Top Gospel-Related Songs and Some Top Renditions

Orchestra of Angels

I’m not a musical person. I was started on the classical guitar quite early and became decently proficient at it by the time I was in Jr. High, but I just didn’t have the fire to practice for hours like many in the music world have. I enjoy a good tune, but I can’t tell the difference between, say, Mozart and something a graduate student would write (I actually wonder if musicologists couldn’t without pre-existing knowledge of Mozart’s musical corpus and it’s emperors with no clothes all the way down, but I digress). 

However, there is some music whose greatness is self-evident, and you don’t need musical training to recognize and appreciate how spiritually moving it is. Below is my own list, along with examples of moving renditions

Come Thou Font

The classic rendition of this we always listened to growing up, which is still my favorite, is the version in the BYU Choir’s Thanksgiving of American Folk Hymns way back when. This was in the hymn book, but was taken out, and I hope the new one will have it in again. 

Ode to Joy

Piano Guys did a fun version of this, but it’s also worth listening to the full orchestral version.

Hallelujah Chorus

The Church put together the largest virtual Hallelujah Chorus of all time.

Traditionally one stands for the Hallelujah Chorus. I heard it was because a king stood out of respect when it was first being played, so everybody stood and the tradition continued since then, but according to my brief Google fact check it’s unknown if that story is true. 

Praise to the Man

Any proper rendition of Praise to the Man has a full pipe band. (As the father of two bagpipers I’m partial).  

Amazing Grace

As many know, Amazing Grace was written by an ex-slaver who had a conversion experience and became an ardent abolitionist after becoming a Christian. (And is the title of a moving film on the subject). 

One of the most watched movies from Noteworthy, the premiere BYU female singing group, is a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace.

Nearer my God to Thee

One of the most watched movies from Vocal Point, the premiere BYU male singing group, is a rendition of Nearer, my God, to Thee. And of course, the scene in the Titanic where the quartet plays it as the ship is going down, and finally, the excellent Netflix series Midnight Mass has several moving scenes with Nearer, my God, to Thee.

Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring

While I might not be able to pick Mozart’s music out of a lineup, some of Bach’s genius is self-evident. On my mission I particularly enjoyed a Stephen Sharp Nelson rendition.

All Creatures of Our God and King

I listened to this version on repeat the last week of my mission. The line “thou flowing water pure and clear, make music for thy Lord to hear” often comes to mind when I’m by a clear river. This hymn also has the distinction of having the lyrics written by a spiritual giant in his own right (St. Francis of Assisi).

If You Could Hie to Kolob

If nothing else this song wins on the grandeur of its metaphysics. I especially like the YouTube trend of playing this song to shots from space telescopes.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

For some reason, this hymn strikes me as sounding ancient Hebrew-like and venerable. (Although yes, I’m sure ancient Hebrew music didn’t actually sound anything like this).

It is Well With My Soul

This well-known hymn has an incredible story behind it. From Wikipedia:

This hymn was written after traumatic events in Spafford’s life. The first was the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer and had invested significantly in property in the area of Chicago that was extensively damaged by the great fire). His business interests were further hit by the economic downturn of 1873, at which time he had planned to travel to England with his family on the SS Ville du Havre, to help with D. L. Moody’s upcoming evangelistic campaigns. In a late change of plan, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sea vessel, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford’s daughters died His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone …”. Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died Bliss called his tune Ville du Havre, from the name of the stricken vessel.

Other Hymns With Stories Behind Them

How Firm a Foundation is from a scripture in Isaiah, Nearer My God To Thee, is based on Abraham’s vision of a ladder ascending to heaven in Genesis 28:20-22, For the Beauty of the Earth was inspired by the Avon river, America the Beautiful was inspired by Pike’s Peak, and How Great Thou Art was inspired by the Carpathian Mountains. Finally, I Need Thee Every Hour was written by a housewife while she was going about her daily housework.

Come, Come Ye Saints; The Spirit of God

These two are what I would consider to be the iconic Latter-day Saint songs. I can’t thing of any rendition that particularly sticks out. They’re all good.

Pachelbel’s Canon

This is a fun Piano Guys version of this classic. Also moving in its more serious versions.


15 comments for “Top Gospel-Related Songs and Some Top Renditions

  1. Huge music fan. Fav part of GC is the music. I strongly suggest that you take the time to see the choir’s Music and Spoken Word broadcast live if anyone here hasn’t. My sunday home worship playlist is currently 111 songs long. I am also a huge Christian music artist fan as well. 90% of my sunday worship time is with music in some form.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is not Hebrew, but it is a Gregorian chant and was originally sung in Latin, so ‘venerable’ is indeed a good word for it! It would have been sung in cathedrals all over Europe. I am not certain, but it seems to my semi-trained ear that Gregorian chant was in turn derived from ancient Byzantine music, especially liturgical; they seem to have similar rhythms, tones, and structures.

  3. 1. I love “Come Thou Font” – but that version is the one I really don’t like (I think its “start off quiet like a prayer but build until you’re screaming at God he’d better come now or else” arrangement doesn’t work for a song that should be quiet and contemplative all the way through, but I also acknowledge taste is totes subjective, so I have no issues with people who do like it)

    2. They way I’ve heard the standing for the Hallelujah chorus legend was that the king wasn’t paying a lot of attention and thought it was the royal anthem and stood up because he thought it was being played to honor him, and the audience just went along because if the king stands, you’d better stand too.

  4. @E.C.: Now that you mention it that does kind of sound Gregorian. I think I always envisioned some Simeon-type character singing it because it’s singing about the future, not past, coming of the Messiah.

    @Chad: Probably “If you could hie to Kolob.”

  5. With “If You Could Hie to Kolob,” music-wise, would you go with the old quirky tune that was written by a Latter-day Saint or the tune that we stole from the Anglicans (Kingsfold—the current one)?

  6. Bill found the recording I was thinking of, but yes, the Daynes tune was the one used up until 1985. It was more intended for choirs than congregational singing, though, hence the change.

    Kingsfold is a popular tune for a variety of hymns in other Christian faiths, such as “O Sing a Song of Bethlehem” (

  7. I’m in that recording of Come Thou Fount, one of the men in tuxes, not that you can see me well enough to recognize me. The video people showed a marked preference for tenors, and for…well, let’s just say that the Concert Choir as a whole was not as conventionally attractive as you might think from the sample they show. I like the arrangement, but I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t.

    Ironically, I don’t recall anyone complaining when Come Though Fount was dropped from the 1985 hymnbook. I remember my Young Men’s President joking (well before the Wilberg arrangement) that it should be the first item in a collection called “Favorite Mormon Dirges” and that’s pretty much how I remember congregations singing it. (That Young Men’s President was a character: Professor, Bodybuilder, Wrestler, Opera Singer. He’s the one who inspired me to get serious about singing.) People sometimes complain about our hymns, but I think the problem is usually in the congregation rather than the hymn. At any rate, the people putting together the new hymnbook are on notice that if they drop anything Dr. Wilberg likes he’ll make them regret it.

    The words to O Come, O Come Emmanuel are ancient and rooted in Gregorian chant, but the tune is 15th century French, and they weren’t combined until the 1800s. I still like to do it at the tempo of chant, and it’s one of my favorite Christmas songs.

    There’s no record of King George attending a performance of Messiah, and it probably would have been recorded. Sorry. Glorious as Hallelujah is, don’t forget Worthy is the Lamb (the last movement). Most of Messiah tells a story: Hallelujah is the Second Coming, and Worthy is the Lamb is the saints singing praise in heaven–and a fitting response to everything that’s come before in Messiah.

    If you want an accessible intro to Bach’s choral music, I suggest Magnificat (i.e. Mary’s psalm in Luke 1). Find a translation so you know what each movement is about. You have my permission to skip any solo movements that bore you except Esurientes.

    The words to If You Could Hie to Kolob are…remarkable (was W.W. Phelps really talking about trying to see events in the past by travelling faster than the speed of light?) but it’s Vaughan William’s arrangement of the tune that I’ll miss most if it really is dropped from the new hymnbook.

    Speaking of Vaughan Williams, his Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge (Psalm 90) is my go-to music for existential crises. But for sheer emotional impact, I don’t think anything has hit me harder than the ending of his Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace). He wrote it in 1936, as it was becoming clear that peace was not likely to be granted. Vaughan Williams had been an ambulance driver in World War I and his anguish that war was likely to return is palpable. Most of the text is by Walt Whitman (who volunteered in hospitals during the Civil War) but at the end, the “cheerful agnostic” Vaughan Williams finds hope and comfort in prophecies about the millennium. By that time you’re as desperate for God to fix all this as he is–I never really understood why the early Saints made such a big deal out of looking forward to the millennium until I sang this piece.

  8. Stephen, please listen to Eric Glysmeyer’s program on Sunday mornings on KBYU. He plays an amazing array of gospel music from many different traditions and performers. My least favorite part of the program is when he has to break away for Music and the Spoken Word. I will not mourn when Dr. Wilberg retires.

  9. Thanks everybody for the suggestions! It’s nice to get out of the recommendation echo chambers Youtube built for me.

  10. Ahh – I will threadjack a bit here, in order to THANK Charlene for her throwing shade on the LDS Music scene as presently dominated by Wilberg. It has become a drinking game of sorts in our area to see how long he can draw out the ending of every choir song that he is in charge of. Is he the only one who thinks that a 10-second hold of the final note is not heavenly, but merely tiresome? Thanks again, C. for surfacing this less-than-uplifting part of our present culture.

  11. Lol, that’s fine. For some reason I didn’t think of the music world as having personalities, politics, and controversies like every other institution, which was of course silly of me.

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