There was a day when I was die hard Petra fan. For sure, Petra’s music was an integral part of my music collection, but let’s face it: options were limited for Christian teens who wanted to rock out in the ’80s. And Larry Norman may have asked “Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music?”, but it was Petra that sang God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll to You, a song also covered by Kiss but first recorded by Argent in 1973.
Petra, though, has more in common with Boston than Kiss, only without the crazy time lapses between records. (Seriously, six years between Don’t Look Back and Third Stage is mind blowing). In fact, Petra was quite prolific when it came to churning out records. Think about it: Never Say Die, More Power To Ya and Not of This World were all released in a span of three years (1981-83). And they were all good records. So was Greg X. Volz’s last hurrah as the band’s lead singer on Beat the System, which had an awesome album cover that ended a string of flying machines (another Boston-type thing), and had a solid collection of Bob Hartman-penned tunes. And while critics have not fawned over Beat the System (AllMusic gives it a pedestrian two-star rating), I think it’s one of Petra’s best records. For starters, the band embraced the advent of the computer age with keyboard-inspired experimentation. Producer Jonathan David Brown, who brought Petra to the forefront of Christian rock with 1981’s Never Say Die, describes Beat the System as an “other-worldy” departure for the band. Computer Brains may be the definitive track on the record, but it is surrounded by great material. Witch Hunt, Clean and Voice in the Wind are also very good.
Petra would never be the same after Beat the System. Oh sure, John Schlitt took over lead vocals without a misstep, so it wasn’t the Sammy Hagar letdown that Van Halen fans experienced when David Lee Roth was booted out of the band. And ironically, both Van Halen and Petra’s new lead singers made their debuts on records released in 1986 — 5150 and Back To The Streets respectively. (Side note: betcha didn’t know that Van Halen and Petra were both formed in 1972!) With Schlitt’s somewhat raspy voice, Back To The Streets had a surprisingly edgy feel to it and wasn’t all that bad, not nearly as forgettable as This Means War or On Fire!, the second and third records in the post-Volz era.
Sure, Petra Praise and Beyond This Rock, the band’s subsequent releases, weren’t exactly terrible, but by then arena rock mold had been poured and any ground-breaking moments were firmly cemented in the past. Beat the System was the last great Petra record, and while it may not be as great as the trio records that came before it (Never Say Die, More Power To Ya and Not of This World) it was THE record in which Petra dared to experiment.
- Beat the System
- Computer Brains
- It Is Finished
- Voice in the Wind
- God Gave Rock and Roll to You
- Witch Hunt
- Hollow Eyes
- Speak to the Sky