"I Can Only Imagine" is a single recorded by Christian rock band MercyMe. The song, which is based around a core piano tune and was written and recorded by Bart Millard, was inspired by the loss of Millard's father and considers what it would be like to be in Heaven and standing before God. The song was initially released as a single on MercyMe's indie record label-distributed album The Worship Project in 1999. The song was re-recorded and released as the fifth song on their major-label debut album Almost There in 2001. The album's debut song, "I Can Only Imagine," was released in 2001. It received extensive attention on Christian radio channels before crossing over to mainstream radio formats such as adult contemporary and Top 40 in late 2003 and early 2004; a double A-side physical single was produced in 2003 to aid in promotion to these areas. It charted on Billboard Adult Contemporary and the Hot 100, among other formats. "I Can Only Imagine" won the Dove Awards for "Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year" and "Song of the Year" in 2002, while Millard was named "Songwriter of the Year" at the same event.
"I Can Only Imagine," MercyMe's mega-hit from 2001, has been played more than any other contemporary Christian song in history. The song's inspirational lyrics and moving narrative have captivated audiences for nearly two decades, and it has now spawned a film of the same name. The film adaptation of I Can Only Imagine will be released in theaters on Friday, and it includes some intriguing Baylor connections.
This song has a meaningful story behind the emotional lyrics. When MercyMe's lead vocalist Bart Millard penned "I Can Only Imagine," he was thinking about his father's life and death. The song depicts the thrill and amazement of standing before God at the conclusion of one's life. The lyrics were personal to Millard. Bart grew raised in an abusive home, where his father, Arthur, would lash out at him for seemingly insignificant reasons. His father was uninterested in Bart's interest in church and music.
Arthur was diagnosed with cancer during Bart's freshman year of high school, a wake-up call that had a major impact on his life. His father began attending church, altered his conduct, and supported Bart's musical goals over the four years he battled the sickness. "If the Gospel could change that guy, the Gospel could change anybody," Millard thought as he watched the metamorphosis.
Millard finished high school and received an art scholarship to Baylor in 1991 while his father fought cancer. He received word that his father's health had taken a turn for the worst while on the Baylor campus prepared to enroll in classes. Arthur died two months after Millard returned home to care for him. "I can only fathom what (he's) witnessing right now," his grandmother remarked as she stood at his father's gravestone. Years later, those words served as the inspiration to the song.
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