I became a Christian in the early 1990s. It was a boom era for evangelical Christianity: churches were falling over themselves to employ full-time youth workers, each year's Spring Harvest would sell out quicker than a Take That tour, and the pop music charts were being ripped up* by a Littlehampton worship band called Delirious?. Little wonder that I ended up giving my life to a movement like that.
(*Alright, 'ripped up' is a bit strong. But they had actual chart hits. And they went through a cool phase of spelling it 'Deliriou5?')
As well as a buzz, that era had a soundtrack to it, emerging from the rainbow-strapped guitars of churches and big event platforms around the UK. Before Hughes, Tomlin and Redman there were Richards, Bowater, Rinaldi and... dare I even type the hallowed name... Kendrick. Men and women who could fill Wembley Stadium* and also played your local youth event. Their songs were anthemic for a time, but for some reason, many of them have fallen out of common use. Unlike the old hymns that remain in the church canon do this day, these choruses burned so bright and so fast, they were quickly dispensed with by many churches.
(*Alright, 'fill' is a bit strong, but 45,000 people was no mean feat)
I want to suggest that today's practice of returning from the big summer event with a brand new playlist has caused many churches to lose some modern greats along the way. Of course there will be songs on the list below that your church still sing - and God bless you for keeping the flame alive. For the most part though, these pages of Songs and Hymns of Fellowship are now sadly overlooked. You'll have your own list of course, but here with great affection is mine. The ten great worship songs of the 90s that we should bring back - and that even if we don't, will surely be the soundtrack of heaven.
1. There is Power in the Name of Jesus
There will have been a time in the early 1990s when Noel Richards could have built a money fountain in his garden to spew out all the royalties that this beast must have generated. In our church this one was always performed with very literal actions, meaning the line 'like a sword in our hands' often led to a small fracas breaking out among the youth group. Memorable because the final lines suddenly propelled you several octaves higher without warning (brilliantly, using the words: 'there is no other name that is hi-igher!').
2. Oh God, Most High (You have broken the chains)
The darling of Spring Harvest 1992, forgotten almost immediately after. This funked-up ditty was a fun look at the serious issue of spiritual warfare, boasting such memorable lyrical moments as 'captivity held captive by the Risen One.' Our youth group clamoured for this one to make it back into the evening service playlist without success for years after its demise. Ironically, it has been chained up in the church basement since 1994.
3. We want to see Jesus lifted high
Written by kids action song specialist 'Duggie Dug' Doug Horley but covered by artists as diverse as Delirious and Petra, this was one of the biggest worship songs of the 1990s, yet it's almost become an embarrassed footnote today. To cast it into the wilderness is lunacy - the song has everything from actions ('strongholds come, tumbling down and down'), to iconic rhythmic clapping ('we wanna see'), to special bits for people who like flag waving ('a banner that flies across this land').
4. Great is the Darkness
If the Daily Mail wrote a worship song, this would be it. Penned by the Lennon and McCartney-baiting team of Noel Richards and prophetic church leader Gerald Coates, this near-apocalyptic vision of a world that needs Jesus was profoundly moving for many at the time. The best lyric: 'Watching while sanity dies, touched by the madness and lies' was coincidentally also the front page headline on last Tuesday's Daily Express.
5. It's rising up
Why on earth don't we sing this any more? The early Soul Survivor festivals were dominated by this and 'Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble', another classic still sung just enough to avoid this list. The dream combo of Matt Redman and Martin Smith co-wrote this bad boy - a true anthem which evokes the great hymns, and ends with the celebratory 'Jesus is alive'! I genuinely remember bawling my eyes out while singing it as a teenager, although now I'm admittedly confused by the awkward symbolism and grammar of 'It's rising up... the cry of hearts... which with one voice we will proclaim.'
6. Shine Jesus Shine
Alright, so it was written in 1987, and okay, many churches still sing it today, but I include it because this song was a MONSTER in its time, and is perhaps the only modern worship song to have truly crossed over into the public consciousness. Graham Kendrick's lyrics are actually brilliant (if a little bit individualistic), and the experience of singing it together is still a guilty pleasure on a par with listening to Rick Astley and A-ha. Huge in the 90s, perhaps to the point of over-exposure, 'studies have shown' this is secretly one of most people's favourite worship songs. Sneak it into your church's next worship set and you'll see I'm right.
7. Thunder in the Skies (Called to a Battle)
If you've ever wondered why Noel Richards was huge in Germany, here is your explanation. Another great spiritual warfare anthem, this one was very much in the style of the Euro-rock bands of the day - one possible reason for Richards' flamboyant ponytail at the time. Lots of the words aren't so much sung as spoken gruffly, as Richards transcends musical genres like some worship leader version of Prince. It also had a great chorus, which concluded with congregations and their bands making some sort of confused thunder noise that often sounded like amplified mumbling. It's also just a tiny bit musically similar to The Weather Girls' 'It's Raining Men', which only makes its disappearance more upsetting.
8. Jumping in the house of God
'Who's in the house? God's in the house!'
Doomed from the start as a congregational worship song (it requires neither a guitar nor an organ) this gentle Christian Hip Hop smash from the early 90s features youth ministry legend Andy Hawthorne and his band The World Wide Message Tribe effectively pushing the boundaries of praise music. It also includes some pretty snazzy theology: 'Lord God, one in three, three and the same,' and also some scandalous rhyming: 'your spirit comes, it comes like thunder / we're gonna sing you songs unnumbered.' There is an alternative version of reality in which this is now the 10,000 Reasons of most churches. But it is not this version of reality.
9. More than Oxygen
Towards the end of the 90s, I remember an event worship leader trying desperately to teach this Brian Doerksen classic to a room full of 1,000 bemused young people. He gave up halfway through. This was part of the new wave of more intimate, musically intricate Vineyard worship songs that became really popular in the following decade - but at the time it was just too difficult for local church musicians to replicate. Possibly lost from the canon because it had middle class worshippers singing '[I need your love] more than life-giving food, the hungry dream of', which was of course, easy for them to sing...
10. The World is looking for a hero (Champion)
At the risk of this turning into a Noel Richards tribute article, he rounds off the list with the song which became the title of his 1997 Wembley concert. Co-written with wife and long-term collaborator Tricia, this was a stadium rock ballad to rival the greatest hits of Chicago, Foreigner and Toto. Yet another song about victory, which makes one wonder if the turn in worship songwriting towards lament in recent years is a sign that the church has rather lost its confidence...
Now of course, many great songs from the 90s still remain - from 'Shout to the Lord' to 'Open the Eyes of my heart'. But the victorious thread of most of the songs I've listed seems to have been lost or at least dialled down since the years began to start with a '2'. If you'd told me, at one of New Malden Baptist Church's frequent 'praise parties' in the late 90s, that these songs would have all but disappeared less than two decades later, I'd have torn my Global Hypercolor t-shirt and called you a crazy fool. My message to you today is loud and clear: Bring them back. Bring them all back.