Forefront Records was my go-to trusted label growing up. Every trip to the brick and mortal Christian bookstore from 1992-1999 I’d always hunt out the yellow lettering on the cd spine as I looked to bolster my ever-growing collection. Founded in 1987 by Dan R. Brock, Eddie DeGarmo, Dana Key, and Ron W. Griffin, the label was home to some of the most iconic artists of the genre. There were a handful of years (until maybe 2002) after being sold to EMI in 1996 that the label continued to pump out innovative music, but I believe their golden peak years fell in the 1992-1996 range, while taking a dip with the rest of the CCM world post 2000. The reasons for that are a post for another time which I may dig into at some point, but the short answer is a technology shift and money. That’s not to say they didn’t still have some gems, but post Dctalk and Audio Adrenaline’s 1.0 version with Mark Stuart things were just different. As we all know too well, with different management come different goals, and in my mind a dip in quality in this case too.
While I didn’t love everything the label released it was pretty darn close. Dctalk, Audio Adrenaline, Smalltown Poets, Bleach, Skillet, Seven Day Jesus, and Big Tent Revival became favorites that I quickly snapped up and continue to listen to in this present day.
As such I thought I’d do my normal thing to celebrate and remember by ranking my Top 20 favorite Forefront Record releases of all-time. That’s after contemplating ranking their entire catalogue of releases, scrapping that overwhelming task to shoot for a Top 40, and ultimately settling on a more manageable Top 20. There were so many deserving artists, and I’m sure I’ll anger some while delighting others with those I’ve left off or ranked too low, but hey…this is just for fun and my personal favorites so…be nice. Also, make your own version of my list too if you’d like…I love to read others favorites and why they connected with them too.
P.S. Though I don’t typically include compilation albums on lists like these, don’t forget about Seltzer 1 & 2, two of the best compilations of the decade if you ask me!
Considering Lily – Self Titled (1997)
Tait – Empty (2001)
The Benjamin Gate – Contact (2002)
Stacie Orrico – Self Titled (2003)
Satellite Soul – Self Titled (1997)
Top 20 Below…
20. The Normals – Better Than This (1998)
19. eLI – Things I Prayed For (1998)
18. Pax217 – Engage (2002)
17. Code of Ethics – Arms Around the World (1995)
16. Rebecca St James – God (1996)
15. Audio Adrenaline – Underdog (1999)
14. Geoff Moore & the Distance – Friend Like U (1992)
13. Big Tent Revival – Open All Nite (1996)
12. Grammatrain – Lonely House (1996)
11. Bleach – Static (1998)
10. Skillet – Self Titled (1996)
Grungy nirvana-inspired album that remains an outlier in their vast catalogue. I enjoy the raw angst of “Gasoline” and “I Can” as well as the down-tempo moment of “Saturn.” Top 20 Songs Of 20 Artists: Skillet, In Review: Skillet – Dominion
9. Pete Stewart – Self Titled (1999)
Lead singer of Grammarian steps out and makes a terrific grungy, gravelly, guitar-based record with more than a handful of catchy songs.
8. Kevin Max – Stereotype Be (2001)
7. 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.
6. Tobymac – Welcome to Diverse City (2003)
The best overall album from the godfather of Christian music. Every Tobymac Song Ranked (Kinda)
5. 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 five tracks are perfect and the rest of the album is close to that gold standard. “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. Top 10: Smalltown Poets
4. Dctalk – Jesus Freak (1995)
Number 4?! Yeah, yeah…just trying to mix it up here play along…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. Jesus Freak: A 25th Anniversary Retrospective, Top 25 Songs: Dctalk
3. Seven Day Jesus – Self Titled (1997)
I heard this one first and I’m probably in the minority to like it better than their 1996 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.
2. Dctalk – Free at Last (1992)
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. Dctalk’s “Free at Last” Is 25!
1. Audio A – Bloom (1996)
This is THE perfect Audio Adrenaline sound. I think that Underdog is fun and 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 discography AND the Forefront catalogue. 1996: 25 Albums Celebrate 25 Years
You may be thinking…where’s Don’t Censor Me, Supernatural, (insert album left out here)?!!? Well, my only defense is that though those albums have strong individual songs, “Big House” “Dive” and others, the albums themselves have major weak points. Anyway, totally an opinion, so feel free to disagree and say so. Hope you enjoyed the read and as always, I’d love to see your list!