HM Magazine once did a list of the 100 greatest Christian rock albums of all time. Petra’s Back to the Street was unceremoniously placed at number 67 behind such Christian rock giants as U2, Creed, and Owl City. While, I am not going to question anyone’s love of Christian rock and its history, I will point out the egregious misunderstanding of how important Petra is to modern Christian music in general. Just look at some of the firsts, Petra has accomplished. First Christian rock band to be inducted into the Hard Rock Café. First Christian rock band inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. First Christian rock band to play Farm Aid.
Larry Norman is often credited with being the “Father of Christian Rock” and if Petra can’t lay claim to the title; then, I would like to call them the “Big Brother of Christian Rock.” Petra is the big brother who went through all the picketing at concerts, bashing by fundamentalists, and discrediting by mainstream Christian culture so that others could reap the benefits of acceptance within the Church. Sure, Petra wasn’t the only band who experienced this. There were no lack of Christian rock bands in the late seventies/early eighties; however most bands either did not last or crossed over into more mainstream endeavors. Petra was the band that the genre needed. They stayed pretty much exclusively in the Christian market and fought it from the inside. All the while, they attracted thousands to their shows with stage production and bombast rivaling any secular counterpart.
The sure greatness of Petra is that they were able to stay relevant and popular even through all the negative press from both sides. The members of Petra would even bring prominent Church leaders backstage and show them people getting saved and still these leaders riled against Petra and Christian rock. This history alone should make them the greatest Christian rock but it is only one half of the equation. Musically, Petra is the greatest outright rock band period, in my humble opinion.
I will admit, I am definitely a Pethead. So, yes, I don’t mind anyone accusing me of being a homer. However, I implore you not to discredit the sheer mastery of music Petra has displayed and continues to display. Bob Hartman’s guitar playing should rate up there with the best of them. Just listen to songs like Judas’ Kiss or Sight Unseen and you can hear his wonderful riffs. Through two eras of Petra, they brought us some great lead singers: Greg X. Volz and John Schlitt. Both of these men deserve to be listed among the best rock vocalists. Petra also puts out a great live show. I have been fortunate to see Petra with both men fronting the band and each show was a joy. One of the highlights of the Classic Petra show I saw not too long ago was watching John Lawry and Bob Hartman lead battle with a keytar and guitar. I have never seen a band do that before.
Favorite Songs: Counsel of the Holy, Midnight Oil, Sight Unseen, Beat the System, Grave Robber, and It is Finished