Mark Rice's Top 20 Favorite Steven Curtis Chapman Songs
Earlier this year, I was required to do something I never hoped or imagined I would have to do; write a less-than-stellar review for a man who has been integral to my faith journey and my musical enjoyment. Any reader who knows me, knows Steven Curtis Chapman is my favorite artist, and obviously remains so in spite of my underwhelmed attitude towards Worship and Believe. I adore his approach to songwriting. I adore his advocacy for adoption. I adore the perseverance of his faith. And his music is pretty darn good too. And to make it up to Chapman (you know, because I totally need to make it up to a man with 58 Dove Awards and 5 GRAMMY Awards just because I didn't like one of his albums), I would like to share with you all 20 of the songs that have shaped and developed me one way or another into the man I am today. -- Mark Rice, JFH Staff Writer
1. Dive (1999)
I honestly have a hard time finding a sophisticated reason explaining why this particular song is my favorite SCC song. True, it marked his final transition from an Adult Compemporary star into a pop/rock star. True, it was the lead single of Chapman's best-selling and arguably most critically acclaimed album ever. True, it was the first SCC song I have conscious memory of hearing (in a cheesy homemade music video of a guy decked out in scuba gear being afraid to go into a swimming pool). But the bottom line is, this song is just awesome, inspiring, and impossible not to sing along to.
2. God Is God (2001)
One of the things that made Worship and Believe so disappointing to me is that Chapman has a long history of creating phenomenal worship songs that simply made his 2016 album pale in comparison. Perhaps these songs were not necessarily vertical songs, but would that make a song like "God Is God" unfit to be sung in Church? Take "How He Loves" for example; it is one of the most popular worship songs of our time, and this SCC classic is a lot easier to sing (at least for me), and is not a vertical song either. But I digress. "God Is God," with its contemplation of man's frailty against God's majesty with fantastic metaphors throughout, might just be my favorite worship song of all time.
3. Speechless (1999)
Speaking of worship songs, here is another classic SCC magnum opus. This one goes kind of hand-in-hand with "God Is God," in that both deal with the human condition pitted against God's Majesty. I guess that is just a theme that really resonates with me personally. This one is even a vertical song of worship, which makes Chapman's latest release in even more of a creative question mark. Just imagine switching out "One True God" with a song like "Speechless," and how much stronger that one change by itself would make Worship and Believe!"
4. Cinderella (2007)
*tears* I may not be a parent yet, but that doesn't mean I can't... *sob*
5. Heaven Is The Face (2009)
They say that art imitates life. Well, Chapman's 2009 album Beauty Will Rise is the epitome of that statement. No one should ever have to make an album like this, or write a song like "Heaven Is The Face." But at the same time, art allows people to empathize with things that they otherwise could hardly comprehend. I cannot fathom losing a daughter (much less even having a daughter at this point in my life), but a song like this makes it possible to have a taste of that pain. I feel like I actually know Steven, Mary Beth, and Maria when I hear this song, even if only a little bit. And each time I listen, I know them just a little bit better. And maybe, just maybe, if tragedy on this scale ever happens to me in the future, I will be more prepared, stronger for it, and more comforted thanks to Chapman's willingness to put his pain into art.
6. SEE (2009)
Much of what I said above can apply here too. But in addition to the above, "SEE" is a reminder that God, even when tragedy happens, will always leave reminders of his presence. Sometimes subtle, sometimes strong, but always. He will never forsake you, and you have no reason to forsake him. In a broken world full of sin and hopelessness, God is always offering his Grace and hope.
7. Yours (2007)
Another worship song from Chapman, but this time telling a personal story (or rather, a set of personal stories) in the verses. This might make "Yours" more or less unfit for communal worship, but at the same time, the over-three minute outro on the original album version is possibly the most vertically worshipful moment of Chapman's whole career. Chapman added a verse to this song and released it to the radio in 2010, taking out the outro, and the song actually suffered a bit, I think. Not to say the added verse (inspired by the memory of his daughter Maria) wasn't good, but sometimes it is good to let a great song alone rather than tamper with it.
8. Live Out Loud (2001)
I fell in love with this song when I was ten for one reason and one reason only; in the first verse, Chapman won on the show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," "-with two lifelines to spare." At the time, that show was my favorite show and I would get excited at the very mention of it. As the years passed, I eventually appreciated the song more and more for its message of evangelism (which in hindsight, was actually kind of a basic and broad message for a Chapman song, but hey I was young!), and it unequivocally was my starting point to becoming a fan of music, and Chapman in particular.
9. Be Still And Know (1999)
This song is obviously built around the famous verse in Psalms 46:10, but what Chapman is able to do with this verse and expand upon it in this song is simply marvelous. It feels like a Psalm in all possible ways, like it could actually be in the Bible. It is one of Chapman's most tender songs, and yet another great worship moment
10. Lord Of The Dance (1996)
As proof that I do like Chapman's pre-Speechless material, we have the inclusion of this upbeat pop-rocker. Granted there really isn't a whole ton of difference between the style of "Lord Of The Dance" and everything that came after, but Chapman is unfortunately prone to having his work feel dated (expecially his pre-Adventure material). But that wins me over on "Lord Of The Dance" even more than the style is the vivid story Chapman weaves (I love the metaphor of live as a dance). Songs like this one are why I adore Chapman's writing style; so personal and simple and endearing, yet catchy and contemplative.
11. Great Expectations (1999)
Believe it or not, this one didn't actually become a favorite of mine until just a few years ago. In fact, when I was younger I used to joke with my siblings that "'Great Expectations' didn't live up to my expectations" (or, at least I know I made that joke once in my youth). I don't really know what led to its resurgence in my mind, but I recall thinking at the time that it was one of Chapman's more "boring" songs. I think what probably tipped the pot was just reflecting more closely on the lyrics and realizing the theological depth in lines like "we've been invited as a son." Either way, it is a favorite now.
12. The Great Adventure (1992)
I don't know about you, but the voice that I recognize as Chapman's in the post-Speechless era sounds very different to me compared to the voice on Heaven In The Real World and prior. As such, I don't even think I figured out that it was Chapman that sang this song until years after I first heard it. I liked it regardless, but I remember being shocked when I finally realized Chapman was the one singing. But I actually think that is a remarkable testament to the integrity of Chapman's songs, in that I could recognize it as quality without the context of knowing the artist, whom I was already a big fan of.
13. February 20th (2009)
This song is probably the most linear story Chapman has ever told as a musical piece. It doesn't even have a chorus. It is just the story of young Maria asking her parents about salvation and praying to receive Jesus into her heart. It is so simple and straightforward that it hardly feels like an actual song, and more like an interlude. But it might just be the most affecting moment on the whole Beauty Will Rise project, and the line, "But we could never have imagined she'd be going there so soon" (referring to heaven) is tear-inducing every single time (I even teared up when I typed it just now).
*On a side note, it happens often in the world of music that an artist writes saccharine and impossible-not-to-weep songs for the purpose of drawing out emotions (you know the ones…"Butterfly Kisses," "Christmas Shoes," "Cinderella," and so on). But there is a rather harsh word for that: manipulation. Not that the artists are intentionally manipulative (usually the sory is based on real experience, and the song is created for the purpose of sharing it), but in spite of an artist's best intentions, it does come across as contrived to many people, if not most. But "February 20th" is definitely not one of those songs. It isn't manipulative. It isn't saccharine. It isn't sentimental. It is just true, and its emotion is drawn from its true-ness. I cannot think of a single other song that is this emotional where the emotion is simply the result of truth.
14. Moment Made For Worshipping (2003)
While this song seems to feel like a worship song, I think it would be inaccurate to call it one. It is actually more of a commentary on the nature of worship. It is easy to feel like it is impossible to "worship" God when you aren't in the mood for it, but in reality, it is those very moments that you aren't in the mood that are perfect to do so. Of course, it is perfect to do so when you are in the mood as well. As the song points out, all moments are moments made for worshipping, "because this is a moment I'm alive." You know, you don't have to be alive. But you are. And that is actually pretty cool, when you think about it.
15. I Will Be Here (1989)
Like "The Great Adventure," it took me years to discover this song was sung by Chapman, and like "The Great Adventure," that speaks volumes of Chapman's artistic integrity. I don't have a whole lot to say specifically about this song, but I will comment that it was sung in the wedding of one of my cousins. I understand it seems to be a popular time to play this song. Who knows? Maybe one day it'll play in mine!
16. Bring It On (2001)
This is more of a guilty pleasure song than anything. I don't know if Chapman has ever had crunchier guitars in a song than on "Bring It On." I kid you not, before I listened to harder rocking music (like Kutless, of course!), and I wanted to listen to something hard and loud, I played "Bring It On." It honestly isn't Chapman's best lyrical song (not even really close), but the novelty and nostalgia of this song make it nearly impossible for me not to enjoy.
17. Not Home Yet (1997)
Even now in 2016, this song is a perfect summary of Chapman's career. First released on his Greatest Hits compilation in 1997, it foretold much of what was to come for Chapman, both the good and the bad. It is a great commentary on the journey of life, and ever since Chapman has kind of tried to duplicate this theme (most notably 2011's "Long Way Home"), but never has he quite hit the nail on the head as strongly as "Not Home Yet."
18. All Things New (2004)
I've highlighted a number of songs on here that I've identified as "worship songs." In most of them, it would be a stretch to say he was explicitly writing a song for the expressed purpose of worshipping God. But "All Things New" makes no effort to hide the fact this is meant as a vertical song of worship in a communal setting. And it is an amazing song. It has gorgeous imagery and one of the most unique and impressive hooks in Chapman's career, and with its imagery come a depth that is very rare in worship nowadays. The only real downfall is that the outro drags just a little bit, but even that is minimized by the subtle guest vocals of Lifehouse's Jason Wade.
19. No Greater Love (2001)
This song is kind of like "Great Expectations" in that I went a long time before I really truly became a fan, mainly because of the weird and out-of-place chanting at the end. You see, I had no idea what that chanting was about, and it was a long time before I did. But then I eventually discovered; the song itself is a tribute to the Jim Elliot and Nate Saint and the five missionaries who reached out to the Auca people in Ecuador, and that the chanting at the end was Mincaye, one of the people that killed those five and later became Christian through continued love and evangelism from the family of the people he helped kill. It is funny how much a little knowledge can change an entire perception of a song.
20. Believe Me Now (2004)
There are many songs out there that deal with the theme of God comforting someone who is hurting and struggling. Chapman himself has many of them (including some on this list). But what sets "Believe Me Now" apart is the way Chapman phrases everything. In paraphrase, God (according to Chapman) says, "Hey, remember those times when I have comforted you before, rejoiced with you, laughed with you cried with you? And remember everything I said in those times? Well, I'm saying those same things now. You believed me before, didn't you? Well, believe me now. Nothing has changed." I feel like that is so obvious, but it doesn't ever really get into song, or at least not like this. But lyrics aside, I love the way this song sounds too, and Mac Powell's contribution was just right.
Thanks to everyone for reading and I hope you are inspired to listen (or re-listen) to this great artist (even Worship and Believe). Please enjoy the rest of our JFH 20 celebration!