “Jesus Music,” later called “CCM” (contemporary Christian music), that blossomed during the early 1970’s and prepared the way for the development of what became the CCM industry, the “worship wars,” the music that became prominent in the church growth and seeker churches, and the praise and worship movement. “CCM” of one kind or another is the default music in much of evangelicalism today, particularly the free church variety.

As Michael Spencer once observed, this music took the form of personal devotion, testimony, encouragement, and evangelism. It wasn’t about “praise and worship” then; Jesus music remained separate from the corporate worship service, and it wasn’t the huge consumer product that it became later. Jesus music was true “folk” music in the sense that it grew out of and represented a community of people who were singing about their experiences and passing the music on to others. It seemed fresh and real.

It was the music of my nascent life in evangelicalism. I can still remember when the first Maranatha! Praise Album came out and we gathered at a friend’s house to listen. Simple melodies, often based on or directly quoted from Scripture, were sung sweetly and effectively. It was childlike, attractive, and encouraging.

My favorite group in those days was one of the many that emerged from the Calvary Chapel scene in California. They were called, “The Way” (the link will take you to their “history” page where you can read their story).

The Way’s sound was like that of the band America and some of the “Laurel Canyon” singer-songwriters and groups. But they sang about Jesus. The little folk trio I was in with my youth pastor and a friend sang their songs when we did concerts.

Here’s one that we loved and sang many times:



  1. “Jesus Music” is one of my eccentric little hobbies. Everytime I talk about the awesomeness of “Jesus Music” with friends or acquiantances, people look at me like, “You are so weird”.

    My response: “Yes. . .Yes, I am.”

    My Favorite All Time Jesus Music

    Love Song
    Bob Bennett–Great Guitar and Great Voice
    Bethlehem–“Dead Reckoning” is a great 70’s rock song, with incredible lyrics.
    Classic Daniel Amos-Yeah, their first two albums are a little hokey, and the theology of “Shot Gun Angel is questionable, but its fun music.
    Mustard Seed Faith/Oden Fong–“Sail on Sailer” is maybe one of the best all-time Christian album covers. My favorite Oden Fong song comes from his solo album “Again and Again.”

    • Love Song is awesome. I am a bit young to have hit the Jesus Music scene personally (born in 1980), but my dad was full blown into the movement and saw all these bands play. Love Song did a reunion tour of sorts and when they came to my Calvary Chapel church in St Pete Florida, my dad about died from jealousy that I could see them. I went to the show and they were pretty good. The music was on and the vocals were good but the vocals bore the mark of time, but you could definitely tell they were awesome in their prime. I bought one of their earliest cd’s and was blown away. It almost wanted to grow out my hear and put on a tie die 🙂

      • I hear yah.

        The Love Song reunion CD “Welcome Back” is slick, but in my opinion “Feel the Touch,” their live album from 1977, is probably one of the best Christian albums of all time. It truly does take you back to the big tents of the Jesus Movement.

        For people who loved Love Song, Chuck Girard’s first album is also great stuff.

        • Daniel Amos self titled album was good and Shotgun Angel was great. I liked Alarma Chronicles but not as much as their early country/rock stuff. I agree that Love Song and Chuck Girard were classics. When Girard’s solo album came out I remember being so amazed to hear that he was actually harmonizing with himself. The magic of technology 🙂

  2. This is great (but long) reading, too:

  3. Randy Thompson says

    I hadn’t heard anything by Love Song in 35 years until I stumbled upon a CD version of their first album at the thrift shop of a Southern California retirement community, which seemed an oddly appropriate place to find it. I bought the CD partly out of nostalgia, but also to see if they were as good as I remembered them to be.

    It was quite a blast from the past to listen to these songs I hadn’t heard in so long. It brought back so many warm, dormant memories. Love Song, or at least their first album, stood the test of time, as far as my wife and I were concerned. Really good stuff.

    And, when it comes to Christian music, that phrase, “stood the test of time,” is what matters. Much of what we listened to and sang then is now forgotten, and for good reason. Much, if not most of what we “worship to” now will end up just as forgotten, and for good reason. The trick is not to try and predict now what will last into the indefinite future, it’s to sing and listen to the music we’ve got, but never, ever, ever at the expense of what has stood the test of time.

    Graham Kendrick and company, yes! Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts and company, even more yes!

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Larry Norman I remember — one of the pioneers, one of the best.

    But does anyone remember a “Don Francisco” of the early Eighties? He was best known for retelling scenes from the Bible as story ballads — I especially remember two about the raising of Jairus’ Daughter (from Jairus’ POV) and one about finding the empty tomb on Easter morning (from Peter’s POV).

  5. Not to throw a wet blanket on anybody’s sentimentalism, but I have been coming to the realization that much of this music came out of a kind of pietistic revivalism which I have intentionally tried to distance myself from. But for some strange reason, I still love this music. It’s often corny, cheesy, and not entirely original, but I find it such darned good listening. I think the reason for this is that the music is so incredibly honest. Many of these groups were inventing the cliches that others later recycled and beat to death. Their sound just doesn’t feel so contrived or mass produced, it has a stronger ring of authenticity to it. Along with much music of the time, rock’n’roll still made use of the musical device known as “melody.” The Maranatha! songs in particular were very moving musically, because their tunes took you on a journey, and the texts were often close to Bible paraphrases. Having not studied this period much, I know only a small handful of its music and I’m not entirely sure where it ends and CCM really begins, but I hear this sound carried forth through the 80’s even with groups like Petra and the 77’s. It’s just painful to listen to K-Love these days and see how far we have fallen.

    For a more dependable source of artistic quality, these days I go to:

    • True, this.

    • Well, historically, a lot of great hymns came from the Pietism movement, or at least a lot of the great hymn writers were influenced by it. I agree with, though, there’s just an honesty in much of this music that doesn’t seem to be present in a lot of Christian music today. It’s not that there still aren’t a of great Christian songwriters – there are. It’s just that that they aren’t really what the industry is promoting.

      The thing I notice the most about Christian music is that bands I listened to as a teenager and outgrew are still around, but they’re still making music for teenagers. So you have this odd dynamic of 40 year old guys making music to sell to youth groups. It takes a lot of posturing to do that.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It’s often corny, cheesy, and not entirely original, but I find it such darned good listening. I think the reason for this is that the music is so incredibly honest. Many of these groups were inventing the cliches that others later recycled and beat to death.

      i.e. they INVENTED what later became the cliches. The first time you do it, it’s original. The 5000th time someone copies it…

      Similar to when Doc Smith invented (and was first to use) what later became the cliches of Space Opera with his Lensman cycle in the 1930s.

      And in general, the 1960s were a time of experimentation in pop music; things became established into a rut in the Seventies, with another high point in the Eighties.

    • Randy Thompson says

      Totally on target as far as melody is concerned.

      My most recent exposures to contemporary Christian music the past couple years have led me to think that composers have lost any sense of melody at all.

    • Miguel, I had friends in the Saturday night Calvary Chapel music scene in the early to mid 80s, and after some significant time with the promoters there, they came away feeling like only Undercover and the 77’s were authentic in their faith, out of all the people they met. Too many power lays behind the scenes… They were very disillusioned.

    • Christiane says

      or you could listen to an ancient prayer of Christians, the Kyrie, sung in Eastern Christian tradition:

    • Christiane says

      or travel to Africa for the ‘Kyrie’ sung by the national choir of Kenya:

      the music of Christianity is present throughout time and geography and tradition and culture . . . it all belongs to the Body of Christ and is as diverse

  6. My favorite was Children of the Day, and one of their songs is actually in some hymnals. I did always wonder why Come to the Water made it in but not Be Ye Still, which was a great help when trying to focus on devotions. Their later songs were more upbeat and joyful. I never found one I disliked.

  7. “Jesus Music” was a welcome outlet for many in my generation for whom the guitar was the instrument of choice instead of the piano or organ.

  8. One question I have is I do listen to music from the past. I love bluegrass, Gospel (ja, a Jew who likes gospel, go figure), Rock n roll, early Country (Hank Williams Sr, Hank Snow, et al), rockabilly, so a wide swath. And as I listen to music from the 70s, I hear explicitly Christian lyrics. Simon and Garfunkel on Bleeker Street (it’s a long, way to Canaan), Put your Hand in the Hand, if the Nazareth in Take a Load Off Annie is the Nazareth of the New Testament, then that too. These weren’t Christian songs made for the Christian bubble, but songs where the Christian worldview of the writer bled out and impacted his art.

    Why was this so common in the 70s but not the 80s, 90s or aughts?

    • Peace, love, and understanding, man.

      Seriously, despite the overt rebellion and raw hedonism of the hippie movement, there was also an idealism that many sincerely believed. Spiritual themes were heard in the folk music of the sixties and in a lot of the conversation regarding civil rights. Catholic social movements in the days of Vatican II were strong also.

      Historians deem those days one of America’s “revival” periods.

    • petrushka1611 says

      “Take a Load Off” was actually called “The Weight,” written by The Band, also performed by Aretha Franklin.

      Most of those artists were very folk-influenced, and sacred music has been as prevalent in folk music as secular themes. The folk music movement preceded the hippies (and the Byrds), and there was also the influence of black spirituals because the movement was also concerned about civil rights.

  9. I grew up listening to artists like Larry Norman and 2nd Chapter of Acts because my mom was very heavily involved in the “Jesus Movement.” I disliked a great deal of the CCM that was coming out during my days in youth group, and could never quite put a finger on why… until I started reading the lyrics.

    Read through some of the lyrics that someone like Keith Green wrote, then compare it to what’s been written in the last 20 years, and…well, there is no comparison. Many of the artists of early CCM had an amazing command of Biblical imagery, devotional themes, and the English language more generally. But as the music was made more “corporate” over the years, the lyrics were significantly dumbed and watered down.

    • Really big generalization. And probably inaccurate too. The early CCM were much more ditties that what we have today.

      • Oh, it was way too big of a generalization. Freely admitted. But that having been said, I do think you usually have to dig into some pretty obscure CCM artists from the last 20 years in order to find stuff that matches the best of the oldies.

        • Agreed. Where are the Larry Normans, the Randy Stonehills and the Mark Heards.

          • Amen and amen.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Same place as the J.R.R.Tolkiens and C.S.Lewises.

            The church drove them away.

            Cast them out in favor of Culture War Propaganda, Jeesus-is-My-Edward-Cullen glurge, and whatever else sells BIG.

          • Love Stonehill, especially his earlier stuff. And he’s an amazing performer live to boot.
            Where are their equivalents today? They’re out there circling in the outer darkness outside the mainstream Christian music industry — because they’re a little too honest, transparent, and self-questioning to harmonize with the triumphal parade of serpent-stomping overcomers.

          • …and the Jim Cole’s, Fernando Ortega’s, the Paul Wilbur’s, Rich Mullin’s and the Randy Matthew’s ….?

  10. I think many of the artists sang from the hearts and saw it as ministry, not a business.

    I remember when Keith Green had Sparrow records release him from his recording contract so he could give his albums away if people could not afford them!

  11. Don’t forget Jake Hess’ The Imperials. They were the first prefab Christian boy band. But they did have some amazing harmonies and pioneered Christian pop music. They even sang backup for Elvis in their day.

  12. Don’t forget this popular “modern spiritual.”

  13. This is nice. I wasn’t tuned into the Christian music genre from the early 70’s-90’s. I’m looking forward to listening to these suggestions on YouTube, especially the ones with a more folk sound. Thanks for the suggestions :0)

  14. br. thomas says

    Honeytree, Phil Keagy and 2nd Chapter of Acts were some of the folks I listened to. Also, Scott Wesley Brown (I made my initial commitment to Christ after one of his concerts) and Keith Green were pretty influential in my early listening days – as was the band Petra. Good memories Thanks for inviting us to remember!

    • One funny thing… someone thought Scott Wesley Brown was me about 20 years ago. The scary part of it the person who was confused was my father! More than a few people have commented on the resemblence. We do look quite different now.

  15. I came to Christ in 1974, just as Jesus Music was peaking and waning, and the CCM industry was about to be birthed in Nashville. My early musical influences were the late Jesus movement singer-songwriters like Keith Green, Jamie Owens, Don Francisco, Pat Terry Group, and others. As CCM grew, I followed Michael Card, Bob Bennett, Amy Grant, Twila Paris, and later Rich Mullins, Fernando Ortega, Bebo Norman, and Sara Groves (among many others). The “praise band” is unquestionably the dominant musical model for CCM, and for the church, but the acoustic singer-songwriter model lives on outside CCM through the growing body of work by artists such as Andrew Peterson. I keep hoping for a renaissance of the acoustic artist model, which is where it all started with Jesus Music. I’m still writing acoustic so I’m ready as a charter FOGWAG (Folky Old Guy With A Guitar).

    • We are fortunate to have those artists with the creativity and intestinal fortitude to remain independent of the CCM industry. I might suggest Carolyn Arends, Steve Bell and Chris Rice as singer-songwriters you would likely enjoy. Rick Barron is another.

  16. My favorite Jesus music composer and performer is Chaplain Mike. You guys don’t know what you’re missing.

  17. Randy Thompson says

    Larry Norman was truly ground-breaking back in the day. At one point I knew him a bit, and spent some time with him. I remember going with him to Capital Records to see the artwork for his first album. At the time, it made me feel good that a Christian was actually going “mainstream.” I wish that more Christian groups had attempted this, instead of settling into the evangelical ghetto.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      My venue is more written F&SF than music, but I’ve always been very vocal about “going mainstream”.

    • I’d have to say The Call is my favorite secular label Christian group of all time — or maybe it’s the 77’s. It’s hard to decide. Anyway, you’re right, we need more like them.

  18. Randy Thompson says

    A little musical perspective . . .

    While reading through these posts, I’ve been listening to the Yankees & Red Sox game. A few moments ago, Curtis Granderson hit a home run. Now, for most of you, this doesn’t mean much. But, if you listen regularly to John Sterling calling the Yankee games on radio, like I do (via computer), you have to listen to him sing the “Grandy Man” song every (!!!!) time Granderson hits a home run, which means you have to listen to this ditty often.

    I’d like to suggest that ANYTHING, no matter how horrible, that’s come out under the CCM label, in the whole history of CCM, sounds really, really good compared to the “Grandy Man” song.

    Rant over.

    Please continue on.

  19. I loved the Maranatha albums. What a wonderful way for this new Christian to learn scripture back in the day.

  20. I have this album on eight-track. I recorded it to CD years ago, but haven’t listened to it for a while. It’s hard listening to Christian music from that time in life, to borrow from Cold Play, “when I ruled the world” i.e. everything made sense, I had no doubts, and things were getting better and better. I can still listen to Daniel Amos once in a while.

  21. I grew up just after Jesus Music more or less became CCM, but my church enjoyed some of those Jesus Music classics now and then in church and in Sunday School — Children of the Day, 2nd Chapter of Acts, John Fischer, and Keith Green are burned into my memory from age 3 to about 10.

    And of course, there was the kids music of the Jesus Music, My friend still has Music Machine and Antsylvania on CD for his children. Candle did some fine kids music that I remember hearing on Christian “adult” Radio years later.

  22. Just found this after hearing about it for years. If this ain’t the grooviest thing you hear all day (and the trippiest Jesus Music album cover ever) I’ll eat my hat:

    Dust – Gone:

  23. CM, one thing I remember from The Way at Calvary Chapel was that they always rocked it harder live than on their studio albums. It seemed liked the studio mellowed them (and Phil Keaggy, and Gentle Faith, etc.), or maybe it was just very poor recording quality.

  24. petrushka1611 says

    I’m digging The Way, especially the steel guitar. Oh, for Warren Zevon and Linda Ronstadt to have been Christians….

  25. At the risk of being moderated here, I’d like to point out that many of these “Jesus People” songs are played every day, along with “secular” music that purveys melody and lyrics that can be understood in complete sentences, on a station with a link on this very page. The “Heart of the City Worship Band” is playing at this very moment.

    You’ll also hear Steve Bell, Carolyn Arends, Michael Card, Buddy Greene, Andrew Peterson, Chris Rice and many other literate song writers and performers well represented.

    I am shouting agreement with you folks at every turn. Thanks for the post, CM.

  26. MelissatheRagamuffin says

    I can’t believe nobody has mentioned Rez Band or Steve Taylor. Shame on all of you.

    I miss Rich Mullins. I really think he was the greatest religious poet/song writer since King David, and there hasn’t been anyone like him since….

  27. YouTube has been a major factor in helping a new generation discover the Jesus Music era songs, and helping those who were there at the time reconnect.

    Still, some songs are missing, so with the help of our local bookstore, we created this channel.

  28. There were many wonderful groups from the 70’s to the early 80’s that inspired much of today’s CCM. Here is one that hasn’t been mentioned: Dogwood singing “Water Grave” Enjoy!

  29. From my early evangelical-fundie days : I second 2nd Chapter of Acts and Lamb, two of my all-time favorites.
    Also Don Francisco, Chuck Girard and Johnny Cash.
    Yes, I have christian music LPs of Johnny from the middle ages. Although I don`t care for most country western music, Johnny is one exception.
    I have forgotten many of the musicians` names.
    There was this one song by ?? which talked about a black angus cowbell with which he would totally underwhelm you – hysterically funny, but I don`t remember anything else about it………..

    But, strange critter that I am, I like all sorts of music, including some very old-fashioned western hymns