The Top Ten Petra Albums
The story of contemporary Christian music could not be told without Petra. In fact, there is arguably no band or artist that did more to move rock and roll into the church mainstream. In the CCM world, Petra is a band with no equal. They sold millions of albums, had dozens of number one hits, and sold-out tours all over the world. Petra created music that will be remembered long after they are gone. We were and are fans. This is our attempt to honor their legacy by spotlighting what we believe are the Top Ten Petra Albums of all time.
A few disclaimers before we dive in. First, only three of our writers contributed to this top ten. That is very different from most of our top tens. Second, we did not do the typical voting system we use on our other top tens. We each ranked Petra’s albums and then we sorted out the top ten from there. It was an organic process and we truly feel we best captured all of our perspectives with the final product. Finally, this list was put together by the Lytle brothers. We have been listening to Petra since the early 80s and have probably spent more time listening to Petra and talking about their music than just about any other group out there. We’re weird like that.
Jekyll and Hyde (2003)
Petra needed this album. To be honest, if they had ended their run prior to Jekyll and Hyde, it would have been pretty sad. From God Fixation until Revival, nothing Petra did really made a mark. Fortunately, they went out on a high note, as Jekyll and Hyde rocks like they had rarely rocked before. This album kicks butt in all sorts of ways and it makes me so glad that a band that paved the way for so many others was able to finish out their run with an album that was worthy of their name. (Phill Lytle)
The Top Ten
10. Wake Up Call (1993)
I have a complicated relationship with Wake Up Call. I’ll admit, I was underwhelmed when it released. The cover photo promised blistering rock and roll, and outside of a few songs (“Underneath the Blood” and “Midnight Oil”) there really weren’t any hard rockers to be found. To make matters worse, the production seemed muted to me. The drums felt like they took a back seat this time around and the guitars weren’t as loud and crunchy as I had grown to love from Petra.
Over time, I realized that while Petra did throw their fans a curve-ball with this album, most of the changes worked, and I would contend, they gave us some of the best songs and musicianship of their entire catalog. Brown Bannister took over production for this album and his work, while a change of pace, was intricate and layered and add a wonderful level of depth to their sound. And the drums are amazing. I can’t believe I ever doubted Louie.
Bonus: “Just Reach Out” is one of the all-time great Petra songs and probably the best closing song of any Petra album. (Phill Lytle)
9. Not of this World (1983)
Not of the World is something of a mixed bag. On one hand, it has some truly great songs like “Grave Robber”, “God Pleaser”, and the title track. On the other hand, it too often sounds like a lesser version of its predecessor More Power to Ya. It also gave us the “classic” “Occupy”, one of Petra’s all-time worst songs. While the band did not break any new ground here the trio of amazing tracks mentioned earlier along with a few solid rockers are more than enough to make this a top 10 record. (Mike Lytle)
8. Back to the Street (1986)
Back to the Street has always felt like a transition for the band – a sort of “we are headed somewhere great but aren’t quite there yet” statement. Longtime lead singer, Greg X. Volz had departed to pursue a solo career. Longtime producer, Jonathan David Brown was replaced with the Elephante brothers. And perhaps even more importantly, the band returned to the studio as a full band to record the album. (The previous albums had seen session drummers or even programmed drums fill in for Louie Weaver for reasons that have never made sense to me.)
The result is an album that feels unsteady. It’s not bad by any means, but it lacks cohesion and confidence. For one, new lead singer, John Schlitt’s voice was raw – having not sung professionally for some time. Secondly, it’s clear that Bob Hartman needed time to figure out how to write for his new singer and the songs on Back to the Street were hit and miss in that regard. Even with all this upheaval and newness, the band still turned out some great songs including “Whole World”, “Thankful Heart”, “Fool’s Gold”, and “King’s Ransom.” Not bad for an album that was more of a preview of the greatness to come. (Phill Lytle)
7. Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out (1989)
Today’s radio waves seem to only carry Christian music that is banal and uninteresting. For better or worse, this worship music is the genre that dominates church music, Christian radio, and record sales today. And although you would never know it by listening to the radio, even Worship music has a history. Knowledgeable of that history, many people would point back to bands of the 90s, like Delirious, as the originators of the genre of modern worship music.
An all too easily forgotten part of that history is Petra’s 1989 album Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out. In many ways, this album laid the groundwork for so much of the Worship genre. While few of the songs are original, the style is distinctly Petra but with a twist. This twist is a sort of corporate worship feel that the album celebrates. From the heavy use of backing vocals, the use of call and response, to ending the album with live songs, the album was created for others to sing along. While this album has many memorable moments, I’ve always felt that the song “Take Me In” possessed a sort of magical ability to transport me to another time and place. (David Lytle)
6. Beat the System (1984)
I’m not sure the year I heard this album as I was 6 years old when it came out. I have pretty strong memories of hearing songs from it when I was very young – possibly that year or a year or two later. I was blown away. It was my first exposure to Petra as far as I can remember. I have fellow missionary kids John and Mark Inscoe to thank for that. I remember hearing “Voice in the Wind”, “It Is Finished”, and “Hollow Eyes” and wondering how music could sound this good. It was wildly different from anything I had ever heard and I fell in love with the band right then and there.
It’s still one of Petra’s strangest albums, with a stylistic left turn that no one could have predicted. I’m happy they did it even though it was a big departure from their sound. It showed they were willing to take chances and try new things. Plus, it introduced Petra fans to John Lawry and his impressive keyboard skills. It was also long-time lead singer, Greg X. Volz’s final studio album with the band. He went out on a high note in my opinion. (Phill Lytle)
5. This Means War! (1987)
John Schlitt joined the band as lead vocalist in 1986 for their album Back to the Street. He was a little rusty after being out of music for several years and it showed. They were also getting used to new producers in John and Dino Elefante. By 1987 with the release of This Means War! it was obvious the band had worked through all those growing pains. From the opening line of the title track, Schlitt’s vocals are clearly on another level. The production is tight and crisp all the way through.
In my opinion, this record ushered in the golden age for Petra that lasted for the next several years and cemented them as the most popular band in Christian music. Lyrically the theme of spiritual warfare runs throughout the album. This Means War! also gave us two all-time Petra classics in “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered” and “You Are My Rock.” (Mike Lytle)
4. Unseen Power (1991)
Making a follow up to your career-defining and best-selling record was always going to be tough. I am sure the band felt quite a bit of pressure to deliver on this album.
As you can see by our ranking we feel like they nailed it. They took a stab at gospel music with the memorable and very hummable “Who’s on the Lord’s Side”. They tackled anthem-like pop rock in “I Need to Hear From You” and “Hey World” and the results were outstanding. The only misstep on the entire record is the Motown influenced “Hand on My Heart” that mostly falls flat. Lyrically Bob Hartman was at his best tackling a host of issues like abortion, prayer, calling, evangelism, suicide, and faith to name a few. The music videos and behind the scenes documentary the band did for this record is also great. (Mike Lytle)
3. On Fire (1988)
This was Petra’s metal album. At least, it was the closest they got to making a metal album until Jekyll and Hyde some 15 years later. I was at the perfect age and the exact musical sensibility for this album when it came out.
It ROCKED! And it rocked my world. From the opening number, “All Fired Up” all the way to the final note on “Homeless Few”, the band is relentless. New bass player, Ronnie Cates joined the band for this album and his energy was clearly infections. The band took what they had started on This Means War and they turned it up to 11. (Phill Lytle)
2. More Power to Ya (1982)
In 1982, Petra was still establishing themselves, even as they were trying to establish the fledgling existence of Christian rock music. More than any other album, More Power To Ya put Petra on the map.
This is probably their most complete album from the Greg X. Volz years. It has several solid rock songs like “Stand Up”, “Second Wind”, and “Disciple”. More importantly, the album is loaded with classics like the title track and “Judas Kiss”. For my money, “Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows” is Petra at their best. Lyrically it is a cutting indictment on my own apathy as a church goer. Musically, it has it all–the folksy acoustic guitar that gives way to rock and roll and Greg X. Volz’ amazing vocal track. Even though it doesn’t get any better than “Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows,” “Road to Zion” demands to be mentioned. Its haunting vocals and acoustic guitar work provide a great balance to a truly great rock album. (David Lytle)
1. Beyond Belief (1990)
I did not grow up in the United States so finding and purchasing music, especially Christian music, was often difficult. I had become a Petra fan during the mid to late 80s and had borrowed a few of their albums from friends and copied them onto cassettes. The sound quality of those cassettes was often terrible, but it was all I had and I loved it.
In 1990 my family traveled to the USA for a couple of months during the summer. We met up with some friends at the airport and I was informed that Petra was releasing a new album in early July called Beyond Belief. I counted down the days for the release. I made up my own song called “Beyond Belief” in my head and guessed and what real song would be about. (Thankfully my song sounded nothing like the actual song!)
I convinced my dad to take me to a Christian bookstore the week of July 4th and I paid my hard-earned $10 to purchase the Beyond Belief cassette. It was the first Petra album I ever owned. I listened to it nonstop. I let my brothers and friends borrow it, but with strict guidelines on how many times they could listen to it because I did not want the cassette to wear out. (Cassettes wearing out was a HUGE concern back in the day, I promise). It wasn’t the first or last Petra record I ever heard, but it will always be my favorite.
The band is clicking on all cylinders for this album. The same lineup and the same producers had been together for several records at this point and it showed. It is definitely a product of its time, but for 1990 it was a nearly perfect rock album. The album was certified Gold and is still one the bestselling Christian albums of all time. (Mike Lytle)
That’s our list. The Top Ten Petra Albums of all time. The ten best albums in the legendary career of one of Christian music’s most famous and successful bands. What do you think? Did we get it right? What albums do you think belong in the top ten? Let us know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!
We’ve added a couple of playlists that represent the best of Petra. We hope you’ll take a listen.
25 thoughts on “The Top Ten Petra Albums”
I love the Beyond Belief Story!
I had forgot about the song, but I think I remember you singing it.
Great stuff Dave and Phil. Your articles are great. As Petra fans have you seen my recent interview with the Petra Beyond Belief line up reunited for it’s 30th anniversary? If not I encourage you to check it out. Please feel free to let me know what you think and share it with all fans. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdkdIByrk1g&t=40s
Thanks for the comment. Yes, I watched that interview. Really good stuff. Love seeing those guys interact again. It would be cool if they could do a tour at some point, though it does sound like it might be too complicated and expensive to pull off. I think my favorite part of the interview was Bob forgetting which songs were on “Beyond Belief”. That cracked me up. We’ll share your interview on our Twitter account.
I just came across this list. I have not listened to all of these albums but I don’t know how you can leave “No Doubt” off of this list. I think that every song on it is amazing!
A joy for me, your dad, to follow your journey. Some of my favorite Petra songs – such as “Grave Robber” and “Road to Zion,” to mention only two – are among my favorite songs ever. Thanks, guys. I’ll always be grateful to you for introducing me to Petra.
The songs and stellar performances on the 1st album, PETRA and the 2nd album, COME AND JOIN US are ground breaking records in the Christian Rock genre.
A great list. I couldnt come up with a top10 list of Petra albums. I really like Wake Up Call because it was the first Petra album I heard. At the moment I like No Doubt the best of all the Petra albums. I also like Beat The System and More Power To Ya from the Greg X Voltz years.
Never Say Die? Wow! Now that is an omission for the ages.
Is it? I like a good number of the songs on “Never Say Die” but I don’t believe as an album it surpasses the ones we included on this list. Neither did my brothers, it seems.
Great stuff Dave and Phil. Your articles are great. As Petra fans have you seen my recent yes recent interview with the Petra Beyond Belief line up reunited for it’s 30th anniversary? If not I encourage you to check it out. Please feel free to let me know what you think and share it with all fans. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdkdIByrk1g&t=40s
For me I would switch the rock cries out off my list. It was Petra, but for me it really kinda wasn’t. Never say die and come and join us were way better and more memorable. All of their albums were very good and in many was each one was special in it’s own way. All the way back to the really old original one with the sand stone cover. 70s crunchy garage band sound. Agree on the article commentary otherwise. Petra was and remains an amazing band. Great music and lyrics. Defined a couple of eras in my life. Appreciate their influence for love, excitement and devotion for God through Christ
While my list of Petra Albums is almost exactly the same, my order differs quite a bit from top to bottom.
10. Unseen Power
9. Back Tithe Street
8. Never Say Die
7. On Fire
6. Not Of This World
5. Jekyll & Hyde
4. Beyond Belief
3. This Means War
2. More Power To Ya
1. Beat The System
Thank you. That was an awesome thought out article of a lifetime! ‘Classic Petra’ to me has so many classics that I have grown to love. But since I started off with Beyond Belief (which yes is #1)… I still have a lot more love for Wake Up Call- as it scared the crap out of me when I first heard it on my Walkman! Lol. Midnight oil was so heavy for my soft ears at the time.
Jekyll and Hyde blew me away!!!! Though I’d like to rank that higher, to be honest, I suppose there was only the title track that REALLY still stands out 16 years later, and the cd was too short by a couple songs at least.
Keeping ‘No Doubt’ off the list is correct.
Unseen Power to me had great songs, yes, yet I found it too much trying to recreate Beyond Belief, though the vocals were GREAT! (Which is also why I loved Wake Up Call waaaaay more, because they changed things up musically and the songs were Perfect!!!
Beat the System had a great song from John Lawry, and the classic 80s sound was cool. I’d probably put that ahead of the earlier records, except for Not Of This World and your #2 pick ‘More Power to Ya’
Oh and This Means War is so good, agreed, I don’t hear it enough… “Get on your knees, and fight like a man!”
My biggest complaint when I see these type of lists for Petra is the omission of the self-titled debut.
I get that Hartman isn’t half (OK, isn’t a QUARTER) of the vocalist Volz or Schlitt are but the tunes are great.
The twin guitar attack on “Storm Comin'” in particular is worth the price of admission.
Thanks so much for the responses. We really do appreciate the feedback.
Great list and stories. My own top 10 is largely made up of the same albums as yours but in a slightly different order.
*Jekyll and Hyde
10. Never Say Die
9. Back to the Street
8. Beat the System
7. Wake Up Call
6. Unseen Power
5. On Fire
4. This Means War
3. Not of This World
2. More Power to Ya
1. Beyond Belief
Good list! Thanks for the response.
What about “No doubt” album?? And in case of Not of this world album, you didn’t mention Blinded eyes…
Equally, I enjoyed this article!
Wake Up Call should have been placed on honorable mention. I know it got Grammy and Dove awards. My team of music reviewers, at the time of its release, nicknamed it “Hit The Snooze”. Otherwise I agree with the other 9 album selections. Very good job.
Well, I guess we didn’t believe it deserved to be considered a snooze. When it first came out, as I alluded in my comments about it in the article, it was underwhelming and disappointing. It has grown on me considerably over time.
I’m not sure how I would organize my top ten Petra albums, but I do know that I would put “More Power to Ya” as number one. As much as I’ve liked John Schlitt, I’m still more of a Greg X Volz fan (and now my son’s name is Xavier!). I could go on and on about why I believe that album is #1, but suffice it to say that, in the entire Petra canon, it’s very hard to argue (in my opinion) that there is anything better than “Judas Kiss” and “Rose Coloured Stained Glass Windows.” There are other great songs on that album, of course, but just based on the lyrics and sheer rock-power, production value of those two tunes, I don’t know how anyone could argue that any other albums come close. Volz has such effortless range with his voice – so perfectly suited to those songs. The guitar work is outstanding… “More Power to Ya” solidified Petra on the Christian rock landscape like no other album. Maybe you guys should put it to a vote and see what the fan consensus ison this Facebook page? It would be really cool to see what everyone thinks!
Thanks for the comment. We all believed “More Power to Ya” was a strong second. Maybe it is our age – as that album came out when at least two of us were 5 years old or younger – or maybe we just liked the style on Beyond Belief more. I think both albums are amazing.
Putting it to a vote might be interesting. We’ll consider it.
You’ve chosen many of my favorites though I’d rank them differently. I have to agree that it is nearly criminal to leave Never Say Die off this list. I also loved No Doubt.
Beat The System, with the exception of It Is Finished, is very, very overrated. It wasn’t even Petra. It was the producer and a session musician (programmer?) who did that album, not the band.
Overall your list isn’t terrible, save for the omission of Never Say Die.
Great band, and fun to discuss! 🙂
Tom, thanks for the comment.
Beat the System is clearly controversial. From my understanding, the album was put together by the producer, John Lawry (keyboards, programming), and Bob Hartman. It still has Hartman’s writing and guitar work, Greg’s vocals, and some fantastic songs. I realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it was the first Christian rock album I heard so it really made an impression on me at a very young age.
Also, this might get me excommunicated from the Petra fan base, but I don’t get the love for Never Say Die. It has some great moments but it also has some very weak spots as well. It’s just not as consistent as their best stuff.
I have one that should be on this list. While technically it isn’t a studio album, it is “Captured in Time & Space” which was the live album from the “Beat the System” Tour.
There are so many great songs from the previous albums as well as each member of the band has time to showcase their musical abilities. Not to mention Greg doing an Alter Call and closing out the concert with a moving and powerful “It Is Finished.”
If you have never listened to it I highly recommend!