Petra at 50: Never Say Die (1981)


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 fourth album, 1981’s Never Say Die.

The Backstory

Petra, circa 1981

With Washes Whiter Than Petra had found a record label that would support them and, eventually, a full time lead singer in Greg X. Volz. Petra also had its first real radio exposure with “Why Should the Father Bother?” All was not sunshine and rainbows, however. Distribution problems for the album meant it was out of sight and out of mind for a lot of people by the time it could be bought; thus, not many did. Perhaps this was a factor in Rob Frazier deciding to leave the band after one album. It was down to Bob Hartman and Volz, and once again there was uncertainty about Petra’s future. But then Hartman went to a Bible study and met a keyboardist named John Slick and a bassist named Mark Kelly, and it wasn’t long before he was inviting them to join Petra.

Album Overview 

Petra released three albums prior to this and each of them was a significant departure from the album that preceded it. That would not change with Never Say Die, but this would be the first album of what many know to be the Petra sound, at least of the Greg X. Volz era. This was the beginning of the first golden age for Petra that would carry the band to unprecedented success through 1985. There is definitely more rock on this album than on Washes Whiter Than, but there still remains a more pop sound on some songs as well. The songwriting continues to improve with this album, as does the production quality. Jonathan David Brown came on board as producer and would be with the band for the next four albums.

My Origin Story

Notice the camouflage in the word Petra. It was around this time Petra began wearing camouflage in concerts. The idea of spiritual warfare has long been a stable of Petra’s music.

Like Washes Whiter Than, and the next three albums to come as well, my first exposure to songs from this album came from The Petra Youth Choir Collection. We sang “The Coloring Song.” “Never Say Die” was on the album but I don’t recall it being one our choir performed. Later on I’d become acquainted with more songs from compilation albums, but finally around 2001 I got this album on CD, the double album reissue that also included WWT. The album immediately resonated with me more than its predecessor.

Album Information

  • Released: 1981
  • Album Length: 38:50
  • Label: StarSong
  • The Band: Bob Hartman (guitars); Greg X. Volz (lead and backing vocals); John Slick (keyboards, backing vocals, horn and string arrangements on “For Annie”); Mark Kelly (bass, backing vocals)
  • Guest Musicians: Keith Edwards (drums, percussion); Alex MacDougall (percussion); Joe Miller (trombone); Bob Welborn (trumpet)
  • Producer: Jonathan David Brown (at Rivendell Sound Recorders in Pasadena, TX)
  • Recording:
    • Petra (track arrangements)
    • Steve Hall (mastering at MCA/Whitney Recording Studio in Glendale, CA)
    • Randy Rogers (illustration)
    • Mary Ann Smith (layout)
    • Diane McLaughlin (sleeve photography)
    • Martinsound – Alhambra, CA (additional overdubs)
    • Whitefield Sound – Santa Ana, CA (mixing and additional overdubs)


  1. “The Coloring Song” (2:52) – I can imagine picking up this album in 1981, playing it, hearing this song, and coming to the conclusion that Never Say Die will be very similar to Washes Whiter Than. It’s a soft song to be sure, beginning with pipes. The lyrics and music are by Dave Eden, an old band-mate of Greg X. Volz in e. The song would become Petra’s biggest hit to date, and among the biggest radio hits in the band’s history, topping three Christian charts simultaneously. The lyrics paint a rainbow of the gospel, pointing the listener to the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross (“Red is the color of the blood that flowed”), the sinner’s hardness to the gospel (“Blue is the color of a heart so cold”). Gold is used in word play to point us to the love of the Son, and brown to introduce a verse about the natural course of death and life in creation and to show that God transcends that cycle in the human heart. It’s a beautiful song, and as a lead off on this album an indicator of a style similar to Washes Whiter Than.

2. “Chameleon” (5:47) – So you listen to “The Coloring Song” and you’re like, “It’s pretty.” Then Bob Hartman’s guitar blasts out the opening chords of “Chameleon” and it’s like, “Oh!” This is the song that should have led off this album, because a) I’m generally not a fan of leading off an album with a soft song (imagine going to a concert that starts with a ballad), and b) this is more indicative of the band Petra now was and was becoming. This also happens to me my favorite song on the album. Hartman wails on this song. It’s the lyrics, though, that really catch the ear for how bold, blunt, convicting, and challenging they are, calling the listener to not be a so-called Christian who blends in with his surroundings, looking like the church one minute and like the world the next. “Come out! Come out! Come out from among them!” shouts Volz, echoing the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6. And consider the closing verse: “There is no gray, no neutral ground. There’s only black and white. And nothing in between the two to turn a wrong to right. There is no time for your charade. You’ve got to make your stand. When salt has lost its savor the world becomes so bland.” A more pressing message for the church in 2022 could not be sung. This song is great.

Check out this live medley which includes “Chameleon” and “Angel of Light”…


3. “Angel of Light” (4:21) – This song has one of the more legendary guitar riffs in the history of the band. What follows is a song that reminds us the devil doesn’t appear to us as a devil, but as… well, an angel of light. An angel of light that only brings darkness to one’s sight, telling us wrong is right, but we must not let evil take control. Hartman’s lyrics have plenty to say about the fallacious appeal of the world, but he doesn’t spare the church either. “You got the clergy working overtime to widen the narrow way. You’ve got politicians everywhere listening to what you say. You’ve got false apostles teaching lies perverting the only way. You’ve got principalities and powers waiting to obey. You’ve got philosophies and vain deceipts lying to deceive. You’ve got hate, and greed, ungodly lusts in the deadly web you weave.” And then he goes Keyser Soze fourteen years before the movie: “Somehow you’ve got so many thinking you’re not even there. One look is all it takes to get them blinded by your glare.” Great guitar solo following by increasingly prevalent keyboards as well, just before the chorus leads you out. Back-to-back great songs to let you know this album is different from its predecessor.

4. “Killing My Old Man” (3:48) – Another guitar-driven song musically, and I like how the guitar and keyboards have a kind of call and response thing going on. This is the song Hartman wrote for Come and Join Us and was rebuffed by Myrrh Records because it could be misunderstood and thus potentially controversial. It’s a shame. The style of this song probably fit that album better than this one. That’s not to say it’s not a good song, because it definitely is. Lyrically, it’s about the need for the believer to put to death the deeds of the flesh, and the need to keep alert because the old man will have you on the run and keep you in the jail if you don’t deal with it appropriately. Theologically, I appreciate Hartman’s willingness to call the old man “a terrible man” in an evangelical culture that increasingly fails to address anthropology biblically. 

5. “Without Him We Can Do Nothing” (3:30) – The lyrics in this one come from the pen of Greg X. Volz, and as you’ll see both later on in this album and on future albums, he had a penchant for writing praise rock songs. He opens up basically quoting Romans 6:1–2: “How can? How can we who are dead to sin live any longer therein?” But my favorite lyrics come when he asks, “Do you remember what He called you out of? Do you remember where you were? Let us not take advantage of his love that we forget that we have been forgiven. Without Him we can do nothing.” Another extremely solid offering from Petra here. 

6. “Never Say Die” (3:43) – This title track is a little bit slower and more poppy compared to the previous few songs, and encourages the listener to press on and not give up in the Christian walk because in Him we’ve come too far. Hartman’s pen is extolling us to remember that we are weak but He is strong and He is the One who supplies us with strength. It’s a fine message, but the song is just kind of meh to me. 

7. “I Can Be Friends With You” (4:14) – The pace of the songs continues to slow in this one, but I really like the message, pointing to the inestimable value of friendship with Christ compared to other potential relationships. We don’t need dignitaries or presidents in our contact lists, we need the One who created the world and yet still loves us and is the Friend who sticks closer than a brother. My favorite section of the lyrics goes, “When I have a problem I can always come to You. Regardless of the situation I know You know what to do. You put Your arm around and speak so tenderly and I feel better just to know You care and you took the time for me. Greater love has no man than this that a man lay his life down for his friend. But You laid down for all the world to see and You proved Your love for me.” The lyrics go on to speak about how He does this in spite of the fact we have nothing to offer Him. It’s not in the upper echelon of Petra songs but perhaps a bit underrated.

8. “For Annie” (4:26) – Hartman wrote this one after becoming more aware of the growing trend of teenage suicide, which would be a news story at various times through the next decade. Hartman would later write that he got a lot of positive response from this song. Some might find this song a bit sappy. I can see that, but this is still a good one. The song is one of Petra’s longest lyrically and is about a teenage girl who feels isolated and who’s parents didn’t have time for her. I love the last line at the end of this verse: “No one ever knew her desperation. People couldn’t hear her cry out silently. Locked inside the bathroom she grabs a jar of pills. The medicine that cures becomes the poison that kills.” That last line refers to literal medicine in the context of the song, but it can really be extrapolated to mean anything the world wants to offer as a substitute for your problems other than Jesus Christ. Annie takes her own live, but the listener is exhorted that there are other Annies all around. It’s not too late for them, so we must take the gospel to them. It’s easy to see how this song could have impacted many.

9. “Father of Lights” (3:04) – Years ago when I first endeavored to review every Petra studio album, an endeavor I did not finish, I wrote that this song was just kind of there on the album, and I still feel that way. I’m sure it’s not meant to be filler, but that’s how it comes off to me. The message is good enough. God made us His sons to light the world, but we still need more of His light. In other words, God has saved us to be the light of the world, but that light is not in and of ourselves. It comes from Christ. The song is happy and poppy, but it’s a lesser song on the album.

10. “Praise Ye the Lord” (3:19) – These lyrics are also brought to us by Volz, and again it’s a praise rock song, and a good one at that. Arguably, it was the most enduring song on this album, as it was part of praise medleys at Petra concerts forever. I love the guitar in this one, but as is the point of Petra songs, it’s not about the instrumentation. That serves as a delivery system for the message, and the message here is “Praise ye the Lord all ye nations. The Lord is reigning, you people rejoice. The word of the Lord is a two-edged sword. He’s placed it in our hands.” The lyrics are clear cut, saturated with Scripture, and magnifying the Lord. The goal? “Leaving behind the old carnal mind. Press toward the mark of the high call of God which is the fullness of Christ.” This is among the best “praise” songs on any Petra album ever. Unlike the album’s first song, it fits the style of the album, and it’s a great way to go out.

Check out Petra at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey in 1979.


Ranking the Albums

  1. Never Say Die – We have a new champion! At least for now. 
  2. Come and Join Us
  3. Petra
  4. Washes Whiter Than

The #Petra50

So where do the songs of Never Say Die rank with the previous Petra songs that are in contention to make the Petra50 playlist.

  1. “Chameleon” – Bob Hartman’s guitar to open the song, the piercing lyrics, the challenging call to “Come out from among them.” This song absolutely rocks and claims the top spot through four albums. 
  2. “Come and Join Us” (1)
  3. “Angel of Light” – This song just rocks, and I just love how it busts up the caricature of Satan as this medieval devil, rather than how the Bible describes him, as a devil who disguises himself as an… angel of light. 
  4. “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” (2) 
  5. “Praise Ye the Lord” – I meant it when I wrote above this is one of the best Petra praise songs of all time. 
  6. “Woman Don’t You Know” (3) 
  7. “Where Can I Go” (4) 
  8. “For Annie” – There’s a reason this song is memorable.
  9. “Without Him We Can Do Nothing” – One of the forgotten great songs from early Petra albums.
  10. “Magic Mirror” (5) 
  11. “The Coloring Song” – Petra’s biggest hit up to that time has to make the list. While I have my things to say about this song’s placement on this particular album, there’s no denying it’s a beautiful song. 
  12. “Magic Words” (6)
  13. “Why Should the Father Bother?” (7)
  14. “Walkin’ in the Light” (8)
  15. “Killing My Old Man” – I would love to have heard the 1977 Come and Join Us version of this, perhaps a little more raw.
  16. “Morning Star” (9)
  17. “Mary’s Song” (10)
  18. “I Can Be Friends With You” – Like I said above, underrated.
  19. “Get Back to the Bible” (11)
  20. “Yahweh Love” (12)
  21. “Lucas McGraw” (13)
  22. “Backslidin’ Blues” (14)

Eight of ten songs from this album make the cut, helping make this album the best Petra album to date. From Never Say Die, only the title track and “Father of Lights” don’t make the cut.

Parting Thought

When most people think of the Greg X. Volz era, they think of the three albums that follow this one. That’s understandable, but this one should not be overlooked at all. It’s not perfect by any means. I’ve probably mentioned how I think “The Coloring Song” is misplaced too many times (even though I should probably shut up because it was a huge radio hit) and there are a couple of songs on the back half of the album that don’t measure up to the rest. That said, it’s a drastic improvement from Washes Whiter Than. The Petra sound of the Volz era was rounding into form, and this album, which you can hear here, was a good sign of even better things to come.

P.S. You may have noticed that Petra still didn’t have a full time drummer when this album was recorded. That would soon be remedied, as a guy by the name of Louie Weaver joined Petra as their drummer for this album’s tour.

This album served to raise the bar for a band on the rise. Would they make it over that bar with their next effort? Find out when I review More Power to Ya in the next entry.

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