I was too young for the first wave of “Christian rock,” which dates back to the late-’60s and flourished in the ’70s and early-’80s with artists and bands such as Keith Green (left, looking a lot like Jesus), Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, and Daniel Amos (a band). But I still love these guys. They were genuinely counter-cultural—and first-rate musicians. As hard as it is to imagine now, there was a time when Christian singer-songwriters were strictly underground, performing to what they perceived to be a secular audience, tackling topical issues of their day without following any conceivable party line (anti-abortion and anti-nukes) and inviting others to join them in their journey of Christian faith.
Of course, secular audiences weren’t hearing them: In order to find their records you had to venture into kitschy Christian bookstores—an intimidating prospect for even the world-weary Christians among us.
Sadly, much of their labor is lost to history. Even Christians pre-disposed to liking contemporary Christian music today will never hear this stuff unless they seek it out. I notice on Amazon that you can still get Keith Green’s excellent Ministry Years 1977-1979 compilation, which I highly recommend. Here’s a link to one of its songs, “You Put This Love in My Heart.” I think you’ll agree the music has aged well. Yes, it sounds dated, but only inasmuch as classic ’70s Elton John sounds dated. That was a good era for pop singer-songwriters, of whom Green would be a shining example if he hadn’t had a dramatic conversion experience that inspired him to perform only religious songs.
Most of the stuff is out of print, but there’s always eBay. Seek out Phil Keaggy’s What a Day and Love Broke Thru, Daniel Amos’s Horrendous Disc and Vox Humana, Larry Norman’s Only Visiting this Planet (produced with the assistance of Beatles producer George Martin), Leslie Phillips’s Recollection, and the 77’s Ping Pong Over the Abyss and (the incomparable) All Fall Down.