Petra at 50: Washes Whiter Than (1979)


In celebration of Petra turning fifty years old in 2022, here at I am going album by album through their discography and reflecting on the role their music has played in my life. In this post my focus is Petra’s third album, 1977’s Washes Whiter Than.

The Backstory

To many in the late 1970s the phrase “rock and roll” was an antonym of the word “Christian.” That wasn’t just the case for the culture at large, but also the church. Many in evangelicalism resisted the idea the faith once for all handed down to the saints could mix with rock and roll. After all, it was the “devil’s music.” Coming off of their debut album Petra and the follow-up Come and Join Us, perhaps Petra was feeling the pressure, because big time changes came to the group, and the result was an album that was a drastic departure from what Petra had been thus far.

Greg Hough and John DeGroff left the band, leaving Bob Hartman the sole remaining member. Hartman has been quoted as saying he wondered whether or not Petra should continue at this point. Thankfully, he pressed on. Rob Frazier came on board, and Greg X. Volz, who had sung on a couple of songs on Come and Join Us and sang on Washes Whiter Than, became a full-time member of the band when they began touring this album. Interestingly, Volz was also considering an offer to be the lead singer of REO Speedwagon, but chose Petra instead.

Myrrh Records also left the band, as it were, and the “new and improved” Petra signed with StarSong. This album would mark the beginning a relationship that would span almost a decade. Recording also changed, moving from a small studio in southern Illinois to Florida.

All of these changes brought about a drastic change in musical style for Washes Whiter Than. Gone were the dual guitars and in came keyboards. Hartman has written that this album was “intentionally less agressive.” The reason? Petra wanted more mainstream appeal. Would it work? More on that below.  

Album Overview

It is hard to overstate how much of a departure Washes Whiter Than is from its predecessors, especially Come and Join Us. As stated above, the dual guitars are gone. And while the guitars are still present, they are de-emphasized. There is some quality bass work on this album, though, and it’s really noticeable in a couple of the songs which seem to delve more into funk/disco than rock. With disco still being fairly prevalent in 1979 and Petra wanting more commercial exposure, that isn’t altogether surprising.

My Origin Story

My first exposure to anything was this album came in late 1989–early 1990 when my youth choir starting rehearsing songs from “The Petra Youth Choir Collection.” We would end up performing several of those songs in church services and on a trip we took down to Haines City, FL, and the Orlando area that summer. “Why Should the Father Bother?” was part of the rotation.

As for the rest of the album, I heard a few songs here and there. “Yahweh Love” was on the Petrafied compilation album. I never heard the whole album, however, until about 2001 when I stocked up on old Petra albums. Unfortunately, Washes Whiter Than was not issued by itself. I got the double album release with Never Say Die which didn’t include two of the songs on the original release. Nevertheless, upon listening to this album I didn’t hate it, but I was less than enthralled. The mellower sound just didn’t work for 24-year-old me. Thus, it didn’t make it into my regular rotation, and I only pulled it out when I felt like doing a Petra deep-dive. What, then, would 46-year-old me think of Washes Whiter Than?

Album Information

  • Released: 1979
  • Album Length: 39:25
  • Label: StarSong
  • The Band: Bob Hartman (lead guitar, rhythm guitar, background vocals, track arrangements), Rob Frazier (lead vocals, backing vocals, keyboards, guitars, track arrangements), Greg X. Volz (lead vocals, backing vocals)
  • Guest Musicians: George Atwell (keyboards, track arrangements, horn and string arrangements, conductor), Gerald Byron (guitars), Joel Balin (guitars), Chip Meyers (bass), Randy Nichols (drums, percussion), Bob Prince
  • Producer: George Atwell
  • Recording:
    • Terry Jamison (engineer)
    • Dan R. Brock (album direction)
    • Andy deGanahl (engineer at Bee Jay Recording Studios, Orlando, FL)
    • George Werth (album design, artwork)
    • Allen Zentz – (mastering at Allen Zentz Recording, Hollywood, California)
  • Songs written by Bob Hartman unless noted below.


  1. “I’m Thankful” (2:41) – Right away you can tell this album is going to be different. Instead of guitar riffs or drums to open the album, it’s a cappella. “Jesus, I’m thankful for your love. And it’s been you I’ve been thinking of. I’ve got a home in heaven above.” Then it breaks into a bit of groovy soft rock. Lyrically this opener sets the tone of the album as well, as it’s less overtly evangelistic and more geared toward those who are already Christians.

2. “Why Should the Father Bother?” (3:46) – Competing for the title of Petra’s softest song yet, along with “Ask Him In,” this is the radio hit from this album that at least gave Petra what they were going for with the style change: more exposure. This song topped three Christian radio charts. 

3. “Morning Star” (4:47) – The words and music here were from new Petra member Rob Frazier. The instrumentation, particularly the way the keyboards and guitars interact in the intro of the song, reminds me of Boston, specifically “Foreplay/Long Time.” I just wish it would rock more, like “Long Time” did. This is slower rock which builds to the chorus, also Boston-like, and that keyboard organ sound is heard throughout. Quality drum work during the choruses.

4. “Magic Mirror” (3:27) – Maybe the best song, lyrically, on the album. The chorus goes, “Magic mirror don’t let me walk away without seeing who I am. Magic mirror don’t let me see who I am and only walk away.” The idea here is that the word of God is the magic mirror, exposing to us our own imperfections and sins before the holy God whose word it is. And we dare not come to the word of God and leave without being changed by it. The bridge and final verse are great as well: “When I act too tall, you bring me down to size. And when I feel too small you show me all the lies I try to tell myself. How can I thank you for all you’ve done for me? / And now I’m watching and I see me grow in you. I know that I’ve got so much growing left to do. Please keep me in your light from morning until night. Until I finally come into the image of the Son.” 

5. “Mary’s Song” (4:00) – Words and music by Frazier again, this one goes softer than “Why Should the Father Bother?” Modern listeners would hear the words directed at Mary, the mother of Jesus, and probably be reminded of “Mary, Did You Know?” a song which is now prominent on Christmas playlists. This song is better than that, and unlike “Mary, Did You Know?” it is theologically sound. Rather than asking Mary whether she knows if her Son will do this or do that, it is meant as almost an encouragement: “Think back on that promise you received, for Him in whom the prophets long believed, now belongs to you, you’ve been chosen too. But He’s the One Who’s gonna shine. We call His name Jesus, Emmanuel. He’ll save His people from sin and hell, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” This is a good song and should be on your Christmas playlist… instead of that other one.

6. “Yahweh Love” (5:38) – The vocal intro to this song reminds me of Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” which had been released a couple of years prior. One wonders if Bob Hartman was thinking of it too. Lyrically, the song is the testimony of one rejoicing in the love of Yahweh God. It is a love which continues to move the one singing further and further away from the things left behind, even though there are always signs and voices trying to get him to fall away. Musically, the song comes across as yacht rocky. Also, I’ve got to deduct a couple of points for the unnecessary fade out and fade back in at the end of the song. 

7. “(Couldn’t Find Love) Without You” (4:19) – This is a Frazier tune, and it’s one of the two songs from this album left off the Never Say Die double-release CD by which many people, myself included, became familiar with this album. It’s worth noting the full album has been remastered and re-released by Girder Music, but you can also find it on YouTube. As for the song itself, it’s a soft, piano driven number. One particular section of lyrics stands out: “There’s no sun behind the rain. Without You there’s no reason for the pain. Without You there’s no love to help me live. ‘Cause of You I believe that love is true. Because of You I can give to others too. Because I know that You gave the best You had to give. You gave your sweet Son so I could live.” It’s a testimonial to the impact the love of God has had on one’s life. Musically, think Bread, but with a modest guitar solo toward the end.

8. “Taste and See” (3:23) – “We want the funk! Gotta have that funk!” That’s what I think about when I hear the music to the this one because you could absolutely plug in those lyrics to the George Clinton tune. It feels like Petra was influenced here by the disco movement too, which was still going strong in 1979. Greg X. Volz sounds like he was having fun with this one. At one point he lets out an “Owwww!” Lyrically the song is about how good life is in the Lord and how you need to leave your old life behind.

9. “Magic Words” (3:27) – The final Frazier tune on the album, it’s also the second song not to make the cut onto the double-album re-release. This song has a lot of the piano driving the beginning, but then Hartman breaks in with the guitar and this becomes the most rocking song of the album. Really good guitar, in fact. I’m reminded of Foreigner listening to this one. Lyrically the song is about not simply talking the talk, saying the “magic words” to be accepted, but living a life that reflects the words.

10. “Deep Love” (3:57) – This one is a ballad which expresses the need to feel the love of Christ in order to feel whole, to be strong, to know right from wrong, to remain at peace, and even be reminded that we belong to Christ. As a final song it reminds me of the feeling of the final song on Billy Joel’s seminal 1977 album The Stranger, a song called “Everybody Has a Dream.” 

Ranking the Albums

  1. Come and Join Us
  2. Petra
  3. Washes Whiter Than

The #Petra50

So after Petra’s third album, how do the songs of Washes Whiter Than stack up against those of Petra and Come and Join Us? Which songs will make the Petra50 today? And which ones will stick around as future albums get added? Keep in mind this listen will evolve as we move from album to album, with songs eventually falling off the list, not because they aren’t great, but because Petra has so much music to consider. I won’t bother putting every song in the list.

I’m going to go ahead and say “I’m Thankful,” “(Couldn’t Find Love) Without You,” “Taste and See,” and “Deep Love” aren’t making the cut, but that leaves six songs to consider for the Petra50 (previous rank in parentheses). So where do we stand now?

  1. “Come and Join Us” (1)
  2. “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” (2) 
  3. “Woman Don’t You Know” (3) 
  4. “Where Can I Go” (4) 
  5. “Magic Mirror”
  6. “Magic Words”
  7. “Why Should the Father Bother?”
  8. “Walkin’ in the Light” (5)
  9. “Morning Star”
  10. “Mary’s Song”
  11. “Get Back to the Bible” (6)
  12. “Yahweh Love”
  13. “Lucas McGraw” (7)
  14. “Backslidin’ Blues” (8)


It may seem odd, or maybe even hypocritical, to include six songs in my Petra50, yet slot this album as third best out of threes far. The bottom line is that, while some of these songs are good in and of themselves, Petra means rock. Not yacht rock. And I say that as someone who has SiriusXM’s Yacht Rock channel as a favorite in the summer, and on the app all year long. Petra got away from themselves with this album, something Bob Hartman himself has as much as said. So while this album has it’s good points, it just isn’t as good start to finish, and not as fun a listen, as the other two.

There is some definitely quality on this album, and typing through the track by track descriptions even now has helped me realize I like this album, song for song, more than I thought. Nevertheless, I feel like Petra was really coming into their own as a rock band on Come and Join Us. Perhaps getting dumped by Myrrh and receiving the criticism from churches jaded Bob Hartman and company a bit, but in my opinion this album, and not Come and Join Us, was the true compromise album. Hartman has acknowledged himself that the change in styles to appeal to a new audience was a mistake, and it really didn’t work. He has written that Petra failed to make many new fans while alienating some of their older fans. I get that.

All of that said, you still have to listen to it, which you can do here. Do that while you wait for the next post. This would be the end of the first era of Petra. Next up comes Never Say Die!

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