What started as a nearly nine-minute album cut has become one of the biggest singles in the Christian format. Hillsong United’s “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” is logging its ninth week atop Billboard’s Christian Songs chart. Last week, it became the 11-year-old tally’s first chart-topper to break into the Billboard Hot 100, where it rises 99-98 this week. It has sold 367,000 downloads overall, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
“What people relate to is that it’s a very honest song,” says Hillsong United leader/principal songwriter Joel Houston, who co-wrote “Oceans” with Matt Crocker and Salomon Lighthelm. “It’s a song about trust and taking a step into the unknown,” featuring Taya Smith on lead vocals.
Hillsong United is a worship band with a rotating membership that developed out of a youth group at Hillsong Church in Sydney. “Oceans” is off “Zion,” Hillsong’s fourth straight No. 1 on Top Christian Albums, which has sold 152,000 copies since its February 2013 release. Boosted by the success of “Oceans,” “Zion” sells an additional 2,000 copies this week, a 16% uptick.
“When we heard the song, we were blown away, but it didn’t feel like a radio hit,” Capitol Christian Music Group (CCMG) president/CEO Bill Hearn says. “But when ‘Zion’ was released, we saw how people responded.” Houston and the label reacted by cutting the 8:57 song down to 4:10 and shipping it to radio in July. A new version of “Oceans” will also be included on Hillsong’s remix set “The White Album,” due March 4.
Sarah Taylor, music director at KCMS Seattle, which has played “Oceans” 360 times, according to Nielsen BDS, first heard it at her church. “When the album came out, I’d listen to it again and again and think, ‘How in the world are we going to play an eight-minute song on radio?’ So when they made a special edit, I couldn’t wait to get it on the air.”
Taylor’s discovery wasn’t by accident. Hearn says “Oceans” has been the top download on WorshipTogether.com, a site CCMG launched to help get its music to worship leaders, who can download songs for free and view tutorials on how to play and teach them. “Churches all over the world are singing it,” Hearn says. “It’s been a slow-burning single, but it looks like it’s going to go for many, many weeks.”