Top 10 Christian Songs That Also Work as Parodies of Christian Songs

A look back at an era of Christian pop that was so bad it’s good.

The land of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) was not always the too earnest every-worship-song-sounds-identical tableau we have today. The mid-eighties through mid-nineties brought us some of the kitschiest youth group anthems this side of a “God’s Not Dead” theme song.

Some tunes pushed a little close to self-parody, but trust me — they are so bad, they are GREAT. Here are the ten absolute best. (As an added bonus, they’re all up-tempo, so if you had an evangelical upbringing, you can dance your disillusionment out to the playlist.)

degarmo10. “Boycott Hell” by DeGarmo & Key (The Pledge, 1989)

Following a slew of too-clever CCM turn-of-phrase hits, DeGarmo & Key decided to take the tongue-in-cheek route themselves. What could be more relatable to Christian teens than a Labor Union metaphor? They might as well have called the song “Get All AFL-CIO on the Devil.”

This was Hoffa’s favorite song about Jesus (it still is).

Key lyric: Bury your foolish pride. We gotta unionize. / Hey, don’t you think it’s time to boycott hell? Flannery O’Connor wishes she could be so subtle.


fritz-front-cover9. “This Disco (Used to Be a Cute Cathedral)” by Steve Taylor (On the Fritz, 1985)

We all owe Steve Taylor a debt of gratitude. He single-handedly ushered CCM out of self-seriousness and was both resident Einstein and class clown for a decade. Too bad he didn’t have more listeners.

In-between the mad genius of Meltdown and I Predict 1990 (and before the breathtaking Squint), Taylor hit his personal nadir with this overcute ditty about a dance club residing in an abandoned church.

Musically, this is Taylor’s weakest offering within his oeuvre (it certainly didn’t need it’s own dance remix). However, it’s downright prescient. How many churches today don’t feel like a dance club with a Starbucks in the lobby? Avoid this track if you must, but pop the cassette in anyway and stick around for “Drive, He Said” and “Lifeboat.” They are the exact opposite of the ten songs on this list.

Key lyric: This disco used to be a cute cathedral / Where we only play the stuff you’re wanting to hear.


Petra-beat-the-system18. “God Gave Rock & Roll to You” by Petra (Beat the System, 1985)

Originally written and performed by the Brit rockers Argent, Petra co-opted this unspeakably ridiculous anthem and sucked all of the rock out of it until it was little more than a synthesizer squeak.

In a way, the band pulled off an impressive feat: they sang a Christian song about rock music that had no potent Christian message and did not rock.

Key lyric: God gave rock and roll to you / Put it in the soul of everyone. Also seen on a kitten poster in a Hallmark.


7. “Got 2 B True” Steven Curtis Chapman (Steven_curtis_chapman_the_great_adventureThe Great Adventure, 1992)

Fun fact: most every successful male CCM artist of the early 90’s was required to have TobyMac break down a rhyme in lieu of the song’s bridge. Especially if their own music style was in complete contradiction to TobyMac’s aesthetic. Case in point: this unfortunate entry from one of Christian music’s most earnest and impacting troubadours. The uberirony: the song is about being genuine.

Key lyric: You see, I like rap music and the beat box groove and sometimes I gotta admit I close all the doors and wave my arms around and I pace the floor. But then I crack up laughing, I gotta stop and just face the facts: the boy don’t hip hop.


Stryper-THWTD-1st6. “To Hell With the Devil” Stryper (To Hell With the Devil, 1986)

If you look at it one way, Stryper is attempting to rattle the religious establishment by co-opting the most milquetoast of all swear words into their faux metal anthem. On the other hand, they’re telling Satan to basically go back to his house. And yes, those four shirtless angels on the cover are supposed to be buff versions of the band. And yes, they are ripping Satan limb from limb with their bare hands and a flying V guitar.

And yes, Satan is wearing boot-fit jeans.

Key lyric: He’s never been the answer. There’s a better way. We are here to rock you and to say to hell with the devil.


album_5896_cover_85. “Trains Up in the Sky” by Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart (Sheep in Wolves Clothing, 1985)

Where exactly do I begin? The color palette of the album sleeve? The parachute shirts (SHIRTS!) the band wears with spandex? The mullets? The keytar? The bad-boy album name? No. I will start with the fact that when performing live, Mylon could never remember the lyrics. THESE lyrics:

YAH—MA YAH—MA YEH—EH—AH!
 Get up – try and find a way.
 / We will find a way today.
 YOU!
 Try and find a way. /
 Get up. Trains up in the sky.

Theologically, I hear Gungor doesn’t believe this part of the album. 


white heart2394. “Convertibles” by White Heart (Don’t Wait for the Movie, 1986)

Key lyric: I haven’t got a care. Feel so good and free. / Just like God is sittin’ next to me. / God made convertibles. As the High and Mighty’s known – He’s not a manufacturer.

You have to hand it to White Heart. They finally found a word that rhymes with “manufacturer” (they did not). Silly at best, this song feels more like a commercial for antidepressants — with a guitar solo where there should be a list of disclaimers.


Go_West_Young_Man_album_cover3. “Love Crusade” by Michael W. Smith (Go West Young Man, 1990)

This album was AWESOME. Not just because my girlfriend’s mom had that blazer and that hairstyle — and not just because Smitty sang every song imitating Caroll Spinney.

This album borders on epic because MWS raps. Oh, how he raps. He pours out his heart after uncorking it with that black fedora on the album cover and drops this violent rhymebomb:

Hatred’ll spoil the feast. That’s the nature of the beast. / So, don’t ever let your heart be swayed. Draw the sword, slay the dragon. / Get on the bandwagon and be a fighter on the Love Crusade!

This bloodlusty imagery is, of course, followed by a chorus of na na’s.


41BNEND900L._SX300_2. “Who’s in the House?” by Carman (The Standard, 1993)

I know what you’re thinking: how is Carman not #1? You’ll see. In this song, Carman hip-hops onto the white-man-rapping bandwagon and it sounds like your grandmother flashdancing.

Key lyric: Born, born, born, BORN to a virgin named Mary on Christmas Day! / He bled and He d-died on the cross to take sin away. / You take Him high. You take Him low. / You take JC wherever you go.

Exactly who in youth group is taking him high? And should we report them to the police? Someday, this will rest in a hymnal on page 153, opposite “It Is Well With My Soul.”

BTW, JC is Jesus.


51Lk8Nt3ZiL1. “I Don’t Want It (Your Sex — For Now)” DC Talk (Free at Last, 1992)

This one actually is a parody, right? Right? No? Impossible. I mean, the lyric obsesses over teen sex more than George Michael’s biggest hit. And that song was actually called “I Want Your Sex.”

No abstinence song has made more teens think about sex in an infinite loop than this song about refusing sex. No wait — this song about refusing sex . . . for now. I suppose we will need to ask the singer again in ten minutes.

Key lyric: Yo, s-e-x is a test when I’m pressed. So back off, yo, with less of that zest. / Impress this brothah with a life of virtue. The innocence that’s spent is gonna hurt you. / Safe is the way they say to play, then again safe ain’t safe at all today. / So, just wait for the mate that’s straight from God and don’t give it up ’til you tie the knot. / I don’t want it, your sex — for now. Your sex, your SEX, your s-e-x — for NOW.

 

Mark Steele
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  • Caleb Kempf

    I like it. I was born in the 90′s so some of these are too early for my time. Pretty humorous what CCM put out back then. Nice job, Mark.

    • 013090

      Most of this wouldn’t have been considered CCM, since especially during the 80′s the fundamentalist wing pretty much considered a lot of it the devil’s music, no exaggeration.

      • Ron Stone

        I was just getting into CCM in the 1980′s. I was a student at Ball State University in Muncie IN. In that time I had the opportunity to go to concerts by Petra, Steve Taylor, David Meece and lighter artists like Second Chapter of Acts and Amy Grant. Yes, many churches were poo-pooing CCM because they just had a general attitude about rock music.

        • Aimee Irvin

          Well tbh there are still some Christians that refer to the CCM as the devil’s music especially within the older generations. I know this for a fact as many comments have been made to my sister and I about the music we listen too. What I would find amusing is if these same people would ever go to a Skillet or KJ-52 concert they would probably have a heart attack. lol

          • Ron Stone

            I’ve heard some of KJ-52. While I’m not as much of a fan of rap in general, I’ll give him respect that his music is indeed speaking the Truth. I had to look up Skillet, I know less of their music than I do of KJ-52. The grunge sound reminds me of heavy metal — though I know they’re not the same thing.

            I grew up listening to the Beatles, the Who…(yeah, kinda ages me a bit) I don’t have a problem with the STYLE of the music, so long as the MESSAGE is true. I do have particular tastes, but if someone like KJ-52 or Skillet brings someone to Salvation because they are giving a message in a manner they can appreciate, I say bring on the Spirit!

  • 013090

    The DC Talk song may have somewhat corny lyrics, but I think musically it is a pretty good song.

  • Mark Byron

    I have four of those in my dust-collecting cassette collection, although I grabbed Trains Up in the Sky just a few days ago off of YouTube. Got 2 B True is a corny mash-up of SCC’s country-pop CCM and DC Talk’s Christian hip-hop, but it worked for me at the time.

  • Josh Marihugh

    The most fun thing about “I Don’t Want It” is the breakdown with ping-pong panned vocals. If your CD player only had one channel hooked up (as happened often with church CD players), Toby could end up intoning “I…want…I…want….I…want…your sex for now.” I don’t think they fixed this with the anniversary rerelease either.

  • andre jimmo

    You forgot Turn it up by Pillar.

  • Chuck Pitts

    The original “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” on the “Come and Join Us” album was more raw and rock than the one cited in this article.

  • http://facebook.com/ndidlake Nathan Danger Didlake

    My wife (formerly Rachel Shumaker) has told me tall tales of the Steele family. And while our book shelf has two novellas by you, I’d never taken the time to read anything… until today. That was one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while. Except for the DC Talk bit, every one of those tunes had a place in our home from VHS tapings of Real Videos (Channel 58, in Fort Worth: The Trinity Broadcasting Network). And while Mylon Lefevre may have been unable to remember “Trains Up in the Sky,” that’s one of the weirdest and funniest songs of my childhood.

    Hurray for this post!

  • Dave Hunt

    I always thought the Whiteheart lyric was, “And the high I’m riding on is not a manufactured one.” Which doesn’t make the song any less ridiculous, but makes the lyric slightly less illogical.

  • Tim Morse

    You forgot to include the real number one song for this list: ‘Cosmic Cowboy’ by Barry McGuire. Listen to it just once and you’ll wholeheartedly agree.

  • Jelani Greenidge

    No “We’re A Band” by Audio Adrenaline?

    Seriously, y’all… it was called ‘We’re a Band.” Do you really need to know anything else???

  • Elldee

    I had a compilation album that included Trains Up in the Sky. I really liked that song, not from any theological or spiritual standpoint…just thought it was a catchy tune with a driving beat!

  • Justin T Clausen

    Other than Steven Curtis Chapman, I bought every single one of these new back in the day. And still have them, all nicely converted to mp3 for iTunes to pick up now and then. I even saw the concerts in support of three of these albums. Still love them all. Cornball and all. But what about Randy Stonehill, “American Fast Food”? Quite possibly the song that turned me on to CCM (either that or the 77s “How Can You Love?”

  • RobertMWarren

    If I add a second verse to “Breathe”, can it be considered?

    Here goes:

    This song is six words long,
    This song is six words long…

  • Kent

    From 1987 to 1995 I was a CCM concert promoter in Houston (in conjunction with KSBJ). With the exception of Stryper and Steve Taylor, I have produced multiple events with everyone on your list. (Petra-5 times, WhiteHeart-4, DeGarmo and Key-2, Mylon and Crew-5, MW Smith-5,DCTalk-2, SC Chapman-5,Carman-4 times) Amazingly, Houston took them all to heart. The smallest attended concert was 2,300 (D&K) and the largest DC Talk 31,000). And you know, at the time I enjoyed every minute of it!

  • Clint

    Vicarious cringing.