The art of the music video has come a long way since it first took over MTV airwaves in the early ’80s. Thankfully, the Internet came along and preserved the memory of the art form’s more formative years. And the history wasn’t always pretty.
Not even Christian artists were immune to overdramatic power ballads, big-budget ambitions and ’80s cinema technology. After all, not all pop artist can be Michael Jackson.
Here’s a look back at 10 of the greatest Christian music videos ever to grace religious TV networks, public access station airwaves or church sanctuaries.
“Nu Thang” – The Michael Clancy Remix
He’s got the moves, the beat, the freestyle skills and—most importantly—the swag. Young Michael Clancy took a DC Talk staple and showed the CCM stars how a real MC spits verses. (A grown-up Clancy was kind enough to join us on an episode of the RELEVANT Podcast to relive his glorious early-’90s television debut.)
“R.I.OT.” – Carman
Carman’s “R.I.O.T.” is more of a victim of the era than its ambition. Back in 1995, when the album R.I.O.T. (Righteous Invasion of Truth) was released—a mere 11 years after Footloose hit theaters—factory dance-offs were still seen as a legitimate form of protest. The video, which involves some sort of dance uprising at a steam factory where workers’ primary job is to pull heavy chains while wearing overalls, has nothing to do with the song lyrics which make it all the more gloriously weird. Considering the video was part of a VHS feature film (also called R.I.O.T.), it’s a little unfair to judge it on its stand-alone merit, but even with a deeper context, dance-offs are always unintentionally funny, just ask Kevin Bacon. .
“Love Calling” – Leon Patillo
The alien outfit. The strange space-God metaphor. The earnest acting. The sci-fi effects. The choreography. The car scene. There’s nothing about 1984’s “Love Calling” that isn’t spectacular. Leon Patillo’s breakout single is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.
“Jesus Is My Friend” – Sonseed
If you’ve had an Internet connection for any substantial amount of time, then it’s likely you’ve seen the incredible live-performance video for Sonseed’s “Jesus Is My Friend.” If it were released today, the song’s Vampire Weekend catchiness, Tim and Eric-style video quality and sweet matching outfits probably would have made Sonseed un-ironic indie rock stars.
“Reborn” – Rebecca St. James
Rebecca St. James’ foray into EDM ends up like a low-budget Wachowski fever dream. Kung-fu moves, a driving dance beat and a trippy visual metaphor for knowledge make the music video for “Reborn” everything you’d want out of a colorful mind-melter.
“The Renewed Mind Is the Key”
The less we know about this one, the better (The Lady Gaga version is also of note if you like the original). Presented without further comment:
“Ain’t No Safe Way” –Michael Sweet
Virginity has long been a thematic staple of CCM music. But no artist has more boldly made a case for his purity convictions than former Stryper frontman Michael Sweet. We should probably give you a TV-14 warning that his song carries some mature subject matter, some possibly questionable statistics and a guitar solo that will melt your face off.
“Great God” – Carman
Another epic short film/music video mash-up, “Great God” finds Carman as both the cool teacher at a Christian school, as well as a heroic knight out to reclaim the good name of the medieval church. There’s sword fighting, lecturing and of course, a Carman power anthem. For a Christian kid in the ’90s, this was probably pretty cool, but like a lot of swing-for the-fences decades-old music videos, the ambitious narrative doesn’t really age well–especially the twist ending. If it weren’t for the (SPOILER) suggestion that the telepathic time-travel to the dark ages actually happened, this one may not of have made the list. Carman is prolific, but the M. Night Shyamalan-style final reveal was even too much for him to attempt.