Sounds like … the most popular of Keith Green's piano-based pop/worship catalog, assembled on one discAt a Glance … though this is simply another repackaging of Keith Green's classic works, a comprehensive single-disc anthology has been long overdue.
There must have been widespread joy in the music business when The Beatles topped the charts with their Beatles 1 album in 2000. That album in particular demonstrated that there was a strong public interest in smartly compiled "essential hits" collections, streamlined albums that feature nothing but the artist's most successful or well-known songs. Following the release of Beatles 1, we've seen successful collections from the likes of The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Billy Joel, David Bowie, and Barry Manilow to name a few. It's no surprise then that Sparrow has joined this trend, and what better album to do it with than The Ultimate Collection, commemorating the music of Keith Green on the 20th anniversary of his tragic death in 1982.
It's easy to go into The Ultimate Collection with some skepticism, since there are more compilations of Keith Green's music available than actual recorded albums (he made four before 1982). But as implied by the title, The Ultimate Collection stands above past Keith Green compilations as the first definitive single-disc collection that covers his entire musical career. Twenty songs, spanning 74 minutes, are packed into this album that ranges from his 1977 debut to the posthumously released songs from the early '80s. Considering that Christian radio and records charts were virtually non-existent in his time, it's something of a subjective challenge to pick Keith's best works. Nevertheless, the producers get it mostly right here.
My personal favorite of Keith's albums is 1977's For Him Who Has Ears to Hear, because it was the closest to the buoyant piano pop of Elton John. The Ultimate Collection opens with the perfect example of this style, "You Put This Love in My Heart," which sounds like a cross between Elton John and the Godspell movie soundtrack. "He'll Take Care of the Rest" is also a fun and inspiring cousin to Honky Chateau-era Elton John. Also featured is the beloved ballad "Your Love Broke Through," originally made famous by Phil Keaggy, as well as the late '70s pop of "I Can't Believe It," which hasn't aged quite as gracefully as Charlie Peacock's 1992 remake of it. 1978's No Compromise album is represented by the pretty "Make My Life a Prayer to You," written by Keith's wife, Melody, who performed the song herself on the 1992 tribute album. No Compromise is probably best known for the bold and convicting challenge to the church found in "Asleep in the Light." The second verse of that song is especially fascinating to listen to today in light of recent Jabez mania; the song's as relevant as it was 24 years ago. No Compromise also is represented by the joyous "You!," the stirring "Soften Your Heart," and the extremely brief "My Eyes Are Dry."
Keith returned to the fun and witty piano pop of his first album with the title track from 1980's So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt. But the album is better known for the two worship favorites Keith introduced on it: the classic "O Lord, You're Beautiful" and the slightly more dated-sounding "I Want to Be More Like Jesus." There's also the gorgeous ballad "Grace by Which I Stand" and the strong '70s California pop of "Pledge My Head to Heaven" (perhaps best known for its guest harmonica solo by Bob Dylan). "Rushing Wind" is an intimate-yet-powerful live track from 1981's The Keith Green Collection. Keith's final album, Songs for the Shepherd, released in 1982 on the same month he died, and it's remembered on this collection with the simple, enjoyable pop of "You Are the One!" and the hymn-like "There Is a Redeemer." Rounding out The Ultimate Collection are a few of the posthumously released tracks, such as "Run to the End of the Highway," "Jesus Commands Us to Go," and "Here Am I, Send Me." The album additionally features a DVD with a well-produced hour-long documentary on the life and times of Keith Green.
This new Keith Green compilation raises the question of how well Christian music endures over time. The recordings of artists such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Barry Manilow still hold up over time. Kids are still discovering the music of those artists every day, and enjoying them nearly as much as the kids who grew up listening to them. Can the same be said of Christian music's pioneering artists? Though the music of artists such as Keith Green lives on in hymnals and contemporary covers of songs, I'm not sure kids today are discovering his recordings and those of his contemporaries – the production hasn't aged as well over the years. There are of course exceptions within the younger generation of listeners, but most probably aren't interested in listening to late '70s Christian pop. Perhaps The Ultimate Collection will prove this thinking wrong. There have been many other Keith Green compilations that are either incomplete (The Keith Green Collection and The Early Years) or overlong (The Ministry Years Vol. I & II and Sparrow's 1998 four-album series). The Ultimate Collection is a long overdue single-disc compilation that concisely capsulizes the music career of a legendary Christian artist, appropriate as an introduction for new listeners and an effective summary for longtime fans.