Ahhh the 90s! What a decade of great music. Truth be told, though this is the decade of my formative years, and therefore my favorite overall decade of Christian music, I’ve put off making this list. Well, better said, I’ve delayed finishing this list for a long time. Many a day will you still find me hunting down some of my favorites of the era in various thrift stores for my physical cd collection. I guess I keep hoping I’ll fine another treasure that I missed upon first pass as I was growing up. If you’re wondering that collection is almost complete, with just a handful still to be happened upon. Yes, I could have snapped them all up online, but I prefer the live action hunt through record and thrift stores.
Though I have yet to own all that I’d like to, I do feel as though I’ve at least heard everything worth hearing in the decade, and picked my favorites. But perhaps it will be helpful for you to understand that this list is more a hybrid of classics and my favorites and not meant to be read as definitive. Essentially the higher on the list it is the more I’ve had time to spend with it, and if you see a critical darling or your favorite in the bottom fifty, don’t sweat it. But do known that if it’s on the list I believe it’s at least worthy of the being in the conversation of best of the decade. I hope you don’t read this list and say, “but what about?,” though I’m sure I’ve made some egregious error somewhere along the way. Also, keep in mind that my music taste evolved from a start with the more pop side of the genre with the likes of Smitty, SCC, and Amy Grant to a more settled alternative sweet-spot as the decade progressed. Most of all, in reading this I do hope you enjoy a healthy dose of nostalgia, or maybe even find a few new (old) artists to enjoy in this day and age of near instant accessibility.
Nearly all are this albums are available on at least one if not all of the major streaming services with a few exceptions. Many of these became my favorites first by having to physically show up at a store and ask the employees to unwrap the cd so I could demo it and pour over the lyrics sheet. I’ve put it some hours here people! J I also had to buy a few albums strictly for one song that I liked, a problem more easily overcome in the modern age of ala carte purchasing and streaming. I often get sad when I think of how modern music listeners will never get to experience the rush of waiting outside of a store for the beleaguered employee to finally unlock the doors and rush to the music section on release day. I guess waiting at your computer until midnight on Thursday nights will have to suffice. But I digress, a post for another time perhaps.
Lastly, I will include a link to my Spotify account with my 500 favorite songs of 90s playlist at the very end of the blog. This playlist will include far more artists who had excellent songs, but not quite an entire album I deem deserving of a whole listen, and I hope it brings a smile to your face. It is also not a ranked playlist FYI. Happy listening friends! Here we go…
Sonicflood – Self-Titled (1999)
A nice rock edge to some original tunes and some excellent covers. A forerunner for the coming flood of worship albums to come.
Various Artists – Songs From the Loft (1993)
A-list of names including Amy Grant, Gary Chapman, Michael W. Smith and others get together to worship in the barn loft. The result is “Nashvillian” acoustic-country. High nostalgia factor here.
Jaci Velasquez – Heavenly Place (1996)
Jaci joined Amy Grant, Susan Ashton, Cindy Morgan, and Rebecca St. James as one of my top 5 favorite female artists of this 4-5 year period. Latin-infused pop.
The Choir – Circleslide (1990)
If this were a true best of the decade list this album would be much higher, but I didn’t discover it until long after the 90s ended. Thinking man’s rock with chime-y guitars.
Starflyer 59 – Silver (1994)
Shoegaze. This is an album I came upon late in the game. I always feel like I should be thinking deeply and solving the questions of philosophy when listening to this one.
Dakota Motor Co – Into The Son (1993)
Chick-led surf-rock. It’s spunky and dance-y.
Sarah Mason – Self-Titled (1996)
“All Fall Down” is such a catchy must-hear song of the era. Lots of lyrically praiseworthy pop tunes here.
All together Separate – Self-Titled (1999)
Criminally underknown and underappreciated, this band was exceptional. Opening Rocker “On And On” and the slow-burning vocal-shredding “Paradigm” are top songs of the bunch. Due can wail.
Zilch – Platinum (1997)
Dctalk’s awesomely talented backing band. They made their own surf-rock album, and it’s loads of fun. “What I Got” is the most memorable.
Bride – Snakes On A Playground (1992)
Speaking of guys that can wail, count Dale Thompson among the short list of names. This album is just pure stank-face rock n’ roll with tons of attitude.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com Geoff Moore & The Distance – Friend Like U (1992)
Hard not to smile when hearing “Friend Like U” and tender “Listen To Our Hearts.” One goofy and fun, the latter a tender, finger-picked duet with buddy Steven Curtis Chapman.
The Waiting – Self-Titled (1997)
“Hands In The Air” Nuff said.
. Silage – Vegas Car Chasers (1998)
Guitar-driven, drum heavy, DJ record scratching, left of center lyrics. All very fun and catchy.
Avalon – In A Different Light (1999)
“In Not Of,” “Can’t Live A Day,” and “Always Have, Always Will” are the favorites. Probably THE premier vocal group of the decade?
Driver 8 – Watermelon (1994)
Perhaps it’s silly but this album is really on this list because of one song, and that is “Waiting For Godot.” It’s nothing like the drone-y guitar of the rest of the album, but it’s a top 25 song of the decade and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. J
The Prayer Chain – Shawl (1993)
Regrettably, I came to this album long after the decade ended, otherwise it would be much higher. Grungy, angsty, and an absolute gem of the genre.
Steve Taylor – Squint – (1993)
The king of quirk, this is a classic, though it certainly sounds dated to its time musically.
Mxpx – Life In General (1996)
Others may disagree, but this is their overall best album, and I’m willing to toss it into the conversation of best punk-rock based release in the genre.
Black Eyed Sceva – Way Before The Flood (1995)
This is excellent alternative-rock with lyrics unafraid to tackle tough subjects. It never got any radio play (that I heard anyway) and isn’t on any of the streaming services, but I recommend you track down a used copy and add it do your collection. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.
Daniel Amos – Motorcycle (1993)
Many fans and listeners will be grieved to see this slice of psychedelic rock so low on the list but it’s only here because I’ve had less time with it. Great album. A must listen and own record.
Jennifer Knapp – Kansas (1998)
Man, such a voice! This is soulful, deeply authentic guitar singer/songwriter goodness.
Phil Keaggy – Crimson & Blue (1993)
I wouldn’t become a big fan of the Beatles for another decade plus, but this album really primed the pump for my eventual fandom. Fantastic guitar-work and ear-worm melodies make this record an easy listen every time. I return to “Everywhere I Look” and “Love Divine” often, and they are staples on all my 90’s playlists.
Michael W. Smith – Live The Life (1998)
This would be the last Smitty album I would truly love, and it’s a good one. The decade of the 90’s was his best in my opinion.
FFH – I Want To Be Like You (1998)
“One Of These Days” and “Big Fish” were inescapable and I’m okay with it. Good album.
MxPx – Slowly Going The Way of The Buffalo (1998)
I’m not a huge punk-rawk fan but I have a special place in my heart for these fellas. “Tomorrow’s Another Day” and “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” are my top tracks from this one.
Chris Rice – Deep Enough To Dream (1997)
If an album could be tender and pastoral, it would be this one. It’s chill, but don’t let his easy voice deceive you, Rice has some deep things to say. This is his best work.
Out of the Grey – Diamond Days (1994)
This husband and wife duo mastered the radio hit and I couldn’t get enough of them. Her angelic voice and his top-notch guitar work made for a perfect pop pairing.
Kirk Franklin – Nu Nation Project (1998)
“Preach preacher! Do you wanna revolution?! Whoop whoop!” Haha. I mean, between “Revolution,” “Riverside,” “If You’ve Been Delivered” and the soaring vocals of “Lean On Me” you’ve got some car jams. This is a fun one.
Amy Grant – Heart in Motion (1991)
One of the very first and extremely controversial crossover albums. Lots of bubble-gum pop that’s fun to sing along with.
Cindy Morgan – Listen (1996)
I could be off base (likely) but I can’t think of a better overall piano-pop record. The combo of her big voice, lyrics, and songwriting chops, made Cindy Morgan one of the top pop songwriters of the decade. I feel like she was underappreciated.
Pete Stewart – Self-Titled (1999)
After Grammatrain was Pete Stewart’s solo self-titled, and what a record we get. I find it to be a touch more accessible than the two records he did with the band. His cover of “Little Country Church” is superb.
Kirk Franklin – God’s Property (1997)
The W’s – Fourth From Last (1998)
I joined many in having a brief fling with ska, which included this swing album containing a little hit called “The Devil Is Bad.” Awww yeah.
Chasing Furies – With Abandon (1999)
A great one-hit wonder band, Chasing Furies was on to something and I wish we’d gotten more from them. As it is we get the song “Thicker” and that’s enough for me.
Wilshire – Self-Titled (1998)
I want to say this husband and wife duo used to be in the backing band, or sung BGV’s for one of Michael W. Smith’s tours but I’m too lazy to look it up right now. Anyway, this is an excellent pop-rock album with tunes like “Over My Head,” “Face,” “If I Could” and show stopping closer “In This Moment.”
Mark Heard – Second Hand (1991)
A treasure of a songwriter, I wish that I’d discovered him much sooner. The work of the late Mark Heard needs to be heard and appreciated by a wider audience.
Plankeye – Commonwealth (1995)
I could have gone with their album
One And Only too but really it had to be this one. Gritty alternative at its finest. Plumb – Candycoatedwaterdrops (1999)
A tough call between the rock-based self-titled and this more poppy version of Plumb but the song “Late Great Planet Earth” was the tie breaker.
Dime Store Prophets – Love is Against The Grain (1995)
When you take my recommendation from above to grab a copy of Black Eyed Sceva’s album on faith that it will be worth it, add this one to the shopping cart too. More high quality alternative rock here.
Eric Champion – Vertical Reality (1994)
It frustrates me that this terrific pop album isn’t on any of the streaming services. There are several songs I’d like to add to my 90s playlist including, “Verticality,” “More About You,” “My Life Is In Your Hands,” “Endless,” and “Touch.” He was able to balance radio-ready pop and a few futuristic-leaning pop sounds for a A- album.
Susan Ashton – Susan Ashton (1993)
I love me some Susan Ashton, and in my mind the 90s were her decade. Country-ish leaning pop tunes written by terrific collaborating songwriters and sung by Ashton’s world-class voice. She has better overall albums, but this has some terrific songs like “Remember Not” and “Waiting For Your Love To Come Down.”
Chagall Guevara– Self-Titled (1991)
This was Steve Taylor and bandmates attempt to break out of the CCM box with some alt-rock music aimed at the mainstream. Who knows if it was the confusing band name, or the label’s insistence on marketing them as a Christian band that doomed them to a one-album wonder. Either way, this is another album worthy of a listen.
Commissioned– Time & Seasons (1999)
The iconic Gospel vocal group deliver a near perfect second half of an album with multiple longtime favorites, “Psalm 84,” “Charge It To My Heart,” and “Clean Heart” taking top honors.
Jon Gibson– Jesus Loves Ya (1990)
If you listened to 90s CCM radio this guy was literally all over the radio. “Love Come Down” and “Jesus Loves Ya” were staples. Many of my favorite songs of his were released in the late 80s and also worth tracking down for a listen.
Third Day– Conspiracy #5 (1997)
This album could very easily be much higher on the list but I’m a bigger fan of the musical direction on two of their other albums. As it is this is a terrific rock n’ roll album. “You Make Me Mad,” “Alien,” “My Hope Is In You,” and a personal favorite, “This Song Was Meant For You.”
Nichole Nordeman– Wide Eyed (1998)
I heard “To Know You” on the radio and I was hooked. This is another fine singer-songwriter that doesn’t write bad songs. This might be the only female piano-pop album to rival Cindy Morgan’s
Listen as best of the decade. Nordeman song “River God” should be in the running for top 100 songs of the decade. Bleach – Static (1998)
It’s punk-edged with strong bass lines with a hint of pop stylings? I don’t know how to describe it I guess but “Super Good Feeling” gets my spirits up anytime I need it.
Rebecca St. James– God (1996)
Yes, the sound is a direct rip-off of
Jagged Little Pill Morrissette era, but I didn’t know that at the time. Plus, I was in love! J “God” is still a killer tune and I have a srong affinity for “Speak To Me” and “Go And Sin No More.” Margaret Becker– Soul (1993)
“Say The Name” is legit gorgeous and one of the better worship/love songs to Jesus you’ll ever hear. Other pop goodness comes in the form of “Keep My Mind,” “This I Know,” and “Soul Tattoo.”
Michael English – Gospel (1998)
It was likely the bluesy version of “Blessed Assurance” that first turned me on to this record, but I stuck around for “Gospel Ship,” “I Bowed On My Knees And Cried Holy,” and “I Surrender All.” A cover album I can totally get behind, English was/is a world-class vocalist.
Seven Day Jesus – The Hunger (1996)
Emotive, Grunge-tinged rock unafraid to tackle taboo topics. This could easily be in the top 25 if I’d happened upon it sooner. It’s a fine album top-to-bottom.
Skillet – Self-Titled (1996)
Skillet has been through a few musical iterations but this grungy nirvana-inspired rock is a favorite. “I Can” rocks, “Gasoline” is explosive, and “Saturn” is low-key gorgeous. I still say their one-two punch of
Collide and Comatose to come are their overall best, but Self-Titled is a close third. Delirious – King of Fools (1997)
This is one of the bands and albums that would soon usher in the wave of worship based releases in the early 00s. “Deeper” is a top 50 tune of the decade. “Sanctify,” “King Or Cripple,” “White Ribbon Day,” and “What A Friend I’ve Found” are other favorites.
Steven Curtis Chapman – Signs of Life (1996)
The first six tracks are pure SCC gold. Uncle Steve went a little more acoustic rock on this one and I was/am all about it. If it weren’t for another of his releases this would be my overall favorite in his catalogue.
Michael W. Smith- Change Your World (1992)
Man I wore this one out! It was either the first or second cd I ever bought with my own money after getting my first boombox with a double tape deck. I still know and sing all the words to “Picture Perfect,” “Give It Away,” “I Wanna Tell The World” and his career defining hit “Friends.”
Newsboys – Step Up To The Microphone (1998)
I still keep this one close by in the car and listen regularly. This is a pop-rock gem. “WooHoo,” “Believe,” “Step Up To The Microphone,” and especially the Phil Joel lead vocal of “Entertaining Angels,” are all great songs to this day.
Dctalk – Supernatural (1998)
I toyed with putting this album way lower on the list, and also briefly thought of leaving it off completely, due to its schizophrenic feel and a silly no more than 2 albums per group rule that I eventually scrapped. These are top-notch songs, and though it’s not a cohesive album like the two masterpieces preceding it, I don’t think it ever set out to be. “My Friend (So Long)” is such an underrated song and a top 5 in their catalogue in my opinion.
Jars of Clay – If I Left The Zoo (1999)
I’ve always loved the most experimental album by my favorite band. It’s roots-y, artsy, and different. Gospel choirs, accordions, trashcan percussion, and much more piano/keyboard focus makes for an interesting listen. “Collide” is my favorite song but the unconventional opener “Goodbye Goodnight” is a close second.
Reality Check – Self-Titled (1997)
Alas, maybe the world couldn’t have handled more than one album from these passionate rap-rockers with harmonious singing in the mix. The burned bright and out fast, but what a ride. “Plastic,” Masquerade,” and “Losing Myself” are the cream, but the whole album is a good listen.
Switchfoot – Legend Of Chin (1997)
I can’t believe it’s been 23 years since I first tricked by younger brother into buying this one so I could buy another album with my limited teenage funds. I can’t remember what my album purchase was, but this one ended up in my collection just as I planned. “Chem 6A” is a healthy dose of smile-inducing nostalgia, but “Bomb,” “Underwater,” “Home” “Concrete Girl,” and the cleverly named “Might Have Ben-Hur” are near to my heart as well.
Newsboys – Going Public (1994)
This is the one that brought us “Shine” so it has to be here. “Spirit Thing” is another favorite, as well as the in your face “Truth And Consequences” and the lesser known, though still fantastic closer “Elle G.”
Audio Adrenaline – Don’t Censor Me (1993)
Sing it with me! “It’s a big big house, with lots and lots of rooms…” Certainly “Big House” is the song most would know from this AA release, but there are so many other superb songs like “Can’t Take God Away,” the Kevin Max assist on “My Worldview,” “Don’t Censor Me” and concert staple “We’re A Band.”
Caedmon’s Call – Self-Titled (1997)
When I think of autumn albums I almost always picture this one first. This is finely crafted coffeeshop acoustic/folk music. The lyrics of “This World” still gets me every time.
Seven Day Jesus – Self-Titled (1997)
I heard this one first so it’s higher than their debut
The Hunger. At the time I was more into the pop/rock, though fans of their prior album likely hated this glossy radio-ready direction. Why can’t we like both people?! “Butterfly” is on every 90s Christian playlist I make. So dang catchy. “Down With the Ship,” Always Comes Around,” “Everybody Needs Love” and “End Of My Rope” are also favorites. Five Iron Frenzy – Our Newest Album Ever! (1997)
If I was ranking their discography (eww why would I?!) from worstest to worst, this album is absolutely my favorite/worst. Man, I hate Five Iron Frenzy!
Charlie Peacock – Everything That’s On My Mind (1994)
So underrated. I love this album for a lot of reasons. One big reason is songs “Monkey’s At The Zoo” “William & Maggie,” and the hooky “Dear Exception.” Charlie Peacock is a treasure we should all show our appreciation. This is upper-echelon quirky pop music.
Grits – Grammatical Revolution (1999)
This album is important to me due to helping me make the transition from high school to college. It also may be the first rap album (unless you count Free At Last) that really captured my attention. “They All Fall Down” is hands down my favorite but you should also give “Stop Bitin,” “Return Of The Antagonist,” and “It Takes Love” a listen.
Audio Adrenaline – Underdog (1999)
This album is a family favorite and one of the few I can still get my wife to listen to on the regular. “Get Down” and “Hands And Feet” are the cream of the crop, but it’s all good times when I tune into this one.
Susan Ashton – Wakened By The Wind (1991)
Okay, here’s the deal…I’m not much of a country music fan at all, but this pop-country album is probably the reason why I even listen to any country at all. Her voice is sooo smooth, and so good! You should listen to the whole thing, but if you only want to breeze by a few songs hit up, “Down On My Knees,” “No One Knows My Heart,” and “Amazing Grace Land” at the very least. Do. It.
Third Day – Self-Titled (1996)
Sure they sound a bit like Hootie, but come on, this album is truly terrific. “Consuming Fire” is least like anything else present, but it’s my favorite song. It flat-out rocks. “Thief,” “Nothing At All,” “Love Song,” “Take My Life,” and “Praise Song” make for a great overall album.
Fono – Foesaroundcomesaround (1999)
Okay so I had to listen to this one while I wrote about it…so good. “Collide” is a driving rock song, “Now She’s 24” is an acoustic-guitar song in the vein of the Goo Goo Dolls, and “Drift Away” has an Oasis edge to it. This is my kind of alt-rock.
Jon Gibson – Love Education (1995)
Such a great singer/songwriter, I truly enjoy all the vocal runs and catchy melodies he wrote. “Possessed By Love” was all over the radio back then, “Someday Paradise” too if memory serves correctly. “Jesus” is my top tune, but the title track and “The Days Gone By” round out a strong top five songs.
MercyMe – Traces of Rain (1996)
I try not to be “that guy” but this Mercyme worship-based album is my overall favorite of theirs for sentimental reasons. They were the camp band of my youth group years one summer. Another time they did a concert at a tiny church in our area before they hit it big in 2001, so I’ll always have as soft spot for this hard-to-find indie album. I know most of the album is cover songs but it would have been the first time I heard them. I love the fun sing-along nature of “Ain’t No Rock,” “Mercy Is Falling,” the soaring “Stirring,” and the tender “If I Could Just Sit With You Awhile.” Lastly, my most enjoyed original contributed by the band is “Psalm 139 (You Were There).”
Out of the Grey – Shape of Grace (1992)
“Steady Me” is forever engrained in my brain from Christian skate nights and I’m more than okay with that. Great song. I also dig “Nothing’s Gonna Keep Me From You,” “Everywhere That You Go,” “Feels Like Real Life,” and “Bigger Than Life.”
Out of Eden – Lovin’ The Day (1994)
Why wasn’t this sister trio bigger? I’ll never fully understand it, but we do have several ahead of their time albums to enjoy this being their overall best. “Lovely Day” is covered so well, I like it better than the original, and it’s a great opener. “Show Me” is another skate night song that always brings a smile to my face as I picture myself in middle school gliding along impressing all the ladies with my skating skills. There isn’t a bad or filler song among the bunch.
Steven Curtis Chapman – Speechless (1999)
Vintage Steven Curtis here. Everything just sounds sweeping and cinematic. “Dive” is tops, with their being nary a need to skip a single song the rest of the way. This is his overall best album.
Michael W. Smith – Go west Young Man (1990)
Though a few songs tread dangerously close to cheesy (I’m looking at you “Love Crusade”) there are several longtime favorites among the tracklist like “For You,” “Place In This World,” “Seed To Sow,” and “Agnus Dei.”
The Prayer Chain – Mercury (1995)
Yes, yes, it should probably be higher on the list.
Mercury is a well-crafted album of angry rock songs. This record is hard to get into at first, but rewards you for sticking around. PFR – Them (1996)
Another criminally underrated and/or underappreciated band in its time this is such a great pop/alternative album. “Anything” and “Pour Me Out” are tops but then again the whole record is tops. If this had been the last we heard from “them” (ahem) it would have been a fine conclusion. As it is it’s an excellent album and you should listen immediately if you’ve never heard it.
The Waiting – Blue Belly Sky (1995)
“Look At Me” would have been enough reason to include this quirky pop album in my opinion but they also graced us with the likes of “Staring At A Bird,” ‘Truly Amazing,” and “Mercy Seat,” so it lands just outside the top 20. A re-released version of the album (I own both) changed the cover and added a few new songs which are also worthy of a listen.
Third Day – Time (1999)
Third Day is a band I followed in real time as they released their albums but I’ve always loved this southern-rock one most. Maybe? Well, it’s top three in their discography anyway. “Sky Falls Down,” “Your Love Oh Lord,” and “I Will Always Love You” are top 20 songs in their career, especially the last two. This is a good mix of gritty southern rock and the worship direction that they would head toward soon after.
Caedmon’s Call – 40 Acres (1999)
Nearly every time I drive cross country to Texas this album is a constant companion so it has road trip memories attached to it. I still listen to it several times a year, coming back to the title track, “Shifting Sand,” “Faith My Eyes,” “Somewhere North Of Here” and “Darling Daylight Escape” most often. This one also has the added bonus of being one of my wife’s favorites so the spin opportunities are almost unlimited.
Big Tent Revival – Self-Titled (1995)
“Two Sets of Joneses” and “Count On You” got played over and over in the church bus on the way to youth camp this year…this one had to be on the list. High nostalgia factor here.
O.C. Supertones – Supertones Strike Back (1997)
I had a two or three album run with these ska fellas and this is still my favorite. They were so fun in concert, especially if it was at a festival outside. “Little Man” is still a highlight.
The Kry – You (1994)
My best friend and I wore this one out when we got it, as well as Nouveaux’s …
and this is how I feel which sadly didn’t quite make the cut. Here is acoustic based alt/rock specializing in strong ballads like the forever on the radio “Take My Hand,” “You’re All I Need,” and “He Won’t Let You Go.” For the more peppy tunes give “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” and “I Know Everything About You” a listen. Dctalk – Free At Last (1992)
We get to this point in the list and I felt like this album should be higher but I can’t bump anything else down so here we go. I could be wrong but I don’t think that there had ever been a combination of all the things this sublime album offers; rap, rap-rock, samples, world-class singing, and unapologetic in your face lyrics. I can still sing “Luv Is A Verb” word for word, and “The Hardway,” “Socially Acceptable,” “Say The Words” and “Time Is…” hold up all these years later.
Switchfoot – New Way To Be Human (1999)
I think a case could be made that this Switchfoot album is top 2 in their catalogue but either way it’s a fine slice of well-crafted tunes. Surf-alt/rock that makes you think a bit with lyrics concerning philosophy and the deeper things of life, I still listen to this one quite a bit. It’s ballad heavy, but that’s right up my alley. “Let That Be Enough” still gets me every stinkin’ time. “Company Car” is sure to get me smiling and singing along without fail, and “Only Hope” still gives me goosebumps it’s so gorgeous.
Jars of Clay – Much Afraid (1997)
I think you’d be hard pressed to hear an album from the genre in this era that actually
sounds better than Much Afraid. It’s so well played by all instrumentalists and lush. “Fade To Grey,” “Frail,” “Crazy Times,” “Tea & Sympathy,” and the underrated closer “Hymn” fill out some of my favorites. Rich Mullins – Jesus Record (1998)
This album is important and perfect in its raw, unfinished nature. His ragamuffin band did a fine job finishing up the songs and honoring the spirit of Rich’s intent, but I’ll always prefer the unfished demos. I can almost hear the angels singing along with Rich as he roughly recorded his heart onto tape. “My Deliverer” has always chilled me to the bone in a good way. “Hard To Get” makes more and more sense, resonating ever deeper the older I get in my faith. This is a true treasure and should be owned and listened to by every music collector.
Sixpence None The Richer – This Beautiful Mess (1995)
This is Sixpence at their most indie, rawest rock sound and I’m here for it. “Within A Room Somewhere” is probably my favorite overall song by this longsuffering band that deserved much better than their fate. “Thought Menagerie” is another highlight, as is “I Can’t Explain.” Really you can’t go wrong on this one, there is a tremendous amount of excellent guitar moments present to enjoy.
Photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com Audio adrenaline – Bloom (1996)
This is THE perfect Audio Adrenaline sound. I think that
Underdog is fun, Don’t Censor Me is chock full of good songs, but this to me is their quintessential sound. “Never Gonna Be As Big As Jesus” and “Walk On Water” will get stuck in your head for days. “Secret” and “I’m Not The King” wail. “Good People” and “Free Ride” are fun. “Man Of God” is infinitely relatable. The guitar licks curtesy of Barry Blair are just so good. Easily their best AND my favorite of their catalogue. Burlap to Cashmere – Anybody Out There? (1998)
Nearly becoming one of those one-hit wonder bands, their reunion
Self-Titled release in 2011 saved them from that, but this will always be their most expansive, genre-blending, and best album. There are heavy Greek and world music influences and it’s like nothing I had ever heard before or since. Cat Stevens would be proud. “Basic Instructions” and “Treasures In Heaven” are most well-known due to radio play, but some of the hidden gems are the title track, “Chop Chop,” “Digee Dime,” and the slow build of “Skin Is Burning.” Fantastic album. Rich Mullins – A Liturgy A Legacy & A Ragamuffin Band (1993)
A case could be made for this as the overall best album of the decade, and I wouldn’t put up much argument. Even at number eight it feels too low but the replay ability factor of the seven ahead of it land it here. Highlight songs are “Hold Me Jesus,” “Hard,” “Creed,” “How To Grow Up Big And Strong,” and “Land Of My Sojourn.” Mullins didn’t write bad songs and that’s been proven true by the longevity of his body of work. This is another must own record for the collectors.
Smalltown Poets – Self-Titled (1997)
The summer camp that our youth ministry attended this year played several of these songs and got me hooked from the beginning. The first give tracks are perfect and the rest of the album is close to that gold standard established. “I’ll Give” is still so gut-wrenchingly passionate, “Everything I Hate” brought the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 7:15 to life in my young teenage mind. “Trust” is another great ballad. The whole album is right there in my alt/rock sweet spot.
All Star United – Self-Titled (1997)
The fact that I’m upset that this is at #6 and not higher is a testament to both the albums ahead of it and the album itself. When you talk about an album loaded with song after song without a skip necessary I think of this one; especially in a decade that had many albums with a hit song and a bunch of filler. There is brit pop/rock here, sarcasm, wit, and catchy melodies galore. This is a 5 star album.
PFR – Great Lengths (1994)
It will be hard not to wax poetic about my love for this band or this album so I’ll keep it short. “Great Lengths” is great, “The Love I Know” is iconic in their catalogue and for the era and I love closer “Life Goes On” enough that I could be on the tracklist of being played at my funeral.
Sixpence None The Richer – Self-Titled (1997)
If there was an album that could compete with the beautiful sounding AND melancholy feel of Jars of Clay’s
Much Afraid album it would be this one. Yes, “Kiss Me” and “There She Goes” are on this album, but those are far from the best songs. For those try the opening trio of “We Have Forgotten,” “Anything,” and “Waiting Room.” Or if that’s not your jam, go with the earworm “I Can’t Catch You.” Or maybe “Love” and “Moving On” that harken back to previous album This Beautiful Mess era guitar sounds is your go-to. Any way you slice it this is an amazing album and shouldn’t be judged by the two smash hit mainstream singles. Newsboys – Take Me To Your Leader (1996)
This is the boys from down under at their finest. There’s a more rock-driven propulsion to these songs, while still retaining enough pop sensibilities to stay accessible. The songwriting pair of Furler/Steve Taylor were at their peak, with plenty of wit to pair with the more serious, and extremely catchy melodies. For my money “Lost The Plot” is the best song the Newsboys ever wrote and released, but the quirky “Take Me To Your Leader,” “Breakfast” and “Reality” are all right up there in the mix.
Dctalk – Jesus Freak (1995)
So here we are…this easily could have been number 1, and for many people who love this decade it probably is. In fact, I think I had it in the top spot for a long time as I complied the rest of the list. It’s 1A if it’s anything. What a genre-shaking, decade defining album. Fans of previous album
Free At Last may have been shaken at the sound change, but it was bound to happen with their love of rock n’ roll. I can’t really say much about this album that hasn’t already been said, suffice to say it’s 5 stars and a must-own. Also, it turns 25 years old this year, yikes! Jars of Clay – Self-Titled (1995)
And now we’ve reached the album cemented in my heart as most listened to, most copies “rescued” and owned from thrift stores, and most treasured, from my favorite band of all-time. I know every word, every note and I never seem to get tired of it. Hearing “Flood” as I watched the music video at youth camp that summer hooked me for life. Hearing “Liquid” over a set of kick-butt auditorium speakers has never left my memory bank, and singing “Love Song For A Savior” as a heartful worship song before they were in vogue cemented it. The. Whole. Album. Is. Genius. Acoustic guitars. Drum loops. Cellos. Violins. Swelling string sections. Deeply poetic lyrics. This album is what set my lifelong musical sweet-spot and still brings new nuanced appreciation each time I hear it.
And it’s done! I’d love to interact with you about your favorites, what you think I missed, if you agree on the ranking, etc. I included a list of honorable mentions below that were either on the list at one point, or I think are definitely deserving of best of the decade status but just missed the cut. All would make an actual greatest of the 90s list, but they didn’t make mine because I only discovered them in the last 5-10 years.
15 That Just Missed (Aka Honorable Mentions): Johnny Q. Public – Extra*Ordinary (1995) Jon Gibson – Forever Friends (1992) The 77s – Sticks And Stones (1990) Adam Again – Dig (1992) Poor Old Lu – Sin (1994) Living Sacrifice – Reborn (1997) Scaterd Few – Sin Disease (1990) Fleming & John – Delusion Of Grandeur (1995) The Violet Burning – Self-Titled (1996) Bebo Norman – Ten Thousand Days (1999) Crystal Lewis – Beauty for Ashes (1996) Plumb – Self-Titled (1997) P.O.D. – Fundamental Elements of Southdown (1999) PFR – Goldie’s Last Day (1993) Dryve – Thrifty Mr. Kickstar (1997)
Also, please enjoy at massive playlist of 500 songs from the 90s (linked below) where you may find some (but not all) of the songs that I think are deserving of attention in the decade. It is not ranked, but is in alphabetical order so check it out and give it a follow if you like it.
500 Great CCM songs of the 90s: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7EM6KUzqw0FkzlXJbyc97w?si=TtxD8G5rSSSsh-RplZMasQ
Happy listening friends!