Do we really still want mega-hits?

We talk wistfully of the day when mega-hits would top the charts for six months at a time. But do we really still want mega-hits?

Let’s take a concrete example. The most popular group right now, at least as measured by the Singing News Fan Awards, is the Booth Brothers, and their biggest hit is “He Saw it All.” It hit #1 in February 2006.

Just suppose, for the sake of discussion, that it had been a 6-month hit. Here are its surrounding singles:

  • Jan 2006: I am Home-McKameys
  • Feb 2006: He Saw it All-Booth Brothers
  • Mar 2006: Do You Want to Be Forgiven – Ernie Haase & Signature Sound
  • Apr 2006: In the Sky-Three Bridges
  • May 2006: New Day Dawning – Whisnants
  • June 2006: The Debt – Talley Trio

I don’t think there’s any question that “He Saw it All” is the biggest hit of the six. Look at each group’s NQC sets—I think each of the other songs have faded out, there at least, while the Booth Brothers pretty much have to sing “He Saw it All” at least once or twice at NQC to this day.

But would we really rather have seen it dominate that six-month period? Or, despite occasional grumbling, do we actually like things the way they are?

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48 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. When you put it that way, I think I get bored too easily when it comes to hearing a song so often. We used to have a station out here that would play the big charting songs at least once an hour it seemed. In between news updates, commercials, station IDs, and the like, I found myself turning the dial when they would play the same song that sounded like I had just heard it four songs ago.

    I think you may find the same true of many of today’s listeners accustomed to picking their own playlist for their MP3 players and being able to skip songs with which they are bored. For me, mega-hits are ones that the artist sings everytime I get to see them, which is pretty infrequently.

    • I think today’s culture does get bored faster than in the 1980s.

    • My brother has Enlighten in his truck. A few weeks ago, we were taking an all-day trip with them, starting 5:00-ish, and we heard DBQ’s “Gossip the Gospel” at least 4 times by 3:00 that afternoon. I don’t really get it, since that might have been a radio song, but it was 5-7 years ago.

      And yes, I did get bored!

      • The quality and relevance of EnLighen’s song selection is quite a discussion of its own!

      • I’m sure. 🙂 Although it was a nice day of listening.

      • Its selection is far better than it used to be (shortly after launch).

      • What was it like after supper? 😉

      • I did say launch, not lunch. 🙂

      • Yeah, I just felt the urge to make a bad pun that I normally wouldn’t make. 😀

  2. I don’t think this is a completely subjective argument. “He Saw It All” is a fantastic song and deserved to be near the top for quite some time. Let’s take another example, “Step Into The Water”, I wasn’t around in 1982 when it first hit the radio, but the song doesn’t grab me like others have. Good song? Yes. Single worthy? Yes. But it was on the charts for a LONG time, making it quite historic. A lot of that falls on how it moved musically, and it was average lyrically. But it’s just one of those odd examples of a good song gaining legendary status. But with that assessed, that very song dominating the charts helped catapult The Cats into a “Untouchable” sphere. I realize that they were already popular, but that song helped them become much more than that in 1982. And they followed that up with “We Shall See Jesus” and “Somebody Touched Me”, and so on… You just wonder why that was the song to help do it.

    Did the song have the same jazz as Michael English singing “I Bowed” with the Singing Americans in 1984? No. Was it as good as “There Rose a Lamb”. No. But those are viewed a little differently because they are ballads. How about “My Name Is Lazarus, “He’s Still Waiting By The Well”, “When I Get Carried Away”? No. All those songs saw time on the charts, and are viewed historic in their own right. And they are very good songs. And maybe a little better than “Step”, even.

    Same thing happened with the Booth Bros, although I think “He Saw It All” is a fantastically written song, both musically and lyrically, and performed superbly. But that’s the song that was used to help “push” them over the hump (if that is even an acceptable thing to say). But it did get me thinking at another angle…It’s amazing that God can use a mediocre (lyrically and musically) song to glorify Him just as well as a great song. And it’s amazing that He chooses to use some of the people that He does.

    But to answer the original question…yes. I think SG is best preserved with song domination (preferably with a great song, but that ain’t my choice). We may not like it at the time. But 10-15 years later, we’ll be glad it happened.

    BTW, The Whisnants still sing “Brand New Dawning”, at least in their concert sets…or have at least revived it.

    • IBSR, great points as always. I think part of the reason “Step Into the Water” was as big as it was was its energy. The Cathedrals had carved out an “easy on the ears, heavy on the heart” niche in the late 70s that fit that lineup perfectly – but that lineup rarely tackled uptempo songs.

      Yes, I think the Whisnants still sing “New Day Dawning” in their concert sets, and I think the McKameys still sing “I Am Home,” at least sometimes. But neither has the same level of demand, at least at NQC, as “He Saw it All Does.”

      On the other hand, I’m pretty sure EHSS rarely if ever stages “Do You Want To Be Forgiven” right now, and I don’t think the Talley Trio sings “The Debt” all that often either. I’m not too sure on the Three Bridges song, since I haven’t really kept up with them since the lineup that took them to the top of the charts split up.

      Your closing thought is an incredible gem I wish I’d thought of for the original post – how SG is best preserved with song domination – even if we might not like it at the time.

      • agreed. and feel free to edit your original post. i don’t know if that’s a gem, but I did think it was worth noting. therefore, i did. and i’ll be honest, I haven’t seen the McKamey’s concert in years and years and years , so I’d have no idea what they sing at concerts. God On The Mountain? haha.

      • Yeah, they do still sing it, and shoes still fly, and people still love it! 🙂

  3. By your definition, you are defining a “mega-hit” solely by chart status. Going by that, I could give too hoots about mega-hits.

    I DO, however, still want a song that comes along and just blows me out of the water. The GVB rendition of “Please Forgive Me” did that, and it isn’t even a single (yet).

    • Kyle, I think it’s a fair definition; after all, in our genre, we use “hit” as a shorthand for “radio hit”; a song that has not been singled but goes over well live is a “concert favorite.”

      As an example, let’s take what is likely the biggest Southern Gospel song that was never singled, Glen Payne’s signature song, “We Shall See Jesus.” It never hit the charts, so we don’t refer to it as a “hit” or a “mega-hit” – we call it a “signature song” or a “concert favorite.”

      • This is why it’s great to be able to say that we agree to disagree 🙂

      • Seriously, though, do you call a concert favorite that was never singled a “hit song”?

        I don’t think that would be common usage in this genre, but there could conceivably be exceptions to any rule, and maybe you’re one of them. 🙂

      • It’s not really common usage in any genre.

      • To me, a hit song is one that drives sales of an album or establishes itself as a “classic,” whether it be a “radio hit” or a hit in concert.

        I guess I just see “hit song” being of a wider scope than “radio hit.”

      • I would have to agree with Kyle.

  4. I’ll go a step further with this discussion, because I see this already illustrated – radio is having less and less of an impact. Still important in areas where it is common, but much of the fan base in SG has little or no access to SG radio on the local level. With the advent of the internet and itunes and online ordering of CD’s and such, plus things like XM and Sirius, it just isn’t as essential for a group to be known.

    With so many groups out there and with groups having similar access to sending music or promoting music to radio, the days of the “hit” are really gone – much like, for the most part, the day of the “supergroup”.

    I’ll be honest, I still love to get Singing News and eagerly open it up and read it when I get it – but I rarely ever even look at the radio chart. If I do, it’s just a passing glance. When I was in radio in the 90’s I studied it but it just doesn’t mean as much anymore, in my view.

    • Radio doesn’t mean as much as it used to. But I suspect part of our views on radio are influenced by whether we have a really strong station in our area. I used to, and cared about radio charts more then. I don’t now, and care less than I did then (though still some, obviously.)

    • In Californi in the central valley. We only have a couple of stations that offer a limited time once a week to southern gospel. We have to rely on Enlighten and the internet.

  5. Do you think record companies would like to have a mega hit.

    • I don’t know – since, after all, it’s the record companies’ promoters who successfully move songs up and down the chart faster than in the old days.

    • The record companies might have a different definition of a mega hit than what we are talking about here. For the record companies, mega hit = sales. Back “in the day” sales, I think, were much more influenced by radio than they are today. They certainly still have an impact, particularly in influencing someone to buy a project from someone they wouldn’t normally listen to or hadn’t previously.

      However, in the “staying power” (which does affect the record company on a smaller scale down the road some as new people at concerts keep going back to buy that “He Saw it All” or “New Day Dawning” or “My Name is Lazarus” or “I Wish I Could Have Been There”), it’s primary effect is simply on the people in the seats that attend the concerts.

      Mega hit really has its primary influence on “repeat business” as far as connecting fans to a particular group. Some of that is subjective and some is objective. For instance, it was mentioned here earlier that “He Saw it All” sent Booth Brothers over the top. I’m not sure I agree with that – I’d say “I’m Still Feelin’ Fine” and specifically their appearance singing that song on the “Freedom Band” Gaither video raised them to the top tier – though I really wouldn’t argue the point. We had them scheduled for a concert just a few weeks after that video hit the airwaves and our attendance for them more than doubled and they have been nowhere close to a “one hit wonder” since.

      Since “We Shall See Jesus” was mentioned, I’ll add this – I believe I heard Glen Payne say that it was never even released to radio, though it sold more sheet music (that tells you how long ago it was) than any other song they had

      • Tony, on the Booth Brothers – I think there is some truth to both perspectives here. “Still Feelin’ Fine” launched them into the top tier of Southern Gospel groups, and “He Saw it All” launched them to mega-group status – the biggest group in SG (outside of the Gaither Vocal Band).

  6. Your post pretty much makes the point. “He Saw It All” was a huge hit in terms of staying power.

    “New Day Dawning” has probably had more staying power than you realize. It’s a very singable songs, and so it has translated to choral use quite a bit, even though not many groups have covered it. It even popped up in a children’s collection of songs recently. It’s not quite as memorable as “He Saw It All,” but it’s above the other songs on the list.

    The rest of the songs on the list should arguably have never been number one songs. Two of them, I can hum, but I only remember the hooks, where I can sing a good portion of “New Day Dawning” and “He Saw It All” from memory.

    In other words, I do wish the system would reflect smash hit status. I’d get tired of six months at a time, but two or three would be nice.

    • I’d have to agree that “New Day Dawning” is the next strongest of this particular pack.

  7. Somewhat apropos of today’s discussion (hat tip, MG), there have been eleven songs that were Song of the Year without being a #1 hit – though many if not most of these were top 5 hits:

    1981: “Sweet Beulah Land” (popularized by Squire Parsons and The Kingsmen)
    1982: “Canaanland is Just in Sight” (popularized by Heaven Bound)
    1984: “Oh For a Thousand Tongues” (popularized by the Rex Nelon Singers)
    1985-86: “When He Was On the Cross (I Was On His Mind)” (popularized by the Florida Boys)
    1993: “There Rose a Lamb” (popularized by Gold City)
    1995: “Jesus Has Risen” (Cathedral Quartet)
    1996: “Serenaded by Angels” (Kirk Talley)
    2003: “We Need to Thank God” (The Inspirations)
    2004: “Just Ask” (Greater Vision)
    2005: “Faces” (Greater Vision)
    2008: “Look for Me At Jesus’ Feet” (Booth Brothers)

    • Just to clear a minor discrepancy, “When He Was on the Cross” was #1 from August-December 1985. 🙂

  8. Hey guys!! Love the discussions on here. Give ya a little inside scoop….. Things really started popping for us when Gaither picked us up. Then Blind Man ( that’s what we call it) came out and helped in a very significant way. Interestingly enough though Look For Me At Jesus Feet is the biggest seller by a LONG WAY!!! Ain’t that somethin

    • That’s fascinating stuff . . . and it wouldn’t be the first time that something which really connects with the heart outsells something which really connects with the toes (or the DJ’s ears)!

      • How did you arrive at the conclusion that the difference between those songs is a question of where they connect to??

      • It’s quite simple and easy, actually – watch them live. People aren’t wiping tears away during “Still Feelin’ Fine,” and they’re not tapping their feet during “Look for Me at Jesus’ Feet.”

    • I am sure I have mentioned this here before (probably on the video post recently), but that performance of “Still Doin’ Fine” on Freedom Band was my first introduction to the Booths and although I am a huge Oaks fan and GVB fan, the Booths pretty much stole the show with that one. Now, that doesn’t change the fact that the Oaks and GVB are two of my all-time favorite groups, but the Booths had it on that video. I also like several others of theirs I have heard since.

      Michael, did you get the Warner Bros out of your system yet? If you mind my asking that question, I hope “I’m Forgiven”.

      • Okay, actually I think my mind jumped to Warner Bros. because you mentioned Looney Tunes and a frog. (Since the WB channel had the dancing frog).

  9. Listening up hear in AK on a limite basis…it seems that new songs are out every 2-3 months shotgun style. Almost seems the thinking is rise quickly or killed fast. In other words a song is not of the caliber of a Blind Man or Mid-Night Cry so lets get another one out FAST! I have seen a number of times a a number one (or two) song and look at the bottom of the list and here comes another song of the CD. Just another interesting take at least to me anyway. I understnad the need to make money or get the most out of sales though. People are trying to make a living and recording companies want sales so its ok just interesting the way it works.

    • There may be rare exceptions, but generally a new song is singled once the last one has peaked.

  10. Heya Quartetman… Man I’m sorry but I’m missing the Warner Bro question….:) remember I sing tenor…(kinda) so ya gotta spell it out for me. Oh FYI we got to sing Look For Me At Jesus Feet with Squire and the boys tonight!!!!!!!! That was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!

    • I thought that is what you said was going through your mind when you cut loose on
      “I’m Forgiven” Saturday night. I was going to come up to you and tell you that you boys didn’t need all that noise, but there were people talking with you everytime I was closeby. (Intermission and afterward). Cool on “Look For Me”, one of my all-time favorites of yours (even though it isn’t a Ronnie tune. 😉 )

    • BTW, if you kinda sing tenor, may I sorta kinda sing tenor. You and Chris Allman are two of the finest SG tenors out there. I also love Phelps a lot, but don’t know if he is technically an SG tenor. Whatever he is though, he is awesome. 😀

      • I should also give a shout out to Wes even though he is second tenor now.

      • And I can’t believe I didn’t think of Gus Gaches. As far as hits, there have been many times I liked album cuts more than songs released to radio. I suppose that there are benefits to having chart hits, but the whole nature of the business seems to have changed. MP3s have become more prevalent, so people pick might just pick certain songs instead of getting them all. This might make the choice singles more important.

        With that said, although I liked to root (SIC?) for my favorites to win, it doesn’t mean much to me anymore. I like what I like and although it is sad that everyone doesn’t agree, it doesn’t diminish the songs.

      • I meant to tack this on. I think it is harder for songs to get to mega hit status anymore. I think it is akin to TV choices now. There are so many songs our there (like TV channels and songs) and people seem more apt to get bored and want to go on to the next new thing than before. I think back in the day, we were more dedicated to songs and stuck with them longer. Maybe SG hasn’t changed like that as much as others in the mainstream.

  11. 10 years ago, I would have a long, rambling response. Now, I just listen to what I like. I haven’t looked at a chart in several years and don’t even know how a song is doing unless an artist brings it up. How long a song charts for or if it charts at all means nothing to me at this point. Same with awards. I’m happy for those who do well, of course.

  12. Ah!!! Got ya QT man!! Be sure and see me (if you can) next time we’re in the same building together. Blessings!

    • Thanks and you too. I did buy some DVDs and your solo CD at intermission from Jim. I never told him who I was though. 🙂 I am not sure he would have even heard of quartet-man.

      I would have liked to stuck around after the concert was over, but I am a church music director. I didn’t get home until going on 11:00 and although I normally don’t get to sleep before midnight even when I get up early on Sunday, I had to wind down, set clocks and alarms (our power went out when I was getting ready to leave for the day Saturday morning). So, I had to take off. Besides there were at least 4 people I think waiting to talk with you. 🙂