AN NRT EXCLUSIVE EDITORIAL
How 1995 Changed Christian Music Forever
NRT's Founder, Kevin McNeese, goes back two decades to examine seismic shifts that made Christian music what it is today and rediscovers 11 albums that turned 20 years old in 2015.
 


Twenty years ago, the Christian music industry was on the eve of a seismic shift that would shatter records, dismantle accepted styles of music and set the stage to become one of the fastest growing genres in music history. How's that for a dramatic intro?

The year 1995--just a few short decades behind us--marked the beginning of the third major movement in Christian music history. 

THE JESUS MOVEMENT
The first movement was the industry's beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which erupted out of the "Jesus Movement," a rapid spread of Christianity that started on the West Coast of the United States and spread throughout North America and Europe. Members of the movement, mostly coming from the hippie counterculture of the time, were called "Jesus People," or "Jesus Freaks" (more on that in a moment). In the movement's wake came a number of new denominations, churches and the introduction of Jesus Music--which took the music of the time and infused God-centric lyrics.

Artists like Keith Green, Love Song, Resurrection Band, 2nd Chapter of Acts and Larry Norman easily found an audience that would gather across the country underneath giant tents and spread their music quickly throughout the movement.

The stage was set for the modern Christian music label, and in 1970, Larry Norman produced and released two albums on One Way Records. Maranatha! Music, a praise and worship label that is still active today, launched shortly after that in 1971.

As the Jesus Movement began to die out in the mid-1980s, the business arrangement between artists and labels was in full bloom, and artists like Amy Grant and Rich Mullins, who grew up discovering the early artists, turned that inspiration into massive careers that grew along with the country's desire for more music that honored and supported their growing faith. The second stage was set that would propel the industry strong into the 1990s.

And then it all changed. Again. 

INTRODUCTION OF SOUNDSCAN
An industry that had been dominated by CCM (contemporary Christian music, adult contemporary style) for a decade and a half was about to receive a giant jolt of energy. From the introduction of SoundScan charts, to Christian label acquisitions, to mainstream media attention, 1995 was full of watershed moments for Christian music.

In April of 1995, SoundScan began monitoring point-of-purchase sales of Christian product at retail. The Billboard 200, a weekly music sales chart, incorporated sales from Christian bookstores (known as the Christian Booksellers Association, or CBA) in their Sept. 9 issue for the first time. The reason? Michael W. Smith's much anticipated new album, I'll Lead You Home, was a massive hit, selling more than 51,000 copies in CBA affiliated stores alone, good enough for No. 16 on The Billboard 200. Albums from Ray Boltz, Ron Kenoly, Petra and the multi-artist project, My Utmost For His Highest, also debuted on chart. Christian music, for the first time, was being recognized as a sellable medium alongside mainstream projects.

This milestone year would set the tone for Christian music making chart history thereafter. Carman's R.I.O.T. debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 45 on Nov. 18 and artists like Point of Grace, Kathy Troccoli, Newsboys, Steven Curtis Chapman, 4HIM and more would make appearances. 

THE ALBUM THAT CHANGED IT ALL
But the release of dcTalk's Jesus Freak album on November 21, 1995 eclipsed everyone's expectations, selling an unprecedented 85,814 units the first week of release, and earning the album the best-selling first week ever for a Christian album. It landed at No. 16 on The Billboard 200 and was one of that week's five highest debuts alongside new albums from the Beatles, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen and Vince Gill.

BIG MONEY POURS IN
This was validation to the suits that controlled the big money behind the music industry, and within months, hundreds of millions of dollars were being poured into Christian music that would forever transform the landscape and set the stage for the massive and diverse line-up we enjoy today.

Mainstream music labels began acquiring smaller, independent Christian labels. The "Big Three"--EMI (now Capitol Music Group), Warner and Sony--suddenly had a financial stake in Christian music, and the explosion was incredibly fast. As the money increased, so did the quality of the music being produced. That opened up mainstream opportunities that Christian music rarely had before, expanding the fan base. And more of those fans attended bigger, and more elaborate tours and festivals, funded by a flood of sponsors eager to get in front of the growing audience. 

In the year that followed, Christian pop/rock, a sub-genre that barely existed twelve months earlier, took front and center. Jars of Clay became a massive hit in 1996 as their single "Flood" exploded the gates separating Christian music and the mainstream. DcTalk's "The Freak Show Tour" took off the same year and locked them into Christian Rock history as the biggest band ever in the genre. Audio Adrenaline's Bloom released and they joined dcTalk on tour, cementing them as a household name that still exists today. Newsboys' Take Me To Your Leader followed and catapulted them into stardom.

1995 was a pretty exciting year, producing some incredibly memorable albums that truly set the stage for the next two decades. And in an effort to make you feel as old as you are, here are fifteen albums that turn twenty years old this year.

Which ones do you still listen to?


DC TALK JESUS FREAK - NOVEMBER 21, 1995
In just 30 days, it was certified Gold (500,000 copies shipped to retail). It has since been certified double platinum, sharing that honor with just a handful of other releases in Christian music. It is widely credited as the album that changed Christian music to what we know today. And at just 20 years young, it holds up against every other release of its time proving an honor worth celebrating. The group recently reunited for the first time in 13 years on a track from TobyMac's latest, This Is Not A Test, reigniting fan's hopes for a reunion and fueling rumors of bigger news to come.

JARS OF CLAY JARS OF CLAY - OCTOBER 24, 1995
The second album on this list to be certified double platinum, the debut release from Jars of Clay, and their opening spot for the Newsboys' tour that fall, instantly put them on the radar of every Christian music fan. "Flood" remains their most popular song to date, generating over 1.5 million plays to date on Spotify with "Love Song For A Savior" and "Worlds Apart" also making the band's Top 5 streamed songs. The group is now independently releasing their music with their latest album, Inland, coming out a few year ago. 

SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER THIS BEAUTIFUL MESS - JULY 15, 1995
Two years before "Kiss Me" and "There She Goes" cemented Sixpence None the Richer into mainstream pop music history, the band crafted an album of ten tracks filled with angst and longing that only lead singer Leigh Nash could deliver. The music was different, the lyrics were engaging and thought out and the band would go on to become one of Christian music's biggest crossover hits. Nash recently released a new country solo release titled, The State I'm In.

VARIOUS ARTISTS - WOW 1996 - NOVEMBER 7, 1995
An exploding industry needed an annual collection and the WOW Hits series was born. The 30 song collection, featuring top hits from artists like Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Point of Grace and more, was certified platinum the following year. Of the 30 artists featured, less than half are still recording today. WOW Hits 2016 represents the 20th installment in the series.  

MICHAEL W. SMITH - I'LL LEAD YOU HOME - AUGUST 29, 1995
Smitty's eighth studio recording entered the Billboard 200 at number 16, representing the highest-debuting Christian album in the history of the chart. Michael continues to record and tour today.

CARMAN - R.I.O.T. - OCTOBER 31, 1995
The title track won "Rap Recorded Song of the Year' at the 1996 Dove Awards and the album spawned eight music videos during the height of Carman's career. Carman continues to tour today after announcing his cancer has gone into remission. 


JOHNNY Q. PUBLIC - EXTRA-ORDINARY - FEBRUARY 21, 1995
Signed to a newly formed Gotee Records, Johnny Q. Public's debut earned them mainstream distribution from Elektra Records, virtually unheard of in the industry at the time. The video for "Body Be," their biggest hit from the album, got picked up by MTV. The band released one more album in 2000 before breaking up the following year. 

GEOFF MOORE & THE DISTANCE - HOME RUN - AUGUST 17, 1995
Long before it became popular to hold long vowel sounds throughout a chorus, Geoff Moore & the Distance had the nation singing "Home Run," the title track from their fourth album on ForeFront Records. Geoff Moore recently completed a Kickstarter campaign to record his 15th album in 31 years, raising just under $40,000. It's expected to be completed by the end of the year.

EAST TO WEST - NORTH OF THE SKY - JUNE 27, 1995
Releasing on the now disbanded Benson Music Group, the second (and last) album from duo Neal Coomer and Jay DeMarcus hit No. 16 on Billboard's Top Christian Albums chart and produced 4 Top 20 singles. The band broke up in 1997 and DeMarcus later went on to become a member of the group Rascal Flatts which earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in September 2012.

WAYNE WATSON - FIELD OF SOULS - OCTOBER 24, 1995
A fixture on the charts ("Another Time, Another Place," "Friend of a Wounded Heart," "Watercolour Ponies"), Wayne Watson's 11th studio recording was not the commercial success his label was hoping for, peaking at No. 21 on Billboard's Top Christian Albums chart. Wayne currently is breaking from touring and recording but is still active with his fans on social media.

OUT OF THE GREY - GRAVITY - AUGUST 1, 1995
The fourth album on Sparrow Records by Out of the Grey--husband-and-wife team Scott and Christine Denté--continued to push the group from their folk roots into a more mainstream pop sound that they have reclaimed since becoming independent in 2003. They are currently completing a brand new album and their son, Julian, completed a crowdfunding project for his debut EP.

Want to discover (or rediscover) the best of 1995? Check out our official Spotify Playlist!
 

Kevin McNeese started NRT in 2002 and has worked in the industry since 1999 in one form or another. He has been a fan of Christian music since 1991, witnessing first hand the year that changed Christian music forever.

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