Religious music for less than devout

We have a thread " Jazz for someone who doesn’t like jazz. " In a similar vein perhaps "Religious music for the less than devout".

"people get ready" - Rod Stewart
"Amazing Grace" - Jessye Norman
2009 "Duets" - Five Blind Boys of Alabama, The - entire CD
1988 "Sweet Fellowship" - Acappella, the entire CD

In 1989 I was working in NJ, I may have been the only guy on the job who did not know he was working for the Irish Mafia. I would lend people the CD "Sweet Fellowship" and they were willing to pay for it but never return it:

"Here is $20 kid, go buy yourself another cuz youz can’t have mine back. Now don’t ever ask me again."

The Fairfield Four, "Standing In The Safety Zone".  And you thought you knew something about a capella gospel singing...
For those who do like jazz, the obvious one is John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme."
There was a time when religion was so revered by so many there was no higher achievement than to pay holy reverence to God almighty in as grand a scale as possible. All the best most productive people devoted their lives to it. Kind of like today they do it figuring out new ways to create money out of nothing and move it around with computers. Back then they built cathedrals, painted the Sistine Chapel, and wrote the Messiah. 

This comes up a couple times in the movie Margin Call. First its the kid who was trained as a rocket scientist, but finance pays better. Then it was the engineer who built one bridge that saved millions of man-hours, but then he went into finance and now realizes the awful waste of what could have been.

Anyway, this thread subject made me realize. Recently scanning the radio dial I came across some really interesting and quite good pop music. Took me a while at first, because it was so good, but gradually it dawned on me this was a Christian station. Every single song was Glory to God. It gets a little boring after a while, like if every song was like REO Heard it From A Friend. You know, all breakup songs. 

But the thing of it is, there was a time when this kind of religious music was universally awful. Unimaginative. Cliche. Now it is getting quite good. 

What this tells me, there's more interest, its becoming more widely admired, and its attracting more and greater talent. 


Janice Ian Breaking Silence has several songs with religious themes. Hard to beat Breaking Silence, on any level. Same with Jennifer Warnes The Well. Two bona-fide audiophile classics. The religious themes are in there, here and there, but always in the background never in your face. Perfect. In so many ways.
I collect gospel and CCM from the 1960s through the 1980s. Most specifically everything released on Word Records and all their sub-labels. This casts a very wide genre net, perhaps outside the intention of the OP.

In the traditional sense of religious music I would suggest "Spirituals In Concert" featuring Kathleen Battle & Jesse Norman. This album is in my, "If I had to pick 10 CDs to take with me to be be stranded on a desert island" list.

The Gospel category is wide and deep, but for people unfamiliar and looking for variety I strongly suggest Shirley Cesar’s album "Rejoice", especially the track, "Satan You’re a Liar".

For 80’s mainstream contemporary christian music definitely listen to Jon Gibson, any album will do, his Hits compilation that came out in 1991 is a good entry point.

For artist cross over albums Dylan's is obvious, but I greatly prefer Mark Farner's christian album, "Some Kind of Wonderful".
@ Palasr


RE: The Fairfield Four, "Standing In The Safety Zone". And you thought you knew something about a capella gospel singing...


I needed to leave something else for other folks like you to contribute. You may want to look up also “Sweet Honey in the Rock” in particular 1988 “Live at Carnegie Hall”. The songs “Run, Run, Mourner Run” and “Wade in the Water” will kill ya.


I don’t own the entire Fairfield Four catalogue, but I own a decent sampling. Not to neglect the “the Dixie Hummingbirds”but technically they are not a capella.  Neither is “Mighty Clouds of Joy” but they get the job done.

 & Thank you Oregonpapa for recommending: Kathleen Battle "So Many Stars.", I have a few of her CDs but not that one. (add to my orders.)

 I was looking for Oh Happy Day, Edwin Hawkins Singers. But it slipped my ADD mind.

 Ladysmith Black Mambazo will sometimes include a Gospel tune.

 O Sifuni Mungu (All Creatures of Our God and King) is worth looking up. The original was done by “First Call”

 Hezekiah Walker had a run away hit with his danceable song “Every Praise” which drew many imitators from Korea and Japan some of which are rater funny.


I am pleased this topic is well received.

Mindy Smith's albums. Good country/alt-country but with a sometimes subtle Christian message woven in every now and then.
Mozart's "Requiem" - - just outstanding, feeling music.  That also serves a religious point.
Rock and roll arguably evolved from gospel. Without gospel music there wouldn’t be Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, or James Brown - for example. So many of the country blues guitarists (eg Mississippi John Hurt) were essentially playing their twists on gospels. This music was a point of reference for these genres to expand on - this is what people knew.

Released in time for Christmas 2019, I enjoy Andrew Bird's "Hark!"
A truly great masterwork is  Brahms "German Requiem"
On either CD or DVD  .
A fave of mine:
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Salzburger Kirchenmusik 1774
Gema Records 1985
Carus 83.103 CD

Wonderful choral music!

BTW, I tried to return my Fairfield Four album to Best Buy and get my money back. The clerk asked what was wrong with it. I said: "The title says Fairfield Four but there are five people on the cover. It's obviously defective!". Didn't get my money back...  
Definitely much less than devout here.
But I do listen to a lot of Christian rock and metal, Probably not quite what you had in mind though.
Bands like Skillet, Stryper , Barren Cross, Angelica, Rez, Angie Lewis.
Van Morrison: "In The Garden", "Whenever God Shines His Light On Me", “When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God?",  “If I Ever Needed Someone”. There are others. 
A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten.  On Argo Records.  Choir of Saint John's College, Cambridge.
^^^Van Morrison went through a Christian phase for a while. He has quite a few popular religious songs. These are the Days is another one. Some folks hear some Christian themes in Astral Weeks, but I think you can hear anything you want to in that album.

All Bach.

U2's albums are suffused with Christian themes. Bono says he is a devout Christian.

For some spectacular R&B/Gospel check out Leon Bridges album Coming Home. It is not a religious or gospel album per se but there are three of four excellent songs with Christian themes. On some of them you have to listen carefully to hear them. The songs are fantastic as is the whole album. The theology is deep and solid without being cheesy or in-your-face. This one, River, is probably the best and deepest:

I am a devout Christian but other than classical, traditional hymns and a few I've mentioned here, I do not particularly like religious music. Especially religious pop music. Several of you have mentioned above that it has gotten better, and that is good. Because not long ago I would have said it was the worst music of all. It wasn't good pop. It wasn't good gospel. No catchy tunes. Overly emotional and sentimental. Shallow and vapid. And that always makes me a little sad, as a Christian. As millercarbon mentioned, western religious music was, at one time, the highest level or artistic expression in music. And it might still be.

@ millercarbon


There was a time forty years ago I when I lived in Gallup NM, a small town in the middle of nowhere with only 4 radio stations. One station was all in Navajo, one was rock/pop, one was Country and the last was Gospel format. Yes the quality of the Gospel genre was not what one might hope and I listened to very little of it then. It was explained to me that since most listeners listen in their vehicle and only for a few minutes it was perfectly acceptable to play the song “9 to 5” twice and hour all day long.

I have a recollection of driving across all of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas on a Sunday in August steering a badly over loaded 24’ Ryder truck towing my pickup behind me.   Maximum speed may have been 50 mph, no AC and only an AM radio. Under those conditions the only acoustic selections were not so much religious as what I would call “red neck toothless gospel”. My yellow Lab named Bismark was riding shotgun, so we turned up the “Old time Gospel” and Bismark and I had our personal revival the width of all of 3 states combined.

I agree with your general point, that the quality and variety of religious music is vastly improved.

Twila Paris, Phil Driscol, David Meece, John Fahey are examples of those who write and perform as well as anyone. Many C&W acts have worthwhile religious content in their repertoire.

RE Fairfield Four

Their version of “John the Revelator”, while not a cappella, is a show stopper. The version from their 2000 “Live from Mountain Stage” CD is a favorite speaker demo selection of mine. If you don’t think you like the Fairfield Four, try that cut before you rule them out.

On the Ry Cooder soundtrack CD from 1986 “Crossroads” is a blues (once gospel) funeral dirge “Somebody’s Callin’ My Name” sometimes titled “Hush hush…” Jessey Norman also performs this song on one of her CDs. When I die that song is what I want played at my funeral entrance.

On the soundtrack from “The Color Purple” is a song worth your time titled “Maybe God Is Tryin’ to Tell You Somethin’”.

If secular music demonstrates the diversity of the human race so does religious music even more so. On 1992 “Blues Masters, Vol. 04; Harmonica Classics” is Charlie Musselswhite’s hymn “Christo Redemptor”. By any measure it is excellent recording of amazing music.


I started listening to Christian rock in the mid 80's. It took a while to find anything good in 1983-84 because they store employees didn't understand what Christian rock was and I din't know it was "contemporary" Oh well, I finally discovered  Petra, Stryper, DeGarmo & Key, The Allies, White Cross, Larry Howard, Mylon Lefevre, Bryan Duncan and many others. Some quite obscure ones were good  too. And they are actually recorded pretty good. I quit listening to new stuff in the '90'ss whern alternative took over and music seemed to be hopeless. And I don't know the bands today. Festivals like Cornerstone, C too.reation and now defunct Fishnet were great venues

@n80Like you I don't care for the music on Christian radio. never really have but maybe even less today. In the 70's & 80's it was different.Today its big business. many artists like Don Francisco and Sterve Camp, et al got out of it because of that very thing. kerry Livgren said he couldn't see any difference between recording his Kansas and Christian albums. But pushed for product. Oh well,

not long ago I would have said it was the worst music of all. It wasn't good pop. It wasn't good gospel. No catchy tunes. Overly emotional and sentimental. Shallow and vapid. And that always makes me a little sad, as a Christian
Good description and I agree. I too am sad for it
Consider choral music from great Elizabethans:
Thomas Tallis: especially the 40 part harmony - sounds like science fiction, even today - imagine what it must have been like for the Elizabethans
William Byrd: Masses for 3,4 and 5 voices

Monteverdi was not bad either.
I mix a lot of (oxymoron) Christian/religious metal music in my metal repertoire.

 Tourniquet, Stryper, mass, deliverance, and others.
some great stuff!!

 Don’t really care if it’s satan/Jesus stuff,
whatever, if the music. Is wicked, it’s worth my money and time.

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I enjoy Third Day, Johnny Cash, POD, and others.

My uncle in his 80’s sings in a gospel quartet, I think it’s awesome. Many musicians and singers started in the Church. 

I’ve been a scoundrel most of my life but I like the vibe!

Hope you all are staying safe.


I can’t believe Dylan’s Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot Of Love haven’t already been mentioned.

Aretha Franklin: Songs Of Faith. Recorded in 1956 in a Baptist church in Detroit (Aretha was 14 years old!), originally released on J-V-B Records, rereleased in ’65 (with extra tracks) in ’65 on Checker Records.

Larry Norman was a very well-known figure in the Christian Rock movement (and may still be). He made a bunch of albums, and if his name sounds familiar (unless you’re from San Jose or are a Rock historian, I doubt it ;-), he was one of the two lead singers in the 1960’s 1-hit wonder group People, known for their cover of The Zombies "I Love You".

Ritchie Furay of Buffalo Springfield and Poco also went Christian, making a fair number of albums for the Christian Rock market.

Almost all the music composed by J.S. Bach is of a spiritual nature, much of it written to be performed at his day job, a church organist.

@slaw Good call on the Audio Slave song. Its one of my favorites by them. Lots of religious imagery but not sure what the actual message was.  Like a Stone also has a lot of religious imagery. I always thought Cornell was so so talented.

@artemus_5 There was a Christian rock band in the 80's called The Resurrection Band. Not sure if it was "metal" but fairly hard. I saw them perform and they rocked. Not sure if you can even find their music anymore or if they are still around:

My favorite Led Zeppelin song is In My Time of Dying. A bit of an irreverent take on dying featuring Jesus, angels and, I think the devil but I don't remember if he makes an appearance or not.....he's implied if nothing else.

@bdp24 I can't believe we left Dylan out either. Like Van Morrison he went through a Christian phase as well.
I'm not a big church goer but a friend said try City Church in Redmond and I went a couple times. First time the band came out to play I thought oh no here we go but then was really pleasantly surprised. Impressed, even. Quality musicianship, quality performance. Even the sound quality was quite good. This in a church with probably several hundred in attendance. Packed. 

As I say I don't go much and so the next time I went was more than a year later. The church had outgrown and moved to the valley where there was a lot of land by the golf course. The parking lot was so big they had shuttle buses. The church was so big they had three giant TV screens each one a good 20 feet high and from where we were you needed the screen. The place felt more like a sports coliseum or concert hall than a church. I mean it was huge. And packed. 

Its not a phase. The phase if anything would appear to be the time of thinking eternal truths will go away simply because you turn your back on them.
"Jesus is Just Alright" Doobie Brothers

I guess one thing you all don't know about me...... I'm a PK.
Yah Mo Be There - James Ingram and Michael McDonald
Just Be Thankful - William Devaughn
yes love Bob Dylan Saved and Slow Train those albums are great

i saw Blind Boys of Alabama about 10 years ago as they opened for Dr John I have never been to church but the BBA show was like I assumed a southern baptist church would be like They put on a fantastic gospel tinged show plUs they were all in their 80’s
I would suggest "A Feather on the Breath of God; Sequences and Hymns by Abbess Hildegard of Bingen" (born 1098; died 1179). Performed by "Gothic Voices" under the direction of Christopher Page, and featuring Emma Kirkby, soprano, among others. Engineered by Tony Faulkner.

I have it on LP, Hyperion A66039, which may be unavailable. But a CD version is available at Amazon.

-- Al

Many pre-war artists were amazing.
Blind Willie Johnson 
Blind Gary Davis
Washington Phillips
there are several more amazing pre-war gospel artists.
I think gospel takes a turn for the worse as the decades go by.  It slowly becomes Jesus for dollars.

Here is a great one. This man is gifted. Awesome video too. Gary Clark, Jr. - Church

Counterpoint: This one is fun. Great lyrics. Squirrel Nut Zippers - Hell

@artemus_5 ,

Regarding Kerry Livgren, you can't let what one person's interpretation of anything, conflict with your own.
@bigwave , no, the recording I referred to is in stereo.  It was originally released in 1981 on a digitally mastered LP.

BTW, I noticed after I posted that the Wikipedia writeup on Gothic Voices states that "A Feather on the Breath of God" "remains one of the best-selling recordings of pre-classical music ever made."    

Best regards,
-- Al

@wsrrsw, that's some good stuff right there those Holmes Brothers.
Our church, mostly white, from time to time, holds services with a church across town, mostly black. Each of our churches is a bit of a stereotype. We are uptight white people. Our main service is very traditional. Traditional hymns. Big pipe organ. The quality of our choir and organist is top notch. I mean seriously good. Their church is much more soulful for lack of a better word. Just what you'd imagine. Band with drums and bass, organ player, hoppin' choir. The quality of their music is also top notch. I love our music, but I like it much better when we worship with them at their church than when they come to ours. Good gospel music with an actively participating congregation is a wonderful thing!
This is full on religious music, and I am less than devout. For some reason these two Soul Stirrers albums are incredible: I’d Trade A Lifetime(1974) and The Lord Will Make A Way(1976), both on Jewel Records. They are pretty famous for having such artists as Sam Cooke and Johnny Taylor as their lead singers, but at this point in time it was Eddie Huffman. For some reason his conviction and soulful singing keeps me engaged for hours on end. Not in a spiritual sense per se, but his voice is incredible. Here are some samples:

The Rance Allen Group is pretty excellent as well. They did a few albums on Stax.

Cristone “Kingfish” Ingram did a downright incredible variation of Amazing Grace at his mother’s funeral.
Yeah, I spent lots of my disposable income on Christian rock and pop in the 80’s and the first half of the 90’s, before the music industry had its shake up. That music helped me stay centered on the big picture, I guess you’d say.

Special mention to Jon Gibson, who broke into the industry as a back up singer for Stevie Wonder(sounds like him even). He was a pop genius back then.

Speaking of which Stevie Wonder had many songs with religious themes. Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away, Heaven Help Us All. Even Superstition, waking people up to the stupidity of superstition.

More recently, Tom Jones did an album called "Praise and Blame", which is jaw droppingly good. Many Christian themes, from an outsider, maybe.

Johnny Cash had several albums with American Recording company before he passed away. You want to get some insomnia, listen to the song "The Man Comes Around", and then think about Covid:

The hairs on your arm will stand up
At the terror in each sip, and in each sup
Will you partake of that last offered cup?
Or disappear into the potter’s ground
When the Man comes around

And continuing in the country vein, Martina Mcbride. She’s got one of the best voices in country, and when you hear, "Anyway", you can’t help but believe in a higher power:

This world’s gone crazy, and it’s hard to believe
That tomorrow will be better than today,
Believe it anyway

Brooks and Dunn also did a great song called, Believe, that is in the vein of christian themes. I’m sure many country artists have some of that in their catalogs.

Edit:  Oh, for old school straight up black gospel, might as well go straight to the source, Andrae Crouch.  He toured for several years refusing to record anything because he didn't want the music industry to influence his efforts.  The first song I ever heard of his was when I was a small kid, and it's stuck with me my whole life, look up Through it All.
Cash, especially his last suff w/ Rick Rubin
Gram Parsons
Donald Byrd- Cristo Redentor -gotta hear this!