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It’s Easter – so it’s a good time to write about some of the best selling hits that have a religious theme to them. Sorry – I am excluding Stairway To Heaven, I can’t convince myself that it is a religious themed song!
- The best selling “Christian” single of all time is MercyMe’s I Can Only Imagine. It’s the only Christian song to be certified 4x platinum in the U.S. The song originally was released in 1999. The re-recorded version, released in 2001, is the version that has broken all of the sales records. 27 years later, it is still selling well – it charts in the top 10 regularly on the Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart. The song is a personal reflection of what someone would experience standing before God in Heaven. It was written by MercyMe’s Bart Millard, inspired by the death of his father when Bart was 18 years old. A film based on the song was released on March 16 of this year.
- By far, Amy Grant is the best selling Christian artist (see my May 3, 2017 post about Grant). Grant’s Age to Age album was #1 on the Billboard Christian Albums chart for 85 weeks from 1982 – 1984, and she has had 17 albums top the chart for a cumulative total of 333 weeks – the next closest artist is Sandi Patti, at 112 weeks.
- The great Elvis Presley only won 3 Grammy awards for his music – all in the Gospel category. His first Grammy was in 1967, winning for Best Sacred Performance for his album How Great Thou Art. In 1972, he won the Best Inspirational Performance Grammy for the album He Touched Me. Finally, he won the Best Inspirational Performance Grammy in 1974 for the live version of How Great Thou Art from the album Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis.
- Two Catholic nuns have had top 5 hits on the Hot 100 chart. In 1963, a Belgian nun named Jeannine Deckers, aka “The Singing Nun,” wrote and released a French song called Dominique. It reached the top 10 in 11 countries, and reached #1 in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The song is about St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, of which Deckers was a member. In 1974, Australian nun Sister Janet Mead recorded a rock version of The Lord’s Prayer. It peaked at #4 in the U.S., earning a Grammy nomination and selling over 1.5 million copies worldwide. Of course – she donated her share of the royalties to charity.
- Many R&B, soul and country artists have their roots in gospel music. Many of the biggest stars started their singing careers in church choirs. I’ve written about many of them in earlier blog entries. Here are some names in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame: Pat Boone, Johnny Cash, James Cleveland, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Mahalia Jackson, Dolly Parton, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and The Statler Brothers.
- There have been several classic religious musical theater productions. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar was a rock opera concept album from 1970 that was turned into a Broadway musical in 1971. It’s based on the Gospel accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life. The original album topped the Billboard 200 album chart in 1971, and it ended the year as the #1 album of that year. The title song Superstar was released as a single, peaking at #14 on the Hot 100 chart. Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell opened off Broadway in 1971, and is a series of parables from the Gospels, set to the modern music of the time. One song, Day By Day, peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972.
- Here’s my favorite religious Country song – Randy Travis’ Three Wooden Crosses – the story of a prostitute who is the sole survivor of a tragic accident that takes the lives of a teacher, a farmer and a preacher. She uses the preacher’s blood-stained Bible to turn her life around.